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A Different Kind of Grief: Letting Go of Your Older Teen or Adult Child

Posted by LJ McNickles

Someday, every parent has to do it: Every child grows into a young adult, and wants to live their life without being given tons of advice.  Forcibly or voluntarily, mothers and fathers everywhere are learning how to let go.  This process can be quite painful at times, for both the parents and the young adult.

Unfortunately, a number of late teens/early adults desperately want to move far too quickly from childhood to adulthood, without advice or direction from the people who know their every strength and quirk.  Sons and daughters make choices to jump right into the enormous responsibility and burden of adulthood without knowing how much work it truly is.

Our role as parents changes during this time and yet, in some ways, remains exactly the same.

This will be my first experience in such a process of letting go, and in all honesty, I am finding it quite difficult.  As parents we all want our children to succeed, to go further than we dreamed possible for ourselves.  We hope that our children won’t walk in our footsteps following behind us, but stand on our shoulders to go far beyond what they may reach on their own.

I may have more to battle than most parents, with the loss of my two daughters in a tragedy so fresh a memory, with a tumultuous two years of upheaval to follow. However, I think my struggle is not unlike that of any ordinary parent/child relationship.  The distress it causes both my son and myself to navigate the tragedies we have lived through seems as though it puts a different blanket over each and every circumstance.  However, the choices he is making currently invites a more adult perspective.  As James Lehman would say “No judge is going to care about what your diagnosis or your problem is, he is going to hold you accountable, plain and simple.”   It’s pretty cut and dried — but then, at the same time, it’s not.

In my opinion, our adult children still need to understand that there is accountability in everything they do, even when they do not appreciate it.  I have experienced the extreme pulling away of my oldest son, and the fight he puts up verbally and emotionally when he doesn’t think something is fair.  However, I feel very strongly that it is still my job to hold up the values we have always had as a family: respect, responsibility… and honesty. I also believe that resistance to those core values should not simply be excused as a ‘phase’ of finding oneself.  The challenge is to know how and when to allow the feelings to flow, and be a buffer for my wounded son — and when to put up a boundary and not allow him to walk past it.


About LJ McNickles

With a background in child development, much independent study in the psychology field, and life experience as a mother of eight children, two of whom “left us much too early,” L J finds she has a strong desire to reach out to other parents. She says, “I want to build parents’ confidence in the facts, that #1, you are not alone; and #2 while we all struggle from time to time, you CAN do this job of parenting with love, respect, and a foundation that will last a lifetime.”

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