Advice for Rachel Canning, the New Jersey Teen Who Sued Her Parents for Support (And Lost)

Advice for Rachel Canning, the New Jersey Teen Who Sued Her Parents for Support (And Lost)

Rachel Canning – the high school honors student who sued her parents for money to cover her private school tuition, car, living expenses and college – discovered a hard truth today, which is that life on your own when you're only 18 really sucks.

I speak from experience. I moved out of my house at the beginning of my senior year of high school to escape my mother and an abusive home environment. After a few months of living with friends I moved in with my father, who didn’t wait but a few weeks to tell me: “If you don’t like it here, leave.” If I had to choose one phrase that encapsulates my adolescence and my relationship with my family, it would be “if you don’t like it here, leave.”

So I did, because I wanted to be treated kindly and decently. My experience of supporting myself through college and beyond, without a safety net, was pretty empowering. And terrifying. And really, really hard. Here is my advice to Rachel and anyone else who finds herself in this situation.

1. Go home.

Unless you are being abused, GO the f HOME. Free food, free lodging, clothes, healthcare, laundry, car, car insurance, toilet paper, more than one fork, twice yearly trips to the dentist, a vacation here and there. YOU HAVE IT ALL!

I obviously don’t know your family dynamics. But if all your parents want is for you to do some basic chores and be home at a reasonable hour, GO BACK. Your parents don't like your boyfriend? Dump him, at least for now, since the chances you will marry him are slim to none. You will survive, I promise. Life will never be this easy again (or at least this inexpensive) so unless there is abuse - GO HOME.

2. Move on.

If you are being abused and leaving is an act of self-preservation, allow me to welcome you to the next phase of your life, which I like to call “I Will Be a Success Despite My Parents' Bullsh*t.” For me, this involved working three jobs to graduate college with only $5k in debt, joining the Peace Corps so I could remember that others have it worse than I do and then marrying the best dude ever, getting an Ivy League master’s degree, having a kid, and so on. Get where I’m going with this?

I read that you want to be an engineer and that you have already received a $20k college scholarship. That’s awesome. Finish high school wherever, head off to college and kick some ass. You will never fully recover from the pain of abuse, but you will have a future that you created for yourself.

3. Be wary of adults who say they're acting in your best interest.

Seems like a lot of people are whispering in your ear about what you deserve and how you got a raw deal from your folks. To be honest, I would have loved to sit in a courtroom and tell a judge how incompetent and awful my parents were. LOVED! My favorite movie growing up was Irreconcilable Differences, with Drew Barrymore, Shelley Long and Ryan O’Neil. Oh, how I wanted to be that little girl on the witness stand who finally had a voice.

Here's my advice: be careful of who you trust, because most adults have no clue how to handle a situation like this. Just because we have wrinkles around our eyes doesn’t mean we know anything about preserving a family or securing a child's future. Since you moved out, those are decisions you’ll now have to make on your own. During this process you will inevitably stumble and fall, but you will also learn resilience and self-reliance.

Good luck to Rachel and all the other young women and men who are forging their own way. May your future be filled with lots of scholarship acceptance letters, competent therapists and the ability to give your parents the proverbial finger when you graduate with honors and go on to find love, success and happiness in your life. But remember, if they don't suck too too bad, GO HOME.

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