It's a new phrase for me: Detachment Parenting. It means, as I interpret it, letting go, or making our way from controlling to advisory parent. One goal, psychologist Carl Pickhardt suggests, is to do it without showing any disappointment over how our child is turning out. That is, whether they're living up to our expectations for them.
As Pickhardt noted in a column in Psychology Today on the subject, we expect a return on our parenting investment--on the sacrifices we've made for our children as they grew from infants to school kids to post-adolescents. A marker of the ROI is how they "turn out." If our son or daughter "turns out" to be happy, healthy, and hard working, we're likely to feel we've gotten our "sacrifice's" worth. We may also tell ourselves that this came to be because of what effective--great--parents we've been.
But what if they hit their twenties--emerging adulthood years--and they're still struggling, or as Pickhardt describes the tumult of the young adult years, "to settle oneself down, to discipline freedom with purpose, to find a job with a future, to form a committed life partnership." What if they're still groping for direction or their personal definition for goals or lifestyle doesn’t live up to our expectations, hopes or ambitions for them?
We may feel let down, disappointed and frustrated. The risk at this stage of detachment parenting, Pickhardt says, is to go negative, to say things like, “Why can’t you get your life together?” or “We didn’t raise you to flounder with your life!”
Pickhardt's point is to avoid equating how our young adult “turns out” with how well we've done our job as parents."One of the hardest tasks, he says, is to "let any remaining vestiges of this false equation go so the young person feels free to pursue her or his individual and independent way unburdened by parental performance needs."
There's a "Gestalt Prayer” by Fritz Perls in his book, “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim,” that Pickhardt quotes to end his column. I'll end my post with the same sentiment--so hard to accept but part of being the parent of an adult child:
“I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
And if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.”