DEAR KELLY: My name is Sadie. I am 22 years old. I moved to Los Angeles a couple of months ago to attend UCLA. I live in the dorms. I am a full-time student. I have a part-time job. My hometown is about an hour and a half away.
When I’m not at school, I stay with my parents. I’ll come home for the weekend occasionally. When I do, I spend time with them, but I also make time for friends and also my boyfriend. I have a weekly curfew of 10 o’clock. And weekend nights I have a curfew of 1:30 a.m.
At first I didn’t like the curfew, but it is my parents’ house, and I have no right at all to tell them to change their house rules. I don’t pay rent; however, I contribute by doing household chores. If I won’t be making curfew, I find somewhere to stay and let my parents know where I am and that I’m OK.
With that being said, here is the problem I’m facing: My parents feel that when I’m home, I don’t spend any time with them and that all I care about is spending time with my boyfriend and friends and that I don’t care at all to see my family. This is obviously not true at all. I sat them down and explained to them that I do value time with them. I do miss them while I’m away and I’m excited to see them. However, just like it’s important to spend time with them, it’s also important to me to spend time with friends and also my boyfriend.
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It just went right over their heads, and every time I go out, they make me feel so guilty about it. Or they get angry. Whenever I disagree with them on something they get so angry and start yelling. It’s gotten to the point where my dad thinks I should just move out. But the way I see it, so long as I’m abiding by the house rules they set, why should it come to that?
They have certain opinions about how my relationship (with my boyfriend) should be. Having an opinion is fine and I hear them out. However, my opinion is different, and ultimately it is my decision. I just don’t know how to get them to understand that I’m not a child anymore and that my world doesn’t entirely revolve around family anymore. I’ve got school, work, friends and my relationship that are all also important to me.
Whenever I want to do something, they don’t particularly like or disagree with (but I still abide by the house rules that have been set for me), it turns into a nasty argument of. “I’m an adult. It’s my decision,” and, “You still live under our roof.” What do I do?
Thank you for your time.
DEAR SADIE: You are in a very similar place with many college students. The adjustments that happen when someone moves away and then comes home for visits can be hard to define, especially when you add in the dynamics of boyfriends and friends. The best place to start is to sit down with your parents and try to make a plan on how to address everyone’s needs and bring a sense of balance to the family. You need to figure out a way to work through this and come up with a solution that satisfies all parties. If your parents want you around more, suggesting you move out is not the answer that will make them feel better.
Schedule a time to talk with your parents. Ask them what they feel is a reasonable way to divide your time when you are home. Listen to what they think feels fair, and you will get an idea of what they are looking for. Perhaps it is reasonable and perhaps it is not. If they want all your time and struggle with sharing it with your friends or your boyfriend, then you have a big hill to climb before they will be happy. It is totally normal for you to want to divide your time between all the people in your life, including your family. Let your parents know that you want to spend time with them out of desire, not because you are guilted or pressured into it. Acknowledge that you don’t want to hurt their feelings so that is why you are trying to talk about it in hopes of making everyone feel better.
Some factors that may be contributing are if you are an only child, perhaps they are struggling with being empty-nesters and miss having a young person around. Also, certain cultures have very strong family dynamics that place above all at all times. If your culture expects you to be 100 percent committed to your parents as a sign of respect and gratitude, that factor could be playing in this as well.
Once you know where your parents are working from, try to find a balance that allows time with them and then time with your boyfriend and friends. Do your parents welcome your boyfriend at their home? If so, you can kill two birds with one stone by having your boyfriend come visit while you are at your parents’. Perhaps your boyfriend joins your family for dinner and then as it gets later and your parents settle in for the night, you and your boyfriend head out to meet up with friends.
Or maybe they come spend a weekend visiting you at college so when you come home, they don’t feel as desperate to spend so much time with you. Offer different ideas on ways to spend time with them, but still have an outside social life like most young people your age want.
At this stage in your life, you and your parents should be working toward a relationship based on mutual respect rather than control. If your parents are set against any compromise and want you all to themselves, you may need to enlist an older family member or family counselor to help with this. Your parents need to be cooperative in finding a working balance of your time that allows you to be both a daughter and a girlfriend/friend.
Yes, you live under their roof, but you are a young adult who should be allowed to spend time with important people in your life and developed new relationships that represent the fact that you are becoming an adult.