Remember the old Rubik's Cube? 6 colours and 6 faces with 9 stickers on each face. Each face turns independently so that the colours are mixed up. For the puzzle to be solved, each face must consist of entirely one colour. Invented in 1974 by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture Ernő Rubik, it is a toy for all ages and consequently one of the world's top selling toys of all time. You may have had one as a child. You may even have one now. I wonder if you have had success in solving the cube and if so, how long it took you? I have to confess that any attempts I have ever made to solve the cube puzzle, have been met with frustration and impatience.
Like the old Rubik's Cube, a family system undergoing transition from ‘parents with teenage children' to ‘parents with adult children' takes on a complexity not easily resolved. Typically, each person in the family unit has their own ‘colour' while at the same time, adapting to the rest of the family system in such a way that personal and family identity is interwoven, the colours of the Rubik's cube mixed. Teenage years herald the beginning of the movement towards ‘solving' the puzzle of the cube, as adolescent family members begin to challenge family rules and values and move towards being separate, if you like, finding their unique face on the cube. This movement towards separation finds it's developmental resolution as the new young adult ‘leaves home' (literally or figuratively) to find their own place in the world.
Any transition takes time. It is never a linear process. We all move towards change and growth at our own pace. There are moments when the process of change feels overwhelming and frightening, so that we regress into former, more comfortable ways of functioning. There are times when we find ourselves stuck. Other times we experience accelerated growth. When a family goes through a significant transition, the process of change takes on a complexity, not dissimilar to the Rubik's cube puzzle, that each member of the family system has to navigate and resolve.
This has been my own present experience, having recently holidayed with my own adult (20 something) daughters. Being in close proximity much of the time, my challenge as a parent was to recognize and acknowledge that my daughters are no longer children dependent upon and answerable to their parents, but adults in their own right, functioning as separate from us and to be treated with the respect we give to other adults. Like the puzzle of the Rubik's cube, this is a challenging and frightening experience. It is a grief experience because as a parent I have to ‘let go' of the child I have cherished. How to do this successfully?
The key to a successful transition can be summed up in two words: courage and humility.
The Courage to:
- relinquish the child you gave life to, who you loved, protected, nurtured, guided and provided for.
- relinquish your authority as a parent.
- relinquish your personal expectations of your adult child
- let go of the child I knew.
- allow your adult child to have their own opinions, values, personal preferences and approach to things.
- accept and acknowledge that your adult child is their own separate self. Being different does not have to be a rejection of you.
- watch your adult child make choices that you would not make but encourage them just the same.
- withhold your judgment when you feel disappointed or disapprove of their actions.
- risk getting to know this new adult in your life.
The Humility to:
- acknowledge that ‘my way' is not the only way. ‘My way' may not even be the right way on some occasions!
- respect and give respect to your adult child, treating them as an equal.
- listen and learn new things.
- acknowledge when you have ‘stuffed up' (and you will).
- apologize when you are wrong.
- share your own ‘wisdom' when you are invited to do so.