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The Pre-Empt Chronicles: Do You Know What Really Happens When Your Kid Turns 18?

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Kids don't come with instructions, yet we figure out pretty quickly how to nurture, teach, and protect them. I just didn't expect that we had only 17 years and 364 days to accomplish everything we set out to do, before the start of a whole new ballgame.

My youngest son just turned 18. According to the law, he's now (mostly) a man. I'd forgotten what legal changes ensue when they are 18 -- and how those changes do, and logically should, change the way we approach parenting and our kids approach responsibility. I say logically because anyone who's ever had a child, who's ever loved a child, knows you can't raise them by logic alone. Turning 18 is both an emotional and legal milestone. And just as it was when they first came into this world, there are no instructions about how to parent henceforth.

Yes, I know, I've been prepping my child all along for his newfound adulthood. Still, reality has a funny way of creeping up on you. Part of me thought we'd get a package in the mail -- an information kit from the government -- a sort of What You Need to Know About Turning 18 type of thing. It's not a bad idea, though admittedly, a tad creepy. When my grandmother turned 100, my family got a letter from the President. Maybe I'm a bit paranoid, but I still think that's weird.

In the absence of government mail, I did some research, which I followed with ibuprofen for the ensuing headache, and eight episodes of The Big Bang Theory, season three, because I needed to laugh again.

Here's what I learned:
Although an 18-year-old can't drink legally (hence the mostly of the "mostly a man" comment above), he can vote, fight for his country, serve on a jury, buy a house, get married, and get arrested.

I am no longer the legal representative for his health, unless he grants me permission. I can, however, keep him on my health plan, until he's 26.

I cannot, without his consent: discuss his credit card bill with the bank, even though I am his co-signer (and even though he doesn't have one yet); or discuss his tuition bill with his college, even though I am mostly paying for school; or view his grades, even though, again, I am mostly paying for school.

In my new role, I am a consultant on call, who still supports him financially and makes his dinner. Okay, I didn't find that last part online, but let's be honest -- that's the way it is. At least until he starts college.

Of course, he still acts like a teenager: throws his laundry on the floor, waits weeks to wash his linens, has mood swings, negotiates curfews (I no longer have legal control, but he knows who pays his car insurance) and stays up too late doing homework that he should have completed earlier -- but fell asleep instead.

And I love him anyway.

Let's face it, the years between 18 and 21 are jam-packed with lessons that go far beyond what a parent can offer. And mistakes will be made. I should know, I made plenty. Yet there are very few tools out there to help parents navigate their way through these years, as they transition, along with their kids, to their new roles and responsibilities.

So besides being armed with facts, I'm trying a new approach to help combat the emotional response I get every time I look into his baby blues. We'll see how it works:

  • Stand back and see him as an adult.
  • Talk to him as if he is an adult.
  • Ask How can I help? instead of telling him what to do.
  • Let go of any pre-conceived notions about the choices I think he'll make based on his childhood.
  • Get busier with my own life so I don't focus on the inevitable screw-ups quite as much.
  • And most of all, remember that I'm still in the game. I just moved from pitcher to catcher -- he's the one who's up to bat.

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Join me next Monday for another installment of The Pre-Empt Chronicles, as I transition from full house to empty nest.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

10 Things to Look Forward To As An Empty Nester
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