Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Adult decisions can be challenging

April 9, 2014

Q.I want to leave home. Don’t worry I’m not dumb enough to do it right now. But I think about it all the time. I hate living with my mom, and I’m not allowed to live with my dad. I only see him on weekends after the divorce. Actually, I don’t like living with him either. I want to live by myself. How can I make that happen? I’ll be 18 this summer.


Mary Jo’s Response: I’m glad you’re thinking wisely. Wanting to be independent is common. Knowing what is needed to live alone takes planning.

Before we talk about the “how” of independence, I’d like to encourage you to share your thoughts openly – but gently – with your parents. You will never be 17 again. Few people would willingly go back over the challenging parts of their lives, yet many adults eventually realize how precious their teen relationships with parents were. As you mature, you may even understand some aspects of your parents’ choices. Moving right now isn’t possible; making the best of it could ease tension. I doubt your parents would be surprised by your longing to leave. A calm, rational conversation might help.

What does a person need to become an adult? Have you heard the term ‘emerging adulthood’? Jeffrey Arnett proposed the phrase in 2000 to describe the time between adolescence and adulthood. His theory explains the life space when young adults do not have children, do not live in their own homes and do not have enough income to be fully independent from parents or caregivers. Critics believe his work applies only to developed countries; certainly many American 18-to-25-year-olds seem to be struggling with identity, independence and a feeling of “in-between.”

Using Arnett’s criteria would link financial stability with independence. If you want to live alone, you’ll need enough income to pay for lodging, food, utilities and other expenses. You’ll need transportation, and gas is expensive. You’ll need insurance. You’ll pay taxes. You’ll want Internet. Any remaining money will disappear quickly.

Create a plan for your life. Where do you want to be five years from now? What do you need to accomplish to achieve those goals? How are you doing in school? Make an appointment with your guidance counselor and explore careers. What training or post-high school education will you need? Knowing future goals will help guide your choices now.

Many young people tell me: “When I’m 18, I’ll make all my own choices. I’ll be on my own.” Waking up the morning of your 18th birthday won’t magically provide answers to your questions or solve your problems. Income, independence and healthy relationships don’t appear with your 18th birthday cake. We all must make our own path. There are many wonderful local agencies prepared to assist you.

Lisa Neil and Ester Clark Barnes at Southwest Training Services (724-229-1350) are amazing; their agency works tirelessly to assist young people prepare for life.

I’m proud of you. Reaching for adulthood can be challenging but it’s an important step in your development. Be kind to your parents and yourself. Good luck.

Q.Why can’t my mom understand that I want to live my life, not hers? She always wanted to go to college and I get that. My dad left when I was a baby and she’s worked a lot of dead-end jobs. She seems to think my future will be perfect if I go to college. The thought of four more years in a classroom makes my head hurt. I need to work outside. Or I need to use my hands to work. I can’t imagine working in an office. I’m considering the military, but my mom is dead set against anything but a four-year college. My mom reads your column. Can you say that I should have a say in my own future? Please!


Mary Jo’s Response: Your future is yours. Your opinion matters.

You’ve listed some strong reasons for working outside and avoiding an office job. College is not for everyone, but career planning is important. Speak with your guidance counselor about your future. Ask for information on trade schools, where you can prepare for the type of work you enjoy. A military career can be perfect for a young person seeking an alternative to college; the military includes training and education.

I’m pleased you ‘get’ your mom’s hopes for you. I don’t think she wants to live your life; I believe she wants to spare you the challenges she’s faced. A good parent wants the best for a child. If you’re sharing this column, please use it to start an open dialogue about the future. I hope you respect the effort she’s given to create a good life for you. Listen to her. Be honest with her. Ultimately, she wants you to be happy. Encourage her to look at the choices you’d like to make. One of our most important life relationships is the one we forge with our parents as we become adults. Please don’t strain your relationship. Yes, you have the right to have a say in your own future. Absolutely. You also owe your mom respect. Find a compromise where you can both be at peace.



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