How can I parent a teen in a less antagonizing way?
April 11, 2007 5:05 PM   Subscribe

How can I make my household more functional and less antagonistic this summer? Tons of details inside.

My boyfriend and I live together and have a happy household. We have invited/allowed a 20-year-old young woman to stay with us, for free, for the summer. My relationship with this young woman is complicated, but briefly, she is from a very poor former Soviet country and I knew her family in her home country. She came to the U.S. on a scam and I helped her out of it and got her enrolled in college. I give her some financial support and a lot of emotional support. We are pretty much all she has for support in the U.S. and her parents aren't easily contactable.

She has lived with us on and off during school breaks over the past few years, but during the last winter break things were tougher than they had been in the past. We argued a lot and my boyfriend and I were quite frustrated with her (as will be detailed below).

We were more tolerant of her irresponsible behavior when she was 17, 18... but she has been in college for for over 2 years now and isn't showing any signs of growing more responsible. Examples: she was feeding the neighbor's cat, had their spare key and a borrowed book and although she has been asked by the neighbor and myself once a week via e-mail or phone since January, has yet to put the key or book in the mail; I had to REALLY nag her to send me her tax documentation - took her until last week to send 2 pieces of paper to me; she misplaces important documents, wallet often; she is bad at keeping a budget; when scholarships require transcripts and letters of recommendation she just won't get them; she chooses to eat candy all day long (fine - let your own teeth rot out); she won't take advice on wearing a sweater when it is chilly outside, goes out in shorts and tank top instead. I could go on. (She isn't disorganized per se and procrastinates like any college student.) In my opinion this is beyond 20-year-old college junior behavior. Maybe it is more normal than I suspect...

My boyfriend and I told her in the winter that we wanted to see improve responsible behavior from her - mainly in her budgeting. We set specific tasks (send a monthly budget update, send your tax documents, take classes this semester that actually count toward your major so you can finish on time) which were not met. We told her that we felt more comfortable with her staying with us all summer if she was being productive, namely had a steady babysitting job, enrolled in 1 or 2 classes that she needs to take for her major, and take a GRE prep course (as opposed to the hanging around the house that she tried to do all winter break). This is all taken care of, but I want to know what I can do to make things less antagonistic in our household. I don't know how to "raise" a teenager.

What I've been doing for the past few years:
- Let her make all her own choices, a la roommate style, I don't cook for her, clean up after her. If she leaves dishes out or something, I ask her to clean it up in the same way I would a roommate.
- If she walks out the door in inappropriate clothes for the weather, I say to her "it may be a little chilly once the sun sets." Or if she starts going for a run at 7pm, I'll say "the sun is probably going to set in 25 minutes, you may want to take a flashlight." (Should I stop doing this and let her "make her own choices"?)
- If I notice that her homework isn't done (ex. bookbag hasn't moved from table), I ask her if she got her homework done. (Should I stop this?)
- When she tells me about parties or drinking, I really suggest to her (very petite) to drink responsibly.

As you can imagine, these "helpful" requests create a level of stress in our household that isn't usually there between the 2 adults. I could stop trying to be helpful, but then silently stress about her doing her homework, getting bad grades, freezing her ass off, getting drunk. She doesn't like being told what to do, natch. How do parents of teens do this sort of "helping" without being a nag and creating this stress for all of us?
posted by k8t to Human Relations (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, a 20 year old isn't a teen, she's an adult. Treat her like one. If she wants to eat candy all day that's her choice.

I'm friends with an eastern European girl who's incredibly irresponsible, and it's gotten her into a lot of trouble. It's very frustrating, and when I try to lecture her she just says "I know, I know" and never improves.

I know it can be tough, but if you want to avoid stress, let her make her own decisions and run her own life.
posted by delmoi at 5:14 PM on April 11, 2007

So you have this extensive history of protecting her from the consequences of her actions, and you're wondering why she doesn't seem to worry about the consequences of her actions. Hmmm.... I suggest stopping the "helpful" suggestions and then NOT stressing about her doing her homework, getting bad grades, freezing her ass of and getting drunk.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:18 PM on April 11, 2007 [4 favorites]

It sounds easy to just stop, but as a "parent" for her, the only adult in her life right now, I cannot stand by and not remind her to do her homework or be places on time.

