He's a psychologist who specializes in adolescence but Carl Pickhardt also has a lot to say about the next stage: young adults (roughly twenty-somethings) and their natural and inevitable independence from us, their loving and occasionally controlling parents. In a recent newsletter, he laid out the basic changes in our relationship with our grown-up young 'uns. This period of development, he notes, is a time when our children have gained "functional independence and a sense of identity." That is, our newly minted adults should be able to tell themselves, "I’m on my own and I know who I am.”
In the real world, young adults have their struggles coming to terms with this sense of independence and self awareness, but so do we. Let me quote Pickhardt on the range of losses we may feel as the transition takes place:
- Demotion: parents lose positional superiority. Interpersonal standing is now equitized. “I can’t pull rank of ruling authority anymore.”
- Distance: parents lose central importance. Parents become more peripheral to young adult life. “I’m more of an outsider now.”
- Disappointment: parental expectations are unmet. Old dreams do not match the emerging reality. “He didn’t turn out all the ways I anticipated.”
- Disapproval: parents don't like some daily decisions being made. In the young person’s place, they would choose differently. “We don’t agree with her priorities.”
- Diversity: parents lose some old sense of similarity. The adult child life is increasingly unfamiliar. “Her lifestyle is so different from ours.”
- Despondency: parents lose accustomed contact. Primary intimacy and importance are found elsewhere. “I miss the old closeness we used to share.”
- Deprivation: parents lose current information. They feel more out of touch with what is happening. “I'm not regularly told what is going on.”
- Directness: parents lose spontaneity of communication. There is more talking carefully. “I’m more diplomatic about what I say and how I say it.
How to adjust--while doing no harm. Pickhardt has a warning on how important it is that our children make the transition.
Proceeding as though your adult child will stay as family-centered as the adolescent usually doesn’t work too well. Instead, by emphasizing certain parental roles, more closeness can often grow. A few suggestions follow.
Parents can become cheerleaders – celebrating accomplishments.
Parents can become supporters – providing listening.
Parents can become motivators – encouraging effort.
Parents can become followers – expressing interest
Parents can become mentors – advising when asked.
Parents can become companions – providing welcome company.
Parents can become independents – leading separate lives.
Parents can become informants – sharing home and family news.
Parents can become helpers – being on family call.
Parents can become requestors -- asking for assistance.
It's the future we have been building towards--that day when our children will be independent, sentient beings who'll mature into adults who can, let us all hope, live productive lives and rise to the occasion of caring for us in our dotage.