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Dear Care and Feeding,
Months ago, my 17-year-old daughter showed me a short piece by someone lamenting that their parents cut them off at age 18. Seeming not to grasp the author’s point, my daughter suggested that I do this to her! I pointed out that she will be free to leave, reject any financial support, or even ignore me completely, although that would break my heart. She said she would never stick with that if it remained her choice, and she wanted the experience of being left to sink or swim. Thus, I pretended to agree to this, thinking that such a mindset might indeed have some benefit.
With her 18th birthday approaching, I asked whether she had found a place to live. She said she didn’t mean she would leave on the day she turned 18. I told her she has to be out a week after her birthday. We stared at each other and said no more. Now I’m wondering how far to take this. I wouldn’t actually force her out, and might not even press her on this further. But should I immediately tell her I was just kidding? Or should I let her believe this right up until the ostensive deadline, thus giving her a taste of what she wanted?
— Sink or Swim
You know your child, which means you probably have some idea as to whether she’s ready and willing to leave your house soon, or if this is just a series of thoughts that might have gotten a little out of hand. Either way, it’s time for you to drop the game and have a real talk with your daughter about her future. Are you planning to support her through college or a trade school? Is it your expectation that she’ll get a job and contribute to the household if she stays? Does she know what it is that she wants to do with her life? It sounds like maybe you all should have been talking about these things on a more regular basis anyway. Perhaps she has gotten carried away by how she interpreted what she read, but that doesn’t mean that she’s prepared for a “sink or swim” introduction to the world. Time to start talking about what she is ready for, and to plan for what your role in that might look like. No more games!
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My childhood Christmases were a blast. We’d visit one set of grandparents on Christmas Eve, the other on Christmas Day. Each year it would be the same people; it was a warm and child-friendly tradition that we looked forward to all year long, even into our teens. The problem is that, 40 years later, we’re still doing the same thing. And instead of evolving for the next generation of children, now it’s all for the adults. Everything that made it so enchanting as kids—the predictability, the intimacy, the kid focus—has eroded.