Mother’s Day Special: Cut the chord,let them fly

For mothers, children always remain small no matter how old they get. But if they love them truly and want them to grow, mothers should know when to call it a day

mother and daughterThe world is full of 'loving' mothers who continue to smother their children forever; buttering their toast at breakfast, picking up clothes after them, buying their underwear, warning them against getting wet in the rain and reminding them to wear their blazers in winter. Many a broken marriage is a result of this 'caring' with 'mama's boys' and 'daddy's little girls' looking for a parent in their spouse.

Nature of maternal love

Nature, for the very survival of life, has put instincts in all living beings. The survival instinct, sexual instinct and parental instinct are all programmed into us so that life continues. The parental instinct is necessary for the survival of the offspring, as it is incapable of protecting and nourishing itself in the early years of its life. Existence has programmed a maternal instinct into us, so that we protect and provide for our children, but only until they can look after themselves. This instinct is not to be stretched beyond a point. The moment the child learns the ability of self-sustenance, it is expected that the maternal instinct is withdrawn. The instinctive intelligence of animals and birds demonstrates this fact. They leave their young ones on their own when they are able to fend for themselves.

Parental bondage

Such a simple and natural transition, however, is rare, if not absent in the human species. We humans have been socialised into the concept of families wherein the nurturing of the child [due to the maternal instinct] continues way beyond necessary. We often distortedly view children as an investment for the future. In return, we expect our children to look after us in our old age, when they come of age.

Among all living beings, humans are the only ones, who have the ability to contemplate their lives. We resist the reality of aging and death, and live in constant fear and insecurity. It is this fear and insecurity of a mother that contaminates the all-natural maternal instinct turning it into a disease. It has serious repercussions on all the relationships of the child, particularly the man-woman relationship.

The invisible umbilical chord

Many a marriage is rife with conflict because the man and woman are actually a 'boy' and 'girl' playing 'house-house'. Soon they realise that they lack the emotional maturity to sustain relationships, with both running to their respective parents boohooing and complaining about how their husband/wife is being mean to them. This is because parents of such 'biological adults' but 'emotional kids' have parented them beyond a point, inhibiting psychological growth and emotional autonomy in them. If you are such a mother, or a child of such a mother, who continues to smother and/or provide emotional oxygen to the child, then it is time to cut the invisible umbilical chord, and let your children learn to breathe on their own.

The mother is the centre of the child's world as she nurtures and provides for him. But as he grows up, someone else who is important to him is bound to take that place to continue life through reproduction. If the mother is unable to cut the invisible umbilical chord and go with the natural flow of life, she will land up feeling hurt and angry, and this negativity will affect several lives.

Permission to grow up

Parents who accept that children will move out and live on their own do not stretch the protective instinct beyond providing a good education and nurturing care.

But in most cases, parental clinging and expectations stretch way beyond the adulthood of the child. The mother often uses her child to meet her own emotional needs with a result that mother and child both have a retarded emotional development and remain emotionally stunted.

When a child comes of age around puberty i.e. when he instinctively tries to become independent of his parents, he may express his own views and opinions thus asserting his own individuality. This is the age of reason and is an important moment for both mother and child. Children demonstrate their readiness to open their wings and fly to their destiny in different ways [some of which seem like rebellions against the parents]. It is up to the parents, especially the mother, to encourage the child and help him embrace this transition from childhood to adulthood, making it as smooth as possible for him. During this transition, the teenager needs to know that the mother is there as a soft place to fall back on if needed. When and how much contact they are comfortable with, is for the children to decide. An unaware mother caught in her own emotional needs may feel offended at this show of independence and may directly or indirectly make the child feel guilty for growing up. Due to their socialisation in the family concept, children on their own too, tend to feel guilty for their independent thinking and thus they need to be given permission to grow up into thinking adults.

Smother or mother?

If children are not guilt-free for being themselves, it could create a tremendous struggle between who they are and who they believe they 'ought to/should/ must be', leading to an inner crisis. Such inner crisis can have devastating effects on the psyche leading to anxiety disorders, depression, intense rage and hostility, which in turn wreak havoc in the internal relationship the child has with himself and also in his/her external relationships. This guilt for being oneself, acts as a lethal contaminant, making the child's entire life and all his relationships toxic.

Often mothers say that they want to see their children happy, but do not follow it. As a result the child either:

  • Feels torn between his/her loyalties to the mother and the beloved
  • Feels constantly guilty for being himself/herself if s/he asserts his/her individuality
  • Remains submissive and emotionally stunted if s/he represses his/her true self to be guilt-free
  • Or is constantly engaged in an agonising inner struggle between who s/he is and who s/he believes s/he 'should' be, without acting in either direction, leading to unexplained outbursts.

I urge mothers to reflect deeply on this phenomenon of unhealthy parenting because of which so many emotionally distraught people fill the waiting rooms of psychiatrists and counsellors.

Growing up

boy running with balloonsIf you are a child of such a mother, break free from the misplaced guilt of wanting to be your own person. However, remember that along with the freedom of being your own person and doing your own thing, comes the responsibility of the consequences of your decisions. So get ready to grow up. On your mark, get set, GROW!

Are you such a mother? If so, free your child from your clutches, and let him fly free to find his destiny. That is the best gift you can give and the most loving and compassionate act that you can do for your child. So call it a day, this Mother's day.

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Minnu Bhonsle
Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.