The only thing constant is change. There is no state of mind or stage of life that remains the same. What makes transitions feel so difficult for many of us? As a Psychotherapist, I have the opportunity to help people with the obstacles that surface during developmental passages. The number one emotion people describe during transitions is fear of the unknown.
Think about the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz”. Dorothy fell asleep and dreamt that her home was catapulted into the sky by a tornado. She finds herself in the land of Oz, which she experiences as both exciting and terrifying. She does not recognize her surroundings or the people in Oz. Along her journey down the yellow brick road, Dorothy makes friends with the Tin man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion. The four of them search together for the wizard whom they think possesses the magic that will give them courage, direction, and strength. However, they learned that the wizard did not exist and that all along, they each had the power inside of them.
Like the characters in the wizard of Oz, many people including college freshman are uncertain about their new environment, their capabilities, and their newfound autonomy during times of transitions. Gone are the days of the womb providing safety or the umbilical cord providing nurturance. From this day forward, they must find their way facing many choices and newfound independence. They feel insecure and are anxious about adapting to their new life. Like Dorothy who wants the magic of the wizard, many college students feel homesick and yearn for their parent’s guidance. They miss and long to be taken care of like they once were. College freshman feel as if they have landed in Oz, navigating a new environment, new people, and the task of taking responsibility for themselves. For a college student navigating independence means being faced with difficult choices. They need to individuate from their parents and learn to rely on their own wisdom. They are painstakingly aware that they are not in Kansas anymore!
Not only is leaving home a symbolic milestone for teens but it is equally significant for parents. They must make their own difficult transition. Parents have lived through a tornado of college applications and preparation and are now faced with the aftermath of a once full house. While they may have complained about their busy schedules comprised of juggling various carpools and obligations, it is inevitable that they notice the emptiness. This stage in the college parent’s life can trigger loss and can be a reminder of many other losses including their own experience leaving home. Parents must allow them room to separate and become a consultant to their young adult child rather than an advisor.
Parents who become empty nesters may struggle to reinvent themselves and may wish for a wizard to reveal the secret ingredient for a alternative life. This unknown territory for some parents, unravels their equilibrium, making it difficult to recover. Some marriages thrive after their kids have left home, and some will not be able to undergo the transition and may eventually separate. For some, it is an opportunity to create a new life where they are free to enjoy the fruits of their labor, raising and launching their kids. These parents find that they have more time to pursue interests and hobbies and can reinvent their marriage. However, some couples remain stuck, longing and yearning for the days when their children were young. These parents can only resonate with the loss inherent in this metamorphosis. They recall hearing the wisdom of parents with older children who cautioned them to enjoy every moment that their kids were young. They obsess about the past, making it difficult to let go and mourn.
Development in whatever context, can be fraught with uncertainty, anxiety and excitement. It is only natural to hold on tightly to all that one is familiar with even when change is inevitable. Separating for both teens and parents evokes extreme anxiety, excitement and loss, that must be faced to gain new strength. These micro-developments which include steps forward and back are what transitions are made of. To evolve and mature requires tolerating uncharted territory. Transitions depend on following and paving your, own, yellow brick road.