need help motivating recent high school grad

Ellen - posted on 09/02/2014 ( 6 moms have responded )

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Hi, my 18 year old son graduated from high school and does not have any immediate plans to go to college. I told him I was fine with that if he wanted to work for a while instead and earn some money of his own. I also told him that he would be allowed to stay with me as long as he was being productive and contributing to the household (it is just him and me). I allowed him to have the summer off since his girlfriend is still in school - she is a senior this year - and he wanted one last time to enjoy doing nothing. Now we are in September and he still has not found work and I am getting very stressed about it. When I try to talk to him about it or get updates, his reply is that he is handling it. I don't want to be an enabler and allow him to do nothing, but I am also having a hard time knowing how much time to give him. He never worked in high school so this is new to both of us. i am feeling so alone and helpless and would really appreciate some feedback from any veteran's out there. Thanks!

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Chet - posted on 09/04/2014

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Shawnn I said that I wouldn't personally have a contract. Most of the people I know with adult children at home (and I know a lot) have some sort of agreement, but it's not nearly as formal as a contract.

I don't fault people who feel that a contract is necessary... sometimes contracts address real issues and avoid misunderstandings. However, good communication with your spouse, your children and your friends is often enough. I would start there.

The original poster hardly suggested that her son thinks she's running a free motel. They agreed that he would have the summer off, and she posted on the second day of September! Most of the original post was about how the mom was feeling - she didn't want to enable, she didn't know how much to give him, and she has had a hard time getting information from her son. There wasn't anything about her son taking gross advantage.

Very honestly, things are changing. Being 18 in 2014 isn't the same as being 18 in 1994 or 1974. There will always be kids who are slow starters or later bloomers, kids who need a push to get out of the nest, and kids who overachieve at an early age. However, kids are generally starting later and taking longer today when it comes to establishing an adult life - and not because they're lazy or unmotivated or don't have parents who push them. It's a different economy and a different society today.

Even if you don't intend for a contract to be limiting, it's important to be mindful that it could be. If the focus is that a kid just has to get a job and hand over x amount of money to you on a particular time line that could restrict as much as it could motivate. It's easy to get trapped in a cycle of dead end jobs.

The original poster noted that her son has never had a job before. Even though he's turned the magic age of 18, he may legitimately need some help getting started. That could be help realizing there are lots of different options for kids who aren't ready for colleges, or figuring out exactly how to pursue the options he's interested in.

If my 18 year old wanted to volunteer and build houses full time for Habitat for Humanity I'd be okay with that for a period of time. If if was September 2nd and my 18 year old was researching gap year options to take a job abroad I'd be okay with that. If my kid was having trouble finding a job I would encourage them to look at short courses to quickly acquire a highly marketable skill. I wouldn't personally feel that we were at the point where a contract was necessary.

Sometimes the problem is lack of structure or accountability, and an adult child can benefit from a parent laying down the law and imposing very specific responsibilities like a job. But there are many other barriers to a kids "getting started" in life. In this particular situation, the first week of September, I would be comfortable with a dialogue. presenting a child with various options they might not have considered and asking for a show of good faith.

Chet - posted on 09/04/2014

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I probably wouldn't insist on a contract. Without knowing where you live and what employment opportunities are like it's difficult to say what is reasonable. Sometimes contracts are necessary, but my preference would be for a more human interaction if it's possible... I wouldn't want a contract my kid signed with me to trap them in a dead end job.

I would however, explain to your son that you are worried. I would not criticise him. I would frame this up as being about you... you are worried because you don't want to enable him, and you will feel better if you can see evidence of good faith on his part. Tell him that you understand he may not want to come to you with all of his plans and ideas, but for you to feel good about him living in your house and not going to school you need to see that he's trying... research, job applications, interviews, volunteering, etc.

I would encourage him to find a job, and then to look for a better job. It's always easier to find a job when you have a job. He can start out stocking shelves or flipping burgers do that while he looks for other work.

I would also suggest that he consider taking a short course. He doesn't need to go to college, but he can take a course to drive a school bus, operate a vehicle with air brakes, drive a rig, work as a nursing assistant, be a personal personal trainer, etc in a matter of weeks. Truck driving is in high demands in a lot of areas. It would be a fairly safe bet for most people and would pay better than quick service food or retail.

