Help me help a young adult move out!
February 11, 2024 11:16 PM   Subscribe

My niece Amy will be 18 in March and done with high school a couple months later. She lives at home with her parents and two younger siblings. For about a year, she's been wanting to move out. Her parents were against that all along - they think she should stay at home while she's in school, and ideally even for the first couple years of college. I believe this is partly a financial decision: While college itself is free here, they'd have to pay for lodging. However, the situation at home is not ideal. I want to help this young adult get herself into a safe place.

The problem: At home, my niece is very often (daily?) in conflict with other family members. Most notably, this is her dad, who has outbursts of anger that include awful insults and even displays of violence against objects. This scares Amy, who gets the brunt of it at the moment (the younger siblings are fine so far).

Now, through a friend, I found a cheap housesharing option. The area is safe, close to school and college, she can take her cat...when Amy heard about it, she was delighted. She hopes that moving out will improve the relationship to her parents.

But we didn't anticipate the amount of pushback she'd get from them. They are now saying they'd cut her off (not sure if that's legal around here). Even if they did, Amy has a weekend job and would almost certainly receive what amounts to 500$ of student housing assistance (twice the rent). So she could actually make this work somehow.

My main question is: If I want to keep helping her with this (which I do), how do I talk to her mother? Mom is texting me saying I should prevent this from happening. I can't really, but also - I don't want to. I hear her parents' concerns about finishing school first (they say she's too anxious to do it on her own), but I hear Amy's concerns about the conflict, too. Amy's a very responsible kid and I'm almost certain she will finish school no matter what. Plus, it's important to be said that she'd most likely still see her parents regularly - this is all happening in the same town. She's not moving across the country by herself.

In a nutshell: if I don't want crazy drama, I will have to help Amy, but lie or at least evade with her parents. My moral compass is conflicted. I think it's more important to help the kid. What do you think?
posted by toucan to Human Relations (22 answers total)
Help the kid, but be aware that if it turns out the parents are right and Amy can't pull it off, you are responsible for helping her then too. This isn't a one and done. Otherwise, you gave her the tip about the apartment and housing support (they generally won't pay more than you pay in rent btw, why do you think that?), the rest is up to her.
posted by Iteki at 11:22 PM on February 11 [20 favorites]

I think I would focus first on helping Amy figure out if she wants to pursue this with the possibility of being cut off hanging over her head.

How certain is that "almost certain" about the support, and that she'd get more than the actual rent and can keep the remainder for other expenses? What's the waitlist like for that assistance / what will she have to do and how often to keep proving she's eligible for it? How stable is her weekend job and how comfortable is she having it suddenly be her primary income source? Are you prepared to be her backup plan if the assistance budget gets slashed and her job cuts staff and her parents hold firm on not providing support? Can you walk her through creating a realistic, detailed budget to figure out exactly how much wiggle room she will have? Does absolutely everything have to go perfectly for this to be feasible, or will she be fine even if one or two things fall through? Can you help her investigate other forms of assistance that might be available to her?

Assuming that she wants to go ahead after those discussions, vs. saving up for a while longer to have a bigger cushion before moving out, then yes, I think it's more important to help her than to placate her mother and avoid drama. You don't need to get into it with her mother in any more detail than that you understand her concerns, but you think Amy is a responsible, smart, levelheaded young adult who will make good choices and is ready to start living with roommates.
posted by Stacey at 5:23 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

I have heard stories from other parents of incredibly supportive counseling/ombudsperson efforts at some colleges. However this shakes out, the school might be helpful. It seems that the school should be made aware in case the worst happens; certainly a dramatic change in financial status should be talked about in advance. It might take a gap year/semester to sort out. There may be loans etc that were not part of an initial package due to a former state of affairs. Walking through that process is probably a requirement at this stage.
posted by drowsy at 6:23 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

I should add that I found institutions of ed to behave radically differently after a bill goes out than beforehand. There is a contract being made, that is the reason for getting in front of this.
posted by drowsy at 6:27 AM on February 12

I think you need to say farewell to your desire for no drama if you're involved, because this situation is dramatic. If you help, you're a part of the recipe like all the other ingredients. That's not a bad thing, but it is an unavoidable thing.

