Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, an 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992, when he had a year sober. He's in his 28th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he often disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Raising Adult Children?

I receive emails from parents who are subsidizing spoiled 20 year-old addict children. They wonder how they can help them behave better. And my answer - though always polite - is that the less you do for a twenty-something the quicker the "child" will learn responsibility.  Out of necessity.

I believe that when a human passes 18 they should take care of themselves. And they definitely should be doing so by age 21.

We have a large contingent of twenty-somethings in our outpatient treatment program who sometimes behave like 12-year-olds. They have a sense of entitlement. They say things like "my parents owe me." They have been manipulating them for so long they believe they have a right to anything their parents have – that it's theirs by divine right. On more than one occasion we've heard clients on the phone using the F bomb with their mother or father – particularly when they don't get what they want right now.

This kind of behavior shocks me because I was raised in an era where we respected our elders. My mother never heard me use the F word in the 74 years she was alive. And I modeled this behavior I learned from her and passed it onto my youngest daughter – whom I raised as a single parent.

Each year I gave her – hold your breath – $200 a year for school clothes. If she wanted anything beyond that she had to earn it. And she did. I gave her jobs around my home and office. She worked in theaters. She learned to save money. And she spent it on the clothing she wanted. She learned to shop in discount stores like Buffalo exchange and Marshalls. And she dressed well.

I remember when I once questioned her about spending $80 on a pair of tennis shoes when she was 15 years old. She respectfully replied "I earned the money so I buy what I want."

Though taken aback, I realized that her sense of independence and responsibility was exactly what I wanted her to develop. She joined the Army on September 11, 2003 at 18 and served in Afghanistan and other theaters of operation for three years. She’s earned her bachelor’s degree and is happily married.

I once heard a behavioral therapist say we should never do anything for anyone over 12 years old that they can do for themselves.Why? Because it takes away their power and sense of responsibility. If we want to give our children gifts, that's one thing.  But to keep them dependent creates issues for them later in life.

My daughter thanks me today for the discipline I imposed as she was growing up.