i’m concerned about your brother.

15 12 2009

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that from one of my parents, well, I’d have a room full of nickels. (More fun than it sounds.) “He doesn’t seem to have any direction,” “he has no drive,” “all he wants to do is hang out with his friends,” “I don’t think he’s thought about how he’s going to pay for school next semester…”

I respond pretty much the same way every time. Which makes it damn frustrating that the question still has to be posed again and again every month or so. I tell them what they already know: that they can’t expect him to start acting like an adult until they start treating him like one.

An aside, for the hundreds of thousands of people reading this who don’t know me personally (why are none of you showing up in my stats? Weird, invisible people!): The rule in our household growing up was: we get 22 years of being supported by our parents. They foot the bill for everything up to and including our 4th year of college – then we’re on our own. Because, my parents reasoned, quite rightly, without being cut off from our financial and housing support, we risk never growing into independent, capable adults who can take care of ourselves.

I am behind this plan. I support this plan. I’ll admit I wasn’t completely sold on it at the time the actual cutting-off happened, but I don’t hold that against myself – it was a rough time.

The problem is when the plan doesn’t get implemented.

Exhibit A: Brother of mine. He’s currently working on his 5th year of undergrad. It may be worth pointing out that this is not due to a challenging major, a double major, or numerous academic concentrations, but merely because he couldn’t muster up the will to pass his core and communications classes in his first four years.

And whenever my parents expressed the titular concern to me about his academic performance – which happened repeatedly throughout his schooling, as academia is my strong suit – I would tell them: It’s because he’s not taking you seriously when you say he’s only got 4 years.

And, as it turns out, he had no reason to take them seriously. I graduated in May of 2007 – I was cut off in June. Now, my father made my loan payments during the year that I took off (and my cell phone bill, for what it’s worth) but other than that I was on my own (and living on my own). Rent, utilities, food…these were all my responsibility, and it sucked hard, and I learned how to manage finances and deal with landlords and roommates and how adults functioned in the real world.

It is now 7 months since my brother concluded his 4th year of college. While my parents no longer contribute to his college payments – which may or may not still lead to his dropping out because he can’t be bothered to figure out how to pay for it himself – he lives at their house rent-free and his cell phone bill is the one and only thing he IS paying for himself. My father even still gives him a weekly “allowance” of money to spend on food while he’s on campus. (And I don’t know about my brother, but in my senior year that allowance went almost exclusively towards booze and cigarettes.)

Anyway, all this was a whole lot of background to get to my real story: the particular incarnation of this ages-old conversation that my mother initiated with me this very morning.

“I almost don’t know how to ask this,” she said, as I stood in the foyer archway, cocking an eyebrow, “I’m concerned about your brother. He doesn’t seem to have any direction. All he wants to do is hang out with his friends. I don’t think he knows how he’s going to pay for his next semester.”

And I responded, as always, and not without a little I-told-you-so (as is my way), that he still doesn’t get it because he still hasn’t been cut off.

He wants to hang out with his friends all the time, but so did I when I was a senior. And, I said, if I could have figured out a way to stay in school an extra year and hang out with my friends some more, consequence-free, I would have done it in a heartbeat.

She went on to say that my father is unwilling to let him fail, and that – and here’s when it gets surreal – that she thought one way to work on the problem was by restricting the number of guests he could have at the house.

The first words out of my mouth were, “I think that’s a terrible idea.” My mom is thinking short-term. She wants the guests out of the house, and while that is a perfect way to solve her problem right now, parenting my brother with punishments and rules is a bass-ackwards way of getting him to act like an adult.

You can’t force your kid to act like an adult by grounding him. The only way you can force your kid to act like an adult is to stop parenting him.

If, as she suggests, it is my father’s unwillingness to let him fail that has gotten them into this situation then perhaps she needs to take a stand with her husband instead of with her son.

What I said was: “When I have overnight guests here, I don’t feel bad about it, and I don’t seek your permission – because I’m paying rent. And if I were living in a house with any other 3 people and paying rent, I would feel entitled to entertain guests in the space that I pay and care for. If what you want is for him to be an adult, then he needs to be paying rent, not to have his social life overseen by his parents.”

And what I didn’t say was: “The boy is 22 and at least twice a month I hear the phrase ‘My dad says I can’t have people over tonight’ come out of his mouth. How pathetic is that? Is that who you want your son to be? The guy who says that?”

Of course not. They want their son to be a responsible, financially sound and fully-functional adult. But as far as I can tell, they’re not yet willing to give up being parents in order to get it.

I just wonder how many times they’ll be interested to hear the same advice from me time and again before they either take it or realize they don’t actually want it. Either way, at the end of the month it won’t be my problem anymore.

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2 responses

15 12 2009
wmn1dfl

Good advice. Wonder if they’ll take it.

15 12 2009
Youknowhwo

Excellent advice and should have been heeded a long time ago. I will say it’s much more difficult to follow this advice than to give it; I’ve given it to myself many times.

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