What I am looking for here is strategies that people use to convey important information to their teens (because she acts like a teen and is as emotionally mature as a teen), without creating stress in the household.
posted by k8t at 5:24 PM on April 11, 2007

She is not a child, and you are not her mom. She is a legal adult, and as such it her choice whether to wear a sweater, do her homework, eat candy, go running in the dark, etc.

The fact that you would nag a 20-year-old about WEARING A SWEATER suggests that the problem is more yours than hers.

You may also wish to examine this previously posted question.
posted by myeviltwin at 5:26 PM on April 11, 2007 [4 favorites]

It sounds easy to just stop, but as a "parent" for her, the only adult in her life right now, I cannot stand by and not remind her to do her homework or be places on time.

Every other parent of an adult has stood by and done exactly that. You need to do it too. If you can't, you need to find out why you can't, and not why this woman is acting exactly like someone in her situation (being microparented at 20) would be expected to act.
posted by mendel at 5:26 PM on April 11, 2007

I think the reason that k8t cannot do it is that she has jumped into this new "parent" relationship. Those of us who have 20-year-olds that we raised are able to do these things because we are used to have loosened the leash over time and have a sense of how loose it should be at age 20.

k8t, you're going to have to jump into that attitude. Not only is she well over her "teens", she is not your child. She should be treated more like a niece, or like a roommate. At the age of 20, she has to make her own decisions, and live with the consequences. One of those consequences might well be that you and your SO show her the door one fine day.
posted by megatherium at 5:37 PM on April 11, 2007

Again, she may be 20, but she is emotional immature.

I am not nagging or microparenting her about anything other than sending my neighbor his key and getting her tax documents to me. If it is 35 degrees out and ANYONE walked out of my house in shorts and a t-shirt I'd probably mention the outdoor temp to them, not nagging at all. I am not interesting in hearing people's opinions about my role in her life.

I am all this kid has and because I love her, I want to help her grow into adulthood so she can be a happy successful adult. I can only imagine that "parents" feel that way about their 20-year-olds, but they have 20 years of figuring out how to present that appropriately. I don't, which is why I'd like some ideas from real parents on how to show this love without adding stress to our lives.
posted by k8t at 5:38 PM on April 11, 2007

I sounded too snarky above, and I apologize.

But seriously, this sounds like an overfunctioner/underfunctioner relationship. And as a recovered overfunctioner myself, I've got to say, the only way to get the underfunctioner to function better, is to stop doing your part in the dance. It's really really hard. I'm only a parent of preschool age kids so I can't speak from firsthand experience on teens, but this comes up in parenting books all the time. And the universal consensus is that you've got to let people make their own mistakes. Even if it means they lose scholarships, catch cold, whatever.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:54 PM on April 11, 2007 [3 favorites]

You need to allow her to experience consequences from her actions. Didn't do homework ... not ready in class. Didn't wear warm clothes outside ... feel cold (and some folks seems to feel the cold less). As to what you would 'feel comfortable' with her doing to stay there, make those things rules. Tell her she has to get a job, has to take basketweaving 101 as conditions of staying at your house. If you are not charging any rent, she should be doing chores that you would otherwise do, not just cleaning 'roommate style'.

BTW, budgeting and documentation are things that a lot of people seem to have trouble with. Same with eating candy all day long. None of this is unusual for a 20 y.o.

I could stop trying to be helpful, but then silently stress...
You are creating a false dichotomy for yourself.
posted by yohko at 5:58 PM on April 11, 2007

I agree with mendel. My parents kept mum and let me make my own mistakes at this age and earlier. I eventually learned to stop skipping class, wasting money, and a myriad of other immature behaviors. She needs to learn her own life-lessons. She won't be able if you're holding her hand the entire time.

It's a tricky situation I'm sure. You're very kind to offer this young woman emotional and financial support at this time in her life. Good luck.

On preview: reminding an adult to put on a jacket is kind of nagg-y. I've done this to my husband a few times, and he never puts on the jacket. Before you remind her, ask yourself, "Would I remind a friend or coworker to put on a jacket?" I've followed this advice, and I find that it works well. I'm a mother of young children, and sometimes it's hard to break from mom mode.

