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Going Through Changes: The Stress of Fall Transitions

August 26th, 2019 · going through changes

going through changes
PHOTO: Charles Knowles, The Knowles Gallery
The late days of August, and early days of September are quite an extraordinary time of year. In this time period, we move from the more leisurely, and often more fun-oriented activities of the summer period into the whole avalanche of fall activity.
In some ways, you could argue that this time of year is almost more of the beginning of a new year for us than the New Year’s holiday! It’s time of immense change in our routine. And in many cases, it’s a time of major life transitions.
If we think about younger people at this time of year, there are some very evident ways in which they’re going through changes. Almost all school age kids begin a new school year. That’s a very significant change in the lives of young people and also certainly their parents. Some younger people will be going through changes that are even more significant, such as beginning their first year of high school, commencing university or going to another city for undergraduate or graduate studies. For some, it will be their first Fall after finishing post secondary education — also a very major shift.

Changing Seasons in Parenthood & Adulthood

These transitions are highly significant for the young person involved. What’s less obvious is that such major life transitions also have an enormous impact on the parents of those going through them. Also many adults who are not in the parenting role can find themselves strongly emotionally affected at this time of year.

For the parents of young people undergoing these changes, the change that a daughter or son is experiencing can mirror equally profound changes experienced by the parent in their sense of identity and their life journey. As I know from personal experience, a lot can be stirred in a parent by that first day on campus, helping your freshman child move into residence.

One aspect of this is separation anxiety. We naturally expect that the teen moving into residence for the first time will experience some separation anxiety along with the anticipation and excitement around what’s to come. It may be less expected that the parent will experience separation anxiety, yet that is often a part of the experience.

While high school may well be a significant adjustment for parents, they likely retain some aspect of surveillance or control over the teen’s life. But when a child goes away for post-secondary education, the parents knowledge of what is going on in their child’s life depends entirely on what the child communicates. Not surprisingly, the young adult may be feeling a need for independence, and may well share less than parents would wish to know. This lack of knowing can ratchet up parents’ anxiety.

Parenthood and Identity

Alongside of the parent’s separation anxiety, something even bigger may well be going on. The parent may be experiencing a big change with respect to role. That can run deep enough that it may even lead to some pretty fundamental questions about identity.

By the time a child is ready to start post-secondary education, parents have been involved in the parenting role for quite a long time. In fact, that role has probably been through quite a number of permutations and changes. In a typical suburban context, it has likely been a very involving, consuming role for both parents. Then, perhaps quite suddenly, it changes, and takes on another character. From this point on, to an increasing degree, the child will take control of his or her life.

The Call of the Self in the Midst of Our Changes

For the parent, this transition can lead to some pretty fundamental self-questioning. It may be that the individual asks her- or himself questions like:

  • What is changing in my life?
  • What’s really important to me, now?
  • What about all the things I wanted to do with my life, but didn’t?
  • What do I want to do with my life, moving forward?
  • Who am I, really?

These questions may have been waiting in the background of the individual for a very long time. They may be painful to confront. Yet they’re incredibly important, and, at this time in the life of a parent, they may be incredibly fertile.

Depth psychotherapy provides a safe supportive space in which to open up important questions like these and to find creative responses. That’s the essence of the journey toward wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2019 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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going through changes

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