For many women, seeing the positive indication on the pregnancy test is the beginning of a life centered around caring for another person. We realize that our indulgences like alcohol, caffeine, sushi, hot tubs, etc. are over for the time being. Suddenly our focus is on caring for the new life that is developing within our womb. When the baby arrives, we give up sleep and free time. We begin to worry on a whole new level, and vast areas of ourselves get pushed aside for the sake of our child.
For many mothers, it is a sacrifice that brings the greatest joy. When the child can, they give love back through spontaneous hugs, smiles, pictures from school, and fists full of wildflowers. A mother might think this is how it will be until the day she dies, she feels valued. In reality, the unabashed adoration usually comes to a screeching halt as the teen years approach. The person we poured so much into, begins to spread their wings. They step into the life God has called them to live; independent of their mother, as it should be.
As the child grows into adulthood, the attachment needs to sever.
It comes naturally for the child who is experiencing significant changes, but the mother hasn’t changed a thing. Often she cannot figure out what is bringing this distance. Great sorrow surfaces because she’s spent the last 13 years of her life wholly nurturing this baby, who has been loving her back so sweetly. Suddenly they want nothing to do with her outdated style of dressing, music, barbaric methods of communication, and absence of understanding what is cool. The mother may wonder,
“Wait, what is going on here; can’t you love me like you always have? What am I doing wrong, all of a sudden?”
Instead, the child is going through natural migration to their generation. It’s a new generation. Music often sounds detestable to parents and clothing styles seem inappropriate. They pick their friends and partners. As a parent, we are still in the mode of protecting and providing. Most kids, however, are ready to try the skills in life that we have given them. Our hanging on is cramping their style and causing them to reject us. When the mother is first rejected by her child, whom she has given up her entire life for, the pain can feel like scalding liquid on tender skin.
The more we fight it, the more we fight them.
In many countries, and in Jewish cultures, there is a rite of passage that the family goes through, acknowledging the inevitable transformation. However, for many North American mothers, rejection leaves us feeling baffled with a sense of failure that came seemingly out of nowhere.
My 4th and final son is almost 16. It was not that long ago that he wanted to sit next to me, share his life with me, and now, I’m lucky if I get a text. In many ways, he’s off on his own, as he should be. He’s taking the life and the sleepless nights that I poured into him and is becoming the man God designed him to be. Even though I’ve been through it before, it doesn’t make the rejection easier.
However, I have older sons now and know the pain is temporary. They show me how satisfying having independent children is. I have great satisfaction in seeing them support themselves, and in relationships, they have created. They are enhancing my life with who they have become, and the experiences they have discovered independently of me. I love the confidence they are developing as they accumulate accomplishments on their own.
Knowing the joys of adult children helps with the pain of losing the sweet connection with my last baby.
All too often, I see mothers not willing to let go of their children. Instead, they resort to fostering a relationship through guilt, financial dependence, or some method that prevents the child from leaving. Letting go of the baby you have adapted your whole life to protect and nourish is one of the hardest things a mother must do. Nonetheless, to have healthy adults, we must let go with the same diligence with which we gave our all to bring them life.
Providing unconditional love and financial support for an adult child who is not prospering in the world is one of the most unloving and irresponsible things a mother can do. It creates resentment and toxicity in addition to limiting the creative capacity of the young adult. Many mothers believe themselves to be doing the right thing for their child through their sacrificial provision. In fact, they are selfishly not letting the child go. They are protecting themselves from the pain of watching a child suffer to become an adult. Caring for adult children, as opposed to letting them experience failure and find their own foundation, is nothing short of bad parenting! In the rooms of Al-Anon this lesson is learned with the support of those who understand. Parents painfully accept that loving their children and mopping up their messes is enabling and prolongs the need for real treatment. It is excruciating to let go of your child, but there is a time when it is wrong not to.
There seems to be a phenomenon in the United States of kids (adults) living in their parent’s basement, rent-free. If the parent will pass away 1st, who will be there to care for the now-adult-child who is dependent on their deceased enabler?
My suggestion for anyone joining me in this season of heartache where the natural course of detachment is taking place, rather than unhealthily hanging on, take this new season as a gift. Go reclaim all the time, sleep and independence you gave up to bring that person into the world. Don’t feel guilty for the choices they will make, even if they are foolish. Don’t waste energy longing for what was, it is over! Be grateful for the opportunity to have been a mother, something many long for but never receive.
Go out and find yourself again.
Be ready for when your offspring show up with their own mini-vans, hoping you’ll babysit the new life they are going to nourish to independence too.