They’re a litigious bunch in the United States. I’ve heard some bizarre stories, such as the thief who sued the owners of a home he was robbing after injuring himself.
Well now a New Jersey cheerleader is suing her parents for school and college fees after she moved out of their house and they ceased paying for her education. Rachel Canning is accusing her parents of ‘punishing’ her by withholding her college tuition funds. Her parents, Sean and Amy, claim that she’s a ‘spoiled liar’ who left the family home because she refused to play by their rules. Rachel – a straight A student - is living with a friend’s family, who presumably are supporting her in the legal case.
So who is right and who is wrong? Well, I can’t pretend to know the intimate details of the case, but there seems to be no claim of abuse or distress. Obviously if Rachel was being abused or was in danger in the family home then she should be supported to get out and stay in a safe environment.
However, if she had been safe and cared for, but simply didn’t like her parents’ rules, was it okay for her to leave? Yes, of course it was. She is 18 and a legal adult. If my kids want to move out when they’re 18 then they should (although I’ll probably be at the door clinging to their legs sobbing and throwing food packages). But if Rachel makes that choice to live out of home as an adult, then she must accept the responsibilities that come with adulthood, and that includes paying her own way.
It’s hard playing by your parents’ rules. It was hard for me, and no doubt it’s hard for my kids. And it may seem unfair to a teenager that must toe the line to get financial and emotional rewards. But that’s life. We all have to compromise. We all have to modify our behaviour, our attitudes, our conversation, our actions, in order to make our way in the world. And if we don’t teach our kids that lesson, then we are setting them up for disaster, because life is not going to adapt for them. A sense of entitlement is dangerous indeed, and this teenager seems to have it in bucketloads.
Having said all that, is it right that Rachel’s parents cut off her tuition? Well, no. Their kid has moved out of home. She won’t return. She had food and accommodation and, presumably, care from her foster family. Her parents have lost control over her. And so they are responding by holding out on the one thing she needs – money to pay for her education. They are effectively trying to hold her to ransom, and that’s a pretty fraught path to take.
Rachel’s parents can’t win. No matter what the court verdict, they can’t win. If they are forced to pay Rachel’s fees, she will take their money and run. And if they win the case, their daughter will either miss out on a college education, or move home under duress and resent her parents forever.
What this family needs isn’t a judge, or court orders. What this family needs is a therapist, to sit down with them and work through whatever anger and resentment and lack of respect have led them to this point.
And in the meantime, Sean and Amy should just pay the damn fees. Because a truly caring parent’s prime concern is not control, or winning, it is about doing what is best for their child. And if there’s a child in the world who desperately needs a good education, clearly it is Rachel Canning.