“What will mom and dad say?” If you often make decisions with this question in mind, you may not have completed the separation, that is, you have not yet gained physical, psychological and economic independence from your parents. This is fine. Separation is a task of adolescence, but rarely does anyone manage to fully solve it during this time. Together with a psychologist, we figure out how to separate if dependence on your parents prevents you from living your adult life.
family psychologist, emotionally focused and EMDR therapist, studied at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and the Center for Systemic Family Therapy, work experience – 4 years.
How is the separation
Psychological separation is the process of transforming the child-parent relationship into greater equality. Ideally, separation takes place in stages:
- First stage: from 1 year. The child begins to separate physically from the parent: he learns to walk, take things, learn about the objective world.
- Second phase: With 3 years. The child separates emotionally: he begins to realize that he, mom and dad are different people. They may want different things, experience different emotions. For example, the child threw something, he became cheerful, and the mother got angry at the same time. This is the “crisis of three years”.
- Third stage: from 5–7 years old. The child leaves the family for the outside world. This stage may be associated with kindergarten, but more often with school. There the child is alone, he copes with difficulties. Often, parents try to control everything that happens to their child: they do homework with him, they are constantly in touch with the teacher. But this is just an illusion of control.
- Fourth stage: youthful age. The most important and large-scale stage of separation, the same teenage crisis. Upon successful completion, the child becomes an adult. It is not for nothing that this period in many cultures is associated with initiation customs that are similar to rebirth.
On the way to the final stage of separation, parents have to constantly review the usual interaction with the child.
When the child is a year old, the parent is happy that the baby is taking the first steps, helping him. By the age of three, mom and dad give a little more independence: they reconsider the “no-no” system, for example, they allow a child to walk down the street without holding an adult’s hand. At the age of seven, a child can already decide what to wear, or go to the store for bread. The task of parents is to give him the right to solve feasible issues. In this way, the skill of independence is gradually brought up.
As a result of successful separation, an independent adult appears, who is not dependent on parents psychologically, emotionally, physically and economically. He sets goals, makes decisions, makes choices.
What prevents children and parents on the way to separation
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a parent
Parents often have a feeling of anxiety from the thought that the child will not be able to cope with responsibility and workload. At the same time, with the age of the child, it is more difficult to control, which means it is more difficult to help him. Physical methods of control stop working: the parent cannot take the child in his arms, and even if he can take him to another room, pick up some thing, it is not a fact that it will work. There are psychological methods left: to try to bind the child to yourself and slow down the separation. For example, inspire a child with a sense of insecurity, exaggerate the dangers of the world around them.
The causes of parental anxiety may be hidden in their own psychological problems: difficult childhood experience, lack of separation from parents or insolvency.
It is difficult for a parent to endure separation if he does not have a life of his own that is not connected with the child. For example, imagine a mother who spent many years on maternity leave, fully lived by the needs of her children, felt needed and fulfilled. At some point, her children grew up and stopped needing their mother so much. A woman is afraid to go out into the world outside the family. Perhaps she will not want to let her children go, which will make it difficult for them to separate.
Let’s put ourselves in the place of a child
For children, separation is a complex process that they do not always want and can go through. It may seem that staying in a family is more profitable and easier than conquering this big scary world. A teenager faces difficult questions: “Can I manage?”, “What am I worth?”.
It often happens that a child performs a role that is important for the whole family as a whole. For example, she unites relatives around her difficulties or helps her mother cope with anxiety. In this role, he feels irreplaceable and significant. This can keep a teenager from growing up. At the same time, growing up is a natural process. Thus, a contradiction arises. On the one hand, there is a natural need to separate from the family, on the other hand, the desire of the child to remain under the parental wing, to be protected.
The parent has a choice which part of this process he will support: the “childish” part, that is, to keep the child near him, or the “adult” part – to help the child increase competence and independence.
How to understand that your separation from your parents is not complete
Incomplete separation is a state in which an adult does not seek, does not choose his own path. He can follow the path that his parents have chosen for him to get their approval. Or choose the opposite path to spite them. At the same time, a person can live in another apartment, city, country, have a family, a good job. But, as in childhood, remain dependent on the opinions of parents.
Ask yourself these questions
Try to soberly assess your relationship with your parents.
