Monday, August 13, 2007

For Those Who Are Frustrated With Older, At-Home Teenagers

I feel compelled to write a few words for those who are frustrated with older, at-home teenage children. Whether you are frustrated with them or with your response to them, I want to take a few retrospective moments to share with you some hope.

When our son Kyle graduated from high school in 2004 my wife and I had very different reactions. Kyle's years with us (he arrived at 11 and began his freshman year at 17) were one-third of what a typical family would experience. Claudia was relieved; I was devastated. In the six years he had been with us Kyle and I had developed a close relationship, even though the year or so before he began college we were engaged in emotional turmoil on a regular basis. One of the most difficult weeks of my life were the days leading up to our taking him to college and leaving him there. I had heard about and read about the difficulty it is for some parents at that point in their child's life, but I had no way to anticipate the real grief I would feel in those moments. It has taken me a full two years to get beyond my sense of loss and grief.

Perhaps the sense of loss is there for many parents, adoptive or not, but for me the loss felt uniquely difficult for several reasons. The biggest reason related to the whole attachment-loss cycle that psychological theorists speak of frequently. Because Kyle came to us at the age of 11, and because he had spent many of his successive six years (with us) threatening to disconnect, to leave and never talk to us, and the like, I really didn't know how it would all turn out, and it drove me crazy with concern. Although my departure for college when I was his age was really not that much different (I was as disrespectful and as selfish to my own mother), it was the adoption-related piece that made it so much more difficult for me.

Now, three years later, I am long last at peace, and grateful to God for the journey. I am better equipped now (after Kyle's appropriate departure and with Mike's and John's less appropriate departures) to let go of my other children as they grow to the point where it is their time to discover young adulthood away from the family home. I have come to discover that letting go is not a permanent state, and that without that necessary step in the parenting process (not to mention the maturing process for the child in question) is inhibited.

Kyle was home for the weekend, and it was delightful to have him as a guest. He is calmer, more relaxed, more grateful and a better example to his siblings than ever before. (He's always been a pretty good example of how to lead a successful life, but the edge he used to manifest has been softened by his semi-independence). He is living in the way that we have taught him over the years, and I am grateful simply to know that he is a good student, content, law-abiding and moral.

Four years ago I didn't know how it would turn out, and as my wife often reminds me, "the final chapter isn't written yet," but at this point enough has been written that I am grateful I have had this particular book to read (and help write) over the past ten years.

1 comment:

Gary Zimmerli said...

I was surprised to discover how difficult it can be when the kids leave home. It still catches me by surprise every once in a while, when some unexpected news comes from one of the kids. I catch myself not wanting to answer the phone when the "caller ID" says it's one of them.

The hardest thing is to know how tightly to hang on. You hold the kids close to your heart, but you can hold them so tightly they suffocate. I've learned to let them go and fly free. Then they return for a time, because the nest is still like home.

I'm glad you're feeling the real joy of parenthood with Kyle.