When in Limbo…

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011, Written by jackrosenberger

Many of my patients at SPARK are twenty-somethings who, for whatever reason, need therapy. Sometimes the most difficult aspect of treating someone of this age and generation is getting the pitch-perfect level of support and structure from their parents. The mistakes often get made in trying to provide too much of either.

A generational gap may lead to a state of limbo

Parents sometimes don’t understand that what they could do when they were 18 or 25 is NOT what their son or daughter can do. As a result, parents sometimes end up doing too much for their children, not letting them have the “stretching” experiences of having to work at something.

Sometimes, parents may throw up their hands in understandable frustration and say, “He’s on his own!” But their young adult child might not have the skills to be able to figure out the world on their own. This leaves parents in as much a state of limbo as their children, everyone floundering around trying to figure out what his/her appropriate role should be.

Being supportive means being there

The most difficult and most appropriate thing for the parents to do is to be in the limbo with them. What for one child could be very necessary help, might for another be enabling and infantilizing. So unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules for this limbo in which so many of this generation are living.

The smart parenting question is: “Can my child do this (whatever this is) by themselves?” This might be a difficult question to answer. But a realistic assessment of what young people can and cannot do is essential to giving them the structure and support they need in order to get to the next step. Oftentimes, young people will act out, avoid, or complain about tasks that they simply do not understand or are beyond their skill sets. They engage in these behaviors because they find this internal experience of humiliation (which is what it is) intolerable and have to vent this uncomfortable affect somehow. One hopes that these acting out behaviors are not inherently self destructive.

If parents think that their children (of any age) are engaging in behaviors that are inherently self destructive, getting a professional consultation is advised. And might save a life. Remember, problems – if left alone long enough – don’t get better or go away. They only get worse. The problem is not finding oneself in limbo with one’s child; it’s not knowing how to navigate out of there!

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