Til the Cows Come Home

Children need to grow up and become separate from their parents. It is how “normal” development happens, but what happens when children are unable to separate? It can create a very anxious child or an adult who is unable to take care of herself. Separation can be made more difficult if the parent struggles to let the child move away from them. This happens physically and emotionally. The first time it may show up is when it is time to go to school. The child is so anxious they might cry and beg to stay home with “mommy.” The truth is the child senses “mommy” is actually afraid to let the child go. The child feels it unconsciously. They sense somehow the parent won’t be OK without them home. The parent’s anxiety fills the child with anxiety and so the protest to leave begins. Sometimes we see it earlier now that more children go to daycare at a  younger age.

Don’t give yourself a kinehora

It shows up later in life as the adult child who can’t seem to stay at college. Or calls the parent every day while away. The parent will sometimes frantically call the child at college “just to make sure they are ok.” They may have seen something on the news like a fire in a neighboring town that sets the anxiety in motion. The adult child is fine. It is the parent who is terrified of losing them. It can also show up when an adult child struggles to move away emotionally even after they are married. The spouse might feel second to the parent’s demands for constant contact. It also shows up when a parent continues to bail an adult child out financially. It creates an unhealthy dependency. The child may then feel obligated to the parent. Jews have an expression about giving themselves a “kinehora”  which is the equivalent of bad luck. The actual translation is an evil eye. It again is a way to create anxiety in the adult child. After the child says something about an accomplishment the parent will say, “you will give yourself a  kinehora,” which implies bad luck. Ahh, anxiety the gift that keeps on giving.

Stop! You might leave me and I’ll die (of loneliness)

Therapy helps identify the separation problem. It does cause anxiety to move away especially after the patterns have long been established. It can take years to do this. The problem is when the adult child tries to have a life of their own the parent may attempt to undermine it. It can be as small as making the adult child anxious about purchasing their own first car. It is my job to ask my patient what she fears most about saying no to her mother. I am not here to judge or give advice. I am here to explore what drives the fear. The hope is talking about it helps my patient work through her fears. To see if they are grounded in reality which most of the time they are not.

Mother cows are very protective of their calves.  It is what makes them good mothers.  We non-cows  also need to protect our children  but only until the time comes when they can do it for themselves.  It is our job as mothers to release our children. They don’t belong to us. They were just passing through on the way to adulthood.