Maybe your role is to be a friend and mentor. I'm always inspired to do better when I'm around people I admire and who treat me with respect. If you run your life smoothly with responsibility, maybe she'll be inspired to do the same.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:58 PM on April 11, 2007

Which advice columnist was it whose mantra was "Don't sweat the small stuff?" Sweaters, candy, parties, homework...all of this is small stuff (well, not the homework, but i'll get back to that in a second). Something to consider: by sending this woman a constant narrative of warnings and advice and admonishments about details great and small, you risk losing the important messages in the noise. You are training her to filter you out AND teaching her she doesn't have to be remember anything herself because she knows you'll pop up like an Outlook reminder to save the day.

I have a 9 year old. He's as distracted and random as only a 9 year old boy can be and yes I love him and it hurts me to see him fail and I want to do everything for him BUT it's not healthy for him for me to do so. But also, one shouldn't expect a 9 year old to magically develop patterns of organization on their own. So I help by teaching him how to write checklists, and to use a calendar, and how to organize his stuff so he doesn't spend every morning frantically trying to find his homework and his shoes and every so often, as painful as it is, I watch him fail. I don't intervene, I don't say I told you so, I just let him learn that lesson and yeah, sometimes it's a lesson that has to be learned over and over and over again.

Your ward (or your niece or your daughter or your friend or however else you wish to describe her) probably didn't get this training growing up. Or maybe she's finally received it many times these past few years with you, but being a young adult in a strange land, she has been too distracted to absorb it.

Think about what kind of tools you can give her which might help her, show her how to use the tools but then step back: no one can learn how to use a tool if someone else's hands are on the handle.
posted by jamaro at 6:12 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know you want her to be more responsible, but as a 20 year old, she sounds pretty typical to me. I'm 21, procrastinate like crazy, eat junk and generally act like a third year.

I don't live with my parents though, and if someone were nagging me about my homework or what I was wearing, it would drive me insane. If it's something that has nothing to do with you, I'd let it go. She'll be fine.
posted by piper4 at 6:28 PM on April 11, 2007

Are you an oldest child, by chance?
posted by onepapertiger at 6:33 PM on April 11, 2007

Maybe I'm wrong, but I have this vague notion that you are in your 20's as well. I'm sure you've really helped this person out along the way, but is it really fair to treat her as the child you seem to regard her as? For this to be a less antognizing relationship, lighten up on some of the nitpicky stuff you've described above. Help her with the big stuff, but a 20 year old can deal with freezing her ass of if she forgets a sweater or tripping on the sidewalk because it got dark while she was out for a run.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:46 PM on April 11, 2007

You sound like my mom. The constant verbal and emailed reminders of exactly what my sister and I are doing wrong/late actually make us more stubborn and less likely to do what she wants even if we know it is good for us (yes, including the sweater). And we are in our thirties. Treat her as the adult you expect her to be, not the irresponsible teen you see. She did meet all of your agreed goals to be able to spend the summer with you, please keep up the positive reinforcement rather than the nagging. And be a mentor, not a parent.
posted by saucysault at 6:53 PM on April 11, 2007

Surely you see other undergrads at your school wearing teeny skirts and tanktops in 30 degree weather? Because if you don't, I imagine you're just not looking very hard. It's a running joke among the grad students at my university about how the sorority girls would rather freeze their little butts off than put on pants and a coat in the winter.

So basically, you're trying to manage things about her life that are none of your business, and the noise of that nagging is obscuring the signal of the really useful lessons you might be able to teach her, like how to make a budget. It's not like she didn't realize it was cold outside. When being warm means more to her than being fashionable, she'll put on a sweater. (And the same with homework and drinking.) Your job, if she's ever going to learn anything, is to BUTT OUT. Otherwise you'll still be trying to make these decisions for her when she's thirty. Except she won't talk to you any more by then because she'll hate you.
posted by MsMolly at 6:54 PM on April 11, 2007

My parents always let me fall on my butt when it came to stuff like that. I learned a lot of lessons that I didn't want to learn because I had to, and am now incredibly grateful that I know how to be responsible for myself. My parents never would have let me get into serious trouble that they were aware of without helping me, but skipping the sweater is not serious trouble.

I moved back in with my parents for a small while when I was 21. The only rule was to respect the household and let my parents know if I wasn't going to come home until dawn.
posted by trishthedish at 7:02 PM on April 11, 2007

the noise of that nagging is obscuring the signal of the really useful lessons you might be able to teach her

Bingo. Stop trying to micromanage her life no matter how right you're convinced you are. It's the only way you might have a chance of establishing a real rapport regarding the things that actually matter. (Reminding someone over the age of 7 that it gets cold out when the sun goes down does not fall in this category.)
posted by scody at 7:34 PM on April 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

these "helpful" requests create a level of stress in our household that isn't usually there between the 2 adults.

