TEEN-AGED AND YOUNG ADULT CHILDREN; AM I STILL THE PARENT?
by Gabby Acord, LCSW.
Originally posted, February 20, 2021
Alright, how was it easier when I had little toddlers and babies in diapers, messy and stinky and needy? How was is easier than having life-sized teenage and adult children?
Being a parent is such a constant phenomenon of “I’ll be happy when” and “freedom is just around the corner” and “what am I gonna do without them?” One of the most forgotten and unaddressed aspects of being a mom or a dad is the inherent loss when a child starts to become an adult and obsessively plans life without you. This push and pull, tug-of-war of needing you for money and resources like insurance, cell phone plans, deodorant and school tuition, but resenting the air you breathe. The fact that you exist means that they aren’t independent yet. Sometimes the very goal they are working towards is getting away from you. How do you stay present and true yourself while still supporting and showing up for a child who needs you, but is separating from you?
Relationship over Role
In Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now, he talks about how we take on identities and roles and perpetuate them far past their usefulness. A teacher, for example, is useful in a classroom but that function expires at the grocery store. The function of a parent is clear when a child is unable to care for itself and unable to find its own resources, but what is the function of a parent when a child is becoming an adult?
This transition can be fertile ground for negative relationship dynamics. The needs of the people involved are sometimes diametrically opposed. The archtypes of the wicked stepmother, the mother-in-law or spoiled entitlement germanate from this very dynamic. There is an element of holding on and vying for relevance and importance way past its usefulness.
So what is the function of a parent when a child is no longer a child?
How do we transition as kids become more independent, even in their teen years, when they’re able to drive, earn some of their own money and make their own plans and schedules?
Boundaries and Trust
One of the most overlooked realtionship dynamics is the way we show and communicate trust in others. Modern day parenting includes elements of hyper-vigilance and oversight that come from a genuine place of care and concern for safety. Overparenting communicates that the child can’t be trusted to care for themselves and rebound from mistakes. When your caretakers and the adults in your life don’t trust you, there must be a reason.
The world must be unsafe and I must be incapable of managing it.
Of course this is not the intent, but when we demonstrate a lack of trust, we inadvertently send a message that the people in our lives can’t be trusted . What could be more valuable than conveying to a child that they are capable, not because they’re perfect, but because they are strong and resilient and not fragile?
The ability to trust is tied directly to our relationship with boundaries. If we have communicated clear boundaries about what we are willing to help with and pay for, then we can let go and trust some of the less orthodox decisions our children make. If we cant have boundaries, then others decisions affect us directly in a way that feels out of control. Boundaries allow us to allow others.
Parents come to our practice frustrated about their relationship with their older kids. They’re struggling to set boundaries and establish respect. One of the things that we talk about is role, function and relationship. If we can focus more on what is most valuable and useful for the relationship, we can shake that feeling of abandonment when our children grow and need us in evolving ways.