You may think you've heard all there is to hear about the importance of life skills, but the concept takes on a new urgency when your son announces that he's ready to move out. It becomes even more urgent the first time he calls you to announce he's run out of money, forgotten to put oil in his car, or clogged the plumbing of his new home.
If your son is joining the military or moving out to live in a college dormitory, some (if not all) of his daily decisions will be made for him. If he plans to live in a house or apartment, either alone or with roommates, he probably will need to have a few new skills under his belt.
Teenagers and young adults may resist direct efforts to teach skills, usually because the lessons sound too much like lectures. You may find it helpful to sit down and make your own list of the skills your son will need once he is no longer living at home. (It's even better to do this when your son is fifteen or sixteen and you have a few years to work on it!) Ask yourself whether your son can handle the following tasks:
- Read care instructions in clothing and wash and dry them properly.
- Iron a shirt and slacks.
- Sew on a button and mend a seam.
- Compare prices, quantity, and quality when grocery shopping.
- Prepare at least six nutritious meals from scratch.
- Operate and maintain common household appliances.
- Check the oil and tire pressure on an automobile.
- Decide what to do in case of illness or a medical emergency.
- Locate a doctor or dentist.
- Balance a bank statement or access an online statement to manage his account.
- Prepare a resume, fill out a job application, and conduct a successful job interview.
- Understand a lease or legal agreement.
- Pay utility bills, credit cards bills, and rent in a timely manner.
- File a claim for medical or automobile insurance.
- Keep records for income tax and file a return on time.
You can teach these skills to your son by inviting him to work with you as you do them. Or you can begin putting together a notebook of suggestions and information that he can refer to once he has moved out. You can include favorite family recipes, the names of doctors and dentists, family addresses and phone numbers, and other information you believe will be helpful.
One study found that 64 percent of parents say they talk to their children "frequently" about character and values, but children are hearing it only 41 percent of the time. Sixty-two percent of parents believe that teens share their values, while only 46 percent of teens agree. Be sure you talk to your son about values while you still can.
Some boys move out before their parents think they're ready; others linger at home until their parents yearn for their departure. If your son moves far from the family home, you are unlikely to be involved in the routines of his daily life. If he moves just across town, however, you will have to decide what role you are willing to play in his independence.
Be cautious about doling out money once your son has moved out. Take some time to reflect: If you feel like you're being manipulated, you are. You can be both kind and firm as you allow your son to experience the results of his own budgeting (or lack thereof). Instead of rescuing, you can help him plan for coming expenses.
Take some time to consider whether your home will be open for drop-in meals, laundry service, or television viewing. Whether you welcome unexpected visits from your son or find them a nuisance will depend on his intentions. Always keep in mind the lessons you want your son to learn; be sure your actions encourage him to develop self-reliance, confidence, and respect. Coddling your son and cleaning up his messes may seem loving at the moment, but you will not be teaching him to make it on his own.