My son started his first real job this summer in a town 2 and 1/2 hours away last week. He will be 20 in early July.
He had worked first washing dishes, then running the cash register in a sandwich shop the last 2 summers.
This is engineering. An internship.
He got his own apartment.
He mostly packed up all his stuff.
My lone contribution was making him a cookbook that his Dad joked he wouldn’t use.
He reassured me he would.
We drove there together with his Dad following. Of course that made him nervous. We laughed. Talked. It was wonderful.
Two years post emptying the nest is really pretty great for us. We have gotten beyond the initial wrenching good-bye. And the 2nd. The 3rd. I can walk by his room now without tears welling up in my eyes. I have grown accustomed to him talking about people that I can barely place. Others I remember better. I know more of where I fit.
There for a while I did not. There was a strange space of time where he was definitely pulling away. Building a new life away from home. I had not been overprotective or over-involved. But I had no idea of where I belonged in this new dynamic. Felt a funny kind of anxiety around him.
The analogy of him building a separate house that I was watching him build came to mind. Was I a visitor? Did I have a room or a closet? Did I even have a key? Or did I have to knock like everybody else?
If that’s coming up for you, please know that it is normal. Dr. Carl Pickhardt in Psychology Today calls it “parental detachment to foster independence”. You are helping your almost grown child by still guiding at times, but stepping out of the way. Encouraging them to make decisions on their own. Letting them know you believe they will do just fine.
It feels more now like I am wanted but not needed so much. There are lovely times when he does need me. That’s when I get a specific call. And we talk. Usually about some feelings he is having.
What are the things that can get in the way of this detachment process occurring normally?
1) Substance abuse issues:
Many kids either excessively drink, smoke pot, or abuse stimulants like Adderal that they justify as “needing for study”. There is also growing opioid usage. It is rampant on many campuses. Some, of course, do not engage in any of this behavior. But don’t kid yourself. Or let your kid fool you. It’s everywhere. If it becomes an issue, parents often get involved to help that kid get into treatment.
2) Mental or physical illness:
A lot of mental illnesses tend to initially emerge between the ages of 14 and 25. Bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, panic disorder to name a few. So watchfulness, if it runs in your family, is a good idea. I can’t really speak to the emergence of medical conditions. Maybe one of the medical mid-lifers will comment!
3) Academic failure:
Some kids, when they get away from the structure being provided FOR them, either by high school or living at home, cannot do it for themselves. They fail at providing that structure. They can’t make themselves go to class. They never learned good study habits. This is especially bad if they have undiagnosed attentional problems. And if it’s a big party school…well. It’s just too much distraction.
This is sometimes a shocker. A kid who might have looked as if she or he was going to rock the world gets away from home and all of a sudden can’t seem to handle the pressure. Gets depressed. Is very lonely. There may be an idealization of home or high school friends. Or perhaps she/he was raised in a family that was very interdependent. These children struggle to create their own identity away from what they know. They are constantly going home for weekends instead of staying at school.
5) Failure to launch:
Some blame this phenomenon, of adult children returning to live with their parents, as about a sense of entitlement. Some blame it on a harsh economy. Others on helicopter parenting. It seems more prevalent. Maybe we are just noticing more.
Hopefully, all will go well in your family.
For most it does.
My son has just had a collapsed lung requiring surgery. At least during the last 2 years.
So far, so good. Keeping my fingers crossed.
I would love your comments below! And please send any questions or comments that you might like answered in another post to askdrmargaret@