Sunday, March 9, 2014

One More Reason NOT to Live in New Jersey

I try not to weigh in on popular news reports, but this one is far too tempting. It is the story of Rachel Canning, a New Jersey teen who is suing her parents for support and college tuition. Part of the temptation to respond comes from personal experience. Allow me to summarize:

One day, as I was leaving work, a colleague told me of her freshman daughter who had become quite ill at college. She was concerned because the school refused to disclose her daughter’s condition, as she was an adult and entitled to privacy. Previous discussions had revealed college tuition had put quite a burden on this family. It was at that moment it clicked: why on earth would a parent, half way – or further --to retirement place such a burden on themselves for an adult child? Would a Wall Street investor throw money into something with no way measure results? In a world where college degrees are hardly enough to land a job washing dishes, where does it all stop? “Mom, I can’t get a job with an Associate’s; you’re gonna have to shell out some more dough for my Master’s!” Why are parents assuming responsibilty for post-high school education, and who lives in a state where they mandate such a travesty? 
Additional experience came my way when, just a year or two later my sixteen year old son decided he no longer wanted to abide by any of our rules, and left home. He returned only a day or two later and agreed to some basic regulations: attending family dinner at least three nights per week, keeping his room clean and his bed made, and making average to above average grades in school. (Tough, I know). He agreed, and less than a week later, rolled out again. One and done. I can understand a mistake, a moment of poor judgment, a trial of authority, but once I’ve given you a pass, you toe the line. He wasn’t coming back until he saw it our way. And, until recently, he never wanted to come back.
You probably already know where I plan on going with this.
 "Dear Rachel Canning:
A)     If you’re old enough for the press to release your name; you’re old enough to pay for college yourself.
B)      If you think your parents owe you anything, think again.
C)      You are not gaining anything by demanding it from others.
D)   You should be grateful to your parents for living in a state that forces your parents into indentured servitude.
E)     Etc., etc., etc."
But let me twist things up a bit. When my son left home, he went to another family member’s house. My husband and I wanted to leave my son with no other alternative but to come home and, through a structured environment, practice self-respect and consideration for others. My husband and I wanted him to realize that character is being free to buck the system, but choosing not to do so, for the greater good. My husband and I wanted him to understand that adulthood is maturity in action, not unbridled self-indulgence and disregard for others. My son went to this person specifically because they did not share my concern. This person coddled him, indulging his every scheme. This person defended and protected him, despite his antisocial and careless behavior. This person had a desperate need to have my son's approval, rather than do what was best for him. The anger I felt toward this person was intense. They were “ruining my son.” I’m not sure if that was entirely true, but they certainly didn’t help.
Rachel Canning is living with her boyfriend and his parents. The idiocy of New Jersey's emancipation law aside, she is an adult. My guess is BF's parents recognize the fact that an eighteen year old is certainly old enough to be held accountable for her actions. She comes and goes as she pleases; she, after all, doesn’t belong to them – who are they to say anything? She, no doubt, is on her best behavior as a guest, and BF's family believes her parents are heinous. BF's parents have been much better parents to their son than poor Rachel's, and maybe they even feel pity for them -- I mean, not everyone was meant to have children. I shouldn't judge, but anyone who steps between a responsible, watchful parent and their child -- adult or not -- best be forewarned. Not only is it ethically abhorrent, but a smart lawyer could ensure you never do that again.
If, as the law states, she has not been automatically emancipated, at the least she should be considered a runaway, and her boyfriend's family held liable for interfering and harboring a runaway. At most, perhaps kidnapping charges are warranted. Either way, we'll see if Rachel tries to manipulate her way out of this one, and the State of New Jersey accommodates such foolishness.
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