- Are you financially dependent on your parents? Can you live if they don’t help?
- Are you emotionally dependent on them? Are you often offended, offended, upset by their words or actions?
Example: an adult girl loves her mother, worries about her. At the same time, her mother’s routine comments still hurt her: “You look bad, maybe you should go to the doctor?”, “Did you overslept for work? It’s just like you.”
- How do you feel if you understand that your parents are unhappy, upset?
- How often do you ask your parents for their opinion? Can you make a decision on your own, even if you know your parents won’t like it?
- Do you want to act in spite of your parents? Does this often become the only motive for your action?
Example: a girl meets a guy. This guy and his behavior do not like the girl’s mother. She marries him, if only to do something against the wishes of her mother. In fact, she does not have such strong feelings for this guy, but she is so absorbed in her relationship with her mother that she cannot listen to her desires.
- Do you accept that your parents are just ordinary, imperfect people? Have you managed to cope with resentments from childhood or do you still carry them in yourself?
- Are you still trying to “get the bills”: to get love, recognition from your parents, what you think they didn’t give?
Example: an adult successful man hears his father talking with great admiration about a young man he recently met. An adult successful man feels anger and resentment about this, because he himself wants to hear approval from his father.
- What is your life like now? How captivating is she? Do you have friends, partners, close people to whom you can turn for support, in addition to your parents? Do you like your job? Do you have your own hobbies?
How to decide on separation in adulthood
It is important to understand that this is only your decision, which has its pros and cons.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but because of the incomplete separation, you can get stuck in one of the following positions:
- In a child’s position. When you live in the passive expectation that you will receive something from others, someone will come along and do something for you or for you.
- in a teenage position. When you make claims to your parents, settle scores, demand what is due to you.
Remaining in a dependent position for years, we can demand from friends and loved ones what our parents did not give us. But a partner will never be able to love us like mom or dad, and the inability to get what we want can lead to conflicts and make us unhappy.
If you realize that you are still dependent on your parents in some of the areas, try to answer honestly to yourself the following questions:
- What are the pros and cons of being a dependent? What are the benefits and what restrictions does the current situation impose on me?
- What needs to be done to change the situation? What should I do to become more independent?
- Am I ready for these actions? Am I ready to make this effort?
If the answer to the last question is “Yes,” then go for it.
If you are in doubt, see the benefits of a dependent position, realize that the effort to separate is too much, then you can choose to remain in a dependent position. This is also a result, this is an emotional truth and this is your choice.
How to Complete Separation from Your Parents as an Adult If You Decide to Take Action
- Stop fighting with your parents by accepting that they are imperfect. Recognize and try to experience the feelings that the behavior of parents causes: anger, resentment, behind which pain and powerlessness are usually hidden. At the behavioral level, stop constantly arguing with them, proving something to them. Think about what you can do instead, how to react differently.
- Recognize and accept that you can never get absolutely everything in your parental family: love, support, approval of one’s path, permission to live one’s life. Having matured, it is important for you to come to the feeling: “I can give myself what I need.” In addition, for all this in adult life there are friends, colleagues, partners, like-minded people.
- Accept that “get on the bills” will not work. Stop hoping that if you do this and that, your mother will finally hug you tenderly and your father will praise you. If this has not happened in 20, 30, 40 years of your life, chances are you are powerless to get your parents to do what you want.
- Look for your path. “What do I want?”, “What am I really?”, “What is in my power, what can I do?” — it is worth answering these questions. After all, while you were growing up in a family, you willy-nilly “absorbed” the expectations of your parents, their messages about who you are, what you deserve, what you are capable of. When we grow up, our task is to separate the opinions, expectations, projections of our parents from our own desires and goals.
- Accept the choice of your parents, recognize that they are also adult independent people. They manage their lives the best they can. They, too, have rights to their lives and decisions. Often children, and then adults, get stuck in an attempt to save their parents, for example, to cure alcoholism or help them become happy. But they are not obliged to do this, and most importantly, it is not in their power.
A good way to help you accept your parents and move away from them is to study family history. Look at what happened in the country when your parents were born, studied, built a career, started a family. Perhaps then the actions of the parents will become clearer to you. Studying the history of parents, the history of the family in several generations in the context of the history of the country helps to accept and let go of grievances and claims.