I thought that once my twin daughters graduated college, they’d be officially launched and we’d ease into a more mature, adult relationship.
Here’s how that naive scenario went: As they began their careers, and lessened their financial dependence on us, we’d forge a new relationship characterized by mutual love and respect.
Sure, we might be called on to help in a pinch, with money matters or other resources—we’d happily be their safeguard. And we might lean on them once in a while for their assistance on things foreign to us (tech issues, popular culture, and the like).
But overall, we’d be on a more egalitarian footing, a “friendship” of sorts, not subject to emotional reactivity, not subject to guilt or obligation.
I was not only wrong, I was delusional.
Now if my scenario is what’s come to pass for you, hurrah and way to go! But for me, and for many of the mothers I’ve talked to, the blissful adult relationship I dreamt of has been elusive.
Truth is, in their twenties, many young people are still hard at work on defining their identities. This is the necessary process they began in their teens to determine their values and beliefs, their passions and aspirations, and to learn how to show up as whole authentic selves in their lives. This also entails learning how to be in relationships, with themselves first and foremost, but also with friends and intimate partners, siblings and parents, bosses and colleagues.
Keep in mind, it’s a messy process, filled with fits and starts, struggle and disappointment, joy and pleasure. But it’s an essential journey that, if embraced, will set them up well for the future. (And those of us, like me, who did not do this work in adolescence and early adulthood, are likely only delaying this “growing up” process until later.)
As our daughters continue to grow, as they seek to learn who they are and how they show up in the world, they’ve chosen to push us away at times. This has led us to into several conflicts with them.
In all honesty, it’s been exhausting. A times, the experience has brought Peter and I together, clinging in mutual despair and shared understanding. At other times, it’s caused disagreements between us.
In the midst of one of these tug-of-wars with our daughter, as Peter and I vented to our marital therapist, she gave us the best advice…
She said: DROP THE ROPE.
Do you get it? (I had to ask what she meant.)
Imagine you’re in a tug-of-war with you on one end of the rope and your grown child on the other. You’re both tugging and pulling and not giving an inch. What would happen if you just dropped the rope?
Our therapist says that when we drop the rope, we stop making the focus be the conflict between us and our child. We set our daughter free so she can redirect her energy from fighting us to addressing the issue herself.
When we stop pulling on our end of the rope, we are sharing an empowering message with her: We believe in you. You are competent. You can do this.
Dropping the rope is not easy. As parents, many of us want nothing more than to see our children happy. So we strive to protect them from pain, but we can’t shield them from the reality that life is full of struggle. And often, struggle is a great teacher.
So it’s time for us to relinquish ownership of their happiness and show them that we are confident they will figure it out.
I get that this won’t apply in every parenting situation, but for the control freaks that Peter and I can be, it’s been our new mantra. Drop the rope.
YOUR TURN: Is there a conflict in your life where it might make sense for you to drop the rope? Have you done this successfully already? Tell us in the comments!