When teens are getting ready to leave home, there is ambivalence in both parents and teens. We relish watching our teens become more mature and independent, yet we feel sad as we face the end of the role we’ve played. Teens long for the freedom and perks that come with adulthood, while fearing the responsibilities that come with leaving the nest.
For adopted teens, these fears are compounded by questions about the permanence of their relationship with their parents. The prospect of separation from parents may trigger feelings of loss related to birth parents.
Even though teens seem to be telling us that they don’t really need us anymore, consciously or unconsciously, they may wonder, “Am I about to lose another set of parents?” As a result, some high school juniors and seniors begin sabotaging their emancipation. College application essays are late, tears erupt when parents try to talk about goals, and trips to visit prospective colleges provoke no interest or excitement.
For example, Lisa’s mother was worried about her daughter’s declining school performance. It was the second semester of Lisa’s junior year, and she was getting poor grades in what had always been her best subjects. Lisa’s mother was afraid that Lisa’s declining grades would diminish her college choices. Lisa became tearful and admitted that she did not want to go away to college. “I’m not ready to leave you, Mom,” she said.
Mitchell’s parents were shocked when, after overhearing their discussion about relocating after he left for college, Mitchell asked if it would be all right if he came to visit them! It would never occur to most parents that their teens could question the permanence of their relationship just because the teen is leaving home and the traditional parenting role is coming to an end.
Let your teen know that worries about separation, or fear of leaving home, may arise as she plans her future away from her family. Make it clear that, while your role as a parent will be changing, your relationship is a lifetime commitment. Let your teen know that you will always be her consultant and cheerleader. Cell phones and text messaging mean that parents are never far away! Talk about her worries of losing relationships with other family members—siblings, grandparents—as well as her fear of leaving friends, boyfriends, coaches, and other mentors. Tell her how you have maintained relationships with friends and relatives throughout your life.
And tell her what this experience is like for you. Let your teen know that you are doing your best to cope with sadness as you anticipate missing your day-to-day interactions, but that you are proud of her and confident in her ability to manage this transition.
Finally, be flexible. Not all teens are ready to leave home after high school. So you may need to hold off converting the bedroom and support a slower transition. Be open to your child’s living at home and attending a local college or working for a while. When your child is emotionally ready, she will take the next step toward independence.