Learning From Mistakes?

I’ve mentioned my sister living with me before. She’s supposedly here to go to college for two years before she transfers to a 4-year school.

Since she’s arrived I’ve gotten the distinct feeling that the only reason she wanted to move in with me is because she thought that it would be easier for her to move in with her boyfriend.

When she moved in with me she was 4 days shy of turning 17. She’s now 17. Her boyfriend is turning 21 next month. He lives in Arizona.

She went and visited him for a week before the semester started and came back saying she wanted to drop out of school (after I had paid tuition and bought books) and move in with him. That way she could work and save money and be “more financially responsible.”

The problem is that my 17 year old sister is in WAY over her head.

(Side note: my 17 year old sister thinks she’s mature enough to move in with her BF and I’m 30 and I’ve never lived with a boy, even though I dated one for 5 years and another for 2 years. Do I just have too much expectation when it comes to living with someone or does she just have too little? Or do I have the voice of the past telling me “Most relationships end, so don’t financially entangle yourself until the relationship is fully committed”? I’m afraid that I may be out of touch on this one..)

The purpose of her living with me is to learn how much things costs. To learn to live independently with a safety net. The idea was that she would get a job, pay a minimal rent, pay for her own food, toiletries, clothes, and a portion of her education costs.

Since she’s been here we’ve been waiting for her mom to send out her work stuff (passport, social security card) – which her mom hasn’t done yet because she’s mad at my sister (for not calling her enough). This is a whole other issue that I don’t even want to deal with. I keep telling my sister to just kiss her mom’s ass until she gets what she needs from her – apparently at 17 the idea of “give it to me now” is more ingrained than “do what you need to do to get what you need.”

Every moment she spends is talking to her BF, about him. Everything else is misery and it is clear that my sister won’t be happy unless she is with him.

She is posting statuses on Facebook claiming that being here “will pass” and that soon she’ll be with “her love”.

Quite honestly, I am offering myself, my money and my house to her as a gift. She’s paid not a single red cent to me the time she’s been here. I’m so broke right now from having to buy more food it is insane. I’d love to have that extra room available for an office and craft room or to rent it out to someone who would be a decent roommate and pay their half of the bills.

If she is bound and determined to move in with him – I don’t see why the heck I shouldn’t just give her what she wants.

She wants financial responsibility, she can have it. She wants to be responsible for her rent, her food, her clothes, her transportation, her tuition, her EVERYTHING. Go for it. It has only been a little over a month that she’s been with me and quite honestly I don’t have the patience or the gumption to convince a 17 year old girl that she should stay in school and finish her two years of lower division classes before she moves in with her boyfriend, accidentally gets pregnant and spends the rest of her life as an uneducated mother. Okay – that last part is more fiction than reality – but not an unlikely scenario. Who will pay for her health care costs? Insurance? Well, if she lives with him – she will be.

I have put so much in to making sure I had an apartment that would suit both of us, planning out her classes that she’ll need for the major she wants, finding out about bus lines for her, helping her register for classes, getting her information on scholarships and financial aid. And all she wants to do is complain at me that “I’m not letting her” be with her boyfriend.

Screw it.

If she wants to live with him so be it. I’ll be around when it eventually ends.  Because it will – really – how many of us ended up with the person we dated when WE were 16/17?

Am I wrong?

If a 17 year old is bound and determined to do something – it is pretty hard to make them not want it anymore. At some point you have to let them make their own mistakes or they’ll never figure it out. At what point do you stop protecting someone from potential mistakes and let them make them so that they can learn from what they’ve done?

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17 Responses to Learning From Mistakes?

  1. I know how you must feel because I am now 23 and have been supporting myself since I graduated. BUT, to be fair, I met my BF when I was 17 and we lived together. At the time he was 25. He went to the same college as me, but I still went to school and had a job. I’m not sure if your sister is as mature as she thinks, but proving that I was mature to my parents wasn’t exactly an easy task at that age. I think it’s very generous of you to set up everything and want to help her (I’m the same way with my younger siblings now) but I just think she has to learn on her own. Once she makes a mistake – when they fight, if the relationship ends, if she has to work 2 part time jobs, etc – she will realize it. If you smother with all these responsibilities and map it out for her there’s no way she will learn on her own and truly appreciate it. Just my 2 cents, based off my experiences as a 17 year old hopelessly in love. Living with my BF at the time made me stay on track with school and work…but it also depends on her BF, is he mature? Does he have a job? Btw, the BF and I are still together, living together and we both have great jobs so it could always be that they will work things out. I don’t blame you for thinking it will all end up badly, it’s a possible scenario but you will never know until you let her do it – it is her life. And it seems like you would be happy too! 🙂

