Thinking about Independence

Happy Independence Day! Today’s holiday celebrates the action of the Continental Congress, which on July 4, 1776 declared that the 13 colonies would be colonies no more, but independent states. Of course Britain, who believed it was in charge of the colonies, didn’t like the prospect of this separation one bit. And so began a protracted fight that lasted more than eight years.

independence02We can see more than a little similarity here with the ways adolescents declare their independence from their families.

  • In some families, there may be little conflict: the parents understand that adolescence is a protracted time of learning to separate from one’s family, and they work to support that in a balanced way, while also taking care of their own feelings of grief and pride that their child is slowly leaving them and growing into an adult.
  • In other families, there may be no acknowledgment of the separation at all. These families may not like or know how to talk about their feelings, so they simply deny that separation is happening. The adolescents may separate well, or may have trouble separating, but in any case, they don’t have much familial support in that work. Not being able to talk with their parents about these strong feelings may result in depression and anxiety.
  • And then in yet other families, there may be long fights—”wars of independence.” The parents know that their adolescent wants to separate and they actively work to prevent it from happening. The adolescent may respond by enacting their independence in confrontational ways, upsetting the parents, who may not know how to express their feelings of upset and worry, so they resist the separation and come down hard with punishments. And the fights begin.

Ring any bells?

Of course, there are many other ways separation gets enacted inside families. But which of these three general scenarios appeals to you most?

This little blog isn’t meant to propose “tips” or solutions to this complicated and difficult process, which is different inside every family. We’re just trying to point out that the process is indeed difficult and complicated—and also beautiful and wonderful to watch—and that everyone involved deserves compassion and breathing space.

Where are you in your process of becoming independent? How do you feel about the prospect of growing into independence? Let us know in the comments!

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Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: We look forward to talking to you!

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