Cutting the Ties

by on June 15, 2011

in Bernice's Posts

Leaving the nest

How to cut the ties and become independent

In a previous post: Do you need to seperate psychologically from your parents? I offered some questions to ask yourself. Now here are some answers to enable you to cut the ties!

One of the difficulties of separation is that it takes two: child and parent. It is very hard for an adolescent to separate if the parent makes it difficult to do so becasue they fear losing the child to adulthood. A parent who does not want to let go emotionally and allow their child to develop as an individual and separate psychologically in adulthood makes it extremely difficult for that process to happen. Pressure can be subtle or otherwise to discourage separation and you may be told that you are selfish or unkind if you to want that psychological space. This is particularly difficult for the adult only who holds all the expectations of the parents, and is one of the reasons an only child reaching adulthood will leave home and live far away, trying to make physical distance a way of cutting the emotional ties. However this often does not work because even if you do not see a parent many people still feel bound up with the emotional needs of that parent.

Here are a few ideas to try and make this separation possible without going to the ends of the earth!

  • Make some boundaries: This is crucial if you are going to allow yourself to have an independent life. It does not mean you have to cut off from your parents but you do need to be clear with them when contact is reasonable and when it is not. For example phone calls can be very intrusive – so request a maximum amount of phone contact a week. If you don’t know what is reasonable ask your friends what they would expect.
  • Be clear about expectations: If there is an expectation you will spend every weekend, or every Christmas or holiday with them ask you self is this what you want – if it is not decide what is right for you and communicate this in a clear but firm way.
  • Ensure your spouse/partner does not feel in second place: One of the difficulties that only child adult’s encounter is that they are so used to expecting to put their parent’s needs first they often side-line those of their partners or children. Remember your first priority is your wife/husband/child. There is nothing more undermining for a partner to feel your parent’s are more important than them. This could be true on occasions (i.e. illness, bereavement) but not all the time.
  • Remember you are not responsible for your parent/s happiness: It is important to remember that as adults we are not responsible for another adults happiness and that includes our parent/s. Unfortunately in my therapeutic experience many only-children have been brought up to feel they should meet the emotional needs of at least one parent and this continues into adulthood. This can be very detrimental to the process of maturing and forming adult relationships with other people. So make sure that you make the boundaries necessary for you to be able to function as an independent adult with out shame or guilt.
  • Don’t feel guilty: There is nothing wrong in making a separate life for yourself that may include your parent/s but on your terms not just theirs. You are an adult and therefore capable of negotiating contact which suits you both. If you are continually feeling guilt ask yourself – Is this due to manipulation? Guilt is a way for us to realise we have hurt someone and broken a relational bridge. However some parent/s are too self-absorbed to accept their only child is an adult and will not let go. When this is the case, everything you try and do to separate leaves you feeling guilty. This guilt is not useful and is not helping the situation. So put it to one side and hold firm to your boundaries.

I am sure people can think of more so it would be good to hear from people out there!


  • christoph132

    There was a conversation recently between my parents and my wife and I about our second car and how it’s getting older and we need to be thinking about the future, and how they’d like to help us. My wife was saying how we took care of our problems on our own just fine and that we don’t need help.. I was feeling conflicted in that moment because I felt we really could use their help. I blanked out… I don’t remember how I responded.. but clearly it wasn’t supporting my wife in this scenario… I hit this automatic pilot that happens when I’m with them… I’m not sure how to fight it… I thought I had overcome this but clearly it’s still a struggle. -Only child spouse

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