Monday, July 1, 2013

The Independence of Young Adulthood

Once you are a mom, you will always be a mom. 

But parenting is a time limited job. If you are good at it you will be become obsolete in that role.  Since the goal is to raise a child, once that child is an adult you are done with the parenting part.  If you are wise you will slowly move yourself into a consultant role to your emerging adult as a mutual process. It is painful, wonderful, exciting, terrifying, and true.  You will not always be a parent.

My first wake up call to the shelf life of my own parenting was at the office.  I was listening to this young man who was preparing for his senior year of high school.  He was such a capable kid; strong character, good grades,terrific support system, many talents and abilities.  He expressed concern about the frightening personality change in his mother.  She was suddenly "always mad." She had transformed into this controlling, obsessed, critical, zombie woman.  He dreaded the "nagfest" every time he ran into her, which was less and less frequent as he was trying to avoid her drama.
"This morning was the WORST! She actually made little sticky notes with things she wants me to do and covered my door with them while I was asleep! What is wrong with her?" He was worried.

Although I wasn't sure, I said that I suspected that his mom was feeling time slip away. This time next year he would be preparing for college. "I know it sounds wierd but I think she is trying to let you know that she will miss you." I suggested that he set up a time to talk with her and take notes about what she thought was important to accomplish in preparing for his future. "She will be okay again." I reassured him.

Later I drove home to remove all of the sticky notes I had plastered all over my daughter's bedroom door.  Good thing she slept past noon. 

Developmental psychologists suggest that for most kids there is a gradual letting go of parental dependence at the rate of about 10% each year starting at age 10.  It is not that 10-20s  don't need parenting- more that it is natural for kids to attempt increased decision making during this time period.  In contrast, some kids are steadfast in their dependency until one day they peel themselves off like a used bandaid.  Funny thing.  Parenting works like that too!  If you prepare yourself a little at a time by giving your kiddo practice with increased independence in decisions and self-management, the shift is subtle.  But if you wait too long, do too much, barge in with your sticky notes, to do lists, and other parental torture devices . . . well, you get the picture.  It gets complicated.

Casa Marotta is preparing for a re-launch.  The Artist has completed her gap year and will attend graduate school in the fall.  This is a capable young adult.  She has matured so much since that first launch to college.  It is unlikely that she will only make mature decisions from this point forward but that isn't my job anymore.  It is officially her job.  So while I watch her negotiate apartment contracts, interview roomates, and select her internships for the fall semester I remind myself to hold back until I am invited to share my wisdom.  She needs to direct herself and access support on her own steam.  My tongue has become sore from biting it, and my head spins from trying to avoid overstepping with unwanted questions or remiders, but I know this pain is just part of the letting go. 

Because at the end of my job of parenting, I will still be a mom.  I will always be a mom. And being a mom is pretty darn terrific.

How are you doing with letting go?


  1. One is married, one in college, one a sr in hs. and one is almost 15. Yes, we are letting go and I find myself apologizing for being a mothering too much, when they really don't need it. It seems to help. I have one that I need to let go more, but he seems unsure and insecure. He probably needs more "you can do it" and less direction from me.

    1. Thank you for your comment, you have lots of experience in the active job of parenting and the process of letting go. When young adults are "stuck" in an area of growing up it helps to delicately suggest ideas and add lots of encouragement (1:4 ratio) and avoid the dreaded "lecture." It is helpful to me to remember that no one is completely grown up before they leave home, being on their own is the next part of life education. Thanks for sharing!

  2. So well said. Just shipped Darku back off to NYC realizing he really is grown up.

    1. It is bittersweet, rewarding, and sometimes overwhelming. The toughest job we will ever love. We are all in it together :)

  3. You are spot on with this, Lisa. I like the way you distinguish between being a "mom" and being a "parent." I've discovered that as a parent of an adult child, the less I volunteer advice, the more I'm asked for it.