This time of year many parents are facing the major transition in life where the child has now graduated high school and really is no longer a child. But, you protest, they will always be my child. You are right. They will always be your child, but you have probably noticed they really don’t like being treated as such. A close look may even reveal they really don’t respond the same as they once did. Yes, truth can be hard to face. You have always worried about your child, it’s what parents do. Now, you are more anxious than ever after all you have never been here before. Sending your child away to college is a big transition.
A common story looks something like this; A parent, immensely aware that the summer is flying by and they have a few short weeks with their child, a high school graduate, and they want to spend as much time as possible with them before they go off to college. I think of this as separation anxiety on the reverse end of child rearing.
The child, a young adult in their own mind at least, wants to spend as much time as possible with friends or their boyfriend or girlfriend. And the conflict ensues. Guilty feelings cloud everyone’s view of the situations and too frequently tempers fly. The struggle is felt in day to day activities and the irritations grow. Sound familiar? Love, quilt, angry cycle that is riddled with fear, worry and anxiety.
As a parent you may be wondering, “what am I doing wrong” or “why don’t they want to have dinner with me?” You are likely feeling angry and think your child doesn’t appreciate everything you have done for them. Hurt is the most frequent emotion that puts distance between you. Does it feel kind of like rejection? Did they all of a sudden stop needing you?
I hope you can find comfort in these words and know you are not alone in this very real struggle. As hard as this may sound, your child is doing exactly what they, developmentally are supposed to be doing. Their task, now that they are in late adolescents is to develop age appropriate autonomy and begin to grow into their young adult selves. This work is fraught with conflict and confusion and can show up in many different choices, some of them good and some of them not. This too should sound familiar if you take the time to think back to your own choices at that age.
You job? You job is to be the same loving support parent you’ve always been, but with a bit of distance. Giving them more space to make choices that look different than the way you have taught them. It may have been a long time ago when you were college age, but seriously, can you remember how ready you were to do life your own way? Being there for them when they need you and communicating this to them as a message of support, while giving them the space to define who they are becoming, is one of life’s most important jobs as a parent.