Dependency – Appropriate and Inappropriate

The time has come in my family for us to start looking at Life After Home. Will my eldest (presently 15) go to college? Might he travel and work first? Or might he go back to England to live? We have had many lively and enjoyable conversations about this and we all look forward to the next phase in our family life.
So it was a bit of a shock to me to realize how differently some people regard this stage of life. Looking through various college guides I came to see that a whole industry has sprung up devoted to helping parents when their children go off to college – and not just in terms of money! Parents, apparently have adjustment problems and need to be weaned off their children’s lives!
According to one book I read, some American colleges now have specific workshops and seminars for parents dealing with topics such as :”Why You Shouldn’t Phone Your Child’s Professor When She Gets A Bad Grade”; “Why Phoning In the Middle of Lectures is a Bad Idea”; and “Drop In Visit? Don’t Do It”!! There was quote after quote from various deans of various colleges all sharing about parents who accompany their children to choose classes, who arrange pre-college meetings with the parents of roommates and who, basically, seem unable to Let Go.
This is so strange to me! How is it that this generation of parents who is renowned for a culture of “independence” and “autonomy” in terms of their toddlers, who think 6 week old babies should be able to go to child care and 8 year olds should be able to travel alone on planes cannot see that by 18 or 19 childhood has passed into young adulthood and that these children NOW need to be independent!
It’s as if dependency and independence have been reversed. There is so much fear in our culture of, on the one hand,  so-called “clingy” children who don’t want to go to nursery school or who want to sleep in our beds when they’re little and then, on the other hand, of  young people experimenting and learning to be their own selves. How many teens are radio tagged by pagers and cell phones? Sure – they can get  up to all sorts of things. But maybe – just maybe – if we held them close and kept them tightly in our auras and in our arms when they were tiny – even when they weren’t so tiny – then maybe when they’re teens we will be able to trust that their needs will have been met sufficiently so that they can now know how to make good decisions.  If real needs for dependency are met when developmentally appropriate, then perhaps they won’t surface inappropriately when the young person should be able to feel good enough in himself to not have a yawning vacuum of loneliness that he then seeks to fill with drugs, precocious sex or computer game addiction.
Many people think that by giving children “freedom” when they are little they will then be able to practise this “skill” and grow up to understand  and practise freedom. But freedom cannot be given – it is something that grows in the soul and needs to be taken hold of when the time is right (I am trying desperately to keep this apolitical and not to draw some current parallels…!). Little ones are like rose buds – the gesture for them is of enfolding and carrying. This bud only opens slowly – but when it does we need to step aside and not caste our shadow over the fruit, thus preventing its full ripening.
I am glad my son is excited about the future. It is, after all, his future. If he wants to go to college, that’s great. If he wants to work or travel, that’s great. And if he wants to study or work in England and to make that his home – well, I will miss him keenly but I know that it is not my place to stand in his way. He might screw up – he might soar. That will be his problem or his victory. He might come to me for advice. Or he might not. But it is time for him now to move toward freedom as his father and I gradually withdraw our counsel over the next years. That freedom will be true freedom – for it will be taken by a young man secure in his ability to know who he is and what he needs to do in his life. His time of dependency will be long past and his age of independence will be beginning.

Posted on August 7, 2006 in Children and Society, Family Life and Parenting

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