Facing the Challenges of Transition: Part 2

Sparkling eyesPart 1 of this two-part series can be found here.

As a counselor working with Jewish young adults at Hillel UW, I find they are sorting out how to shift their relationship with their parents into a relationship between adults while still maintaining closeness and connection. Based on these conversations, I’d like to share some additional thoughts on how parents can support their young adult children through this transition.

Don’t take it personally. The love of a child for their parent and the love of a parent for their child are both very strong, but they are different in nature. Children are wired to use their parents as a home base for their explorations of the world, checking in as needed but focusing primarily on their own process of becoming themselves. Parents are wired to be that home base – unconditional and fierce in our love, steady and available to nurture when needed. You may feel as if you want to be around your young adult child more than he wants to be around you! This is completely normal. It can be helpful to remember: it’s not personal. You’re both doing exactly what you are wired to do.

Vent your anxiety and concerns…somewhere else. Allowing our young adult children to learn from their mistakes and becoming a consultant who steps in only when needed can both be painful for parents. We want so much for our children, and it’s deeply ingrained in us to protect them. It’s normal to feel worry, anxiety, or even judgment about our children’s choices. Resist the urge to voice all of this out loud. Talk with a trusted friend, partner, relative or counselor about your worries. Use these conversations to let off steam and clarify which concerns you should bring to your child directly and which would be best left unsaid.

Look for core values. It’s common for young adults to make choices that are different from what their parent hopes or dreams. This is normal and can be a wonderful indication that your child is succeeding at finding his or her own unique sense of self. This can also be deeply troubling, as parents see their children making choices that seem foreign or confounding. At the same time, the young adults I work with often express concern about disappointing or being in conflict with their parents when they choose a different path. It can be helpful to focus on core values that you share, even though children may choose to express these values differently.

Perhaps you raised your child to be a deeply involved and caring member of a community. If you look closely, you may find he is indeed living this value, although he may be doing so as a member of a queer artists’ collective rather than as a member of a Conservative shul. Or, you may have hoped your child would follow in your footsteps as an atheist and a labor organizer. If you focus on core values, you may find that the ethic of care and justice you hoped to instill is being expressed through bikur cholim (caring for the ailing) in her religiously observant community. While the differences may challenge you, focusing on shared core values may help you to celebrate your similarities while honoring your child’s independent, unique expression.

DanicaBy Danica Borstein
Danica Bornstein, LICSW, is the Clinical Counselor at Hillel UW. The Hillel Counseling Program is a joint project of Hillel UW and Jewish Family Service and provides counseling for Jewish young adults aged 18-32.

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