Home Education Magazine
September-October 2004 - Articles and Columns
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Alternatives for 18-Year- Old Homeschoolers
Increasing numbers of homeschoolers (and conventionally-schooled young people) are choosing alternative ways of living and learning after they reach age 18. They are moving beyond the widespread assumption that high school graduates should either go to college, get a full-time job and live on their own, or join the military. Instead, many homeschoolers choose to build on and expand what they have been doing: learning through life experience; pursuing their passions; interacting with people of many different ages; and doing real work that contributes to their own growth and development and strengthens them, their families, and their communities.
Some of these homeschoolers choose not to attend college because they want to avoid the restrictions inherent in institutionalized learning, factors that led their families to choose homeschooling in the first place. Some want to avoid the burdens and limitations imposed by the high costs of college which mean that either they or their parents or both have to work extra now and/or be saddled with debt.
At the same time, many grown homeschoolers realize that working full-time primarily to earn money will prevent them from having the time and energy they need to explore alternatives and discover or create the work they really want to do. Without the pressures of finding and keeping a full-time job, young people who already have an interest they want to pursue are freer to learn more about it, decide whether to continue in this area, and build a solid and sensible foundation of training and experience. Those who haven't decided what work they want to do can pursue a potential interest or something they want to know more about. When people are not set on a full-time job, many more opportunities are available, including volunteer work, internships or apprenticeships, part-time work, and travel. Without the restrictions of being a full-time employee, people are freer to make midcourse corrections or leave a situation once they have learned as much as they want to know or have decided it is not an area in which they want to do further work. They can learn a great deal in a relatively short time and have a much better chance of finding work that is a good match for them. They avoid ending up educated and trained for work that they then discover is not what they want, as happens to many people. In short, they have a better opportunity to create a life that is satisfying and rewarding.
Many young people find that taking responsibility for their lives is much more manageable if they continue to be based at home. When thoughtfully made, such an arrangement promotes the young person's growth and development rather than restricting it as some people fear it will. People who have a secure base to take off from and return to are in a much better position to explore, try new things, take risks. Family members can provide support and encouragement that is especially important when other people, including well-meaning friends and relatives, question the young person's choices.
Parents also benefit from such an arrangement. They have the joy and satisfaction of continuing to support their children. They grow themselves as they continue to learn with and from their children and to create healthy approaches to mature family life. Living with young people who are pursuing their passions and embracing opportunities gives parents energy and incentives to grow and pursue their own dreams. The transition they experience as young people move out is smoother, more gradual, and more manageable. In short, many parents find that rather than being robbed of time and money for themselves, their lives are enriched and enhanced.
In addition, both young people and parents have the opportunity to spend more time with people they know well and care deeply about. Learning to relate as mature adults rather than as parent and child benefits everyone for the rest of their lives and makes future challenges, including parents' aging, more manageable. The financial savings are substantial for everyone. It's also more efficient and more fun to share meals, housework, errands, and other tasks.
Of course, there are challenges when parents and adult children live together, especially in a society which often criticizes or at least questions such arrangements and turns them into fodder for sit coms. The stereotypes are not healthy, helpful, encouraging, or flattering: obnoxious, overbearing, sometimes hopelessly out-of-date parents creating havoc with the lives of weak and dependent adult children. However, homeschoolers and others are showing that it is possible and very satisfying for all concerned to create models that encourage healthy, supportive relationships.
Here are some ideas that many families have found helpful.
Redefine Independence and Move Toward Interdependence
Our society tends to pressure children to become independent as soon as possible, focusing on independence as measured by physical separation. Toddlers who go off to daycare without showing emotion and 18 year olds who move out of their families' homes are considered good examples. But closer examination shows that real independence is measured more by people's ability to know and be true to themselves, to choose and maintain strong moral principles, to be unique individuals who can relate in healthy ways to other individuals. This kind of independence is not defined by physical separation. Independent individuals can live together while people separated by thousands of miles can be dependent in unhealthy ways.
In addition, it often makes sense to put more emphasis on interdependence than independence. Who among us is not stronger and better able to live a responsible life when we know people who respect and support us and will lend a hand when we need it? Interdependence has gotten a bad rap with the attention focused on co-dependence. However, responsible interdependence means giving what you can and taking only what you need. People do not give and receive in equal measure. Strong, healthy, fortunate people end up giving more than those with greater needs. That's just part of the reality and responsibility of being strong, healthy, and fortunate.
Transform the Family into a Community
Many families with grown children have changed the basic structure and organization of their family into something that resembles a community. In a community, members realize that when they as individuals contribute to the community, it becomes stronger and everyone benefits (including them). Community members share responsibility for the direction, vision, and work that must be done. Everyone contributes to decision making, which is often done by consensus rather than on the basis of age, strength, or majority rule. Individuals direct their own lives as long as their choices are not life-threatening or morally threatening and don't interfere with the ability of others to make choices. (For example, noise and odors tend to affect other people more than many other things.)
