When children are babies they rely completely on the goodwill of their parents. They communicate a need in an infantile way and the parent satisfies the request. Satisfaction for the child. Gratification for the parent.
Parenting adolescents is different than at any other stage of a family’s development. Suddenly, the fact that the culmination of these years will result in someone leaving the home begins to influence all behaviors and decisions. Kids start to spread their wings and parents react by clipping them back. Children assert their readiness for adulthood and parents point out examples of unpreparedness. Adolescents invite risks and parents struggle to maintain safety. In what seems to be the last opportunity for closeness the only thing that works is distance.
The only way to make it on your own is to experience the danger without rescue. If every fall is cushioned, the child not only fails to learn how to fall but never has the experience of getting back up. If life is free of conflict, coping skills need not develop. Without coping skills, the launch is a bust.
There is nothing in the world that is more difficult than letting your child fall. Even when you know it’s good for them, the choice to watch your child experience pain occurs completely against all instinct. The gut reaction is to help. The smart parent shows restraint.
Therein lies the rub. How does the parent get the gratification that comes from helping and rescuing when the situation calls for distant observation? Doesn’t the child have some degree of responsibility in making the parent feel needed? What kind of thanks is that after all that parents have done for their children over the course of nearly two decades? The least they could do would be to show a little appreciation. Parents have needs too, you know.
It’s a question of survival. Who will survive beyond the separation? Will the child be able to negotiate the nastiness of the world without their parents to protect them? Will the parents be able to find meaning in their lives without the role of caregiver and the responsibilities of nurturance? There is only one way to find out. Are you ready?
About the Author
Steve Ritter, LCSW is the Founder and Executive Director of Elmhurst Counseling. He has served as a teacher, author, consultant, human resources director, health care administrator, and licensed clinical social worker since 1977. A fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Steve has provided coaching, therapy and team development services to thriving schools, businesses and organizations.