You will always be their mom, but you may no longer be their mommy.
So much of what shapes parenting in the early years is intense and hands-on—teaching the children to dress themselves, how to ride a bike, and helping with homework, followed by more emotional support in the teen years. But as the kids pack the bags and leave home, a mother might find herself stepping into unfamiliar territory as she relates to her young-adult children. Is she their friend, mentor, or just a personal ATM?
Relinquishing your role?
Dr. Cynthia Neal Kimball, a professor of developmental psychology at Wheaton College, researches emerging adults (approximately 18 to 29 years old) and their transitions after college. She finds that words like responsive, warm, and available are preferred over hands-on when talking about a parent’s role with young-adult children.
“People can read 'hands-on' as 'I am doing a lot for them,' and so then the relinquishment part becomes troubling because ‘hands-on’ has become the [parent’s] identifier,” she says. She believes a successful transition from parenting teenagers to young-adult parenting is like scaffolding. “A good scaffold moves as the building is being constructed and then, when the scaffolding is no longer needed, the building can stand alone,” she explains.
Of course this doesn’t mean the parent will never be seen again (like a discarded scaffold) or that all of a sudden parenting becomes completely hands-off. Rather, Dr. Kimball explains, for the parent it means “I am relinquishing that constructor role as my child takes on more of his or her own identity.”1