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On the Homefront: Children sometimes have to make mistakes to learn from them

Over the years, I have written about how my three (now adult) children have vacillated between thinking their parents are bumbling idiots to believing that we are seers full of enlightenment and wisdom. As I move from being the parent to the consultant/coach for our youngest child, my ideas or suggestions are often met with “Yes, mother! I know that, mother!” Clearly, we are currently in bumbling idiot mode.

My son moved out of his college apartment last May along with three of his roommates. The one remaining guy stayed until August. I did a coaching session with my son around all the important details related to moving out of an apartment.

“Yes, Mother! Yes, Mother!”

“Did you have the electric bill changed to XX’s name?”

“YES, Mother!”

“Do you have proof that the utility company knows that the electric should be in XX’s name?”


So, this past week when the letter from a collections agency came stating that his electric bill was more than a year overdue, I asked him where the proof was that the name on the account had been changed. The proof turned out to be XX’s word that he put the account under his own name.

Not good enough, I told him. He contacted his ex-roomie, who said that he would pay it ASAP. Again, I told my son to get a copy of the paid bill in writing.

“YES, MOTHER” was his response.

Two days later, I asked again if he had said documentation.


I explained about the importance of a clean credit report, how it impacts future financing and even the possible ramifications one’s credit can have on job opportunities. I suggested that he contact the collections agency to ensure that this situation had not negatively impacted his credit. And get this in writing.

Eyes rolling, “YES, Mother.”

When I asked if he had gotten the all-clear letter, he informed me that the bill had still not gotten paid by roomie XX. As the account was still in my son’s name, he was indeed liable, and he ended up paying over $300 for something that should not have been his responsibility.

While he could have saved some money by simply heeding the advice of his (bumbling idiot) mother, my son learned a valuable lesson about gathering documents, proof of transactions and trusting others. For $300, he learned that not everyone’s word is honorable. He learned that he must have proof in writing of transactions since handshakes do not hold up in court. He learned that he needs to stay on top of his personal affairs and his financial health.

I always pray that my children’s mistakes are big enough to teach them but small enough to not harm them. Sometimes, children avoid problems by heeding the advice of elders, and sometimes they learn by going to the school of hard knocks.

Was this a rather expensive life lesson? “Yes, Mom.”

Editor’s note: Denise Continenza is the family and consumer sciences educator with Penn State Extension, Lehigh and Northampton counties.