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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

Failure to Launch group supports parents with adult children at home


September 21, 2018, by Paul Cavanagh,

For many years, Brenda Anderson, a social worker with Family Service Toronto, has been counselling parents over 55 whose adult children are still living at home or dependent in other ways due to chronic illness, mental health issues, or addiction. In fact, she was seeing so many of these parents that, about eight years ago, she decided to start a group for them called Failure to Launch.
The parents Brenda was seeing were experiencing a lot of guilt and shame. Everyone else they knew had children who went to school, got married, and had families. They felt like they’d failed because their children hadn’t done the same.  
“There’s a lot of sadness and guilt associated with their children’s inability to move forward,” Brenda says. “Sometimes it just comes down to ‘I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know what other steps to take. I don’t know how to advise (my adult child). I don’t know how to make connections.’” 
When Brenda first started the group, a lot of parents who participated were being emotionally, financially and otherwise abused by their children. “Often this comes from the frustration of the adult children that they’re still dependent on these parents,” she explains. “And it’s kind of a I love you, but I hate you because I still need you kind of relationship. So, there’s a lot of psychological and emotional abuse and a lot of blaming and shaming and provocation in terms of it must be the parents’ fault that they haven’t been able to function more independently. And oftentimes the parents themselves feel responsible rather than stepping back and looking at what parts their adult children are actually playing in their own destiny.”
To cope with this dynamic, group members learn how to set some very strong limits and boundaries and make safety plans that keep them safe while continuing to help their adult children.
Brenda hastens to add that not everyone who attends the group is experiencing abuse. “What people are coming with, those are the issues we’re going to deal with.” 
Sometimes guest speakers are invited in to talk about things like the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), disability credits, and registered disability savings plans. When a lot of the parents who were attending the group had adult children with Asperger-type disorders, a speaker from the Redpath Centre came in to talk about Asperger’s, what it means, what types of supports are available in the community, and how to get diagnosed.
Overall, the group focuses on self-care. Brenda says that one of the important things that participants come to understand is that “we do not have the capacity to change other people. We only have the capacity to make changes ourselves and those changes need to reflect our ability to care for ourselves first if we’re going to continue to provide support to other people.”
This group is her absolute favourite thing to do. “I see so much positive change in people who come to the group when they start realizing they’re not alone. They learn new options to deal with these issues. There’s no blame to be had. The blame isn’t placed on the adult children. The blame isn’t placed on the parents. It is just a recognition of what is and an acceptance of what is and looking at what steps can be taken to improve the lives of both the families and the adult children.”
“The non-judgemental stance that takes place in a group environment is phenomenal. And it is so powerful,” she says. “There is a great deal of strength in families supporting one another to make changes and take steps to do something different. Things really change, and they change quickly. And yes, we can do it individually, but in a group setting it’s so much more powerful.”

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