Child rearing's goal is simple: Our once-dependent infants are weaned and otherwise taught to stand on their own feet. We can pat ourselves on the back if our kids are launched into the world as independent adults. Oh they can still call home to whine if things aren't going well. Parents are a safe place and wise head. So long as they don't look to us to take over and solve their problems, they're independent. Congratulations.
But it's not easy to feel good about it. At least not at first. In his web page on adolescence, psychologist Carl Pickhardt addresses some of the emotional trials parents face as their adolescent kids move into and through what he calls "trailing independence"--an age range he pegs at 18 to 23. Specifically he writes about why we feel sadness when the kids move out and on and operate independently of parents, family, and home. "This is the last letting go in the process of Detachment Parenting of adolescents," he writes, "and it can feel very hard to do – forsaking the old management role, the sense of purpose, the accustomed authority, and the daily association."
He writes that "the last battle between holding on and letting go is not just between parent and adolescent, but agonizingly unfolds within the parents themselves. For a while the empty nest can result in the empty parent."
Pickhardt points to three D's of pain -- why we feel a loss rather than joy when our kids successfully launch.
--First, we're Dethroned. We've lost ruling influence over decisions our kids make.
--Second, we are at more of a Distance. Socially and geographically our kids are moving away as they focus --appropriately-- on building a new life.
--Third, we are Demoted. Our kids are creating a new system of relationships that they give a higher immediate priority than attending to us.
Here's Pickhardt's killer app--as in adaptation--to the three Ds:
"What is extremely important for parents to understand about the dethronement, distance, and demotion ...is that this change does NOT mean they are less loved; they are only less necessary."
"To a degree," he continues, "the return for their self-sacrificial investment in parenting an adolescent to independence is this sweet sadness of success, just as once upon a long time ago the little girl or boy’s entry into adolescence caused parents to give up the precious childhood time together they would never have again. The great hardship of Detachment Parenting is enduring loss from letting go."
Or as my friend Dick put it: "My kids are independent. Damn it."