Why I Created The Empty Nest School
When an adult child cuts their parents off, it’s usually permanent. Sadly, the majority of estranged adult children say they don’t want to reconnect with their parents.
But there are ways to stop this from happening.
As an academic life coach for high-school and college students, I’ve seen my clients and their parents develop problems when the child becomes an adult (or even when they’re almost there), and the parent just isn’t ready yet. It’s often a major issue we deal with in the coaching process!
At first, I thought it was just an occasional thing – but then I started seeing client after client whose parents were tense, worried, and dreading their child’s impending adulthood, and it made me curious. So I went back to my roots – graduate school – to figure out what I was seeing.
I have a Ph.D. in sociology, so I know a little bit about how social interaction works – and a lot about how it doesn’t. And one of the things that really sets up whether an interaction works or not is whether the people in it are in the right roles for the situation. (Think of a person who’s acting out the role of “teacher” with a person who isn’t interested in being a “student” – it won’t go well!)
When I re-read my grad school notes about roles and interactions, it hit me: the pain the moms and dads of my clients were feeling wasn’t because their child was turning 18, or because of anything their child was doing, really.
It was because the moms and dads were having trouble adjusting to their new role – the role called “parent of an adult.” And what made it even harder was this role change may not have been one the parents wanted – but it was inevitable, and couldn’t be avoided.
Once I saw that, everything I was seeing with my clients and their parents clicked into place. It was almost painfully predictable:
- The parents parent like their adult child is still a child: guiding, protecting, and advising.
- The adult child, naturally, reacts by pushing away the people whose actions make them feel like they’re incompetent and incapable.
- The parents stand in the wreck of the relationship and wonder “what happened?”
Since what the parent knows about parenting is about parenting children (not adults), they keep trying to connect the way they always have. But it doesn’t work anymore!
– The parent wants to guide – but the adult child wants independence, which the parent sees as disobedience.
– The parent wants to give advice – but the adult child wants to make their own choices, which the parent sees as rebellion.
– The parent wants to know what’s happening in their adult child’s life and protect them from harm – but the child wants privacy, which the parent sees as secrecy.
Essentially, the parent thinks they’re helping by doing what they’ve always done – but the newly adult child feels like their parent sees them as a teen or toddler who isn’t capable or competent.
And eventually, the adult child pushes their parents away, because they’re tired of being treated like a child, and the parent ends up feeling rejected, unwanted, and like they’re a failure at parenting.
This is a difficult situation, because the change in the child’s status demands a change in how they and their parents interact – but until now, nobody has taught parents how to successfully make the shift from “parent of a child” to “parent of an adult.” And as a result, a lot of parents just keep doing what they’ve always done… and as a result of that, a lot of adult kids cut their parents off.
Boom. Estrangement. Every parent’s worst nightmare come true.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep that from happening!
In my interactions with the parents of my clients, I’ve guided them into new ways of interacting, connecting, and parenting that respect their child’s adult status, while still letting them feel like they’re doing parenting right.
I’ve helped parents see how to view their children as adults, respect them as adults, and treat them as adults. Katie, for example, had to learn some new ways to see her daughter Annie as an adult, so that she could treat her as an adult – and it had to happen in that order. In working with me, she was able to sort out workable ways to make that happen. As a result, Annie now sees her mom as one of her best friends.
I’ve helped parents work through the emotions they feel about leaving the role of “parent of a child” behind – because for some parents, it’s really hard to do that. For example, Tom admitted that he didn’t know what it looked like to be the parent of an adult, because his only real definition of “father” was “protector.” We worked through that together, and now he has a great relationship with his adult kids.
I want to offer you the same help.
If you enter your email in the form you can find across the top of this screen, you’ll be able to download the Nine Tips to Stay Connected Guide.
You’ll get simple, straightforward steps to shift your parenting towards parenting the adult your child is becoming. And, when you use these steps, your adult child will feel like you’re treating them like an adult, and their reasons for pushing you away will disappear – win-win!
You can do this. Get your Guide today!