File this under “unconventional parenting advice.” But it works. It’s something my husband, the only non-lawyer in my family, instituted when our oldest child was in her first or second year of college. It’s the contract. Yes, a real contract. It’s something he drew up to communicate our expectations with that child while she was away out from under our direct tutelage. You see, we have the philosophy that yes, while they are in college and we are paying some of their way, (thank you, scholarship money for the rest), we are still the parents. College kids are still minors. Minors are under the authority of their parents while they are using their financial resources. And minors are stupid. The Bible says, “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” So even though they can vote and drive, they still exhibit childish behavior.
So my husband drew up a contract on our expectations, this child signed it, husband signed it, and I signed it. Everyone had a copy of it. Did it work? It worked for us because I’m married to a man who doesn’t waver. He’s as strong as a stone obelisk. I’m the one likely to cave when someone whines for leniency; he doesn’t. The contents of the contracts with our kids are fairly confidential but they all deal with the things that parents complain about. We expect them to abide by the laws of the land (no drinking until 21 because, well, IT’S THE LAW). No shacking up. We are responsible for expenses for their needs; they pay for their wants. That’s been the same policy since they were practically in the womb. They had to get jobs young if they wanted to get ice cream with friends or go see a movie or gas for a car which we generously provide. (But they aren’t THEIR cars; they’re ours.)
Our philosophy is simple: We aren’t our children’s best friends. We advise them as we would a business associate or co-worker. We parent them as advisers but love the heck out of them as we do.
Another child didn’t do what was necessary in college and lost most of the scholarship that provided tuition and room and board. My husband’s approach after we received the news from the college was this: “Child, you need to think of it as an investment; am I going to continue to invest my hard-earned money in a bad investment? You need to prove you’re a good investment. Why would I continue to pour my money into a bad investment?” That child then agreed to pay the tuition and if a 3.0 GPA was earned as the original scholarship rewarded, then we would re-group and pay future tuition. Ya wanna know the crazy thing about this agreement? That child said it was the greatest semester at college. That child realized the real cost of college; classes weren’t skipped; study sessions were attended. And the crazier thing about it was this: after we paid for tuition, that same child called and asked if we wouldn’t pay anymore. That child said he/she worked harder when he/she paid his/her own way. So we altered the contract to read as follows: We will pay you back for the tuition IF you make a 3.0 GPA, which is what the original scholarship paid. If you make over a 3.0 GPA, we will bonus you $1000 if you make a 3.25 GPA; $2000 for a 3.5 GPA and $3000 for a 4.0 GPA. Grades aren’t out yet for this experiment but I betcha we are going to pay that child a bonus.
Another contract we drew up was for a child while that child was still in high school. We did that as to avoid any ambiguity with what was expected. Contracts work when parents are both firm and affirming. We love our children; we love them so much we want them to do right, but we don’t want to indulge them. Nothing grosses me out more than an indulged kid who rules the roost. You’re the parent; RULE YOUR ROOST.