Not a kid, not yet an adult.
June 26, 2009 1:31 PM   Subscribe

My husband's 18 year old nephew may be moving in with us and I need some suggestions to make it a good experience.

My husband's nephew graduated from high school last month and was recently told by family that he couldn't live with them anymore. He has one month to find alternate living arrangements. We offered to let him stay with us with some conditions and I was hoping to get some advice about setting boundaries and also about empowering teenagers to become adults and make their own decisions.

Nephew is a great kid (did pretty well in school and doesn't get into any serious trouble) and deserves some support. It kills me that he is basically being told he isn't wanted by other members of the family just when he's trying to figure out what to do next in his life. At the same time, this is my home and I want to be very clear what living with us means. I also think it's important that he start making adult choices and living with the consequences of those choices.

Our conditions include:
- paying a relatively small amount for room and board to help cover our increased costs for food and utilities. This amount is smaller if he is in college; larger if he isn't. If he doesn't help cover expenses, he will need to make other arrangements within 30 days.

- he is responsible for his own transportation

- some basic roommate stuff like headphones after 10:30 p.m. on weeknights, letting us know if he will be around for dinner, no parties, etc.

I would love some advice about empowering teenagers, some tricks for good communication in this type of situation, some suggestions for modifying or adding to our conditions. I'm not ancient or anything, but I'm far enough removed from being a teenager and even being around teenagers that any experience is welcome. I want this experience to be good for us and him and I do not want to end up being the "mom" in this situation.
posted by Kimberly to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I was 17 I had a similar situation. Here's my recommendation: pick if this person is your roommate or your ward. If they are your roommate then you have no say how late they stay out, what they do, etc. so long as they don't disturb you and pay the rent on time.

If he is your ward where you must worry about his well being, when he comes and goes, where he works, if he goes to school (which it seems you're pushing for with the "lower rent with college" bit) then you will find yourself as a rule enforcer. This will lead to rebellion. Depending on his home life, he may or may not already have it ingrained in him to rebel against anyone trying to exert that type of parental authority over him, so this would be the harder role I would think.

I'd be worried about modifying the deal in the middle of it. Sure, situations will arise that require handling, but the more you can arrange at the beginning the better. That way you can always refer to the original agreement rather than having a series of add-ons.
posted by arniec at 1:44 PM on June 26, 2009

Best answer: It's unclear whether he's being sent away because there was a problem of any sort or if this is just the family's strange coming-of-age thing. Keep that in mind while you are working these things out. For some kids, being on your own is a huge shock, depending on where you're coming from, for others it seems more natural. If he's coming from a household where all the stuff sort of belonged to everyone, going somewhere where that is not the case may result in a lot of tiny corrections. Try to be mindful of what he's used to while you determine what the house situation is going to be. Stress that you are all learning as you go and that you want things to work for everyone. Other things you may want to think about (by no means a complete list)

- guests - both hangout guests and possible sleepover guests (both the sexy and non-sexy variety) what are guidelines, what are limits?
- food - what is shared if any, what is not. will you have any meals together? will you feed guests?
- phone - does he have his own, do you share a land line, what are the guidelines there?
- common area stuff like TV/computer - any guidelines for who picks tv shows or turns on the computer? internet guidelines at all? general clutter tolerance?
- bathroom - is there a routine of who showers when in the bathroom or how you leave stuff [seat up/down, towels hung up or in the laundry]?
- security - make sure he knows the general "we always keep this door locked" types of things, these can vary a lot from place to place
- smoking? it's legal for kids his age, is it allowed for him? friends?

And lastly, consequences if this stuff doesn't work out. It's one thing to have a ton of rules and get annoyed when people don't follow them, it's another to have a responsible plan of what happens when the rules aren't followed. You and your husband should take some care to make sure you're on the same page with a lot of this, independently of how things are going with your new roommate, and check in with each othe roften "this okay with you?"
posted by jessamyn at 1:51 PM on June 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

if he's anything like me at 18, in spite of appearances, he's got pretty much everything to learn about being a functional adult ... but I'll just pick one point.

I remember the first time I moved out of the family home, I took it as license to not ever do anything I didn't want to, ever again. When this became an issue with my housemates (it didn't take long), my attitude became one of only doing "exactly" my share of what needed to be done (one quarter of the dishes, one quarter of the vacuuming etc). This, of course, didn't work either.

Finally, one of the roommates (a woman, of course, a few years older and wiser) pulled me aside and let me have it with both barrels. The one line that sticks with me, that I've never forgotten is: "God forbid that you might ever, by some horrible mistake of planning, do more than your fair share of anything. Grow fucking up and learn to live with other humans that aren't your mother."

I grew up.
posted by philip-random at 1:52 PM on June 26, 2009 [7 favorites]

I wouldn't frame it as room and board, or rent, which is so impersonal. He's not your boarder, he's family. So as family it's his responsibility to share the household expenses - according to his ability/means. Also to share in the housekeeping/cleaning/chores.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:55 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'd like to add a third option to what arniec said above -- in between "roommate" and "ward" is "tenant". With a tenant, you have some control over their actions -- ie you can specify house rules -- quiet hours, no parties, no drugs/alcohol, rent deadlines, etc. These are rules he have to obey in college, so there's no need to treat this situation any different. And if he breaks the rules, he gets evicted. (The dinner one might be harder to enforce using this model, but you could teach that as a basic common courtesy thing). I think this could be a valuable lesson to him -- living with others is something thats a needed skill, and it's different than living with your immediate family. At the same time, he gets to do his own thing, be his own person, and has all the same rights any other underage tenant would have.
posted by cgg at 2:06 PM on June 26, 2009

What Salamandrous said. Also, stuff like chores comes to mind. (We all have them, we just stop calling them that when we grow up - so you might want to find another term for this.) But things like laundry (he may need help learning how to do it), who does his sheets and towels and how often, dishes, making meals (again, he may need help here), house cleaning, lawn stuff if you want to get that involved.

