Becoming an Adult: Leaving Home and Staying Connected

Becoming an Adult: Leaving Home and Staying Connected

Becoming an Adult: Leaving Home and Staying Connected is the first stage in Carter & McGoldrick’s formulation of The Expanded Family Life Cycle. This Family Life Cycle transition can be described as beginning with the adolescent’s “identity crisis” and continuing with the transition to college and young adulthood. Some young adults end up never leaving home. Others end up cutting off and becoming estranged and distant from their family. Both of these responses are sub-optimal solutions to the struggles of the launching phase.

A young adult’s tasks in this launching phase transition are primarily focused on the development of autonomy and healthy interdependence. The goals of this process of differentiation include:

  • Development of financial self-sufficiency
  • “Learning how to work”, finding something you are passionate about that others are willing to pay you for doing
  • Becoming responsible for one’s own emotional well-being
  • Staying meaningfully connected to one’s family of origin in the transition from adolescent child to co-equal adult
  • Developing intimate peer relationships

Family members often fail one another in important and painful ways during this life cycle stage, yet they remain family forever and must find their way forward together. The goal for the young adult is to become emotionally and financially accountable to one’s self while at the same time maintaining connections with their family of origin without taking on their “stuff.” The way to develop differentiation is not to cut off, but to see other family members for who they are and stay connected with them despite their shortcomings.

Many will dismiss the value of this work and say “Why Bother?” It’s just so much easier to cut the toxic people out of your life and never talk to them again. The truth is you can’t divorce your family of origin. They are always there and whether you are enmeshed in terms of never being able to leave home or cut off emotionally and/or physically, your behavior is responsive and reactive rather than pro-active and functional. Either way you are still completely enmeshed and tied up in not being your own person.

Others will say “Why bother? They (i.e. the family of origin members) are never going to change.” The truth is they either will or they won’t, but that’s up to them, and doesn’t matter in your quest for differentiation. This process allows you to change the relationships in your family and change your role in it, regardless of what anybody else does. To a significant extent, you are completely in control and end up in a better place whether or not anybody else in the family signs on. Ideally, one can stay meaningfully connected to significant others yet remain autonomous in one’s own emotional functioning.

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Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530
[email protected]