... because this level of nagging wouldn't be tolerated by an adult. (Or anyone who wasn't a captive audience.)

How do parents of teens do this sort of "helping" without being a nag and creating this stress for all of us?

I think you just answered your own question... you're not her parent, she's not a teen, you're not helping, you are being a nag, and you're the one stressing. Hopefully you can see the pattern there. You say you want things to be less antagonistic, in the middle of a detailed list of the ways you are antagonizing your houseguest. Perhaps you need to examine why you feel so entitled to micromanage her life.
posted by foobario at 7:45 PM on April 11, 2007

Seconding MsMolly. I'm not a parent but my Mom treated me much the same way you describe your interactions with your irresponsible young friend. (I was not irresponsible but Mom nanoparented me about trivial stuff so it amounts to the same thing, basically.) When I was in my 30s I finally realized that I don't like my mother. At all. I love her in the sense that I feel like I owe her more than I can ever repay, but I don't want to spend time with her, chat on the phone, share silly emails, ask her for her favorite recipes, or anything else that friends might do. I can and do help when she really needs it, but otherwise I can't get far enough away from her.

I'm sure you don't want your friendship with this girl to end badly, since you seem like a very generous and caring person. I advise you to be the first to put a little distance between yourselves, because I bet she feels like you are chasing after her with your quasi-motherly advice. Let her trip over the little things (while steering her away from big problems). You'll pay a small price now, wincing as your friend screws things up that she could easily have avoided, but you'll prevent the greater hurt later of wondering why this girl seems so cold and distant ... when she contacts you at all.
posted by Quietgal at 7:57 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

If she walks out the door in inappropriate clothes for the weather, I say to her "it may be a little chilly once the sun sets." Or if she starts going for a run at 7pm, I'll say "the sun is probably going to set in 25 minutes, you may want to take a flashlight." (Should I stop doing this and let her "make her own choices"?)

(Yes. Obviously. And what's with the scare quotes?)

If I notice that her homework isn't done (ex. bookbag hasn't moved from table), I ask her if she got her homework done. (Should I stop this?)


When she tells me about parties or drinking, I really suggest to her (very petite) to drink responsibly.

Don't do this. Offering a ride if she needs one is an acceptable alternative.
posted by smorange at 8:09 PM on April 11, 2007

When you remind her to wear a sweater, is it because you think she doesn't know its cold out? Of course she does. It's not like she's leaving the house thinking it's summer when it's 40 degrees out; likely she knows she's underdressed and has chosen to proceed accordingly. Same with school and budget. I'm 25 but I still do stupid things like wear shoes I know hurt my feet, lose my checkbook for weeks at a time, procrastinate until long past the last minute, etc. And I know that I'm being dumb the entire time I'm doing/neglecting all those things. (Why do I keep doing it, why does she keep doing it? That's the real question we should be asking!)

Therefore, given that she already knows the risks and consequences of whatever you're warning her about, why would she change her mind just because you tell her? If you know ahead of time that your "reminders" will do absolutely nothing, maybe that will curb the urge to nag a bit.

The last thing is that not only is nagging unproductive, it might be counter-productive. Everytime I am nagged, it adds a little more to my guilt/procrastination pile. And the bigger the guilt pile gets, the less eager I am to accomplish the very task that is being repeatedly asked of me.

You mean well and you clearly care about her--there are better ways to show it than nagging. Good luck!
posted by chelseagirl at 8:29 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my opinion this is beyond 20-year-old college junior behavior. Maybe it is more normal than I suspect...

She is behaving like 99% of college juniors I know, including to some degree myself. The word "budget" has not entered in the vast majority of young people's lives at that time, whether they're from Russia or not. The idea of taking a flashlight along them with a run is laughable. Having someone nag them about wearing a sweater would be incredibly annoying. Returning the spare key and tax documents? This is exactly the sort of thing I would do (if I didn't do my own taxes). She's a young woman in college, she's forgetful like this. Getting pissed at her won't help, and nagging will just make her hate you.

