Should parents of young adults back off emotionally and show less overt love and affection as a way to encourage the separation process?
The Short Answer is No
The adolescent young adult phase of the family life cycle has been described as the second individuation process—a time when the child establishes and asserts their own separateness and identity. From the literature on attachment and the early years of the infant and toddler, it is clear that secure attachment or bonding is critical to the toddler’s individuation. If the child feels safe and secure in the love of the parent, the child will venture forth. At the same time, the secure child freely moves away and then back to the parent and the parent supports this.
For the young adult, that same sense of secure and unconditional love is important in the process of facilitating a successful launch into adulthood. Parents need to continue to reach out in love and affection to their young adult children while fully supporting their independence. Love and letting go are not mutually exclusive. The challenge of expressing this unconditional love during the young adult stage is complicated. In the infant/toddler stage, the parent can reach out, hold, comfort, and reassure with physical presence the love and accessibility of the parent to that child. Ways to express unconditional love are more difficult with a young adult, particularly if the relationship is contentious or communication is shut down.
Our society has overemphasized autonomy and physical/behavioral independence as the test of whether there has been a successful launch. If the young adult is angry and resentful or shut off and non-communicative with the parent, this would not constitute emotional independence. Likewise, if the young adult is clinging, constantly seeking reassurance, needing help with decisions, and fearful of independence even if living away from home, this likely also reflects a failure to launch.
In the materials related to the practice of unconditional love on the parentslettinggo.com website, you can find more help in ensuring you are getting this message across.