Admitting that I only understand the thinnest fraction of the full story: I would play both sides for now with the ultimate commitment being to support hte kid. You can keep helping Amy while you gather more information and perhaps decide if her parents have a stronger case than it may seem to you now. In particular, if conflict at home is a part of the problem is there a way for you to broker a middle step? You could suggest a mediator from a family counseling practice so that everyone is able to speak with the help of a trained coach (and in so doing extricate yourself from some of the details of the drama).

I mention that option because my middle kid moved out waaaay too young. Ostensibly it was to address some of the tension that came along with her volatility during the early stages of gender transition. In the end, though, she had so few life skills that the moving out "solution" exacerbated many of the problems and led to much more drama. We eventually got a family counseling recommendation that we all wished we'd thought of sooner.

Hang in there and thanks for trying to be this kid's advocate.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:29 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]

I presume you're not in the US because free college sounds like a miracle, but I'd try to figure out what, if anything, has to depend on parents. Like the FAFSA or whatever they may have like that where you live. How much parental goodwill/cooperation will they have to keep to survive? Can they get all important legal documents into their possession? If Amy packs up and leaves on her 18th birthday while still in high school, can she get away with that with high school?

I also agree that for now, you play both sides. Oh gee, Mom, I don't know, we'll see, be hedgy and noncommittal as long as you can.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:35 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]

One thing that strikes me is the March move out date. Is there anyway Amy can hang on until after she graduates, and move out closer to the start of her college term? Moving out the minute she turns 18 is extreme and kind of an "Eff you" to her parents (perhaps deserved). This seems to add unnecessary drama. Her parents might still be annoyed, but moving out to go to college is way more common than moving out when you are in high school.

From the parent's point of view, that you are setting Amy up with housing is meddling and over stepping. But that ship has sailed, so I'm not sure what lies you would need to tell. I'd lean more towards, she's 18, she is free to do what she wants.

I will say that you seem well-intentioned and caring, but there is a bit of, I don't know, unrealistic expectations. Even without anxiety and family problems, life can be a lot for an 18-year-old going to college. You say college is free, but is it really? Are there fees, food, transportation costs that will need to be addressed?

A "cheap house sharing option" is a great opportunity, but probably won't last forever, and it might not even be a good fit. As Iteki says, what is the plan when she: needs help with paperwork, forgets to pay something, the housing doesn't work out and she has to move somewhere else? What if she flunks out, her cat dies, she runs up a credit card, gets sick and cannot work etc. etc. etc.. Simply hooking her up with housing is not going to solve the family dysfunction.

So, as you navigate this, I'd try to keep relationships cordial and encourage Amy and her mother to discuss things and leave you out. Giving her parents the benefit of the doubt, some of their concerns could be met at least halfway, such as Amy successfully finishes HS and then moves out. That she commits to coming home every week to see her younger siblings, or whatever else might be an issue. But I think Amy should be having these conversations with her mother; when you are asked to "prevent" it, say talk to Amy.

I do want to offer a validation of the mom's feelings. It cannot be easy for her to deal with jerk husband and her daughter fleeing the nest. Imagine a family in a canoe; a mother's instinct would be to keep the canoe from rocking too much and capsizing; if everyone just sat down and shut up life would be calm again! If Amy and you saw this from her perspective, it might help with communication.

Hope some of this is helpful, good luck to you and her.
posted by rhonzo at 6:39 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]

I'm sorta surprised at these answers so far:

her dad, who has outbursts of anger that include awful insults and even displays of violence against objects. This scares Amy, who gets the brunt of it at the moment
they say she's too anxious to do it on her own

Do you think it's possible that at least some of her anxiety is rooted in having to deal with the unpredictability of a raging/violent parent, with another parent who appears unwilling/unable to help - who, in fact, has chosen the financial blackmail route at the suggestion her daughter might get to be free from this unhealthy living situation?