Asking that she get in tax documents and keys on time is not unreasonable. But if she's making choices that are affecting her, and only her, such as choosing to wear a sweater or carry a flashlight or get totally trashed, those are her choices to make and she must deal with the consequences.

Even things like homework and getting a job and preparing for classes--if she fucks up, she should deal with it. You can lay some ground rules ("We will pay if you get over a 3.0 average, you can live here if you have a job and study for the GREs"), but don't nag her to get them done. Sure the first few times show some leniency because she won't be used to dealing with this sort of strictness, but she'll grow up right quick once you put the responsibility on her--without nagging, as you would with an adult.
posted by schroedinger at 8:40 PM on April 11, 2007

I appreciate all the useful help on how to deal with this odd situation.

I will keep my input reserved for the "big" stuff and not sweat the "small" stuff. I really wasn't getting on her ass too much on small stuff unless it directly affected me or another 3rd party (like the key not being returned.) But now I will REALLY lay off on the small stuff unless she directly asks me for advice.

I regret writing about that sweater thing as an example. It was just something concrete that I thought of. Where we live it is really warm during the day and cold once the sun goes down and everyone falls into the trap when they are first here of wearing "summer" clothes and then being too cold. It happened one time, I said it to her and to my older relatives at once and she refused. It really wasn't a good example of our typical discussions. Ah well.
posted by k8t at 8:51 PM on April 11, 2007

you have probably seen my comments mentioning that i spent the last year in russia.

while there, i lived with an older woman for the first few months. she decided that i didn't understand things, made constant comments about me not dressing appropriately for the winter, got upset about how i spent my money, told me over and over again to drink responsibly (or not to drink at all), cautioned me endlessly about mostly imagined dangers, and tried to give me huge guilt trips when i failed to report in.

in short, i was infantilized at age 25. by a woman who was not, you know, one of my parents. it made my relationship with her incredibly difficult. she never let up, probably because she never thought she was doing anything wrong. she felt justified in it -- she felt it was her responsibility.

back in the states, i had the same problem with my own parents, until i moved a few hundred miles away, paid for my own college, etc. you'll never get responsible behavior from this girl without either physical distance or emotional distance (meaning, slowly starting to treat her as an adult). your previous thread about her budget had some great insight about how she might view the future. start there to understand the money bits. take this thread and try to understand the rest. it's obvious that you care deeply and have done a lot for this young woman. the next thing you have to do is, you know, give her a little freedom.
posted by fake at 8:57 PM on April 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

k8t, you sound like a wonderfully generous and giving person. I'm serious. I wish I knew you, as you are doing something a great many people simply could not.

I would go so far as to say I admire you.

But in this instance, those great traits of yours are making the situation worse, not better.

Listen to the chorus above. She is much too old for you to be having these kinds of discussions with her. It is nagging, no matter how many times you protest that it isn't.

Maybe she's going out running in 40 degree weather in nothing but shorts and a tank top because she is only running 2 doors down and shagging the guy that lives there.

Who the hell knows?

From the way you describe her, it makes her sound like she is not immature, but functionally retarded. If she was able to gain entrance to college, then this is unlikely to be the case.

The problem is yours, not hers.

To (try) to answer your question?

You set guidelines for her behavior while she is under your roof. You tell her they will not be revisited, that you will not be discussing them with her, and if she breaks those guidelines, then she will need to find her own living arrangements.

You will be shocked and amazed at how quickly she seems to grow up.

Consensus is pretty rare on askme; you might be well served to at least consider what everyone is saying, rather than repeatedly defending your already established point of view.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:01 PM on April 11, 2007

Sounds like a fairly typical 20-year-old to me.

On the clothing thing:
When I first started dating my (now) husband, I did have to remind him to take a jumper with him when we went out. This is because it was his first year where he was staying out till all hours since he'd arrived in this country, with its differing climate. I occasionally ask him if he thinks he'll need a jacket because I noticed a breeze or whatever, but it's maybe once a month, tops. He's an adult - he has a right to freeze his ass off if he wants, so long as he doesn't whine about it to me, if we're out for a coffee or whatever. *shrug* he's a big boy, he can cope.

On the drinking thing:
Yeah, leave her to suffer the consequences. It's a learning stage most people go through.

On the homework thing:
She'll learn about it or she won't. Not much you can do; and if she feels conflicted about it (which is possible) nagging her about it will make her feel worse, less likely to do anything, and more antagonistic towards you. My husband figured this out when I was doing my thesis.

