People of any age can have their world rocked by the divorce of parents! When the divorce occurs during childhood, kids have potentially many years to adjust to sharing time between two homes, step parents and siblings becoming part of their life, and a myriad of other new things from the way life used to be. While life may never seem completely “normal” for a kid in post-divorce life, most manage to adjust and find a rhythm to settle into.
Your child may discover a healthy balance within your new lifestyle that works just fine until- suddenly- birthday number 18 happens, and everyone involved may find themselves scrambling to re-acclimate to a whole new set of rules!
18 is legally the entryway to adulthood; however, we parents know that in many ways, an 18-year-old is still very much a kid. He may be able to vote or sign a legal contract and she may be able to enlist in the armed services or make many important decisions independently; but, an 18-year-old brain is still developing, and the owner of that brain still has many life experiences to undergo before operating as a mature “adult.”
18 is a tricky time because while this fledgling adult is excited about their new classification as a grown-up and is usually pretty full of self-declared wisdom about everything, he or she is still very immature in numerous ways! An 18-year old may alternate wildly between still craving parental time and attention and the desire to enjoy newfound autonomy and show everyone just how adult they are.
So, how do the previous rules of a divorce effect your child once they cross over the 18-year threshold?
If your child comes of age in the middle of a school year and resides in your home/s, he or she is still under your authority, whether they like it or not! Technically an 18-year-old could withdraw from school under their own power in many areas; but, in most cases your child is still looked at as a student and still answers to their parents in many ways.
Sadly for the 18-year-old, this birthday may not include the complete and magical transformation they fantasized about. Newfound adult status isn’t necessarily a green light to staying out all night, being exempt from household chores and rules, and having complete independence as might have been hoped for. The old adage “as long as you live under my roof…” may become a daily part of your conversations as you remind your child that members of your family do have to meet certain expectations just for the privilege of room, board, and other benefits!
While younger siblings are still firmly bound to the visitation schedule and other aspects of the divorce, an 18-year-old may resist the typical back-and-forth between homes and no longer wish to be caught up in divorce drama. I can’t say that I blame anyone for looking for the first exit out of this trap, but it may not be as easy as just no longer going to one parent or the other’s.
Often, child support is still paid out for a child, even if they’re no longer a minor, but so long as they’re still in school. Of course, a parent still paying support is still going to want regular time with their kid!
Especially with younger siblings eagerly waiting to see what life at 18 is like, it is important for a good example to be set. Not only do we hope that a freshly-minted adult has better sense than to engage in sex, drugs or drinking, and staying out to all hours while still a resident of the family home, but it’s important for them to also continue to be a good citizen of the home in their attitude and compliance with the house rules.
You might expect plenty of battles during this time of uncertainty, and don’t be surprised if you hear the phrase “but, I’m an adult now!” on a regular basis.
Forcing a legal adult to go to dad’s house against their will may become a harder and harder sell, particularly as they establish more of their own routines including relationships, jobs, and some of the first real steps in adult life. You will have to set appropriate boundaries that allow your child to begin to spread their wings within the guidelines of what will maintain necessary family connections and stability for the time being.
The day will soon come when your now grown up child will graduate from high school, go off to college, or move out to their own place. Beyond that point, you really will have no control anymore over how your child lives or spends their time. We can hope they will regularly visit over holidays and school breaks, but how they manage time between two parents now is completely on them!
Before your child turns 18, you may want to consider or discuss with your child:
Your expectations for house rules (including curfew, chores, and behavior) after 18 but while still living in your home.
How you will handle visitation times with your child’s increased responsibilities and development of their own life (e.g. driving, dating, working, and others)?
How you will address resistance from your child to continue with your former visitation plan once they turn 18?
How you will encourage your child to balance time between parents as an adult over school breaks, holidays, and so on?
How can you help your child to feel free to establish their own life without pressure about dual loyalties in two homes (e.g. forevermore attending two Thanksgiving dinners on Thanksgiving Day)?
What will adult status mean in your home as long as they continue to live with you? Will you require some form of rent or assistance with household expenses? Will you have minimum requirements for work or attendance in post-secondary education to continue living under your roof?
Your child reaching the age of majority will present a host of new challenges to navigate as you help them embrace the responsibilities and realities of adulthood. The routines you have set throughout childhood related to your divorce will, largely, fly out the window to make way for new ones. Think about how you and your child can prepare for this time of redefinition. Your relationship with your child will transform to another level, but can be done in a respectful and loving manner that recognizes the extra challenges of post-divorce living.