Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Emerging Adult’ Category

Mother’s Instinct

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 8, 2013

Marley, fifty-three year old, mother of three adult children, is in constant battle with her husband, Kirk, over how to help her children launch into adulthood. In particular, Marley is struggling with how to help her oldest, Nan, thirty-two, become more independent. Marley’s instincts tell her that Nan needs the School of Hard Knocks,‎, whereas Kirk believes that he and Marley should pay for her health insurance, help her out with her rent, and pay for her car insurance. Marley and Kirk cannot seem to come together on this issue, so by Marley’s report their marriage is in deep trouble. “I just don’t know what to do,” Marley says. “I really trust my instincts about what will help Nan. I know the kind of kid she is, and I know that if we help her out, we will take away her incentive to become independent. Kirk thinks I am being too hard on her, but I think she needs the tough approach, since when we supported her, it seemed like her development was stunted. I am not being mean, although Kirk says I am and that is hard on me.” Marley explains how she does not want to compromise and further, she is hurt that what she sees as good intention,s is perceived by her husband of thirty-five years, as “mean”. “Does Kirk think you are a mean person, in general, or only now, with respect to Nan?” I ask, wondering if Kirk is using this conflict as a way to express deeper feelings towards Marley. “No, that’s not it,” Marley says emphatically. “It is just that he does not like conflict, so he wants everyone to get along, and I think that conflict is necessary to grow, especially now that we really need  to help Nan grow. Sure, we could give Nan money, and sure, there would be less tension, but I can’t stand the fact that Kirk cannot see the bigger picture. This tension is hard, but it is necessary. I feel that in my bones.” Marley explains how she is so clear, in her mind, about how to proceed. Now, Marley sees two problems. One, is how to help Nan grow up, and two, how to cope with Kirk, who from her point of view, is conflict-avoidant. “It must be hard when you are so sure of yourself, and yet, you are living with someone who approaches life so differently,” I say, stating how this conflict is bringing up the larger conflict in their long-standing marriage. “You and Kirk are very different kinds of people.” I repeat. “Yes, and when we are not fighting about our kids, that difference is OK, but when it comes to hard decisions, that difference rises to the surface and creates a lot of tension. Maybe Nan will grow up and our marriage will survive, but maybe not.” Marley says, hinting that divorce is on her mind. “Will marital therapy help?” I ask, wondering if they need professional assistance. “Yep, I think so.” Marley says with a bit of hope in her voice.

Posted in Emerging Adult, Empty Nest, Mother/Child Relationships, Parenting, Psychotherapy | 5 Comments »

Millenials In The Nest

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 2, 2013



A Pew Research Center analysis released Thursday found that 36% of millennials, those ages 18 to 31, are living with their parents, the highest share in at least 40 years. Above, UCLA graduates celebrate in June. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / June 14, 2013)


As a psychiatrist, I am thinking about this new sociological trend where millennial bounce back to their nest, perhaps with a lack of the necessary psychological separation required to spring into a healthy adulthood. On the other hand, maybe this return is an opportunity for young adults to work out their issues with their parents so that they can emerge, a second time, with a more secure attachment, and hence a stronger independence. Emily, twenty-five, went to college and graduate school and now lives in her childhood bedroom. She has a good job, working at a public relations firm, but she feels it is a waste of money to spend her earnings on an apartment. She is happy at home. Her parents are happy, as well. Emily can take comfortable vacations, eat out with her friends, because she has no rent to pay. Emily has a boyfriend who also lives with his parents. When they want to spend time together, they go away for the weekend. Emily is both happy and unhappy at the same time. She likes her job. She likes her family and she likes her boyfriend. On the other hand, she feels younger than her age, and she has very little motivation to move out, and that worries her. She is concerned that she will never want to grow up, because, truth be told, she likes being taken care of. She likes that her laundry is done by her housekeeper, which she has known since she was two. She likes having family dinners. She likes having coffee with her mom every morning. She knows she should be thinking about her future, but as she says, “I kinda like being treated like a kid.” “You are in quite the dilemma,” I say, highlighting both sides of the issue. “On the one hand being cared for is nice, but on the other hand it is stifling.” I expand on this notion that there is good news and there is bad news. “You do not have to worry about many adult responsibilities, but you are also not taking control of your life, as you are living the way your parents are living and you are not making your own choices about where and how you want to live your life.” I say, again, emphasizing that she is following her parents’ lifestyle choices and not making her own. “Yes, but I am so comfortable at home,” Emily says. “And yet, other times, you wonder if you are avoiding tough decisions,” I remind her of previous discussions. “Oh yea, I often forget that,” Emily says with refreshing candor. I am optimistic that Emily will find her own path, yet it is interesting that it will be much later in life than previous generations.

Posted in Adolescence, Emerging Adult | 8 Comments »


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 2, 2011

 Bella,, self-regulates too much. That is to say that she is so worried about school that she does not give herself any permission to have fun. She has made herself into a hermit, by her own report. “I have to. I have no choice,” she tells me. “You have a choice, although you don’t feel like you have one,” I explain. Bella, in a black and white way, believes that if she is not studying, she is failing. “Having fun is like eating and sleeping. You don’t put off these vital functions in order to live, you integrate these experiences into your daily life. Likewise, it is important to weave in good times so that you have a balanced life,” I say, stating the obvious, but it is not obvious to Bella because she has engaged in narrow thinking.

   Olivia, twenty-two, is also having a problem with self-regulation, but she tilts the other way in that she is with her friends all the time, thereby neglecting her studies. “Everyone told me that college is the best time of their lives, so I am taking advantage of the fact that I can party all the time. I know when I am older I won’t be able to do this.” Olivia says, as though she has calculated that college years equal social years, and post-college years are the time for responsibilities. “It seems to me that you need more balance in your life,” I say to Olivia, like I said to Bella, although their problems on the surface seem so different. “Having fun is really important, but it is also important to explore the University, both academically and culturally, so that you can find your passion.” I say, again, trying to impress upon Olivia that her time management can be more nuanced. That is, like with Bella, I am talking to Olivia about integrating work and fun, as part of the evolution of becoming an adult.

  Seeing a great number of emerging adults, I see how hard it is for them to find balance. Sure, it is hard for everyone to find equilibrium, given multiple pressures, but what I see in this age group are young adults who have the new-found freedom of college, leading them to deal with the anxiety inherent in that freedom, by tilting too far in one direction. Most of them will learn through experience that integrating life experiences, work and play,  into daily living,  feels good to the body and the mind. Self-regulation is the goal. Some of them will have to hit hard times to learn that, whereas others will have a more gentle landing. My participation helps them with that gentle landing. I hope.

Posted in Emerging Adult, Psychotherapy | 2 Comments »

Parenting ‘The Emerging Adult’

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 7, 2010

Posted in Emerging Adult, Parenting | Leave a Comment »

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