  2. Allison says:

    I understand what you’re going through here, as I have a sister that does similar stuff. At the end of last semester, she was ‘academically’ dismissed from the school she was attending(this is the 3rd school it has happened at). Shes almost 23 and still living at home (and also not paying my mother any rent/utility/food money) and my urge to tell her to move in with me, get a job and whatever is very strong. It would get her out of moms house,, maybe teach her something, and get her away from her current social situation which I don’t think is helping. I have similar worries about her getting pregnant as well.
    But ultimately, I don’t need that stress. I need to take care of myself first and let my sister make mistakes if she’s going to. (I know this is slightly different because your sister is still a minor) But really, it will feel nice to just let go of the idea that you must take care of her and protect her.

  3. Let her go. At 17 she has her mind set and she needs to learn on her own. I know being a good older sister and trying to help is something that’s hard to let go but she sounds hellbent.

  4. eemusings says:

    I am so sorry that she doesn’t appreciate all you’ve done and wants to go her own way.

    Personally speaking, I’ve been with the boy since I was 17 (now 22). But I had been living on my own for a few months before hand, and I had one serious relationship before that.

    I think if this carries on at some point you will just have to throw up your hands and let her go…the question is what will happen after that?

  5. Jentacular says:

    Hi, I’ve been quietly reading your blog for the last month or so, and feel compelled to post because in the past I have also tried to help people who didn’t really want the help. Your sister has already taken for granted all the help you given her so far, so I think once you’ve tried your best to counsel her and if she doesn’t take it, you’ve done all you can. She’s practically an adult who needs to be responsible for her decisions and I don’t think it’s worth it to try to protect her or force her to do what you think is best, she needs to learn for herself.

  6. Red says:

    Well, I do think there is the *slightest* possibility that things might work out with the boy. My gut is that this isn’t the right decision. She should stay in school, be responsible, and if the boy sticks around, maybe they have a chance. If not, he wasn’t worth it. My parents met when they were really young. Mom was 12. They started dating at 16 and are still together today. But they seem to be the exception, not the rule.

    The thing that kills me is that she’s throwing away a future. Things might work out with this guy, but what if they don’t? I had a friend who met a much older man online and ran away our senior year of high school to be with him 16 hours from home. She married him within a week of running away. (She’d had very little experience dating.) She never finished high school, never went to college. They moved back to Tennessee, and now she works at the same CVS she worked at in high school. What kind of life is that, compared to the one she could have had if she followed her dream? (She wanted to be a writer!) I hate seeing young girls give up part of their lives for a guy. If it’s real, the guy will stick by you while you pursue your dreams. They won’t encourage you to quit school!

    But there’s nothing you can do to change her mind. Every time my mom came between me and a boy I “loved,” I fought her that much harder. Usually it ended before I had the chance to really screw up. In your sister’s case, I think you just have to let her make the mistake. Let her know that you’ll be there if it doesn’t work out, but let her go. 😦 Sorry you’re having to go through this.

  7. I will be dissenting voice here (and obviously I do not know the situation, but here are my thoughts): Your sister is NOT an adult. Thinking of skipping out on an education so she can follow a boy is an indication that she is not ready to make responsible, adult decisions. Her parents need to put their foot down and make her do what is right (and here’s the part where you laugh at me because obviously I do not have a teenage kid or a teenage sister I’m responsible for!).

    The people who REALLY CARE about you are the only ones willing to go through the headache and the trouble of making you do something that you don’t feel like doing, everyone else will just be like, oh, well, do what you think is best, or, oh, well, give it a try. I hope your sister see it the same way. The only people who are willing to make her life temporarily unhappy is the people who is vested in her success and future, long-term happiness.

    I don’t know what would have worked for me if I were 17 and dead set on a romance (although I did meet my current boyfriend when I was 17). But dollars and cents might work. Can you bribe her? If she stays until she gets her AA, she will get XYZ? I know this might not be the favored opinions, but I feel like this is a decision that will have repercussions for the rest of her life, and I just am frustrated on your behalf because she is thinking SO SHORT-TERM.

