When Your Complex Teen Leaves Home: Letting Go is Hard to Do

ADHD teen

Four years ago, this month, I helped my daughter move to California to pursue a career in acting. Leaving her there at the ripe old age of 18 was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a parent. Even now, with some experience under my belt, as my middle child prepares to leave for college I read these words and they bring tears to my eyes. It is a delicate balance we parents walk every day – and especially during major times of transition – fostering independent young people, while supporting them appropriately. Whether your child is going away to college, to a gap year, to work, or to something still unknown, I hope this article gives you strength to walk that balance beam with confidence (if also with trepidation), knowing you are not alone.

I’m currently in LA., CA, helping my newly 18-year-old daughter start the next phase of her life’s journey . Frankly, it’s taking everything I’ve got to keep myself together, even under the best of circumstances.

Sending your ADHD teen out of the nest is not for the faint of heart. For starters, there are a crazy amount of details involved. Let’s just say, as an ADHD adult, myself, that logistics are not my forte. In fact, I often joke that I failed “forms” in college. I tend to get really overwhelmed by paperwork, and often ask more questions than unsuspecting desk-clerks find appropriate.

So trying to steward my daughter through the paperwork – voter registration, the DMV, a new doctor’s office (complete with HIPAA requirements) – when I’m already triggered, myself, is no small feat.

Then, there are the complicating legal factors of a child turning 18. At first, I was kinda giddy – now she gets to sign her life away! But actually, it’s really scary. I’m not confident she knows what she’s signing, and no one can talk to me without her signature – which she has to remember to sign!

This is a stressor for all parents of 18-year-olds, but with ADHD in the mix, and some anxiety for good measure, it’s not exactly a recipe for success.

If that’s not enough, then there’s the medical care. Whether it’s a college Health Center, or independent care, all those years I’ve spent overseeing, understanding, advocating and making health care decisions for my daughter are basically silenced.

It’s like firing the one employee who has been with the company since it’s start. I can’t download all of her history in a single form, or a 10 minute intake. She can hear me tell her story. But, it’s sorta like when you look at a photo of an event from your childhood and you only recall it because you’ve heard the story and seen the photo. So, too, my daughter can’t recall the gastroenterologist visits of her infancy, or even the dermatologist when she was 8. Forget about the years of psychiatric and psychological nuances. They are a thing of the past.

So, there are the details (signatures required), and the rights and responsibilities of adulthood (at the ripe old age of 18) and the medical decisions (with a frontal lobe that still has about 7 years to grow). Eeek!

There’s more, of course, but you get the picture.

I thought I was ready. But nothing prepared me for getting on that plane tomorrow, and leaving her behind – completely, legally, responsible for herself!

Honestly, are they kidding me!?

I know I’m doing an okay job holding myself together, but let me tell you how excited I am to attend our “Back to School Survival” week at the end of this month. I’m serious. I didn’t plan it for myself — really, I didn’t — but I sure am eager to surround myself with other parents who are trying to navigate choppy waters at this time of year, and re-center myself in the coach-approach to parenting.

Whether your child has not yet left home, or is recently out the door, I suspect you can relate to some of what I’ve shared, or you have a friend who can. It reminds me of the crushing feeling in my chest when the Kindergarten teacher shut the door and we parents stood there in the hall, tears running down our cheeks. We knew it was a good thing. But WOW! It hurt.

Until Back to School Survival week, I’m taking lots of deep breaths and practicing the art of letting go. Let’s just say it’s like training for a marathon – it’s taking a LOT of practice!

In the meantime, I still have more forms for my daughter to sign, and more phone calls to make while she’s nearby to authorize conversations. I’ve finally accepted that it’s not all going to be done before I leave.

But leave I must. My daughter is at the beginning of a great adventure. At the end of the day, it’s not about the paperwork, or the forms, or the permission slips.

For me, it’s time to step back and treat her life as a spectator sport. I guess I’m going to be one of those fans who sits at home, watching the screen, screaming at the athletes as if they can actually hear me. Secretly, I hope she does!

* In Back to School Survival week, by the way, Diane and I will offer a free “mini-course” for parents on some key strategies for making life flow more smoothly in transition times. It’s always great, and we’re especially excited about the trainings we’ve developed for this year. I hope you’ll join us. To register for free, click here.