On the budgeting thing:
Where is her money coming from, anyway? If it's coming from you, then give her only so much and no more. If it's coming from a scholarship or whatever, let her eat ramen for a month if that's what it takes for her to realise on her own that something needs to change.

Quite seriously - she is an adult. She must make her own mistakes. And any motivation for change of behaviour must come from within, not imposed externally.
posted by ysabet at 9:11 PM on April 11, 2007

Uh, you should stop treating her like an idiot.

- If she walks out the door in inappropriate clothes for the weather, I say to her "it may be a little chilly once the sun sets."

Stop doing this. Who gives a shit if she's a little cold. It's trivial. Don't even bother worrying about it.

- If I notice that her homework isn't done (ex. bookbag hasn't moved from table), I ask her if she got her homework done. (Should I stop this?)

Yes, you're not her mother so you can't ask that she do her homework. What you can do provide a kind of 'oversight'; every once in while ask her about school, about her grades. Depending on your relationship with her (it's somewhat difficult to tell just how close you are with her) you can ask to see her grades but be prepared to offer concrete suggestions to improve. Definitely don't nag her. This shouldn't happen more than a couple of times each month.

- When she tells me about parties or drinking, I really suggest to her (very petite) to drink responsibly.

This is just wasted breath. She's going to drink however she wants to drink.

I will keep my input reserved for the "big" stuff and not sweat the "small" stuff.

The small stuff can matter. What you should do is simply formalize your relationship a bit more. The real problem here (I suspect) is that you're floating in a kind of limbo where you're not sure what you should do and what you shouldn't do. So sit down and think it through. And once you decide, sit her down and explain to her that you care very much about her and you want her to do X, Y and Z. She may protest but ultimately you get to set the rules since it's your house. Once expectations are clearly defined you don't have to nag; just sit her down once in a while and review whether she's meeting the given criteria or not. Like scody said, don't micromanage -- just lay down the rules and trust her to follow the rules. If in a month you notice she's not respecting the rules then tell her she needs to start looking for apartments -- heck, get her started by giving her a list culled from craigslist.

The drinking thing is special. You can tell her, straight up, that you won't tolerate her being drunk or hungover in your house. If she wants to drink like a fish she'll have to find another place to sleep. But be careful. This can have the opposite effect of granting permission to drink too much. In this case you should explain to her that you really, really, really want her to drink less. Make it about you, not her. Force her to make the choice between respecting your wishes and getting wasted.
posted by nixerman at 9:21 PM on April 11, 2007

Can you think of anyone she looks up to? If so, arranging for that person to be around might be a good influence. I never listened to my mother, but if it came from my older cousin's example, I was all ears and eyes.

If she doesn't currently look up to anyone, are there people around that you could introduce her to? If you have interesting and successful friends, and you include your ward in your interactions, not only will she appreciate being treated as an adult, but she might start admiring other adults and deciding to become more like them.
posted by xo at 10:21 PM on April 11, 2007

A book you may find useful: How To Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk.
posted by russilwvong at 10:51 PM on April 11, 2007

k8t, I remember your post from a few months ago where you spoke about this girl and her budgeting problems, and how she bought Garnier shampoo. That really stuck with me, for whatever reason.

I know you explained why you brought up the sweater, but I guess I would suggest you think about the worst that could happen. If she doesn't go out with a sweater, the worst that can happen is she'd get cold. If she doesn't budget well enough now, she'll have to get a job later or other financial support. Neither option is the end of the world, and it might be a good lesson for her.

Giving her a list of tasks she has to complete isn't going to help, because what's her incentive? At best, she just wants you off her back and is doing the minimum (or lying about it) to get you to stop bugging her.

As for the more serious stuff, like not returning a key or not getting documentation when she needs it, tell her once, firmly, what the consequences will be and that you're not going to bail her out if she slacks off. When she slacks off, let her experience those consequences. She needs to get yelled at by an angry neighbor who had to change their locks, and get a nasty letter from the college that she'll lose her scholarship if she doesn't get off her butt.

I have to wonder if this kind of behavior is what led her to be caught up in an international scam in the first place. Now is the time for her to learn that she'll have to take care of herself. This is the best time to do it, while she's still in college and has resilience and options.
posted by smashingstars at 11:41 PM on April 11, 2007

Your financial/emotional support does not grant you the right to act like you own her. You are not her parent. She is not your daughter. She is not your project to shape and mold, she is an individual and an adult, not some sort of charity project that you are empowered to shape and mold.