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Jill - posted on 02/19/2015

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In the early 70's, Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba completed a 12 year project with a company in Illinois with 26,000 employees (see their book called Resilience at Work). As researchers, they were fortunate to be able collect significant stress management data for 6 years before and 6 years after a major corporate crisis that saw the workforce of this massive company reduce to 14,000 employees in a short period. They saw every manner and type of reaction/response to stress that was possible in that environment - the good, the bad and the ugly.

Here is what they learned. The people who survived and thrived in this high stress transitional environment had significant exposure to early childhood stressors, a rock solid support person/mentor/coach in their lives to help them cope with the stress and a strong sense of purpose to give them a personal reason to put up with the stress. These 3 experiences during childhood years led to these people becoming stress hardy and resilient, two traits that have been shown in more than 600 studies since then, as well as in that big Illinois company, in every industry on the planet to be the key indicators of health, happiness, self-motivation and success in adult life.

Why is this important to the OP? Because your son is still young and you still have plenty of time. 1) Make sure he has constructive and controlled stress in his life (don't protect/baby him). That may mean charging rent, that may mean requiring him to have a job or go to school, it may mean being engaged in community-based activities that could help him improve his resume and confidence. 2) Be a rock solid support person for him so he gets the help he needs navigating the stress in his life. In order to do that, you and/or dad have to look after your needs too. 3) Make sure he has a sense of purpose so he has strong, personal, self-motivating reasons to put up with the stress he faces in his life. And they have to be his life goals, not his parents or friends.

With my own children, I had them identify 10 big, audacious goals for their lives and then we reverse engineered those goals to a reasonable amount of work they could do in one year. From there we developed a task list and schedule for daily activity (we are homeschoolers) and we even made SMART goal statements and created huge vision boards with graphic representations (Google images) of their goals. My girls are young teens, so I even went and bought beautiful 3D stickers for scrapbooking so they could embellish and personalize their vision boards, which are posted prominently in our home.

It has been amazing how focused my girls have become since we did that and each year we revise and update their goals, task lists and schedules to account for successes to that point and changes in their life vision. It has changed their lives and my life as their parent. In some ways, their vision boards are like contracts, but they are contracts they have with themselves, not their parents.

Ellen - posted on 09/04/2014

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thanks for the great feedback. He surprised me on the day I posted this by telling me that he had, on his own, enrolled in a couple of classes at our local community college . I am hopeful that this is a sign he is getting bored and realizes that this is something to do while he looks for work.

♫ Shawnn ♪♫♫ - posted on 09/04/2014

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A contract isn't 'less human interaction', its an indicator that both you and your kid recognize that there are changes in the dynamic of the relationship, and that different expectations exist for the kid now that they are an adult.

A reasonable kid understands that, and doesn't expect a 'free ride' once they're an adult and have the ability to gain and keep employment to support themselves.

In this case, where the OP's son seems to think she's a free motel, and that he needs to do nothing to insure his continued existence in the house, a line needs to be drawn so that the kid understands that he's now expected to BE the adult that he is. Until you actually experience the situation, you won't actually understand it.

As I stated, my kid was the one to broach the contract. Not that any was needed, in our case, but because HE wanted to be an adult and take care of HIS needs and responsibilities. Not because he was afraid of being put out...

♫ Shawnn ♪♫♫ - posted on 09/03/2014

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Time to get out the contract. Sit down with him and explain that, now that he's an adult, and had his 'summer of freedom', it's time to man up and be responsible. Lay down reasonable amounts for his room & board, reasonable house rules, and responsibilities of both parties. YOu and he then agree and sign it, and move forward.

My son, when he turned 18, actually presented us with terms for living at home. He offered to pay 1/4 mortgage, 1/4 utilities, and any extras he wished for. He asked that his curfew be rescinded, as long as he respected the other members of the house in his comings and goings, and committed himself not only to his 'regular' chores, but a few extras now that he was old enough to do more.

I do realize that he's the anomaly, but its a good guideline for any family with the adult kids just setting out.

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