All of that needs to be worked out, preferably on some sort of schedule that makes it clear that these are the things every adult who lives in a house does, not some kind of made up fake thing.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:09 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think there are definite differences as far as having him as a renter and kind of "taking him in" as a kind of dependent. If you are "taking him in" its reasonable to ask for things like electricity, food money, cable money, etc., since you are going to be paying for this and ensuring that he has access to it, but I think it puts him in kind of a bind in that he's halfway between a regular renter situation, and a family situation where he is just taken care of. If you are charging what is basically rent, then I think you have no right whatsoever to make a lot of rules as far as his guests, parties, pro-rated college rent etc. (although obviously things like no loud music after 1030pm are common courtesy and he will need to learn with ANY roommate situation).

I think that you should probably forego the prorated thing as far as college is concerned, that would have caused a lot of problems with me when I was 18 and makes it seem like pretty much a straight bribe. Treating him like a roommate where this is your house and here are the (minimal) rules might go over better as he will probably learn not to take advantage of your hospitality easier than if you treat him like a kid. As in, if he doesn't say he's around for dinner, he can cook himself, etc.
posted by shownomercy at 2:17 PM on June 26, 2009

Response by poster: These are all very helpful answers...keep 'em coming!

Just a point of clarification, he's getting kicked out because of family drama--not anything in particular he did and not really coming of age.

Also, we aren't trying to dictate whether or not he goes to college (although we want that for him), we just feel that if he's in school he will have less time to work and because we feel it's important we are willing to sacrifice a little more to make it happen for him. If he's not in school then he has more money to contribute to the household.
posted by Kimberly at 2:23 PM on June 26, 2009

Best answer: Thank you for being there for this young man. He really needs you right now. You may find yourself doing some mentoring of him as he learns to navigate his way into adulthood. You might want to reach out to your local foster parent support group or the foster parent forums. While you're not his foster parents, you will probably face many of the same issues that relatives and foster parents face when living with a teen who has been removed or rejected from their home. It is not unusual for relatives like you to ask for advice from the forum members.

Make sure you have the household rules really spelled out and engage your nephew in that discussion. You'll want to discuss his responsibilities such as his laundry, his room, if his has to do the dishes once a week, twice a week, etc.

Good luck! Please have lots of patience as his confusion and sense of loss of his home may play out differently than you expect.
posted by onhazier at 3:34 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think, under the circumstances, he's old enough to discuss this with. Start with acknowledging that this is some tough breaks, and you want to make this easier for him, but you've never done this before and neither has he so let's work it out together. Absolutely lay it out about college: we want you to go, and our way of helping you do that is to require less of you so you have the bandwidth to do that. Otherwise, things will be different. Discuss both scenarios.

Just don't expect him to somehow know what to do. It's not reasonable to expect him to know about either roommate or tenant relationships, or what life is going to be like after high school in general.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:52 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sorry this is rushed & rambly, but I’m running out the door.

When my ex invited his stepson to live with him, he only had one rule: They had to be kind to one another.

It sounds trite, but it really helped them grow into an adult relationship. Ex didn’t have to be The Dad and negotiate/enforce a bunch of specific rules, and Stepson felt respected, so he didn’t feel the need to rebel. Being treated like an adult at that age (with both the benefits and the responsibilities, with a bit of a cushion to allow for learning) is empowering for everybody involved.

Make sure everybody is on the same page about what you’re trying to accomplish by (very generously) opening your home to your Nephew – before he moves in. Will he stay for a year? Until he’s self supporting? Enrolled in college full-time? Indefinitely? If he’s moving in because of family drama, what kind of healthy boundaries can you set up to keep that from slopping over into your own life?

Last but not least – if it’s financially feasible, consider (privately) setting aside some of his rent money so he has a nest egg when he moves on. It sounds like he won’t necessarily have a traditional family structure (aka Bank of Mom & Dad) to rely on, so it’ll mean a lot for him to be a bit more self-sufficient than paycheck to paycheck when he gets his own place.

Not an easy decision for anybody, but you guys are wonderful and I know it will all turn out ok.
posted by Space Kitty at 6:10 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

What Space Kitty says. That helped me being able to look after myself way before my classmates. Being an adult is hard to learn by yourself, much easier to be given.
posted by flif at 10:31 AM on June 27, 2009

Thirding Space Kitty, especially the nest egg.

My Great-grandmother gave back two years of rent after my parents moved out and bought their first house. Got them off to an awesome start.
posted by codswallop at 4:41 PM on June 27, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. The answers here have been very helpful and have given us a lot to think about. We're going to have dinner with him tonight to talk about the situation and I feel much more ready for the discussion.
posted by Kimberly at 8:27 AM on June 29, 2009

Repeating from Lyn Never, simply because it is profound, and should be obvious, but I've seen it all too often forgotten:
Just don't expect him to somehow know what to do. It's not reasonable to expect him to know about either roommate or tenant relationships, or what life is going to be like after high school in general.

Depending on the situation, he might also be wounded by this, only it might be buried. If his behavior gets uncharacteristically erratic, counseling might be a good recommendation. I can easily imagine an essentially good kid being seriously hurt by such a turn of events.
posted by Goofyy at 10:18 PM on June 29, 2009

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