Question: I hit a wall yesterday with my almost 21-year-old daughter. She's a college student with a part-time job who lives at home. We support her except for her spending money, which means we spend a lot on insurance, car payments, tuition, cellphone, etc. Yesterday was her day off, and I came down with one of those viruses that knock you out. I asked her to pick up her father at work and take him to pick up his car at the dealership. She said she had plans already (with a boy who had just dropped her last month without warning but now he is all sorry) and couldn't help me out. This is on the heels of her refusal just last week to help me out in a similar circumstance because she was tired from work.

Well, I blew up and probably overreacted, but I just felt so crappy and didn't feel up to driving. I feel like we do so much for her that she should help us out when we need her. She puts everyone else in her life first and accuses us of holding our support of her over her head. I am at a loss.

Is this something she will grow out of? When do you just figure the kid is who she's going to be and throw in the towel? She is basically a good kid who doesn't party or get wild, and she works hard at school, but shouldn't we expect more than that?

Answer: Tell your daughter you overreacted, you're sorry, and that if you had it to do over, you hope you'd handle your anger differently.

Then, explain that your anger persists. You and her father have supported her not because you expected something in return, but because she's your daughter and you love her, and wanted her to have the best start in life that you could provide.

Now that she's 20, though, you see her role in the family as changing - she's no longer "just" your kid, she's also a fellow adult. Since she's not fully independent, you're still going to provide things as parents do, but since she's also a household member who can vote, drive, and hold down a job, you and her dad are going to ask her for some adult contributions to family life. That will include errands, household chores, any number of things.

And just as being tired or busy wasn't an excuse for a child to skip making her bed or setting the table, being tired isn't an excuse for skipping out on the responsibilities of an adult member of the household.

If she reacts badly, then invite her to articulate what she thinks her role is in the family. Listen to the answer. If you're not sure how to respond - or if you find yourself getting angry - say, "I'm not sure how to respond, so I'm going to sleep on it."

Then do that. Think about what you believe is right and fair, then see how you can align your expectations - and your enabling, er, spending on her behalf - with what she's willing to give.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at, or chat with her online at noon Fridays at

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