Articles From the December 1995 Unification News


Loosening the Apron Strings

Usually we associate issues of loss and separation with the death of a loved one. We go through Kubler-Ross' stages of bereavement-denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance of the absence and adjustment to life without the Other.

But what happens when the Other doesn't die, but leaves us anyway? What about the loss, through growing up, of our children?

We bring the little one home from the hospital. He is so helpless; so needy; so dependent on us. We hold him close, and vow never to let him down; never to permit the big, ugly, dangerous world to intrude with its dark shadow upon this bright countenance. Sniffles and fevers may occasionally come to remind us that destiny or chance could sever our bond at any moment; but we go to war against them and we are victorious. Those First Steps

Then a great and terrible thing happens: your child rises and walks. Those first steps are the beginning of loss. They become faster and steadier. Frequently they turn toward the parent, but more often, away. And sometimes the freedom of toddling is so delicious that the little one does not respond to a call or a handclap or a whistle. He may even resist-with flailing arms and legs and shrieks of rage-your efforts to bring him back.

At this point, many parents begin working on a second child. "To be company for the first one," of course; or to "go for a girl this time." More often, however, the deep internal unconscious reasoning is to replace the little explorer who now finds the contents of their house, kitchen, cabinets, more exciting than they.

Or they get a pet. A dog. It will come when it's called. Or-Mom particularly-they get a job. Then she does the leaving.

Or the parents spend a major portion of the day stifling the child's growth, "baby-fying" him. They do everything for him: smash his food long and ladle it into his mouth long after he can chew and feed himself, pick out his clothes, put his toys away.

The Daddy World

Fathers usually handle this phase better than mothers. After all, to get to the child, the father had to get it out of the woman. Now he feels the same desire: to get the child out of the house to play ball, to visit somebody...just to be with him and get a little Daddy fragrance on his child. For the little one, Daddy is so much more exciting. He appears to have mastered the world that Mommy fusses so much about. He scoffs at the stroller, preferring to hold his offspring (Real Men don't push strollers with bears and Barbie dolls all over them).

To Moms, Dads often appear to be a part of the big, ugly world. Most women assume their husbands know little about raising children, and load them down with paraphernalia and useless advice which they themselves don't need. School Bells Ring

Just as the family has resigned itself to a few adults outside sharing the child's affection, it becomes time to educate him. For most children, nursery school or Play Group happens at about age 3 1/2. Nearly all children are off to school by age six. For many of them, this is the first real experience away from Mom and Dad. Whether it is an exciting or traumatic one depends on the parents.

The classic of the first day of school is of the six-year-old clinging miserably to his mother's skirt, while Teacher attempts to pry his little fingers loose. A former Jacob House caretaker smiled at this image as she related the story of a little girl of five, one of her charges, who would throw a howling fit every time her mother brought her to the facility. Mother would attempt, with tears and pleading, to comfort the child, and come back soon, as the caretaker carried the child, now limp from weeping, up the stairs. From a second-floor window she would sit, literally shaking with sobs, forlornly waving as mother went down the walk and started up the car. When the taillight smoke had disappeared, the child transformed. She chuckled and shook her head as she turned away from the window. It was at that moment that the caretaker understood: the act was for Mom! Of course, some parents home-school. That prevents separation. But while home schooling is the best way to go when done by a qualified parent with plenty of time and motivation to do it, too often it is botched by the well-meaning. What gives home schooling a bad name is the number of parents who just have so many things on their plate that lessons are put off and put off, and the child learns little, if anything.

New Experts in the House

Now the parents' knowledge, opinion, and even authority comes into question with a new authority figure. "But, Mom, Teacher says"" becomes the start of every sentence. Teacher says that gloves are better than mittens; that a PBJ and a Twinkie do not constitute a healthy lunch; that a subject and a verb have to agree.

Friends and their parents become competition, too. "Frankie gets to stay up late. Billy's mom let him watch "The X Files." Susie's folks order pizza all the time." Activities outside the home take him away, too; "overnights" with friends and trips to the mall. You hope the friends-even the Church ones-will care for him as you would. Are there weapons in the house? Can he see to cross the street without getting hit? No amount of "street-smarts" ever takes the fear away completely; and more than one parent has lain awake, anxiously listening for the 'phone, while the object of his anxiety slumbered peacefully on the other side of town.

...And so, Goodbye...

Finally come the days which cannot be avoided: the acceptance to a university in a distant city, or the assignment to a mission far away, or the Blessing to a spouse in another country. Father and mother's feelings are bittersweet: of course the child should go; must go. But is he ready? Can he take care of himself? Will he be all right? And what will fill the silence in the house and the ache of loneliness in the parental heart?

If parents and children have communicated well over the years, this will not be a problem. Phone calls and letters will fly back and forth, and AT&T and the postal service will prosper. If, on the other hand, communication has been difficult, the sadness parents feel may well be regret at not having forged a richer relationship.

Our children are with us for such a short while, and our days are so full that we often don't have time to connect. Rather than being anxious about the future, we need to use every possible opportunity to forge a relationship of love, closeness and support, so that our children will come back to us whenever they can and remember their good experiences with us. That is what they will pass on to their future generations.


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