Samaritan Counseling Center
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June 3, 2024

The 2006 movie Failure to Launch, a movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey is a comedy, but it shows one of the many issues parents face with their young adult children. Failure to launch is a known struggle when young adults remain dependent on their parents, and parents struggle when their adult children fail to become self-sufficient adults.

There are also struggles between parents when their young adult children make life decisions like future plans, weddings, careers, and their own parenting approach. Parents often feel the stress of life difficulties their adult children experience, such as financial struggles, addictions, divorce, and illness. Parenting never ends. However, parents can miss out on the joy of continuing relationships with their adult children if they don’t actively work to keep connections open and relationships healthy.

One of the biggest stressors families can face is cutoff, a concept from Bowen Theory (interesting reading). Cutoff is managing unresolved emotional issues with parents, siblings, and other family members by reducing or totally cutting off contact with them. It is seen when adults within a family stop communicating and don’t attend family reunions or holidays. Cutoff may happen after a disagreement, an argument or fight, or it may happen gradually, which is the most difficult to deal with emotionally, especially when grandchildren are involved, and they grow up without seeing their grandparents.

Some families have a history of cutting off members when disappointed, angry, or experiencing other less-than-pleasant emotions toward them. Children witnessing one of their parents cutoff another family member learn that this is an option when disagreements arise, and they may follow suit later in their lives. Bowen said, “The person who runs away from his family of origin is emotionally as dependent as the person who never leaves home.” He stated, “Staying in contact with previous generations of our families is an emotional work out. The way that people leave home and then “choose” how to continue relating to their parents is crucial for maintaining emotional connections in all future relationships.”

Cutoff is an option that can be recommended in certain extreme circumstances, such as with toxic and abusive families, but a mere disagreement does not warrant cutoff. It is important not to expose children or grandchildren to substance, physical, or emotional abuse or any type of illegal activity.
Some general recommendations for parents to help foster a healthy relationship with their adult children include:

1) Do not give unsolicited advice to your adult children. I know this is hard when well-intentioned parents try to help, but this communicates lack of respect or feel like judgment or criticism to them.

2) Create a life outside of your parenting. Realize that your relationship with your child is now on an adult-to-adult level. Make it an attractive, friendly relationship.

3) Create your own network of friends and interests, and don’t be totally dependent on your children. They are trying to live their own lives, and when you demand too much time and attention, it can be a drain on your children and their marriages.

4) Do not manipulate your children. Guilt inducing questions or comments will drive them away. “I’ve missed you so much,” is well intended but can sometimes be a guilt producing comment. Find out how certain things you say make your children feel, and be sensitive to their feelings.

5) Be flexible. Plans change for growing families. invitations will continue to come to parents when flexibility, not pressure, exists.

6) Avoidance is the main ingredient in cutoff. Don’t avoid difficult conversations. Problems don’t go away; talk through them with a calm, open mind.


Dr. Jessica Gibbe Fernandez is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Alabama. She is a Certified Sex Therapist, a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and an Approved Supervisor for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Jessica’s clinical interests include marriage and couples therapy, healthy relationships, and family therapy. She sees adolescents and adults with depression, anxiety, stress, self-esteem and personal growth issues, life transitions, gender issues (LGBTQ+), sexuality issues, family adjustment and acculturation.

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