To my son on his 18th birthday:
Over the last 18 years, I often uttered “You can do whatever you want when you turn 18.” I said this phrase to you in the midst of a disagreement, like when you insisted French fries were vegetables or that bedtimes were superfluous.
In those moments of conflict “You can do whatever you want when you turn 18” seemed like a great way to shut-down a disagreement, and as a bonus I certainly felt like you would never arrive at your 18th birthday. I treated you like a true flesh and blood Peter Pan who would remain an adolescent indefinitely with manhood seemingly beyond reach.
However, in just a few days you will turn 18.
How is this possible?
I regret all the times I said you can do what you want at 18
And now, I am certainly regretting all the times I uttered “You can do whatever you want when you turn 18.”
Perhaps I should have said 21.
You’ll obviously never arrive at that age!
The thing is at 18 years old, you can do what you want. You’ve reached an age of maturity where many decisions lie in your hands. This fact is equal parts reassuring and terrifying. I’ve become more confident in your decision-making abilities. I’ve seen the fruits of your many good choices.
However, I know you will not get every decision right. I’m absolutely sure of this. I know this from my own entry into maturity. And while making bad choices is certainly just a part of a right of passage into adulthood (and beyond), there are some decisions I hope you will consider more carefully. These are the choices that rest on your shoulders and have the biggest long-term impact on your happiness and success.
Consequential choices you’ll need to make
You can decide what career to pursue
The world is truly your oyster. Within a few months, you will graduate high school and leave for college. You’ll have your pick from a wide array of academic choices and professional opportunities. I hope you explore your options and really ruminate over your unique abilities and gifts. When you land on just the right fit, I pray you pour your heart and soul into your elected pursuits.
You can select your spouse
There are a lot of fish in the sea. You will probably date a few duds before landing on your ideal person. When you search for a spouse, I encourage you to really think about the qualities in a partner that makes for a good choice. I urge you to consider an individual’s character above all else. When you meet that perfect someone, I implore you to take a leap of faith and make a commitment that will yield lasting happiness.
You can pick your hometown
There’s no place like home. As an adult, you can choose your own zip code and mailing address. Perhaps you will move to some distant locale, or maybe you will stick closer to the hometown of your youth. Regardless, pick a place where you find your own people and become immersed in a supportive community who loves you as much as we do.
You can decide whether or not to call
No matter your age you will always need your mom. You will make other connections. You will get busy. You will forge a new path in life. I hope we’re still a part of your world. We’d love to hear about it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We’ll hammer out a new way to communicate. It will be different, but we’ll create a fresh relationship that will still keep us linked to your life.
Son, at 18 you can do whatever you want. You can pick your direction, your people, your home, and hopefully a relationship with us. You can make marvelous choices that will benefit your life in the most magnificent ways.
The decisions are now yours. After all, as unbelievable as it is, you’ve finally hit 18.
Love, Mom and Dad
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