Another high-profile case of “affluenza” played out in the media as Rachel Canning, the 18 year old high school student from Lincoln Park, New Jersey, sued her estranged parents for $654 per week in support, payment of her private school tuition and legal fees, and access to college savings her parents had earmarked for her. The case has quietly gone away, now that the lawsuit has been dismissed and Rachel voluntarily moved back home with her family. But for the Cannings, the work to fix what went wrong in the first place, and additionally heal all the damage done by laundering private complaints during the nasty court battle is just beginning.
Rachel moved out, initially to live with her boyfriend, then with the family of another friend last October. She says she was forced to move out, Sean and Elizabeth Canning say she moved out voluntarily. Rachel claims her father was inappropriately affectionate, her mother’s abusive behavior caused her to develop an eating disorder, that they imposed unreasonable limits on her time, and forbid her to spend time with her boyfriend that they did not like. Her parents say she was cutting school, drinking on weekends, and would not follow house rules.
It’s safe to say that mistakes were probably made by the Cannings. They’re human. But the court refused to appoint a guardian, allowed Rachel to return home, and dismissed the lawsuit, making it clear that there was no concern on the court’s part that Rachel is abused or that her parents are unfit.
Rachel’s letter to her parents, written at the height of the dispute, was cited by Judge Bogaard during the March 4 hearing. In her own words, “I really need to realize there are consequences for the things I do. I miss you guys. I am trying to turn over a new leaf.” So how does a case of an adult teen making bad decisions and choosing to leave home rather than respect her parents end up in court?
How does a modern-day parent set boundaries for a child, particularly one who is financially dependent but legally an adult? And what role should the legal system play when there is disagreement or friction, absent criminality or abuse? Will it end here, or will entitlement disagreements continue to creep in to disputes involving older adult children? Are they entitled to support to buy their first home (politically espoused as the right of every American), financial help while they start a career, daycare for grandchildren, inheritance of a family business, and the family vacation house?
How do we take back our families? And if, despite best efforts, our children are ungrateful or unreasonable, do we have to fear the ugly and messy prospect of a legal battle, where there are arguably no winners?
The answer lies in what our kids really need. They need confident, engaged, and loving parents. And when parents are acting in what they believe is the best interest of their child, they deserve our support, whether or not we agree with their methods. Mr. Inglesio, the father of Rachel’s friend who financed the lawsuit likely only had Rachel’s version of the “facts,” and undermined her chances of a peaceful reconciliation with her parents by encouraging her temper tantrum by bankrolling her lawsuit. He should apologize.
Though this will go down as a very painful period for Rachel, marring her final year of high school, she will hopefully see how lucky she is. Her parents were not intimidated by her demands, they didn’t retaliate or lash out at her publically, and they welcomed her home. And if she really meant those words in her letter to her parents, she will continue to look to them to help her learn about consequences and personal responsibility and turn over that new leaf.