The Blessing as a Rite of Passage in Adolescence

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ABSTRACT

Central to the transition from adolescence to early adulthood is the transformation that takes place in the parent-child relationship, heretofore studied as emotional autonomy, psychological separation, and separation-individuation. Blos (1985) suggested that individuation perhaps necessarily includes the confirmation of the child's adult status by the same-sex parent, called "the blessing." Of the 281 late adolescents in the present study, 71.5% indicated they had received some type of blessing from a parent and described the event as meaningful. Males were more likely to receive a blessing regarding instrumental traits, while females were more likely to receive a blessing regarding overall maturity, pubertal changes, or a specific rite of passage. These results offer support for Blos's position regarding the importance of this event to the young adult.

Psychosocial development during preadolescence, early adolescence, and middle adolescence has received much attention over the past decade. Less research has focused on the transition to early adulthood in the 18- to 25-year-old population. Central to this transition is the transformation that takes place in the parent-child relationship and the impact upon the youth's psychosocial maturity, investigated as emotional autonomy, psychological separation, and separation-individuation (Delaney, 1996; Fuhrman & Holmbeck, 1995; Grotevant & Cooper, 1986; Hoffman, 1984; Mather & Winston, 1998; McClanahan & Holmbeck, 1992; Paladino Schultheiss & Blustein, 1994; Ryan & Lynch, 1989; Steinberg & Silverberg, 1986; White, Speiseman, & Costos, 1983). Blos (1985) suggested that an important aspect of the maturation process is "the blessing." According to Blos, the blessing is the father's acknowledgment and acceptance of the son's adult status and, more importantly, his adult masculinity. The present study expanded upon Blo s's treatment of the father-son relationship to include the mother-daughter relationship.

Blos (1985) supported the traditional interpretation of the initial, childhood resolution of the Oedipal conflict. However, he offered a different view of the crucial task of adolescence. Blos argued that the adolescent male must indeed address feelings toward his mother during this phase of development, but the resolution or transformation of such feelings has a different likelihood of resolution since they are closer to the surface. Put another way, the adolescent male is relatively conscious of his need for female companionship, and acts in ways that help him meet this need. In "normal" development, the male is forced to confront any troublesome issues he may have with the opposite sex, such as issues with his mother, in order to move on to a more satisfying, less anxious state.

On the other hand, there remains the issue of identification with the father, which brought to a close the Oedipal phase. Blos argued that feelings are involved--having firm roots in early childhood development--that do not simply disappear of their own accord once the male reaches a certain age, and are not resolved merely as a by-product of the male's resolution of son-mother issues. It was Blos's contention that a transformation of the son-father relationship may be a more important developmental issue than that which occurs between son and mother. The question is, how is the son's identification with the father, an identification that served him well during late childhood and early adolescence, transformed into a "representation" that allows the son to leave childhood and adolescent attachments to the father behind, and thus progress into adult emotional (or psychosexual) status? According to Blos, an event that has an important effect on the son's ability to make this transition is the conferring of the father's blessing, which serves to acknowledge the son's masculine identity. To restate this idea, the blessing is the father's message that "you are a man, my son. …