Differentiation, Part 2

In last week’s post I talked about how differentiation can contribute to estrangement between parents and their young adult children.

This continuation of that post talks about the married adult child, and offers some tips to help you trust the process.

Remember, differentiation is a normal and healthy part of human development. It’s not due to a lack of gratitude or character.

Everyone goes through differentiation, and if you pay very close attention to your own relationship to your parents, you’ll see it in action!

The Married Adult Child

If your adult child is in his/her 20s, it’s likely that differentiation is at least partly, if not entirely, to blame for his or her reluctance to stay in touch.

But pulling away from parents can happen at any time throughout the lifespan. So don’t assume your 39-year-old is immune. He’s not.

Sometimes marriage seems to create a catalyst for estrangement. The adult child chooses a mate, and soon after starts cutting ties with Mom and Dad.

Although this can be spurred on by a jealous new spouse, statistically it’s probably just as likely that the new partner is the final piece that needed to fall into place for the adult child to make that big push toward individuation.

Often once the adult child has the security of a loving partner, he can take the steps he’s been needing to take toward being his own person.

The process might be partially or entirely unconscious, of course.

So what is an estranged parent to do when it feels like you’ve lost your adult child forever?

Support his developmental process by being interested, rather than threatened, by activities and interests that diverge from your own.

Once the main thrust of individuation is under way, your adult child may be more able to tolerate family-of-origin contact — particularly if his parents understand their new role in his life as fans rather than guardians or guides.

Making Amends

Are you worried that you might have done your child wrong, and that’s why she’s estranged? If you are, join the millions of other parents who prove their qualifications by questioning them.

By all means apologize if you feel you let your child down. See my post on how to apologize and seek the help of a counselor to sort through it all.

But if your estranged adult child hasn’t indicated that you did anything wrong, try not to take the estrangement personally.

Especially if she’s under 30, assume it’s differentiation in action. Trust the process.

Every once in a while you can let her know you’re there. But take a giant step back.

Love your adult child, don’t need her.

It’s very important to realize that your child might not understand her own actions. She may feel terribly guilty and not know why she doesn’t want to be close right now.

Most people don’t realize that differentiation is a normal and necessary part of life.

If it seems appropriate, share this post with your adult child. It will help keep the lines of communication open, even when they’re silent.

Photo courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

See also: