The Pain and Joy of Parenting Young Adults
At this time of year the pains and joys of parenting young adults are very much on the minds of many.
The end of a high school year, graduation, or making plans for post-secondary or beyond can make this transition a vivid reality for many parents.
What is more, this is a powerful life transition for parents and young adults both at the same time.
From Adolescence to Young Adulthood
The transition out of adolescence begins in the later teens and often ends at some point in the twenties, with the attainment of a fairly high degree of psychological, social, and economic independence.
Psychological independence refers to an authentic felt sense of individual identity , with an appropriate understanding of that identity as distinct from others.
Social independence is about the individual seeing her- or himself as an autonomous unit, over against parents and others. It leads to a commitment to one’s own belief structure and to pursuit of one’s own priorities.
In keeping with these two characteristics comes striving for economic independence. This entails a growing movement toward financial self-sufficiency, and an increasing drive to support oneself without the aid of the parents. Today, this can be a great source of stress in parenting young adults. In our time, many young adults struggle with finding economic independence, and parents are forced to face hard decisions about how to support their young adult children, without sacrificing their children’s autonomy — or the parents’ own need to grow.
The end of a young person’s adolescence is not the end of a parenting relationship: that goes on for life. Yet parenting young adults marks a transition to a new set of changes and challenges.
Tolerance and Patience
Transitioning to parenting young adults will often require tolerance and patience.
Young adults are going to make mistakes, just as all adults make mistakes. It’s an essential part of exploring their own autonomy to try things in their own way, and not all of these things will succeed. Just as an essential part of the individuation process is accepting our own imperfection, so we must do the same for our children, and extend the same compassionate acceptance to them.
Letting Go of Control
Here is a real issue in the individuation process of the parents of adult children. For much of those parents’ lives, it has been essential to provide a dimension of order and control in the lives of their children. Now, it becomes more and more apparent that the role of the parent is to provide steadily increasing room for their child to live out their own values and decisions about what is important without interfering, respecting the ways in which the child chooses to allow his or her life to unfold.
To accept this role in our era, when parental bonds are often closer than in the past, may not be easy for the parent. Out of fear or genuine belief that they know better, parents can easily cling to a sense of control over their children. This may have a grave negative consequence for the child, leading him or her to either “bottle up” who they are, inappropriately, or else forcing them to undertake very strident acts to establish independence.
But what, actually does striving to retain power and control do to the parent of the young adult? It can often be that, clinging to the old parental role, the parent confines him- or herself to a cramped restrictive role that gets in the way of his or her own becoming and individuation. It’s only by a gradual letting go of the active parent role, and moving into a more receptive parenting role, in which the child takes more of the initiatives, that the individual can gradually release his or her energy from the parenting task. That energy can go to the task of his or her own individuation, in whatever form that might take.
Love, A Different Relationship, A New Horizon
Parental love changes its form, and the ways in which it manifests. As children move more and more into adulthood, there is pain as the directive, protective dimensions of parenthood diminish. The role shifts more to creating space in which the adult child can flourish — and to finding the definite, but unfamiliar joys in this new territory.
Depth case studies also acknowledges that this transformation provides a unique opportunity to the parent to explore their unique identity beyond the parenting role. This, too, is a key part of the process of individuation.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst