Separation is equally traumatic for both children and parents. But going through this phase is important: to learn to choose themselves, to get rid of illusions and to become adults. Both sides. We tell you why it’s important for children to find their own identity and what parents can do about it.
There is an important scene in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace – Natasha Rostova’s first ball. The function of the scene is that the author shows Natasha’s symbolic maturing, her transition from the world of childhood to the adult world: “She stood with her thin arms down, and with a measured, slightly defined chest, holding her breath, she looked out before her with gleaming, frightened eyes, with an expression of readiness for the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow”. It is unlikely that Count Leo Tolstoy planned to describe the importance of separating a child from its parents, but he succeeded nonetheless.
Nineteenth-century gentry society approached the issue of separation with the utmost seriousness – there were ceremonies, the meaning of which was that parents “let” their children go to adulthood. So-called rites of passage have existed since ancient times in various cultures, such as the Jewish bar mitzvah (the transition from childhood to adulthood) or the Latin American quinceañera (the celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday, when her parents are ready to give her in marriage). Such rites help draw the line between childhood and adulthood, but are increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
In our child-centred times, it is difficult for parents to let their children go, and the reasons for this are to be found in the childhood of the parents themselves
Existential psychologist Veronika Khlebova in her book “Separation. How to Stop Depending on Other People” writes: “Only an adult who has passed his separation, who unfroze his childish feelings, can feel his child. Can feel his pain, his fear. And can respond to them. However, until the inner work is done, the parent remains in a state of amnesia and unwittingly inflicts trauma.”
The trauma of the unseparated child is not always obvious. “Clients do not come to therapy with a request for ‘separation’,” says practicing psychologist Anastasia Lazarenko, “Often the problem sounds like this: the mother interferes in life, giving advice. Another request may be: no relationship, business does not work out, conflicts with your partner. It’s important to highlight how the lack of separation affects this. Often there seems to be a normal relationship with the parents, but it does not work out in other areas. This may indicate that the separation from parents, from the influence of their opinion has not really taken place.
If you are experiencing the following problems, you may realise on your own that this is a topic worth working on:
- Constantly comparing yourself with others, and the comparison is not in your favour.
- Dependent on the opinions of others, trying to guess the wishes of others and immediately realize them.
- Get into relationships that play out according to typical scenarios that you think it is impossible to get out of, or avoid relationships altogether.
- You are afraid of any difficulties at work, of new projects, of showing your creative talents.
Most parents traumatise their child unintentionally, based on their own ideas about parenting and their own childhood experiences. For example, the mother may come home from work every night and sigh about how difficult it is to be an adult: unloved work, endless housework, never enough money. A child listens and concludes that being an adult is not a good prospect. It is another matter to always stay close to your mother, who will do your homework, feed you and buy you a new PlayStation. Separation doesn’t happen because the parents themselves slow down the process.
Another brake on separation is that parents are afraid of appearing bad. “It’s one of the most important processes of separation when a child becomes disappointed in their parents. And, as you can see, only a resilient parent can endure this. Only a resilient parent will not abuse the child or bind him or her with emotions he or she could not handle,” writes Veronika Chlebova.
Such parents themselves once learned that in order to receive love and support they have to fit in with those around them, to keep a low profile and be like everyone else
The mum who won’t let her teenage son listen to rap music and the dad who takes him fishing every weekend seem to want what’s best. To raise a decent son. But in reality, they’re blocking the child’s autonomy. In Jungian psychology there is a concept of self, which was introduced by Carl Gustav Jung. Self is synonymous with wholeness, a symbol of the unity of personality, which one acquires only in the process of recognizing oneself, one’s needs. And for the process of separation it is important to go through this stage.
Separation takes place in stages, when there is a time of readiness to take a new step in separation. The task of the parents comes down to not interfering with the child’s acquisition of selfhood. If a mother forbids a teenager to dye her hair purple or have a sip of wine at the family table, she must be prepared for the consequences. When that teenager grows up, he’ll not only dye his hair, but also get a tattoo on his forehead.
So how should parents behave to ensure that their children’s separation processes take place in a timely manner? Start with yourself. Finish growing up.
Firstly, get rid of your own illusions and expectations.
Stop believing in the omnipotence of their parents and living by their institutions. At this point, you can ask yourself questions: What did you lack as a child? What did you miss from your parents? Acknowledging the need, shaking your parents’ world, breaking down previous supports are necessary processes that help to trigger the separation. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much life experience you have under your belt. All that matters is that growing up never happened.
Secondly, expand the picture of the world that was formed as a child
Even if the child was not traumatised and grew up in a normal, accepting family, this family may have had its limitations. The aim of separation is not to separate from the family, but to learn to be himself and at the same time be integrated into the family. In the process, there may be anger towards the family, and this is normal. When the picture of the world becomes broader than what your parents have shown you, you let new people into your life and take responsibility for your life. For every step and deed.
Third, learn how to build healthy relationships
Co-dependent unions, total avoidance of contact with the opposite sex, fear of relationships – all of this comes from an inability to build boundaries. Parents didn’t see their children as individuals, preferring total fusion. Growing up, these children unconsciously avoid relationships or choose the familiar fusion scenario. It is important to learn to recognise their autonomy and to assert their rights openly. Boundaries only appear in an adult who knows how to be in contact with others and still be themselves.
“A portrait of a person who has gone through separation and is ready to let go of his children would look like this: he knows that his own feelings and emotions may not coincide with those of his parents, and is comfortable with this. He accepts his childhood history without guilt or resentment. He does not need approval for his actions and has strong moral values. Such a person may be told anything, but inside he has a clear idea of his merits and demerits, and criticism does not knock him out. He takes full responsibility for his life”, sums up psychologist Anastasia Lazarenko.