It's possible this specific house share is the best option - she should of course meet the people who will be living there to make sure that they gel. Universities tend to be surrounded by this sort of rental, is that the case where you are? If so, then I wouldn't rush your choice since finding a good fit, housemate wise, is key.

As for your role: I'd offer to help Amy with the physical move itself, and take her to a Target/Ikea to get set up with the household basics. If she doesn't already know how to cook, I'd teach her a few basics like spaghetti, baked chicken, etc. I would use whatever leverage you have to push back against your sister (I'm assuming that's your relationship with her mom?), and try to address whatever fears she has - millions of 18 year-olds move out all the time, and it's fine.
posted by coffeecat at 6:57 AM on February 12 [15 favorites]

Most notably, this is her dad, who has outbursts of anger that include awful insults and even displays of violence against objects. This scares Amy, who gets the brunt of it

This is abuse. This is abuse. This is abuse. If the mom is not prepared to protect her child(ren) from abuse — if she is prioritizing keeping her relationship with an abuser over the safety and well-being of her kids (I mean, Amy is “too anxious”? Gee, I wonder why), then she is wrong. It’s a mistake that is all too common, and I’m not saying she has bad intentions, but her judgement is compromised. You’ve got to prioritize Amy here. That’s the moral compass part of the answer.

Having established that, let’s move to tactics. These will be very situation and location-specific, and may involve talking to Amy about what feels safest to her, reaching out to the school and other local resources, providing direct financial support if you are able, setting up contingency plans in case her parents’ desire to control her escalates into violence or financial abuse, and (yes) possibly lying to or being evasive with her parents. Because I don’t know the specifics, I can’t advise you on what tactics would be best — but I can say that your criteria should be, “Will this action support Amy’s safety and well-being?”

Given the situation you outlined, Amy is likely in for some serious challenges — financial, emotional, and material. If you can get her connected to support, that seems like it might be helpful. You may want to reach out to a domestic abuse hotline in your area for additional advice and resources.

You’re in a position to help your niece safely exit a situation of abuse. I’m glad she has you. Please continue to make her well-being your priority - and keep an eye on the other kids if you can, too. One of them will likely become the scapegoat once Amy is out of the house.
posted by ourobouros at 7:02 AM on February 12 [15 favorites]

Is there anyway Amy can hang on until after she graduates, and move out closer to the start of her college term?

Her dad throws things. It's entirely possible he'll escalate and start throwing things AT HER. It's abuse. It's not like abuse mellows out and gets better. (I do agree that the younger ones are probably going to be abused once Amy's gone, too, but I really don't know what anyone can do there.)

Moving out the minute she turns 18 is extreme and kind of an "Eff you" to her parents (perhaps deserved).

People who move out on their 18th birthdays are either (a) being kicked out by their asshole parents and are forced to, or (b) things are really, really, really, really bad at home and they need to get out the second they are legally allowed to for their own safety. Amy sounds like she's there.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:27 AM on February 12 [13 favorites]

Faced with similar situations, what our family learned was:

1. Get the child connected to professional supports as soon as possible - here that meant applying for student welfare
2. Assume things will go wrong with roommates, school, summer, etc. What are the backup plans if the parents do cut her off?
3. Things with the parents don’t improve - they change.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:03 AM on February 12 [10 favorites]

You could suggest a mediator from a family counseling practice so that everyone is able to speak with the help of a trained coach (and in so doing extricate yourself from some of the details of the drama).

Amy's father is abusive. Amy's mom seems to have moved beyond the role of essentially passive co-victim to active complicity (working hard to keep Amy in the home). I don't know if the profession has yet realized that family counseling should not be offered to abusive parents the way it has with couples therapy and abusive partners, but it's the truth.

