THE BLOG

A Dynamic Way to "Let Go" of Adult Children

Why do we as parents have so much trouble "letting go" of our children once they complete their teenage years and need to assume primary responsibility for their lives?
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Why do we as parents have so much trouble "letting go" of our children once they complete their teenage years and need to assume primary responsibility for their lives?

The obvious answer seems to be that our understanding of them ― and the importance of what they are experiencing ― can still significantly improve their lives. So as much as they need to struggle in order to establish their independence, it's hard for us not to "hover" and keep tabs on them as young adults.

But the letting go process is vital, and these thoughts might help us respect it:

First, since children trail behind us intellectually, they become adept at reading our hearts. So if we have trouble letting go of our adult children, we communicate to them that we think they need our help, which they translate into our lack of confidence in their readiness to handle life on their own.

In my case, I felt the only thing I had going for me was my mother's belief in me. I don't know what she saw in me, but I knew she saw something. Then when graduating from college, uncertain and unconfident, I--kiddingly--said to my grandfather, "Papa, I just might come to work for you. Of course I'll need an office and secretary."

He said, "Nope, You'd be no good at it." I laughed; he didn't. I felt humiliated, that he had seen right through my covert attempt to ride his coattails. But in time, I grew to appreciate his trust in my finding my true potential. Looking back, the only thing I had to overcome was my lack of confidence and trust in myself and my upbringing.

As a father myself, I only heard about our son's struggles in college later in his life. When my wife and I finished driving him and his things to his first teaching job after college, I remember Blanche wiping away her tears in the car while saying, "Well, that's that!"

Once we parents truly let go of our adult children, we may be surprised at being cast by them in the new and rewarding role of "consultant." For once they realize the hassle of dealing with parental authority/support is over and they feel the full weight and responsibility of self-sufficiency, they quite naturally seek support, including their biggest source--parents.

Except in cases of special needs, the most productive relationship for adult children is for them taking primary responsibility for their lives, and parents acting as their "consultants." Whatever mistakes they make, they will learn from them. Delaying this letting go process only makes this responsibility more daunting and harder for them.

Also, we powerfully resist letting go of our adult children because it means losing what has been a huge part of our lives. The Biggest Job We'll Ever Have is the title of a parenting book by Laura and Malcolm Gauld; it affirms how letting go of adult children leaves a big hole in marriages and families.

Consider the large amount of time and energy we devoted to preparing our adult children for life. "Nature abhors a vacuum," so we parents will naturally tend to hang on to them. What we really need is a new concern to replace all that time and energy.

I'm suggesting we parents recognize that in order to effectively let go of adult children, we need to experience a major transformation for ourselves, not just for the benefit of our adult children, but for ourselves as individuals as well.

We have unselfishly prepared our adult children for life. Suppose now each of us unselfishly sets out to strongly support our spouse's or mate's best and career, (and as with our children,) expecting nothing in return.

It comes down to this: is our spouse/mate worthy of the same concern we gave our adult child?

If our coupling has any strength at all, wouldn't our spouse/mate respond in kind--if not immediately, eventually? This joint concern would ultimately create an ideal couple, strengthening both lives and careers, while effectively letting go of adult children and establishing a powerful model for them to follow.

And perhaps a model to inspire other couples as well.