The bottom line up front: it's normal for kids and parents to experience conflict during the process of letting go. Kids are genetically wired to create conflict - no matter what you do or how you do it - so that they can achieve a more grown-up state of autonomy, independence, responsibility... all the things we want them to have as grown ups. If you know what's coming, when it's coming, and maybe a few strategies for managing yourself through the process, you may have an easier time.
A Detachment Theory
See the resources section below for links to the original articles. There is a lot of good material there. Dr. Carl Pickhardt is a psychologist who talks a lot about parents working their way through the adolescent process. He answers the question about what is adolescence for? His one word answer: Detachment.
The Five Psychological Engines the Drive Adolescent Detachment
Separation for the sake of independence
Here the adolescent desire is for more social independence of parents as the young person begins to build a social family of their own. Now there are more conflicts with parents over time spent with peers and time spent with family. “No, you cannot spend the day with friends when your grandparents are here for a visit.”
Differentiation for the sake of individuality
Here the adolescent desire is to establish a new and unique Identity. Now there are more conflicts over which expressions of individuality are okay and which are not. “No, I don’t care what ‘everyone is wearing,’ you cannot go to school dressed that way.”
Expansion for the sake of growth
Here the adolescent desire is to explore new worldly experience and assert a larger older presence in the family. Now there are more conflicts over what one is old enough or not old enough to do. “No, you cannot stay up as late as you want.”
Opposition for the sake of autonomy
Here the adolescent desire is to operate more on one’s own authority. Now there are increasing disagreements and conflicts over living on parental terms or living on adolescent terms. “No, you cannot elect to stop doing chores.”
Responsibility for the sake of maturity
Here the adolescent desire is to freely make decisions and take the consequences. Now there are more conflicts over what decisions one should be held accountable or not accountable for. “No, we will not give you an excuse for delaying and having to turn your project in late.”
From Dr Carl E Pickhardt, Ph.D. See Resources below for links to his articles and where you can find his book.
What we can learn from information above is that there is a very natural process at work when kids separate. Often the conflict we experience with our kids is not rooted in a lack of love or in whatever the surface conflict appears to be about, but in the natural action of kids learning to be independent, autonomous, mature, individual, adults. Viewed from this lens, some of the conflicts we experience with our kids can be seen as both useful and healthy.
Easier Said Than Done
As an intellectual argument, it can be pretty straightforward to acknowledge that separation behaviors exist, that they are healthy, and that we support them; but when we are on the receiving end of a comment like "I don't want you to care!" our feelings can be hurt. Knowing what's going on by itself doesn't relieve the pain we feel as parents who love our children more than anything else on earth.
Some Ways to Practice
Dr Pickhardt and many of the other authors I reference below can offer better recommendations than I can about how we might overcome the negative feelings that inevitably come to the surface as our kids separate from us. We're not going to get it right every time. We will make mistakes, say things we don't mean, be harder on ourselves than we should - and SO HAS EVERY OTHER PARENT! From my perspective, it's equally important to cut yourself some slack as a parent and a human being, as it is to support your child. You love your kid. You'd do anything to see them succeed. Are you willing to let them fall down and make mistakes in order so that they will understand the lesson life wants them to learn and stand up stronger to let their scraped knee heal?
I don't mean to suggest that this will be easy, but youth sports gives us opportunities to practice letting go. Think about the last time you watched your son or daughter play the sport they love. Were you able to sit quietly and allow them to make mistakes? Can you celebrate their happiness even if they chose to share it with their friends instead of with you?
There are ways that we can practice for the real thing. Youth sports gives you those opportunities.
- Pickhardt, Carl E. “A Detachment Theory of Parenting Adolescents.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 9 Dec. 2013, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201312/detachment-theory-parenting-adolescents.
- Damour, Lisa. “Why Teenagers Become 'Allergic' to Their Parents.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/well/family/why-teenagers-become-allergic-to-their-parents.html.
- “Letting Go of Your Teen.” Focus on the Family, 7 May 2011, www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/teens/letting-go-of-your-teen/letting-go-of-your-teen.
- Geuzaine, Caroline, et al. “Separation from Parents in Late Adolescence: The Same for Boys and Girls?” SpringerLink, Springer, link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1005173205791.
- Firestone, Lisa. “What Parents Need to Know About the Teenage Brain.” PsychAlive, 5 Feb. 2014, www.psychalive.org/parents-need-know-teenage-brain/.
- Gurian, Michael. “When It's Time for Boys to Separate from Mom.” Kids in the House, 17 Dec. 2014, www.kidsinthehouse.com/teenager/health-and-development/puberty/when-its-time-for-boys-to-separate-from-mom.
- Shellenbarger, Sue. “Survive College-Application Season With the Family in One Piece.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 11 Dec. 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/survive-college-application-season-with-the-family-in-one-piece-11544538805.
- Pickhardt, Carl E. “Surviving (Your Child's) Adolescence.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence.