Articles From the October 1995 Unification News
Sandra S. Lowen, Beacon, NY
"Timmy is such a sweet boy," his mother confides, "but in just three years he'll be a teenager. What do I do then?"
Of all the parent-child anxieties I hear, this one is the most often expressed. Our society has taught us a fear of major proportions regarding our little ones: someday they will reach puberty--and go through some Jekyll-and-Hyde metamorphosis from which they will not emerge until they have put their parents through unimaginable trials. In the meantime, God knows what will transpire.
Adolescence: A Modern Invention
Our great-grandparents would hardly understand our concerns. In their day, a person was either a child or an adult. By the time he was ten, a boy was generally hard at work in the fields, apprenticed to a trade, or immersed in the family business; and a girl of ten had long ago been involved with caring for younger siblings and learning household skills for marriage. Her wedding usually followed hard upon the onset of puberty.
With the rise of psychology and the advent of leisure time in the late 1800s, however, a third classification emerged: adolescence, the period of transformation from child to adult. Viewed as unique beings, it was in general the problematic child whom the clinicians saw; and their worst-scenario cases often were mistakenly viewed as the norms for the age.
Changes begin to occur in the pre-teen years. The eight-year-old girl may begin putting on body fat, and her ovaries begin to undergo the hormonal adjustments that will allow conception when she is older. Menstruation, breast development, lowered voice and development of body hair follow. The pre-pubescent (before puberty) aged boy experiences genital growth, lowered voice, increase in muscle strength, and long-bone development. To watch a child stretch a foot- and-a-half in a few short years is exciting, even awe-inspiring. It should not, therefore, be surprising that the child also undergoes marked changes in attitude, personality, and interests during this period.
"Katie Kaboom", the Fifties-style cartoon teen whose temper frightens her family and actually does physical damage to their home is what many of us think of when we consider this age group. Yet, parents do not have to go through such difficulties if they stop and realize-- they've seen "Katie" before.
Shrink the teen down to about 34 inches in height. What do you have? Why, it's the two-year-old! If your child was typical, he was sweet, generally; but now and then, everything was, "No! I don't want to! I won't!" Occasionally the child threw himself down on the floor and kicked and screamed, or simply refused to budge.
What he was going through was a phenomenon known as separation- individualtion, the necessary realization that he was not an extension of his parents, but a unique being. Without this understanding, the child is unable to go beyond the family unit. Of course, he feels also ambivalence about leaving the nest; he is a tiny being in a great big world. This thought sends him scurrying back to Mommy or Daddy for support. But then he wants to get away again.
In adolescence, the child goes through separation-individuation again, as he attempts to escape the gravitational pull of the family. Mom and 3 Dad, whom he regarded up to now as possessing an authority and a wisdom surpassed only by God's, are 'old-fashioned', 'out-of-touch', whatever. He may perform daredevil stunts which can reach life- threatening proportions to prove he is not a scaredy little baby. He may do things that defy the family mores; lie, steal, curse--to challenge the parental authority and set the boundaries for his own morality. Yet, at times, when your tough half-man comes looking for a hug or your aloof little beauty-queen-apparent sits snuggled with her Pooh bear, it is apparent how vulnerable they still are.
They Must Increase, and We...
For some women, a unique problem may arise with their daughters. At the very moment the girl-child is at the flower of her beauty and promise, the mother is facing the prospect of decline; her fertility is decreasing, her gray hairs and wrinkles are increasing, her vitality is ebbing. Many a mother feels more than mild pangs of jealousy toward this suddenly gorgeous "other woman" in the house. Especially when the relationship between husband and wife is not totally secure, the wife may view the daughter's relationship with the father as competition.
Fathers, too, may naturally feel the pull of their daughters' developing sexuality. In a society in which incest is a reality, fathers may withdraw in confusion from their daughters when unprocessed feelings arise, fearful of the attractive young women that their sweet little girls have become. Sensing their fathers' coldness and failing to understand its cause, the daughters may well turn to male figures outside the home for needed masculine attention; an obviously problematical choice.
What can parents do to put their relationships with their daughters on the right track? Mothers need to view the blooming of their teenage daughters as the fruit of their own labor of love, rather than as a threat to their own femininity, and train their daughters in the appropriate behavior in the presence of men. As well, mothers should pay attention to their own grooming and attractiveness--their daughters are generally more than happy to help with this task--taking a little time to care for their personal appearance in the home as well as in public.
Fathers can realize that what they are feeling is not sexual desire for their offspring, but merely an awareness of their daughters' developing sexuality, much as one smells a rose in a garden. A father does not need that aspect of his child, and her scent is not for him. Secondly, he needs to draw closer to his spouse. Chances are, his daughter's is not the only flower whose fragrance he has caught. He needs to become more attentive to his wife; supporting her and recognizing the captivating beauty that comes in the second half of a woman's life. Thirdly, he needs to understand how vulnerable his daughter is, and move to protect her from attracting the wrong interest; after all, there are insects that destroy roses and humans who pick them. It is the father's task as well as the mother's to educate his child as to the ways of the world and the right attitude and behavior in it.
When Wild Is Not Wonderful
Mothers, particularly, try to curb their sons' rambunctiousness during the teen years. They cringe at the music, put down the hairstyles, and generally reject the son's growing aggressiveness. I have seen mothers who still dress their teenage sons in clothing they would reject as too babyish for their eight-year-olds! At the other extreme, however, are they who encourage the masculine aggression to the point that the boy becomes some sort of rakish James Dean figure, always at the 4 center of some commotion or discord. Mother bemoans his activities to all, at the same time encouraging them. For such women, the child fulfills their heroic daredevil fantasies that their husbands cannot.
Fathers, too, frequently attempt to mold their sons after their own image; pressing them to go into the family business or to excel at some sport or profession the father was denied. Others may view the male child as competition, and withhold approval and opportunity from him. This may manifest in anything from blatant denial of the child's needs to making the child "earn" every advantage.
Both mother and father need to realize that, while their children require their guidance, their destinies are their own. The good parent lovingly supports the child's emerging nature; pruning away the rough spots and nurturing that which is good and true. The wise parent wishes his child to go far beyond him.
For a mother, when a male reaches adulthood, he is gone. Much of his conversation will be with his father, his peers, or his spouse. Not a few mothers admit that they absolutely dread the day their sons are blessed, and already feel animosity toward their wives.
I teach that the old adage, 'you are not losing a son but gaining a daughter' is true. Commit yourself to loving your son's wife and the hearts of both of them will remain with you.
Again: children, like small plants, need room to grow. If they understand that their parents are committed to assist them in the growing process where necessary, but can allow them their own space when it is important that they have it, the battles will be minimal and the teenage years will be a time of drawing closer on both sides.
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