There have always been parents who have found it difficult to let go of adult children who have ignored the expectations their parents had for them. There have always been parents of "wayward" children who have tried to reshape their adult children into the form the parents originally wanted.
Today, however, the number of parents distressed over conflicts with their adult offspring seems to have increased. What is there about modem life that causes so many of us to question our parenting and the choices of our children? Why does it seem so difficult to let go?
There aren't any easy answers to those questions because no two situations are exactly alike. However, I can make some general observations.
For those of us who had our children back in "the good old days," the world of those far-off times seemed to move at a pace we could more easily handle. Mother could often afford to stay home and care for children full time. Parents were not as mobile; they often remained in the same community for several generations and so were able to draw upon the support of an extended family. Before the two-career household, parents had time to participate in children's extracurricular activities, school events, and community affairs. And although it has never been a simple task for families to provide economic and emotional security for their children, success seemed almost assured for anyone with determination. In such a climate — before Vietnam and Woodstock — parents expected their offspring to follow their values without questioning, and many adult children did.
Those born after Vietnam clearly experienced a different culture from that of their parents. Their greater freedom, however, has not prevented them from having trouble letting go of their adult children — the "twentysomethings" who also march to a drum beat their parents did not play.
No matter when our children were born, we release them into a world different from the one in which we were raised. And the young adult being launched today faces a world in which there are more teen pregnancies and increased acceptance of single parenthood; neighbors who don't know one another; ethnic and racial isolation; unmarried couples openly living together, whether of the same, or opposite sex; AIDS; guns in the classroom; random shots on the freeway; crack cocaine; gangs; downscaling of the economy; and on and on and on.
When we fail to let our children go freely into the world because they do not seem capable of being responsible adults, we may hope to put off the day they will have to be responsible on their own. We may assume — incorrectly, of course — that we can protect our children from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, especially during times that are difficult for the most responsible adult. In our attempt to protect, we prevent them from learning what they must learn if they are ever to be strong and independent individuals.
Some Parents Hide Their Disappointment
It is obvious that some parents do let go of their adult children even when the parents disagree with their children's values and choices. Despite their disappointment, they send their children into the world without needing to hover in the background. They can separate their values and the "success" of their own lives from the apparent "failure" and choices of their children.
But few of us who are disappointed in how our child has turned out (or who are afraid our child is heading in a direction likely to create problems later on) are truly able to let go. On the outside we may look like those parents who have let go. However, on the inside we hold on to our disappointment and to the hope that our child will make the choices we want him to make.
It is important to remember that hiding our disappointment does not keep it from affecting us or our relationship with our children.
A television drama, "Our Sons," is an excellent illustration of the difficulties parents create for themselves and their children when they try to ignore the fact that their children have failed to fulfill their dreams, whether or not those dreams are realistic.Every year My daughter seems to be afflicted by a different trial, this year she became a type 2 diabetic and decided to walk out on her children. due to her own incompetence.
In families with strained relations, however, the rope represents broken dreams, blame, and failure. Standing on either side of the differences that divide them, parent and child hold tightly to their ends of the rope. They are bound not by shared values but by the realization that their values an in conflict, that the choices of the children are not supported by the parents and that the parents' expectations for the child are not going to be met. Each pulls on the rope in an attempt to manipulate the other. And the more tenaciously the other person defends his or her expectations of how things "should" be, the deeper the rift becomes. Technically speaking, the rift itself does not bind, but when we focus on the rift and on what separates us, we are bound and caught by our expectations that the other person should have different values than he or she has.
If you and your child have been playing tug-of-war across a growing rip in your family's fabric, my hope is that this book can help you learn how to stop tugging on that rope. In chapter 7 I describe how I dropped my end of the rope, and the peace that accompanied that action. I didn't give up my values and beliefs. I didn't give up the hope that Matthew might someday decide to choose a more healthy lifestyle. I simply recognized that he and I may never resolve our differences and that pulling on the rope only caused my heart to break over the behavior of someone else — behavior I could not control.
You, too, can let go of the rope that binds you in misery and reminds you of your child's unfulfilled expectations. First, however, you may need to understand some of the dynamics that created the tug- of-war in the first place.
While almost any choice of an adult child that is inconsistent with our expectations can leave us disappointed and make it hard for us to let our child live freely as she chooses, three categories of situations most commonly lead to rifts that bind.
1. Our child is unable to function successfully in relationships and/or work settings because of emotional and/or physical problems. The child's current functioning may be less than the potential demonstrated when our child was younger or may be a continuation of problems we have attempted to correct. to be continued........