There are many parallels between the developmental phase of adolescence and the concomitant process of leaving home, and the inner process of individuation; of becoming one’s own person. The transmogrifying process of adolescence begins at around age 12 and continues through age 20. Scientists tell us that the adult brain isn’t fully functioning until a person is as much as 25 years old, so an argument for a transitional period between childhood and adulthood that lasts as many as 12 years isn’t as crazy as it sounds. A marked changed often occurs around age 24-25 or so. The person who doesn’t heed the call of adulthood by his or her mid-20s often seems to respond around age 28-29, which happens to be about the time of their first Saturn return, when Saturn (the Father planet) comes full circle for the first time in a person’s life, metaphorically exerting the Father’s energy and influence.
According to Murray Stein, the Father symbol must emerge, for if he does not, the individual will be left with the Mother in the earliest stage of individuation, which is that of containment and nurturance. Just as Adam and Eve were sheltered, contained, nurtured and watched over in the Garden of Eden, so are children in the best circumstances contained and nurtured by their mothers. Under the Mother’s tutelage, the child receives only protected, selective exposure to the realities of the Father world. Mother at her best, though, must provide a balance between too protected and too exposed, lest the child suffer the consequences of imbalanced parenting. A child who experiences too much harshness, too little protection, too much life in the Father world too early on, must develop strong ego defenses that produce problems with attachments and what psychologists call “object relationships”–relationships to other human beings.
This failure to contain and nurture is a commonly experienced failure whose fruit we see whenever we encounter people with intimacy, attachment, or commitment problems in interpersonal relationships. Far too little containment can result in a wildly out-of-control adult or a rigidly self-controlled or controlling adult. These are the kids who, having had to contain themselves far earlier than is normal, catapulted themselves out of the family too soon, too. I have seen this in adopted kids who, though finally given appropriately containing and nurturing families could not benefit from them at later stages of development because their innards were already so self-contained.
One sees it in those who were never adopted as older children or teens, too, of course. These often present as angry adults, intent on having their ways at all costs. Sometimes they are over-involved parents whose needs for containment and nurturing have been projected onto their own children. They are unconscious to it, of course, until their kids grow up and fly the coop and suddenly all hell breaks loose in Mother and Father’s lives. The fact was, they had no lives, but met their own needs through the lives of their own children.
These are just a few examples of what can happen when a child’s needs for balanced containment and nurturance are not met in the family of origin, and they are unprotected and without nurture.
Maslow, Abraham H. Motivation and Personality, 3rd Ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1970.