Adulthood at First Means Apprenticing in Legal Limbo

It's official. As of yesterday, my husband and I successfully have raised up our first full-fledged adult.

Eighteen years ago, Katie ushered in a long list of responsibilities and worries. We knew her tiny life depended on our constant attention and supervision. We were awed by the responsibility as well as the magnitude of our potential for mistakes that could have lifelong consequences.

We struggled to teach her good manners and healthy habits. We evaluated and re-evaluated our parenting strategies. We read books and magazines. We bought antibacterial soap.

We had questions, such as, "How can we foster good self esteem?" and "Why do her feet grow so quickly?" and "How do you extract mucus from someone else's nose?"

Today, we're long past those sorts of considerations. Somewhere along the way, we handed her a tissue and said, "Use this."

We also learned that children are resilient. We decided we could make mistakes, and she would be all right despite our bumbling efforts. We learned. She learned. Life unfolded.

Now that she's reached the age of majority, we're free to cut our daughter loose and wish her well, knowing our duty to feed, clothe, shelter and educate her is legally concluded.

Yes sir, she's an adult. Free to make her own decisions, go her own way. Free to cast her line, call her own shots, ride the proverbial wave of her own destiny.

She's free, free, free.

We're relieved of the burden of negotiating the world on her behalf. In fact, we're not even allowed to negotiate it anymore.

Here's the thing: Now that I have an adult child, I'm struck by how silly this designation really is.

To wit: I hand Katie a health insurance card, which she must carry with her in case she needs to access the health care system. She says: "What do I do with this?"

"If you go to the doctor, you hand it to the folks at the desk, and they use the information on it to bill our insurance company for your visit."

"Oh. I thought I just told them my name," she says.


Mind you, now that this daughter is 18, she must grant me permission to be informed about her medical condition. I can't know anything about her health that she doesn't tell me personally. She's an adult, after all.

Never mind that she apparently thinks the medical bill fairy pays for her office visits.

Our culture sends lots of mixed messages to our newly minted adults. They can vote and fight for our country, but at the end of the day, they can't legally order an adult beverage.

They can withhold information from their parents but still be completely financially dependent on us.

They can take on debt and declare bankruptcy and get married, but they can't rent a car at the Hertz counter.

It's not real adulthood. It's limbo.

Then again, I think limbo is just the right place for my young adult. It's a time for her to continue to lean on her parents for insight and opinions as she starts to carve out her own path.

She can let us know her plans but recognize that we may question some of them — even counsel her to reconsider them if they seem unrealistic or unwise.

It's a period of apprenticeship, so to speak — a few years to assert her independence while we still hold the ultimate tool of decision-making authority — the password to our joint checking account.

In fact, it's fun to watch my daughter begin to do the things adults do — hold a regular job, fly alone on a plane, even make a plan to buy herself a car.

Of course, when she recently shared that plan with me, I asked, "Any idea how much it costs for auto insurance?"

"Oh yeah…" she said. "Insurance. I forgot about that."

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  • Guest

    Very good analogy.

  • Guest

    You have to have your daughter sign a general medical release form so that you can have access to her health care records.

    I have done this with my two oldest(20 and 21). Otherwise, if God forbid, something happened, parents would have no way of getting access to health records.