Failure to Launch

By Elizabeth O’Brien, M.A., LPC


Last fall, I was asked by veteran therapist Mark White, LCSW/LMFT, to co-lead a parent group called “Holding On and Letting Go: A Group for Parents of Adolescents and Young Adults.” The group was so successful that we are holding it again this fall. A psycho-educational/support entity based on the latest research in Attachment Theory and developmental psychology, the group helps parents gently step back and restructure their roles as parents as their children mature and prepare to leave home. The nickname for the group is “The Emancipation Group.” The word “emancipation” refers not only to the emancipation of the adolescents into the world, but also that of the parents, as they learn to let go of their children (some of whom have become “stuck”) and get back to the business of their own, autonomous lives.

I have been struggling with these issues in my own personal life. With both a senior and a freshman in college, and a recent college grad having boomeranged back home, I am trying to learn these same lessons of empathetic detachment and parental “recalibration” that we are espousing in our group. When Sam, my college freshman, was a high school sophomore, I could see the Empty Nest approaching. I promptly enrolled in a Master of Arts

Jesse, Sam, Elizabeth and Owen O'Brien

in Counseling program, something I had long dreamed about, and embarked upon my individual path. I tried to time it in such a way that when he was graduating from high school, I would be starting my new career. Although it wasn’t easy, this intense academic occupation was my vehicle for stepping back. (Sam, for his part, breathed a sigh of relief!) Now, whenever I regress and start being a heavy, over-involved parent again, I perform a little therapy on myself and say: “That is HIS path, not yours. Back off!” Somehow, this little cognitive exercise works pretty well, and it helps me re-focus on my own path.

In the Emancipation Group, we work to teach ourselves to honor our children’s right to their unique, individuated journeys by lovingly releasing our death-grip.

For more info about The Emancipation Group, contact Elizabeth O’Brien, LPC-I, at 512-680-7379/elizobrien@gmail.com.