Morally, you are absolutely in the clear to help Amy get out of this situation. But, as others have noted above, you need to be able to offer significant support to her, as she will be on her own without much other assistance. The house-share could fall through. She could have weird issues with the transition to college. The dad could do actively sabotaging things like refusing to give her copies of vital records (before she moves out she should make sure she has copies of everything possible). Once she's in a safe place, she may well have any of a number of post-traumatic reactions that may make work/schooling difficult. She'll need more than help on moving day.
posted by praemunire at 8:27 AM on February 12 [11 favorites]

Hi, Amy is basically me when I was 19 (abusive dad, enabler/helicopter mom, not allowed to move out).

I moved out into a cheap apartment by getting a relative to help me with references and come along to sign paperwork/put down the deposit. I managed to get all my basic items for the place from walmart and the dollar store for super cheap. The actual moving out is very easy (as long as she's cool with mattress on the floor, milkcrate-furniture style living).

The main question I think you should ask yourself going forward is: are you willing to keep helping her?

The first few weeks and months will be hell, and her parents might try to actively sabotage her. For me this was my mother refusing to stop bothering me, and my father preventing me from taking any property I'd missed on moving day.

There is potential that the drama from her parents will fade over the months after she moves out (at least in my experience), but if you abandon her, you will be sending her right back into it, with the potential for escalation of abuse. Ask me how I know.

Financial support from school is going to be difficult if her parents aren't on board, and nearly impossible if she doesn't have an adult to help her navigate the bureaucracy. Schools often require attendance and GPA standards to be met to retain funding, too, so if she has an emergency that puts her behind in school for a couple months... she might be SOL.

If she doesn't own a car, you have to be willing to be around for things like vet appointments and other outings that cannot be done on foot or by bus. Do not assume "she can ask a friend" because early college friendships are extremely fickle, and she deserves an emergency contact to rely on.

If you're not willing to be her support for the next 8+ months, I don't suggest pushing this, and I'd say wait until she's fully in college and maybe has a few more resources lined up.
posted by Pemberly at 9:31 AM on February 12 [15 favorites]

For the specific question of interacting with Amy's parents, grey rock may be a good method. Don't volunteer information, keep repeating facts (like "she's a legal adult" and maybe "I'll keep an eye on her") without agreeing with what they say, meet on neutral ground unless Amy specifically asks you to, say, accompany her to collect her things.

Once she's moved out, it might be good to offer some structure. Maybe a standing invitation to dinner or breakfast once a week to catch up? It's a bit therapy-ish, but getting her hands busy helping you with something, even if just weeding the flower beds, can make it easier for her to talk about her own emotions. Because trust me, after a childhood like that she'll need to learn what her emotions actually are when not in full flight ir fight mode.

Actual therapy can wait until she's settled - say next year.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:21 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]

I've been in a similar position of helping a kid while placating the parent(s). Grey rock is essentially the strategy I used, with a side of harm reduction framing. Basically, the underlying thesis is "Sure, as an adult I understand your points, and yet Amy is clearly planning on doing this anyway. It's better if she remains in communication with me, a fellow adult, than if I get lumped in with the parents she's clearly ignoring. I can help keep her safe while she's trying to do it her way, and when she's ready to come back to you, it won't be so hard as if there'd been a big fight."

I agree that if you do this, you ought to be prepared to help again if it turns out fleeing was too big a leap, but I too bet that getting away from an abusive home will do wonders for Amy's anxiety.
posted by teremala at 10:45 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

Are you in the same town? Any chance you could have Amy move in with you for a few months and then find her something.

If you are on good terms with her parents otherwise, this could be a middle ground option to agree too, but if they can't even agree to that, something is definitely up. For example, in the U.S. a parent gets to claim any child that lives at home with them as a dependent and it can save them a substantial amount of money on taxes. Do the parents have access to Amy's bank accounts? A 2014 Time article referred to a survey revealing that 30-50% of parents routinely take assets from their children's accounts.

Does Amy have enough money to make it work and thrive or just to make it work and survive? If her financial footing is not strong, things could go really poorly really quickly, and you would need a back up plan that might involve living with you if you are in town.