Your support would be wonderful and generous it it didn't come with so many strings attached. The way you are treating her with respect and it is damaging and unhealthy. If you can not help her unconditionally then the best help you can provide is to help her find alternate sources of support.
posted by necessitas at 7:57 AM on April 12, 2007

wow, I should have proofread. *the way you are treating her LACKS respect.
posted by necessitas at 7:58 AM on April 12, 2007

This answer just speaks to one small part of your question, but it might be helpful. My Mom -- who I get along with pretty well all things considering -- feels like when I have interactions with people who are her friends or neighbors or whatever (we don't live nearby, so they are not my neighbors) she has to sort of manage and broker them. She does this because she feels somewhat responsible for my actions and she feels pressured by other people saying that I am not acting the way they expected or desired.

So, if someone tells her "Hey I lent Jessamyn my drll and she hasn't returned it yet" she personally feels that this is now HER problem to solve, to make me return that drill. She will do the same thing if someone mentions I haven't returned an email, or maybe said something negative about someone she knows on my website. This is a perspective issue. Instead of saying "I'm sorry, my daughter is an adult, I hope you can work this out with her, but she really does things her own way..." she feels put on the spot. While it's possible the neighbor is actually asking my Mom to intercede on his behalf, he's likely just making conversation. However my Mom will then turn into crazy nag lady harassing me about whatever the issue is that she thinks I should have handled differently all the while acting like she's just "being helpful." I don't mind if she's actually admitting that she's being a nag, or if she admits that she's uptight, but pretending to be helpful while actually just being a busybody is actually the opposite of helpful.

This turns almost bizarre when she tells me someone is going to be emailing me and that I should "email back" as if I otherwise wouldn't and as if not emailing back would make her look badly. It's a sort of anxiety thing with her combined possibly with a status thing. It sounds to me like you may have the same habit of putting yourself in-between this young woman and the choices she makes in her life and you have a certain amount of anxiety related to her ability to make proper choices and you feel weird when you're in the middle having to justify the things she does -- things you don't agree with -- to other people such as the neighbor who she borrowed things from. While I do think it's polite for you to try to help the neighbor get their key/book back, getting a crazy level of stress about it (once you've called or emailed once or twice it's hard to say that emailing eight more times is going to change anything) just makes you nuts and strains your relationship. So, a few questions/comments

- if she doesnt change, do you still want to have this sort of relationship with her? My other parent has a drinking problem. I had to make a choice to accept/tolerate this until he wanted to do something about it. It's a huge weight off of my shoulders, not spending all of my time with him disliking the choices he made for himself

- Can you draw a line between really important and not that important in a way that everyone can agree on and figure that the unimportant stuff is really yours to suck up and deal with? You seem high functioning, intelligent and concerned, but you also come across as pushy and somewhat sanctimonious about your own choices and what you want for this girl. It's great what you're doing, but drawing a line between "what is necessary to get her to be able to stay in this county and get an education" (taxes mainly, possibly paperwork for school) and everything else (which is lumped under "k8t works on k8t's reactions to 20 year olds acting like 20 year olds") sounds necessary. Your boyfriend can probably help with this, esp if you two have a united front. On the other hand if your boyfriend is also pressuring you to deal with this woman in a certain way, that will make things harder especially for someone like yourself that has an "I can FIX this" approach to interpersonal problems. Often you can, but sometimes you can't. Knowing the difference is key.

- One Big Meeting - before the summer starts, you and your boyfriend need to get together and agree on what the baseline minimum things are that you expect from this woman in your household. Then the two of you as a team need to talk to her, spell out the rules and the consequences. Try to be thorough because this sort of thing works better if you're not adding or subtracting things later on. Then you shut up and/or refer to your list if things aren't going well.

I know it seems like this girl doesn't have options, but keep in mind that she could probably also find some nice young man or other roomate to move in with if living with the two of you becomes a total pain in the ass, so trying to find a middle ground where you don't feel put out but she feels like the arrangement is more than simple "we're helping you out because you have no other options, you lame optionless person" seems to be th eideal middle ground.
posted by jessamyn at 9:20 AM on April 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

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