Leaving Home: The Journey from Birth to Emerging Adulthood, Part 5
Part 5: Guidelines for Relating to Children
Leaving Home is a video series accompanying the book of the same name by John Breeding, PhD. See the other videos here:
Part Five is Above.
In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice. – CHARLES DICKENS, Great Expectations, 1861
Physical punishment, such as spanking, teaches a toddler that might makes right and that it is fine to hit when one is stronger and can get away with it. – ALICIA F. LIEBERMAN, The Emotional Life of the Toddler: Between One and Three Years, 1993
To see your child through the Eyes of Delight is the greatest gift you can give to your child and to yourself. – JOHN BREEDING, The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses, 1996
The most assiduous task of parenting is to divine the difference between boundaries and bondage. – BARBARA KINGSOLVER, “Civil Disobedience at Breakfast,” High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never, 1996
About Leaving Home
Leaving Home is a 14 part weekly video series based on my upcoming book, Leaving Home: The Journey From Birth To Emerging Adulthood. The book delves into the dynamics of human development from birth to young adulthood, the movement toward and through emerging adulthood.
I have been teaching a class about human development at Austin Community College, and over the years have found myself emphasizing the theme of leaving home as a recurring experience in the course of one’s life. I tell my students that this one theme is a worthy template for consideration of the great, ongoing challenges of becoming a loving and powerful individual through the stages of our lives. With this book, I want to share some thoughts on this vital dynamic.
I was born in the summer of 1952. In the last several years, I have been in the throes of one of the most difficult and challenging parenting experiences—and there are many—in my 25 years of being a father. My two biological children are now young adults and are leaving home in a big way. Eric, turned 25 at the end of this summer of 2011, has been living in New York City for two years, and just graduated with distinction, with a Masters of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute of Art. He is a talented artist and photographer1. He just started working as an art handler at one of the big auction houses in New York City, where he is determined to stay as he loves it there.
Vanessa turned 21 at the end of this summer, and has just finished her junior year at Pomona College in southern California. She is majoring in gender studies and learning languages because she wants to communicate with people around the world. She spent the fall of 2010 in Jordan learning Arabic2.
My step-son Gardiner just graduated from high school where he was student body president and starred in the senior play. This fall, he went off to Hampshire College in western Massachusetts intending to continue his creative writing and to study psychology. Note that all three of these emerging adults are living far afield from Austin, Texas
Letting go of my children has been hard. This is one of those situations where success, while a great blessing, also brings sadness, at least for this old dad. They are succeeding in the great challenge of coming of age in our very trying times. I am proud of them, and I miss them. My experience moves me to want to share with you on this process of leaving home and letting go.
Those of us who are parents often commiserate about our children’s difficulties with transitions; these are experiences of leaving and letting go—of change. If we are honest and self-reflecting, we may know where it is hard for us, even as “mature adults,” to deal with certain transitions. My children will happily tell you about how weird their father gets in certain situation—planes, trains and subways, for instance. One of my favorite definitions of relationship is “ a ceaseless process of joining and separating.” We are always in flux, coming, going, joining, separating, arriving, leaving and letting go—or not!
A third catalyst for this writing comes from Shelley Howard, a young adult student in my spring 2011 Human Development class at ACC. Shelley wrote a brilliant paper for the class on the subject of emerging adulthood, the stage of life she shares with my children. It is as if her paper were written especially for me, sharing valuable insights and experiences on what it means to be a young adult making her way in the wider world. I learned so much from Shelley, and I am happy that she agreed to contribute the chapter on emerging adulthood. That she also happens to be a friend of my son is an added joy for me.
Although this book’s emphasis is on the young adult’s experience of leaving home, and the parents’ experience of letting go, it should also be noted that “leaving home” occurs again and again, literally and metaphorically, throughout life, in the course of a day, a week or a month. Part I is called “The First Leavings,” and considers perinatal experiences around birth and infancy, as well as toddlerhood, with its concomitant bonding and attachment. This time is powerfully formative as huge changes and transitions occur.
I follow this section with Part II, which offers ideas on parenting children in ways most likely to promote success in declaring independence both then and later in life. Then, with Part III, I will explore the first experiences of actually leaving the house for day care and school. I will also begin to explore the leading edge of emerging adulthood, that “in-between” time we call adolescence. Part IV addresses the truth that life is full of risk, and that leaving home is “Risky Business.” The book culminates with direct explorations of Emerging Adulthood in Part V. I hope it is of value to you.