Ask a Therapist • Graduation means a new start • Jennifer Smith
Graduation is upon us. For many, this means the launching of a young adult from a home in which they have lived for 18 years. It is an exciting and difficult transition for both youth and their parents. When our oldest daughter left our home to go to college 91/2 hours away, times were emotional and confusing. Luckily, I received good counsel from a dear friend and therapist, Draa Thompson. This article contains information he shared with me, which proved to be very helpful for my family.
When children turn eighteen, they become legal adults, and parents enter into what we call the “launching phase.” The goal of launching is to begin to teach our children two important things, emotional and financial independence. This week I will address emotional independence.
Teaching emotional independence is a process, but will enable youth to become functional adults. To this point they have been part of a bigger “WE” of our family system, and now, they are given the opportunity to become a “ME” apart from us. When they become a “ME”, the end result will be a re-entering of the system as an authentic self, and can result in a richer relationship with them as our adult children.
Many parents become threatened by the thought of their children becoming “ME’s” because they may interpret that as being disloyal to the family of origin. At this stage in a young adult’s life it is very important that they continue practicing thinking for themselves and becoming self-defined. Prior to their launching, youth are still making decisions based on parents approval or as a rebellion to their parents beliefs and values. During the launching phase, practicing emotional independence is a shift which includes decision making beyond parental influence. The ability to think this way usually occurs around age 19 or 20.
All along, our tasks as parents should be to teach our children to think for themselves and to guide them towards good decision making. Micro-managing our children’s lives at the time of launching is counter-productive and does not allow them to practice the skill set needed for young adulthood. Of course, we are here as parents for advice and counsel, when solicited, but we should move out of being “parental”, instructive or even critical. Giving our children the space to develop these skills can be anxiety producing because we “worry” that they will make bad choices. They will certainly make mistakes, but hopefully we can be available for guidance and grace when that happens.
There is a loss when we let our children go, but there is great gain when we allow them the space to be all the God intended for them. It is not healthy for our children to emotionally depend on us forever. Our young adults will will mature to productive adults when they practice managing healthy emotional skills. Over-functioning for them at this stage will forfeit them the opportunity for important growth. Next week I will address financial independence.
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Printed in the June 7, 2012 edition