Parents might find themselves in the potentially tricky situation of a child bringing a girlfriend home to live with them. When those children aren't yet adults, what does this mean for the parents hosting the additional teen? Dating coach Lori Gorshow shares important tips for navigating this delicate scenario.
When a Guest Becomes Permanent
Teens form bonds with their significant others swiftly, so it's no surprise that a teen might think it reasonable to offer their girlfriend a place to stay. "What is wonderful about teen love is the passion," said Gorshow. "Teens tend to be fully present and in the moment when in love. The downside is their underdeveloped ability to think through their choices. They tend to act impulsively and because their hormones are in full bloom, they tend to act without thinking of the long-term consequences."
"Teens tend to not have long (as in forever) term relationships," explained Gorshow. "Meaning heartache over a breakup is expected and natural. For most teens, when they break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend they can find ways to avoid seeing them, which lessens the emotional pain." In a situation where a teen couple lives together under one roof, "you will have two young people experiencing a breakup with all its intensity under the same roof."
Helping Navigate Emotions
As the adults present, the parents are obligated to help both their child and the girlfriend in navigating their emotions. Though your loyalty will be to your child to help deal with hurt and pain, "you are also obliged to help the other teen living under your roof deal with the strong emotional pain of a breakup," says Gorshow. "I can tell you that males and females don't cope well with the loss of love and they tend to cope in very different ways. To add to their pain is the fact that they will not be able to avoid each other and as a result will not be able to grieve in the usual ways teens do over the end of a relationship."
Depending on the girlfriend's situation and safety at home, you may be able to provide support and encouragement without allowing her to actually move in. Making your home a "safe place" where she is welcome and feels at home may be sufficient if her home life isn't very stable. Offer to be a listening ear when she needs it and encourage her to participate in your family's get-togethers and activities. It may be that all she needs are some adults to treat her in a caring, respectful manner.
Dig a little deeper to find out why the girlfriend is looking to move in? If she lives in an unsafe home it's one thing, but if she just wants constant access to your teen, it's another thing. The reason for her wanting to move in will likely dictate what your next move will be.
Parents must set specific and stringent rules when it comes to physical contact allowable between the teens within the house, urges Gorshow. "Teens choose their love interests by physical attraction, how fun it is to hang out, and how excited they feel being with the person they are attracted to. In other words, while you may have put locks on doors and have a rule of no sex under your roof, that will not stop two people who are physically attracted to each other, in love and have raging hormones. Because of their age, they may not be engaging in intercourse, but that doesn't mean that they are not engaging in sexual activity. A talk them about how they will handle their feelings and avoid sexual activity would be wise, although this may only delay the inevitable."
Taking Responsibility for a Minor
It's important to consider the financial and emotional costs for you in taking responsibility for another teen, says Gorshow. "Your interest in this teen is a result of getting to know them because they are your child's girlfriend. You have come to care about their well being." So when your child says, "I want my teenage girlfriend to move in," it's important to realize this is not a decision to be made lightly.
The Adoption Option
Though you might consider taking legal responsibility for the girlfriend living under your roof, it may be a complicated legal situation, says Gorshow. "To get custody and adopt them, they have to be a ward of the state. This means parental rights have to be terminated. This is a long process both emotionally and financially and involves you and both teens. In addition, there are the emotional and psychological costs she will face living with the knowledge that caregivers did not want her. Each time a relationship ends in her life, she will revisit that loss of love over and over again. This will impact your teen and you."
"A second consideration is what happens after the relationship ends and they each start dating new people?" asks Gorshow. "Or worse, one starts to date before the other? Have you thought about how this may impact your teen and his new girlfriend, having his old girlfriend living under the same roof? And, vice versa for the teen who is living with you?"
Seek Additional Help
Gorshow says that it's admirable to want to help the teen, you don't have to do it alone. "I do think there are ways you can help this teen without becoming a surrogate parent. I would suggest contacting advocacy groups who work with homeless teens for information and what resources are there in the community. I would suggest you talk with faith-based organizations that assist homeless teens and those that are supportive of teens. Once you start networking, I think you will find that there are a lot of avenues available to assist both you and your teen's girlfriend."