18: Shades of Gray

18: Shades of Gray

There were very few things that I wasn’t ready for as a parent. It’s not that I think I was prepared for parenting. Furthest from that, really. It’s probably because I knew that I didn’t know a single thing about parenting and often joked about not winning the Father of the Year award.

Things like her driving took me by surprise. Teaching her to drive was easy, but dealing with her having all that freedom was a bit challenging and totally unexpected.

Now, the next unexpected challenge rears it’s head. She’s 18.

She’s an adult?

Screw that!

Swimming along

Things were going really well for a bit. Oh, sure, she was an irritating teenage girl, but weren’t we all?

Admittedly, I was not. Never. At no point was I an irritating teenage girl.

But, in the heart of her driving me crazy something big changed.

She turned 18, which means “technically” she’s an adult.

I hate that. “Technically.” As if one day – one clock tick – changes everything. It doesn’t.

…but it does.


Turning 18 is the next step in their moving towards completely sustainable person. The problem is, they’re still living at home… and some non-18 things carry over. Those things seem to be a struggle: things I wasn’t prepared to be a struggle.

Yes, I could swing the “…as long as you’re living under my roof, you play by my rules” hammer. But, what does that teach them? How is that a “next step” in their growth or evolution?

Who’s Time is it?

Well since she’s 18, she gets to decide when she comes home. There’s no curfew now, so there’s no rules, right? I’ve always leveraged curfew as the time to come home. But, without curfew, what’s an acceptable time to come home?

What’s the point of coming home at a certain time anyway?

we’re trying to teach them to balance their time. We want them home so they get enough sleep, so they are fresh for school the next day. We do this because we know the value of getting enough sleep to get up for work the next day – and most of us diligently adhere to the 8 hour principle. (Where’s that eye-roll emoticon?)

From their standpoint, they want to be able to extend their freedom to coming and going as they please.

But from our point, I’ve recently learned, we just want to know what’s going on – what to expect. Now, some us still want to control our kids in hopes that will keep them safe and out of trouble. And some of us will learn the hard way, that’s completely impossible.

I decided she’s welcome to come home whenever she wants as long as she tells me when before she leaves and makes it home by then. To me, this is the real lesson. This is teaching them to balance their time and keep commitments. Meanwhile, they feel like they have some control over their own time.

It’s working so far…


You’ve heard the whole “possession is 9/10 of the law” adage, right?

That’s all well and good, but you know what the other 1/10 is? When your name is on it.

It’s not a secret that I gave my daughter a car when she turned 16. “Gave” simply meant it was hers to use, but also hers to maintain. I never switched the title to her name. I didn’t really see a point in it. That doesn’t, however, mean the car is “emotionally” mine. It is legally, but to my daughter and I, that’s her car.

Fast forward a bit, and the car was rear-ended. Easy-peasy if she would have caused the accident, but now, there’s a big check from the insurance company and a car that’s completely drivable – albeit a little less usable since the trunk is all messed up. We’re not talking about a brand new car. She’s 10 years old with 170K + miles on the ticker.

Who makes the decision of whether to fix it or whether to deal with it a little banged up? Whose insurance check is it?

I decided to give her the decision. It’s entirely up to her what to do. I gave her the car whether my name is on the title or not. Honestly, this was a hard one. I spent a lot of money on that car and handing it over felt weird. Definitely the right thing to do…

… but weird.

The reality is, it’s still the ultimate responsibility of the parent to teach the child. If the table would have been turned, and she crashed the car, I wouldn’t have helped her fix it. That’s the point of the car, learning to take on the big responsibilities. In this case, the big decision is what to do with the unforeseen situation, that has multiple viable options.


As an 18 year old, she’s responsible for her own decisions. I mean, as far as I’m concerned there’s always been – and always will be – an equal onus for a child’s behavior. People make their own choices, and we’re responsible for them, but how we were raised plays a big part in what we see as good choices and bad choices – right and wrong – reasonable and unreasonable.

I was a bit shocked when my daughter asked me if it was OK for her to go to Korea over the summer to take some college courses. She told me she was accepted for the program, which I previously didn’t know anything about.

It’s her money. It’s her summer. It’s her education. Why is she asking me permission to do it?

We had a discussion about how it’s an opportunity to add to her life’s story. That, if it felt like a positive thing to do, she should do it. Her only comment was “OK, I think I’m going to do it.”

I realized, she wasn’t asking if I would let her go; she was asking if I thought it was a good idea. When they turn 18, we no longer give permission. We give advice.

Muddy waters

So, I really wasn’t prepared for things to stop being black and white when it came to the role of parent as my daughter grew older and into legal adult-hood. This is written as if the decisions and realizations came naturally in a moments notice.

They didn’t.

I had to accept that my role is changing. However…

Our role as parent is now – and always will be – to do the best to teach our kids.

Trying to color in the shades,

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