Coming of Age

July 18, 2011

There is a time in our children’s lives when their separation from us is not only inevitable, but also sanctioned by society. The coming of age rituals observed by many cultures and religious groups are a public acknowledgement of the emotional differentiation that our children have been working towards throughout their childhood and of their growing independence.

Our children grow up before our eyes, becoming their own people, with their own beliefs, opinions and ways of being. And while we experience feelings of pride for their accomplishments, some of us also worry about their uncertain futures and are reluctant to relinquish control over their daily lives. Do they have the skills they will need to manage the challenges they may encounter? Did we prepare them well enough for life? Will they be happy?

We can’t answer these questions with certainty, but we can cherish our children for who they are and have become. We can celebrate their entering a more autonomous stage of their lives and we can have faith in their ability to continue learning from their experiences throughout their lives.

When I worry about launching my children into the world, I go back to Kahlil Gibran’s words for a mindful perspective on parenting:

  • Your children are not your children.
  • They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
  • They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
  • You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.
  • You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
  • You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
  • For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Parenting is a fine balance between providing security and allowing autonomy, between holding on and letting go. Or, in Dan Gottlieb’s words, parenting is about giving our children roots and wings. Developmentally, both sets of tasks are important and necessary, and, as parents we need to learn to do both well, even though one may be easier for some of us than the other. Coming of age rituals help us highlight our children’s stepping into young adulthood.

Here are some of the wishes that my husband and I shared with our son to honor his coming of age:

  • May you always have faith in your innate and developed abilities and in your capacity to overcome obstacles.
  • May you always remain hopeful about your life and the world you live in.
  • May you always be surrounded by people who care about you, to share the joyful times and support you through the difficult ones.
  • We hope that you find joy and meaning in the path you choose and that you will not only focus on having a good life, but also on making life better for others.
  • We hope that you will continually grow in your understanding of yourself and others, and that you will learn from life’s challenges.
  • We wish that you will maintain your sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself and the world around you.
  • We wish that you can find pleasure in the simple things of life and remain aware of the wonderful small gifts that exist in each day.
  • We feel blessed for having been part of your life and are proud of the young man you have become.

Dr. Pilar Poal, PhD is a licensed psychologist and Senior Staff Therapist in Council for Relationships’ Paoli & Exton offices. She can be reached at 610-594-9808 ext. 6.