This outstanding Queen song, in my opinion, may well summarise where most of us are at the moment. The pandemic continues, we still can’t visit our friends and families back ‘home’ and our children continue to have somewhat restrictive lives.
There is a communal sense of needing to get out of here, wherever here is, a yearning, to somehow retain some autonomy in our lives, to live life more fully.
But this article is not about the ‘out there’ stuff, it explores the notion of all us becoming emancipated from our family of origin so that we can love our parents well; whilst learning to love significant others better.
Many of my students are currently revising for exams that will take them on to university. Some will study here in Mallorca, but a good proportion will leave the Island and start to live a separate life popping home in the holidays, or not….. It is a stressful time for teenagers, but many parents begin to suffer too. The empty nest syndrome is a commonly held term in parent speak around this time!
The healthy pathway to adulthood allows young adults to discover themselves from a very early age such that by the time they are leaving home for university or a job abroad, this seems the most natural thing possible. Parents celebrate the shift, even though they are of course a little sad, anxious – all this is perfectly ‘normal’, or ‘normally abnormal’!
These parents share their emotions but own them without any expectation on their child to change their plans. It’s not easy and many of us will not quite get it right, simply because we too carry our own experience of difficult emancipation and indeed the ancestral line of how parenting happened in generations gone by.
In this article today, there may be time to really reflect on our parenting of 0 to 18 to see if we can sow the seeds of an easier transition into adulthood. I’ll explain….
Michelle Chalfant’s latest podcast from The Adult Chair.com was an interview with Dr Ken Adams, a family systems specialist who has focused his research on the topic of emancipation.
It’s well worth a listen if there is a nagging doubt in your mind about your own adult relationships, but I think it shines a light on this time of year, when we begin to plan to move our children out of the family home and catapult them into full independence.
Breaking free of the family of origin starts early in life. Previous articles have discussed how we can celebrate the frustrations of the two year old as a sign of them learning that they are separate from us and beginning to find their own needs and wants.
The journey continues with teachers and peers throwing in experiences and opinions and in most cases lots of test and exams! Society has become a master in telling our children what to be, how to be it and when to be it through social media and government decision making.
Somewhere buried under all this is the authentic child, our authenticity as parents too. It’s hard work to try to untangle ourselves from the influence and pressures of living in the world. Parenting can be a struggle, a worthwhile one, but it may not be easy, or ‘with ease’.
What can we do to ease the transition of our children from dependence to independence? Dr Ken Adams somewhat harshly reminds us that we “are not their god”, our children have no responsibility to us, and in loving them for who they are and not for what they do will encourage a healthy freedom from us, one which means they come to see us, or ‘phone us out of love alone and not with a sense of obligation.
This work is rooted in family systems therapy. Any family is a complex system where if one aspect is out of sync, so the whole family responds, often with difficulty. Dr Ken Adams describes a healthy family system as having the following characteristics:
-The parents are well differentiated – they are their ‘own’ authentic adults
Clear generational boundaries – the grown up son, daughter deals directly with their own parent and does not expect their child to mediate by calling instead of them etc.
-Loyalty to the family of procreation is greater than the family of origin – when there is conflict the procreational family always ‘wins’. (It doesn’t feel competitive in a healthy family, it is just the nature of the situation.)
-Spouses put themselves before anyone else, their partnership is the number one priority this is the firm and stable base from which healthy parenting occurs and models emancipation too.
-The identity development of each family member is encouraged – for example there is no pressure to become a lawyer because of the family tradition….
-Non possessive warmth and affection – loving for loving’s sake rather than an obligation to love.
-Open clear communication.
-Open to people entering the family, for example a girlfriend/spouse of our child – celebrating the opportunities to explore new relationships, without any threat to the family of origin.
Our own upbringing may mean that we were not part of a healthy family system, but the good news is that we can make changes in ourselves for our own family. Dr Ken Adams says, “Emancipation is not a negotiation.”
In the current climate that we live in, independence is a cultural norm, our children need to know who they are well before they leave the nest, and as they form lifelong partnerships, we need to welcome them in and offer nothing but acceptance of the procreational family our child has created.
We can sing along with Queen in the knowledge that we facilitated the healthy transition of our children and when they do write, come to visit, ‘phone us or zoom, they are doing so freely, without obligation and our own lives are enriched by their healthy setting free.