Many families find that this transition from parent-run family to community takes place gradually over many years. It is often easier in families in which attention is paid to everyone's needs and wants from the beginning and when parents encourage young people to make their own decisions about things that are not life threatening or morally-threatening. However, it's not unusual for the process of moving from parent-run family to community to get stuck, especially during the teen years. By then both parents and young people can take responsibility for keeping things on track through gentle but direct communication, problem solving, and trying new approaches. It takes flexibility, willingness to change, and experimenting with various approaches to find a good balance and to manage the transition, especially when one person is more ready for change than another. Many parents have said things like, "It's time for the housework to be divided more equitably. Do you want to volunteer or should I make a list you can choose from?" Many young people have said things like, "I'm an adult now, and this is a decision I can handle." or "I realize we've always gone camping as a family, but this summer my brother and I want to go on a week-long trip ourselves." In the short run, feelings may be hurt, even when the speaker is thoughtful and gentle, but in the long run, the family grows.
Respect Everyone's Privacy and Individuality
Information is shared when people want an empathetic listener or some advice or when common courtesy or safety requires it. Otherwise, people don't read each other's mail, eavesdrop, ask prying questions, etc. Available space is formally or informally divided into "community space" that everyone shares and that is kept relatively orderly and "private space" that individuals make choices about. Young people don't have to leave home to make their own decisions and live their own lives. Parents don't have to kick them out so they can pursue their dreams. Everyone can live in the same building, free to grow and develop, supported and encouraged by people who know and care about them.
For example, instead of parents saying, "You must be home by midnight," they can say, "It's important for you to be safe. At what time should we worry if you're not home?" An alarm clock can be set, and parents can get some well-earned rest. Young people can turn off the alarm clock when they get home and only wake their parents if they need or want to talk.
Handle Finances Creatively and Appropriately
The possibilities are endless, and arrangements need to be adjusted as people and circumstances change. If care is not taken, money may become an unhealthy way for some people to control others. Some families follow a fairly conventional approach with each person responsible for earning their own money and covering their own expenses, including perhaps rent and food. Others establish a community fund to which everyone contributes according to their circumstances and which is used to cover food, shared vehicles and gas, etc. The parents may cover all housing costs (mortgage, repairs, etc.) or the community may assume responsibility for them or individuals may pay rent, perhaps on a sliding scale. Many families work until they come up with a system that seems reasonable to everyone, taking into account that some work pays better than other work, and some people may need a break from earning money to get training or experience or to recover from a challenge. Often giving one or more people a break from money worries for a relatively short time pays big dividends in the long run as these people become established in work that suits them.
Another way to make money more manageable is to reduce spending. Work done by family members can save a lot. Think of the savings that would result if one or more people took an auto mechanics course and then did oil changes, other maintenance, and simple repairs on all the vehicles! A community can also save a lot by providing its own entertainment, for example, playing cards or board games or just hanging out and relaxing together. Cooking a special meal together costs much less than eating out and allows more time and privacy for serious conversations. Knowing people who are committed to living simply makes it easier to resist the temptations of advertising and mass consumption.
Allow Everyone the Opportunity to Leave for Periods of Time
A big advantage to shared housing is that people can take off for several weeks, months or longer to explore options, knowing someone will feed the cat and water the house plants and, perhaps more importantly, that they have a base to keep in touch with and to return to. Such an arrangement often gives more freedom and independence than "moving out." Some families use the space that has been vacated by travelers in various ways, assuring them that space will be made available for them when they return. Others reserve travelers' space for them as concrete evidence that they will be welcomed back.
Focus on Positive Aspects of Being Together Many families deliberately let go of the nagging feelings of "Kids aren't supposed to like their parents," "Kids need to rebel to become independent." Young people whose parents listen to them, respect them, and encourage them to know themselves and become themselves have much less need to rebel. They also let go of parents' feeling that "As a middle-aged adult, I need to develop my own life independent of my children."
Negative comments from other people are to be expected. "Are you STILL living with your parents?" or "Isn't it time for you to kick those kids out?" Questions and criticism are easier to deal with when people have a rehearsed response that they can deliver smoothly, such as "We've chosen to live together as adults the way many people have done traditionally and many Europeans still do."
Both young people and parents benefit when the young people continue to use their family home as a base as they explore options and opportunities for life and work after they reach 18. Many families are making such a situation work by redefining independence, transforming their family into a community, handling money in creative ways, respecting everyone's privacy and individuality, and focusing on the positive aspects of being together.
© 2004 Larry and Susan Kaseman
September-October 2004 - Articles and Columns
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