By Nicole Clifton, MA, Life Coach specializing in student transitions
It’s time. You’ve waited (approximately) 18 years to get them to this point, and now your child is officially a grown-up. Whether they’re heading off to college or whatever is next for them, this is a huge change for both of you. Sometimes, we don’t anticipate the challenge that comes with the change in the parent-child dynamic when the child is technically an adult. There can be conflict, frustration, miscommunication, and distance. Part of that comes from them establishing their autonomy, which is natural. As a parent though, it can be hard to let go. If that’s you, you may fall into one of the categories listed below:
You’ve loved being needed by them. Take heart: They will still need you. Maybe not in the same ways they did before, but they still will. When you give your adult child the freedom to re-define the terms of your relationship, you can create room for something new to grow. They can choose to need you instead of you insisting that they need you.
You’re scared of losing what you’ve had, and you’re grieving the loss of what has been. Change is inevitable, so yes, your relationship is going to shift. It will be different, but that doesn’t mean that something else that is wonderful can’t develop. Just know that it’s okay to grieve and be sad that a sweet season is over. We all have a hard time sitting with sadness.
“As individuals, we’re afraid of the darkness grief brings. As a society, we have pathologized it and turned it into something to cure or get over. Owning our stories of heartbreak is a tremendous challenge when we live in a culture that tells us to deny our grief” (Dr. Brene Bown, Rising Strong, p. 145)
So often we only think about grief when someone dies, or heartbreak when a breakup or divorce happens. The truth is that heartbreak and grief encompass so much more than that. Widening our definition of grief and giving ourselves permission to feel it is so crucial to being able to grow from it. “Our silence about grief serves no one. We can’t heal if we can’t grieve… We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend” (Brown).
Your heart can reach towards that grief because it needs to feel it in order to move forward into the next chapter. Your grief communicates how much the last chapter mattered. You can feel excited for and proud of your child and still be sad about the change. Both of those things can exist together. Reach out to some safe adults to process that grief.
3. You feel like you need to protect them. It’s natural to feel protective of those we love. As a parent, you’ve shielded them from pain in the world, but you know that they will experience pain and hard things as an adult that you cannot protect them from. Glennon Doyle processes this as a parent too: “I feared my baby’s pain was my failure… More than anything I wanted [her] to grow to be a brave, kind, wise, resilient woman. So what is it in a human life that creates bravery, kindness, wisdom, and resilience? … Maybe my job as [her parent] is not to protect her from pain, but to hold her hand and walk into it with her… I need to look at her and say ‘I see your pain. It’s real. I feel it too. We can handle it; we can do hard things’” (Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior, p. 204-205).
You may not be able to protect them from all the pain out there, but they will certainly need love and support as they face it. Hard things will come whether you want them to or not, but be a part of the reason they become wise and resilient. Be a part of the reason that they become kinder and braver after a struggle, not someone who stays shut down and broken.
You’re going to be okay. You will figure out this season, just like each challenging season that’s come before. You love your kid and want them to become the best adult they can be. Give yourself and them time to figure out your new dynamic, and be willing to make some changes. You are capable of thriving separately and together.
Sign up for Nicole’s 6-Week Package for College Students and Parents to help you walk through the transitions of this season. Learn more here.