Leaving Home: Treacherous Leavings, Part 10

Leaving Home: Treacherous Leavings, Part 10

Anyone who has undergone the experience of spiritual transformation knows how agonizing it can be. It is like cleaning the heart with a piece of steel wool.

STEPHEN MITCHELL, introduction (section 7) to The Gospel According to Jesus: A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers, 1991

We are now conducting a sort of general warfare against children, who are being abandoned, abused, aborted, drugged, bombed, neglected, poorly raised, poorly fed, poorly taught, and poorly disciplined. Many of them will not only find no worthy work, but no work of any kind. All of them will inherit a diminished, diseased, and poisoned world. We will visit upon them not only our sins but also our debts. We have set before them thousands of examples — governmental, industrial, and recreational — suggesting that the violent way is the best way. And we have the hypocrisy to be surprised and troubled when they carry guns and use them.

WENDELL BERRY, “The Obligation of Care,” Sierra, September-October 1995

The individual can never escape the moral burden of his existence. He must choose between obedience to authority and responsibility to himself. Moral decisions are often hard and painful to make. The temptation to delegate this burden to others is therefore ever-present. Yet, as all history teaches us, those who would take from man his moral burdens — be they priests or warlords, politicians or psychiatrists — must also take from him his liberty and hence his very humanity.

THOMAS SZASZ, “Mental Illness Is a Myth,” New York Times Magazine, 12 June 1966

Life is difficult and can be dangerous. In fact, risk is to some degree required for success in life. Perhaps my own biggest risk in the last 10 years was to marry my wife Karen; to our good fortune it is working out well as we celebrate our 10th anniversary in November 2012. I graduated from high school in 1970. While dining with a friend in the local Pizza Inn, I noticed paper place settings with their franchise locations marked on a map of the United States. The extent of my college planning was my thought to go somewhere far enough away that I would not feel obligated to go home every weekend, but close enough where I could go home if I wanted—so I drew a 200-mile radius around Dallas. Austin, where I ended up less than four years later, and stayed to this day fell right on that line, but I was intimidated by that radical place, so I chose Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The main thing I learned in my year and a half drinking countless pitchers of 3.2% (alcohol content) beer, legal-for 18-year-olds there, was that I do not—literally—have the stomach to be an alcoholic. All my children, on the other hand, went a long way off to college—they are all braver and bolder than I was at that age!

Life is risky and so is leaving. Here are a few of the ways…

About Leaving Home the Video Series and Book

Leaving Home is a video series accompanying the book of the same name by John Breeding, PhD.  See the other videos here:

Part One: The Psychology Around Birth and Pregnancy

Part Two: The Psychology of Babies and Bonding

Part Three: Toddlerhood, Leaving the Mother’s Arms

Part Four: The Psychology of Parenting and Emotional Healing

Part Five: Guidelines for Relating to Children

Part Six: Young Kids and Children

 Part Seven: DAYCARE

Part Eight: School!

Part Nine: The Psychology of Teenagers 


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.

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