Aside from the housing issue, it would be really helpful if you discretely help her get her other adulting info in order. To avoid active sabotage and also general difficulty from her parents when she eventually moves out, it will be helpful for her to have access to copies of her vital documents safely stored. Think medical records, birth certificate, driver's license, and anything else she might need for adulting sorts of tasks. She will likewise need to learn about living independently (like what to do when the toilet starts overflowing, etc). She might also need communications transferred to her (for example, if her parents' email addresses are the ones on file for her bank, school, etc).

You're doing something amazing by helping her, and you need to make sure that the help you're providing is enough to really give her a foundation, so the floor doesn't end up falling out from under her.
posted by donut_princess at 6:51 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]

Coming in late to add ... the younger kids are NOT fine. They are witnessing daily instances of violence and abuse. Even if it's not directed at them specifically, they are very much impacted by this. This is not OK and will have lifelong repercussions for them. You're a great aunt/uncle by working to help Amy but please be aware the younger siblings need you every bit as much if not more.
posted by Kangaroo at 9:26 AM on February 13 [5 favorites]

and if the younger siblings are “fine” now because, as you explain it, Amy is there to draw all his anger when she’s in the house, that will certainly change when she leaves. do you think her departure is likely to make him decide that having a younger, weaker scapegoat is no fun anymore? most people do not operate that way. when they lose something they value, they select a replacement.

this isn’t something you should bring to her attention, obviously. but as you prepare to take responsibility for changing her life you should think about what burdens you will and will not be prepared to assume for your other younger and more helpless relatives. practically and legally you may not even have any useful help to offer once he turns his focus to one of them. which he will. this is not a reason not to help Amy. she should absolutely move out as soon as she’s a legal adult, and stay out through her college years. if you are encouraging her to leave sooner than that, and actively bringing her attention to opportunities that she would not have known about without you, you owe it to her to guarantee her a fallback option (living with you, or you paying her rent) once she makes her move.

and while sure, lying to abusers is ok, if you can direct some of their anger towards you and away from her by being truthful about which parts of this were your idea, you ought to do that. “drama” should not register among your concerns here, which are several and serious.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:10 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]

I agree, but how are you going to get younger kids who aren't 18 away from their parents and out of the house? Call CPS? Does that even work these days?
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:47 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]

Echoing other writers here that the other kids are not fine and if you want to help you're going to have to prepare to help 1-3 children for a long period. The problem is not managing Amy's fledgling steps into adulthood, the problem is the dad's abuse and the mom's enabling.
posted by panhopticon at 7:38 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]

They are now saying they'd cut her off (not sure if that's legal around here)

Figure out the facts of the law where you live.

I'm assuming you are outside of the US, but in the US a student is required to provide information from the parents tax return, information that the student doesn't actually have a legal right to access. The parents in turn have no obligation whatsoever to provide this information, and most help for students is based on the FAFSA in some way.

It's possible to escape this by becoming an emancipated minor but this can only be done before turning 18.

It's very important that you figure out if there are any legal things that need to be taken care of NOW before she turns 18.

Also, make sure that she is able to be on a bank account her parents can't access.

we didn't anticipate the amount of pushback she'd get from them
how do I talk to her mother? Mom is texting me saying I should prevent this from happening. I can't really, but also - I don't want to.

She should consider if she's actually benefiting in any way from them knowing about this plan in advance. Will she be treated better at home if she "changes her mind"? Is there something that Amy might like you to say to her mom about how you are "preventing this"? Talk with Amy about how she wants to handle this.
posted by yohko at 7:11 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Also, you should offer to Amy to be a place where she can store things that she might like to have out of the house already. Important identity documents, favorite keepsakes, anything that might be taken from her to make it harder to move or to punish her for moving. Many of these things can be slowly taken out of the house over time in a schoolbag.

she can take her cat

Consider carefully what the plan should be for the cat. Will the cat be safe with this conflict going on? Can you keep the cat for a bit?

Also make a safety plan for her in case the conflict escalates.
posted by yohko at 7:16 PM on February 15

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