When Your Children Grant You Your Dismissal Papers
I believe that the primary focus of parenting is to teach our children a sense of self-determination. We should want our children to develop into independent adults. Through coaching, nurturing and parental discipline, we hopefully teach our children to be self-confident and self-reliant.
Often parents "hang on" to their children in order to meet their own needs. Some of this parental functioning is healthy. We like to vicariously live through the activities and successes of our children. We cherish the time we spend with our children, developing positive friendships. We create family traditions that promote involvement with our children. All of this is good and necessary.
Parental conflict, however, may occur during adolescence when our children begin pulling away. As parents, we try to hang on during this transitional period, and a tug for power and control ensues. Even though a parent may be aware of the reasons for this process of conflict, it still may be difficult for a parent to accept.
I recall when my son was fifteen, I would attend his baseball games and afterwards father and son would head off for the drugstore to buy some "big league chew" bubble gum. I had a buddy then and I loved every moment of it. When my son turned sixteen and he got his driver's license, he inherited my old Volkswagen Golf-mobile and life seemed to "turn on a dime." My son was now carting his high school friends from place to place and I felt like I had been granted my dismissal papers.
Although there was no intent on his part to hurt me, nevertheless I felt the loss. What happened to my concept of self-determination? The idea seemed hollow and I felt a sense of betrayal.
All parents need to learn that life deals us a series of transitional blows — and losing a child to adulthood is one of them. As a parent, when painful transitions occur, we need to cherish the memories, grieve the losses, and pick ourselves up and move on. Although some parenting may continue with our children after they reach adulthood, for the most part the parenting process is over.
After processing the grief of losing our parenting power, we need to recreate ourselves and move forward. Here are some insights or guidelines for moving forward after our children leave us:
- Work on enhancing or reestablishing relationships, especially renewing our connection with our partner.
- Reflect on ways of developing one's sense of self. Explore new hobbies, find places to travel, and find out who you are apart from you children.
- Keep your family memories alive by discussing your memories with your partner, friends and adult children. Review family pictures, collages, and films with loved ones.
- Establish an adult relationship with your children. They have not abandoned you. Visit them and maintain involvement in mutually meaningful ways.
- Give yourself a pat on the back for being a good parent. You may not like all the choices your children have made, but you did promote a foundation for their decision-making ability. Remember, that was the goal.
Life is full of changes and transitions. Although the change process may be difficult, it is healthy and can be rewarding if you choose to continue to recreate yourself in response to life's challenges.
James P. Krehbiel is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist in private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona, and a regular contributor to FamilyResource.com. He can be reached at (480) 664-6665 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.