Failure to launch
I wonder how many readers are experiencing, or have experienced, what I’ve been dealing with over the last year or so? Let me set the scene for you. My daughter is 21, nearly 22, and has been working more or less full-time since she left school, just before she turned 17. She has not moved out, opting to pay board to me (which, let’s face it, is a much cheaper option than renting), instead of finding her own place. And this works for me too; I don’t have to find a house sitter, mainly to look after Bella, when I travel. And I like the company, not that she’s home much.
At first, I was pleased that she had opted to stay, although I must confess that convincing her to pay board was a struggle. Her attitude was all: Why should I? My attitude was all: Well, you work, you are now an adult, and you pay your way. There is no such thing as a free ride. I basically gave her three choices:
- split all the bills fifty-fifty
- pay board
- move out.
She chose board, which I set at a percentage of her salary (around $80 per week, plus health insurance), and she stayed put. She set up an electronic transfer from her bank account to mine, and her board landed in my account once a week, or fortnight, depending on how she was paid. There was an unwritten expectation that she would contribute to household chores. I wanted her to be clear: just because she paid board did not mean that I was her maid. This arrangement has worked well enough until this year.
This year, I have been all kinds of irked. I have been so irked that – on more than one occasion – I have wanted her to move out. And told so in those exact words. Because, unfortunately, an unpleasant rot has set in. And I fear it is of my own making. She has failed to launch.
How the rot set in
They say that in order to understand the present, one must take into account the past. So here goes.
I moved out of my mother’s home when I was 17, more or less taking my 16-year-old sister with me. After years of physical abuse, I had one beating too many. I was working, having scored a job at the Commonwealth Bank. I had matriculated a few months earlier, and had just enough points to go to university, but I wanted to get out into the workforce and start earning.
My last ever beating occurred on a Sunday evening after I had been at a work social club function. It was a wine tour, and I hadn’t been drinking. But I came home late, and my mother accused me of sleeping around*, and started laying into me with her fists. Or it might have been her shoe. I can’t quite remember, because this is the one time I fought back. The other times, I simply endeavoured to survive.
I have always been rather proud that, unlike me, my daughter has grown up in an essentially violence-free home. I have also been proud of the fact that I created a home where she was safe, one that she has lived in since she was five years old, give or take a few months.
I remember telling her to stop, which she didn’t, so I took a swing at her. Just one. My open hand connected with her face, and she reeled. My youngest sister was standing in the doorway, watching: scared and crying. I was horrified at my reaction and left my mother’s house immediately, after grabbing a few personal items. I had a lovely work supervisor, so I called him from the nearest public telephone (no mobile phones in those days!). I stayed at his house that night (he was married with a couple of young children) and ended up boarding there for a month or so, then moved in with a couple of other friends until my sister and I moved into a flat together.
I have always been rather proud that, unlike me, my daughter has grown up in an essentially violence-free home. I have also been proud of the fact that I created a home where she was safe, one that she has lived in since she was five years old, give or take a few months. I am proud of the fact that I am not like my mother. However, I was fending for myself at 17 years old, because I had to. I found somewhere to live and teed up furniture and white goods and paid a bond and weekly rent and had the electricity and gas and telephone connected and organised insurance and bought a car and made sure that I had food and toilet paper and cleaned and washed and paid my bills on time, even when I didn’t have much money. I did all the stuff that made me an independent adult. And I did it young.
Irked to the max
My daughter has sorta, kinda, done this. Everything except finding somewhere to live and teeing up furniture and white goods and paying a bond and weekly rent and having the electricity and gas and telephone connected and making sure that she has food and toilet paper and cleaning and paying her bills on time, even when she doesn’t have much money. It’s quite a big gap missing from her life experience. And it’s a gap she hasn’t had to worry about. Until now. Because I’m irked.
The irk has been building, as I’ve already mentioned, across this year. Oh, she’s paying her board ok, and buying groceries so she can prepare her own meals (I’m still covering staples like oil, vinegar, toilet paper, dishwasher tabs, washing powder etc.), but things like general cleaning and emptying the dishwasher and the kitchen bin and putting out the big bin, I mostly do. She will do chores, but I have to nag her. And she does them grudgingly and in a half-arsed way** and (usually) without taking the initiative. And if I go overseas, she always asks to stop paying her board (because she has to cover her living expenses, she says). There were two (recent) straws that broke this camel’s back:
- I wanted to do her washing, and she had done hers, but had left it in the washing machine. It had probably been there a day or so. I took it out and put it in the laundry sink, irked that I had to even touch it.
- She came home upset that she had lost her temp job, with only a day’s notice. The catastrophising that followed was laughable, but I tried to provide her with kindness and advice and was rebuffed in a most disrespectful way. Of course, I was irked and bit back.
I had an epiphany: if I lived alone, I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit.
What I’m doing about it
After the latter example, I seethed for a day or so. I wrote down everything that was bothering me, and let it sit and stew and ferment in my brain. I had an epiphany: I had simply assumed that since she was (supposedly) an adult, she would behave like one. You know, be responsible. Clearly, this wasn’t the case. I hopped onto Google and searched for how to handle adult children still living in parental home and stumbled upon the concept of Living Arrangements Agreements. Basically, parents set the terms and conditions – almost like a contract – and the adult children must agree with these terms and conditions if they want to remain in the family home.
The major change is that instead of board, she is required to pay a weekly “rent and insurance” amount (in cash – it’s not huge) irrespective of her employment situation, and contribute to a percentage of the gas, electricity, internet and water bills as they come in.
So I have written a Living Arrangements Agreement (LAA) for my daughter to sign. She has until tonight to sign it. If she doesn’t, she will be moving out. No ifs, no buts, no whens. The LAA is fair, and sets out my expectations for a number of things: household contribution and maintenance, visitors, hours, courtesy and respect etc. Most of this she is already doing, so it’s just been firmed up in writing. The major change is that instead of board, she is required to pay a weekly “rent and insurance” amount (in cash – it’s not huge) irrespective of her employment situation, and contribute to a percentage of the gas, electricity, internet and water bills as they come in. Oh, and she has to move out at 25. And if she fails to comply with the LAA after its been signed, she’ll also have to find somewhere else to live.
Would it surprise you to learn that she is barely speaking to me? Oh, and she has unfriended me on Facebook.
*This was not true. I was a virgin for another three months, when my auntie’s next door neighbour (a young man a couple of years my elder) stole my innocence under less than ideal circumstances. It wasn’t exactly rape, but it wasn’t exactly consensual either.
**Of course, anything that is of interest, or of importance, or a priority to her is handled with great care and love and commitment.