    Okay, my unsolicited opinion over. You are being a great big sister and I hope hope hope she sees that.

  8. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how much you try to help someone- especially when it comes to learning valuable life lessons. Sometimes people just have to learn the hard way, you know? Honestly, I would be hard on her for the next six months. Insist that she pay rent, get a job, buy her own groceries,etc. She will see how hard it is and hopefully be a little wiser for it. Then if she does end up moving in with her boyfriend hopefully she’ll be a little more prepared to make educated decisions.

  9. Clare says:

    I admire everything you’re doing for her and I’m sorry to hear it’s going unappreciated. That said, if she doesn’t want school to work out, it won’t. It has to be something she works for and really wants to happen. Your wanting it for her is sincere and wonderful but she needs to want it for herself and it sounds like she doesn’t right now. 😦

  10. Stephanie says:

    Have you tried the “this is your brains on drugs” approach? Show her some stark examples of what life is like for people who never go to college? Compare that to the awesome lives of the people who pursue their education? I agree with Wellheeled that if she thinks that running off with this guy is the smart thing to do, then she’s not an adult yet. She needs to realize that she can both go to school and still date him. It’s also extremely unfair to have you pay for all this and then it goes completely to waste. Though, like Clare said, if she doesn’t want school, it might not work out. But maybe she just needs some sense smacked into her. Maybe a call to the twittersphere/blogosphere for some more examples of “this is how your life will suck if you never get an education”. How she will have lots of difficulty supporting herself if things don’t work out, or her bf loses his job. How 2 incomes are better than one. I don’t know. Either way, I think she just needs to be told: she is not an adult yet. She can make her own decisions when she is an adult, but until then, she is under the rules of her parents, and, by proxy, you.

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  12. It’s terrible that you are being so generous with your time, money and home, and your sister doesn’t seem to be appreciating any of it.

    I have 2 younger sisters, and luckily there are both pretty mature and independent. That being said, the youngest one is 21. Your sister is still a child, who thinks she’s a grown up. Unfortunately, I think the only way she will learn is if you let her go. She will only fight you, even though all you want is the best for her future and happiness.

    Sit down with her, one last time, and tell her everything that you feel. Maybe write it out in a letter if it is easier for you to express yourself without (too much) yelling. And then, let her make her decision. If it falls through, there are consequences. She can’t come running back to you, because you have yourself to look after, and you already tried looking after her.

    Good luck. *hugs*

  13. 2blu2btru says:

    It sounds like your sister has been helped a little too much. She hasn’t had to do anything to secure her education–not even find her way to the bus. She’s working a lot harder to find time to be with her boyfriend or talk to him. What we work harder for, we value more. I know you want to help her (and how hard I had to struggle, I would’ve appreciated such help), but sometimes the best help is to let someone land on their butt in the nettles, so to speak. When it’s no longer easy for her, she’ll miss it, and maybe, she’ll work at it, if she still wants it. It’s just hard to value something that’s free or easy, in my experience. All we can do is support our siblings. Good luck.

  14. Peach8321 says:

    I really related to this post. My (22.5 year old) little brother is also very much “now” and not “later” in regards to money, how his life will pan out, and other issues. At 27, a grad student (PhD), a homeowner, and married – this attitude drives me nuts.

    But recently I’ve realized that nothing will get through to him other than letting him fail and build back up. So I told him to pick something he likes, even if it means dropping out of college (he has enough credits to be a “jr” but hasn’t bothered to pass basic classes for a major), and just go for his dream. At the moment, his “dream” is a toss up between owning a restaurant or being a masseuse. And he’s “dating” (Read: having sex with) a *barely* 18 year old “friend” – but again, their decision.

    What I offer to you: tell your sister you love her and that you want her to be happy but, until she pays you back for the tuition you already put down, she can’t go anywhere. IF however, she really wants to quit school, she can work full time to pay you off and then she can leave to “follow her dreams”. While doing this, I would work on a budget for her – let her see your expenses and show her how much real life costs. Finally, don’t give her any money – and anything from your parents should go to the tuition bill, not her. If she wants goodies like a flight to her bf, cell phone, etc, she needs to find a way to pay for it.

    Good luck though, I know it’s a hard place to be.

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