Hissy Fit - September 2018

Responsibility: Pass It On

HissyFit 0918

It was the middle of spring semester her freshmen year when I allowed my daughter to take her car to college, even though I wasn’t allowed to have my car freshman or sophomore years at that same college some 33 years earlier. I worked it out for her to park her car at our cousin’s home on John’s Island. She wasn’t taking it to drive daily. Her dorm was literally on campus. In the smidge of a walk she had to get to class, one couldn’t come close to finishing a Starbucks grande iced coffee skinny caramel macchiato with almond milk and extra whip because everything is right there…including the Starbucks.

Her selling points included things such as, “I can come home and help you more.” It was a compelling point, as Hurricane Matthew had destroyed the house five months earlier, and help was needed. “If I have my car in Charleston with me you don’t have to come pick me up for Easter.” Also a compelling point. A few more selling points combined with a perfectly delivered classic assumptive close had me saying yes. [I’m hoping she will major in business and go into sales.]

The day she drove back to college we talked about the privilege of having the car almost ad nauseam. I covered the rules: 1. Absolutely no drinking and driving (She’s not a big drinker, so I wasn’t worried about this one.); 2. No speeding, (This one did worry me because she takes after me and genetically has a penchant for speed.) 3. No more than two other people in the car. 4. Only go out and get your car (from John’s Island) when there are no other options or if you’re coming home. 5. Do NOT park in the parking lot near your dorm. (It’s open for public parking on weekends, but strictly enforces towing Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.!)

I went over these ground rules several times in hopes of etching them into her college-minded brain and off she went. My phone rang early the next morning. It was her. “Mom, you’re going to be so mad at me,” she said.

“Lovely,” I thought as my body automatically tensed to ground myself in preparation. My mind was racing. Had she been in an accident? Was she hurt? Why did I let her take her car?

“My car got towed,” she announced, and a second later the rush tension was flowing around my body so fast it managed to make my blood boil. Or perhaps it was the fact I was absolutely livid. I said nothing. She stammered, as she knows my stages of going freak show: Stage one: Discussion. Stage two: Raising my voice and making proclamations. Stage three: Screaming at the top of my lungs and possibly slamming a door or two. Stage four: Silence. This is the scariest stage; it even scares me.

With the pace of her speech varying from um slow and um unsure to fast with run on sentences and very high pitches to sentences that weren’t questions ending in question tone, she explained, which I will call hemmed and hawed, as to why her car was towed a mere 12 hours after arriving in Charleston, when it should have been tucked away nicely at Carol’s house out on John’s @#$%^&* Island. I truly don’t know how much I heard, but it was enough. My home had been destroyed, I was in the midst of an ugly divorce, I was a new empty nester, and I had already moved three times and was in search of the next place to live. I was a wee bit stressed beyond the grocery-store-was-out-of-milk stressed. The part I heard was, I parked in the parking lot near the dorm because blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It will cost $169 to blah, blah, blah and I don’t have a way to get there, blah, blah.

I was still silent. Then, surprising even myself, I spoke:
“Yes Ma’am,” she responded.
“I wasn’t smart enough for you to listen to and follow my rules, so I am not smart enough to get your car out of impound. Good luck.”
I hung up the phone.

While the anger helped me wash my hands of the problem, when it subsided, my wise motherly instinct held strong. I wanted to help her, but I needed her to listen to me in the future. So I never stepped in to help, and she figured it out for herself, learning a huge lesson in the process. She and her roommate put their money together to bail her car out. They also had to go to one of the worst areas of Charleston to get the car out of hock. They were actually scared. Then, Jacie went and got a job—a real job—in order to pay her roommate back.  

Am I proud of this situation? No.

Am I proud of the way I handled it? Not really. I was angry but I’m glad I held my ground.

Am I proud of Jacie? Yes, in every way, except for getting towed in the first place.

What she did right:

She did not get mad at me and throw attitude for not bailing her out. Within and hour or two, she called me back and laid out her game plan. When she mentioned borrowing money from her roommate, I felt terrible. I asked her how she planned to pay her back. She said, “I’ll get a job.” My initial thought was, “Sure you will.”

She handled the situation in a timely manner. She didn’t let days go by, procrastinating, or thinking I was going to change my mind. She took initiative and implemented her plan of action immediately.

She was scared but pressed on. There were actions required in getting her car back that didn’t care if she was a young and sweet 18-year-old. She had made an adult decision, and now she was paying adult consequences. And she didn’t back down from any of them.

She got a job, within two weeks, and it was in walking distance.

She paid her roommate back with her first paycheck, without having to be reminded by me, or her roommate.

My lack of action was her springboard to action—a true gift. People don’t learn anything when they don’t have to put any skin in the game. The word in the psychology world is young adults aren’t stepping up to responsibility like those in the past. They say 28 years old is the new “21” for boys, and 26 years old is the new “21” for girls. I believe it’s because parents do way too much for their kids and require way too little. In addition, they continue to bail their adult children out of every problem or duty—both large and small. I know mothers who wrote their children’s college papers for them.

Our jobs as parents are to prepare our children to navigate this world and fly to the best of their ability. Unlike birds, whose species determines their wingspan, children’s wingspans are determined by their parents. The biggest gift you can give your adult child is a sprawling wingspan. The way to do that is to not only believe in them, but also give them every opportunity to see just how much you believe in them. They are capable; they are smart; they are ready. The question is: Are you?