Dear Carolyn: My younger sister, “Alexis,” is a college sophomore, and in the last year or so has gotten very into drinking with her friends (she is underage). It started because she is in a small town and said there was “nothing else to do on the weekends.” In the past when friends drank, she would tell them they were being stupid and irresponsible. She now thinks it is funny to see her friends acting drunk, and has told me about their exploits on occasion.
My concern is not only for her well-being. We have been fortunate enough to have parents willing and able to pay for our educations. They are completely unaware that she is partying at school on their dime. I understand college is a time when most kids get a little crazy, but shouldn’t she continue to behave well since my parents are footing the bill?
Everyone keeps telling me she will regret her irresponsible choices and have to live with her mistakes, but it is of little comfort to me, the “Good Child.” It irks me that she is getting away with this bad behavior, and I feel like if she doesn’t face consequences, she will continue to take advantage of Mom and Dad’s generosity. At the same time, I don’t want to be a “tattletale,” and she is over 18. Should I tell my parents, or is it none of my business? – Not a Tattletale
So is it her risk-taking that upsets you more, or her getting away with it?
Or, better question: If there were no Alexis, who would you be?
Your letter demonstrates that you both were raised to value intelligence and responsibility. It’s evident in her old, friend-scolding ways, and in your hand-wringing over your parents’ tuition spending.
There’s strong parental scaffolding around you both.
Both of you are also in the throes of – and unnerved by – finding out who you are when that scaffolding pulls away. Alexis is going the reject-parents/I-am-free! route to selfhood, venturing into behavior she just finished condemning, back when she was still speaking in her parents’ voice.
You, meanwhile, are on the embrace-the-parents/ I-want-familiarity path, still using that parental voice. You’re mother-henning your sister because that’s what you learned from your parents whenever you strayed too far from the coop.
Alexis will need a mother hen if you find out she’s courting permanent harm with her partying habits – bingeing, blacking out, driving under the influence. Short of that, her having a beer too many is none of your business, no matter whose dime it’s on.
Remember, too, she’s not “getting away with” anything; either she’s keeping her grades up, and thus not squandering your parents’ gift to her, or she’s letting them slip, and your parents are getting reports of her squandered opportunities at the close of every term.
Which brings me back to my main question: Without Alexis’ bad-girl persona to make you the “Good Child,” who are you? What’s inside when there are no comparisons to be made?
If being good matters to you, then be good for your own sake – not to win a race for your parents’ approval. Find your own way, and give Alexis room to find hers.
In other words: Your canvassing “everyone” about her “irresponsible choices”? Cut it out.