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I'll try to release parents from the self-imposed prison of their unmet expectations. All mothers and fathers have a vast matrix of hopes, dreams, and wishes for their children, many of which aren't going to be gratified. They've spent many years harboring expectations of themselves as a certain kind of parent, who'd raise a certain kind of child. At the stage of departure, they must be prepared to release both their offspring and themselves from these unfulfilled expectations, rather than artificially prolonging childrearing with the irrational belief that perfection will one day be attained. They have to learn to accept who their young adult child actually is, rather than futilely yearn for who they might still want him to be. They have to love him not just in spite of, but because of, the ways in which he's disillusioned them. And they have to learn to accept themselves for who they've been as parents, acknowledging the ways in which they did and didn't make a positive difference in their family's lives, giving voice to their legitimate sorrows and regrets without becoming assailed and overwhelmed by remorse.
Finally, I'll encourage parents to think about retooling, pointing out that RYAs are much likelier to risk leaving home if they know that the family members they're leaving behind will do okay without them. The more that mothers and fathers emphasize the person of the parent over the person as the parent, the freer the late adolescent is to weigh anchor and set sail. Parents can do this in many ways, from revivifying their marital relationship so that it no longer balances on the fulcrum of childrearing, to revisiting plans and activities that have been put off while their children have been growing up, to cultivating new interests and relationships, now that additional time and energy may—and should—be liberated.
In rereading my dog-eared copy of Haley's Leaving Home, I realize that, while the nearly three decades since its publication have been characterized by extraordinary societal crisis, conflict, and growth, there remains a timelessness to every young adult's struggle to establish a sense of individual selfhood separate from the family from which he or she emerged.
Brad Sachs, Ph.D., is the author of numerous books on child and family development, including The Good Enough Child: How to Have an Imperfect Family and Be Perfectly Satisfied, The Good Enough Teen: Raising Adolescents with Love and Acceptance, and the forthcoming Emptying the Nest: Launching Reluctant Young Adults Towards Success and Self-Reliance. Website: www.bradsachs.com. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at email@example.com, or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.