Life Coach: Do we really want to emancipate our children?

August 30, 2011 

I’m on vacation with my four siblings this week. It’s really quite fun for us to get together every few years, just us, no kids or grandchildren. But we’re not really alone -- those cell phones just keep ringing. We chuckle, just how free are we anyway?

One son is buying a house and wants advice, another just had his car towed from Cheyenne to Denver and wants money, another wants to drop her four kids off for an hour tonight. But that’s not all. My brother has his son and two grandchildren living with him until his son’s divorce is final. Another sister has her 31-year-old son still financially dependent and another 24-year-old at home with free room and board. Hmm.

After a few years of witnessing these short apron strings, I was smugly thinking how successful I was as a parent in comparison. My daughter has done it the right way. She’s educated, has her own family and even sends me plane tickets to visit. She’s independent. She’s individuated. She’s a productive, loving adult and parent. A+ on my parenting report card.

As a psychologist, I used to say our last job as parents is to emancipate our children. But I miss her company sometimes. My siblings all have their children around them, fussing and stewing maybe, complaining sometimes, but close. Nice?

What do you think? Do you think we are robbing our children from adulthood, from being responsible for their own actions? Are we just supporting them because it makes us feel good to be needed? Do they create problems, just so we have to help them solve them? Are we teaching our children how to be independent? And, is independence really that wonderful a goal?

In my mainstream Midwestern culture of the ’60s, my friends were expected to be on their own at 18 -- out of the house, married or self sufficient. If we went to college, then the expectation was for us to be on our own when we graduated. No money, no free room and board. Fully hatched, ready or not -- done. And we could hardly wait, freedom! I expected to have four people in an apartment, share a bedroom, one bathroom and put money in a common food kitty.

It wasn’t always this way. My mother’s generation kept their women more cloistered. Daughters were kept at home, safe, until they married. And it is commonplace today in some cultures to have multi-generational families. There is no leaving the nest, no freedom, period.

Earlier cultures married off their young at puberty; now couples are waiting until their 30s to tie the knot, if they even choose to marry. Families used to stay in the same communities, but now many have become rootless, following careers from coast to coast.

There certainly appears to be a cultural shift in America. There is more flexibility in roles and ways to live. Want to leave home? Fine. Want to come back home again? Fine. Rigid rules have flown out the window. My smugness is gone. There appears to be no right or wrong way to raise children. Neither label of being “enmeshed” or “disengaged” as a family is terrible. We have options. We can change our minds.

Joan Dickinson, Ed.D., an Anna Maria Island resident, is a life coach, certified yoga/meditation instructor, health care/wellness consultant and a retired psychologist and behavioral health care director. She can be contacted at 778-8356, P.O. Box 731, Anna Maria, FL 34216 or

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