Letting go; are you strong enough?
So, it’s 02:50 in the morning and here I am writing this.
Why is it you may ask that I’m up way beyond the witching hour? Well, worrying myself silly of course, you know, in the same way most parents would upon discovering that one of their offspring has decided to backpack around Europe or maybe even the world.
They say that the power of the bond between parent and child is unique, unbreakable and even supernatural. Yes, we’ve all heard the stories of mothers lifting cars to free trapped children, brave burning buildings and even swarms of bees. This invisible tie is witnessed daily, tirelessly, around the world, parents, like birds to a nest, tend, fret, and provide for their chicks. From the moment their babies are born through to the moment when, well forever. That’s right, we may grow up but that ‘bond’ that ‘love’ endures regardless. Okay, well, it does with most healthy and loving relationships, and yes, there is the exception of the odd dysfunctional family, and even then that bond is frequently wounded but not truly dead. To some, the idea of proclaiming the death, albeit theoretically, of one’s children or parents, seems inconceivable yet a sad occurrence throughout the world.
So, who or what is responsible for this supernatural bond?
One of the most popular theories is Bowbly, John Bowbly to be precise, who believed that Children form an attachment or a bond to parents because it enhances their chances for survival, from an evolutionary standpoint. We’re not aware of this on a conscious level. Rather, our species is “wired” to form such attachments because our prehistoric ancestors did and it enhanced their survival. Bowlby argued that infants and parents are innately attuned to each other. Infants display what he called “signalling behaviours” such as smiling, laughing, and clinging to their caregivers. Signalling behaviours attract the caregiver’s attention and bring them into close contact, and thus enhance the infant’s chances for survival. In turn, adults innately respond to an infant’s signalling behaviours.
So, can you see this in you? Do you find yourself naturally drawn to babies? According to Bowlby this is a survival mechanism that’s innate and enables our species to proliferate, much like a man’s compulsion to spread, well, his seed.
Whether or not they adopt this ethological perspective, most psychologists will agree that there is a bond between parents and infants. Psychologist, Mary Ainsworth elaborated Bowlby’s ideas. She argued that all children develop an attachment to their parents, even children who are abused. While children of different parenting styles and environments all develop a bond to their parents, they differ in the security of attachment. Security refers to children’s confidence in their caregiver, the belief that the caregiver will be available to meet their needs. Ainsworth’s research shows that infants tend to develop secure attachments when their caregivers are compassionate, consistent, and warm.
So, bearing in mind the above, you can imagine how, after more than a decade of ‘caregiving’ some parents are somewhat miffed if not horrified the day they wake up and learn, often in a somewhat undiluted, indelicate way (generally first manifested during their baby’s first sign of puberty) that they have become redundant, not quite superfluous to requirements as they can still be useful for putting food on the table, providing the proverbial roof and , of course, that ubiquitous taxi service.
It’s often quite a traumatic ordeal for most parents who are compelled to witness the metamorphosis of their bundle of joy into a hormone raging creature, often baring no resemblance to their offspring. But there’s worse…
Sometimes, as a parent, you’re barely able to digest the first notice that you’re being laid off and you’re served the second; your child, your baby that you’ve been protecting from all sorts of conceivable hardships has now decided that they want to take their security into their own hands and venture into the big bad world, be that a back packing trip around Europe or just the one to university.
My unofficially adopted niece and I were off to spend some quality time at the movies the other day and were cheerfully discussing a variety of subjects, including her education, when she casually confirmed to me (without any persuasion) that she wanted to go to University. I’m telling you, it was all I could do not to crash the car. It’s one thing us talking about University when it’s a far distant choice rather than a clear and present danger. “University!? Are you crazy?! But you’ve always been here! You’ve always been where we can keep an eye on you, often, even annoyingly warbling at the top of your voice to your favourite music. What the hell is the house going to be like without you in it? You can’t go! I forbid it! I forbid it!” Okay, so that’s what was going through my head. In the real world, I casually and swiftly changed the conversation, opting instead for her annoying obsession with the movie we were going to see, that subject being far more agreeable to me, right now.
But the reality is that, like any parent, no matter how hard I try, I can’t hold back the sands of time, they, like invincible centurions, continue to march forth no matter my preference, that’s just life.
Perhaps, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it! And I don’t.
If we could wrap our loved ones in cotton wool well, I’d probably be the first in line but we can’t. It is, after all, part of their development, another lesson in life curriculum of survival, practical and theoretical tests of physical and mental strength that will equip them to go on and face the perils and the pleasures of their existence on this earth.
Um yes, but is still doesn’t mean I have to like it.
So why am I here at 03:00am? Well, because another nearest and dearest of mine (my best friend, one of those people who, beyond my family, I feel the closest to), the same one who a few weeks ago terrorized me with the announcement that he was leaving the UK to dive (scuba gear free) in the waters off some Thai island vanished from my radar just days before his return to the UK, which is unlike him. This was compounded by the fact that his previous message promised to be in touch shortly with itinerary details but instead he went dark. So, I’ve been spending the past 24 hours imagining all sorts of scenarios that would make Hollywood script writers envious. So what’s 24 hours? Well, a lot for a neurotic, overprotective person like me (okay, easy on the neurotic, it’s just a figure of speech), who makes it his business to know, understand and predict every nuance of his best friend so that when things are off, well, I’m aware of it and, who knows, might actually be able to help.
So you can imagine when I receive one communication saying that he’d been involved in some kind of altercation but was ‘fine now’ then …click burr…… just static.
Cue an agonizing 24 hours during which text and phone calls went unanswered. Planes took off and landed and still no communication. So then I talk to his family who have no idea when he’s due back either. So then I try to communicate with his girlfriend (who’s travelling with him) but I don’t have her number. At this stage, I’m ready for a meltdown. I know something is wrong but what exactly was being tauntingly exaggerated by my imagination (in the absence of any communication) was unknown.
I must have called 20 times. I must have text another 8. Pyscho? Perhaps. But then that’s love isn’t it? No matter what, we’ll do everything we can to protect the ones we care about. Whatever it takes.
So it was 2.00, I’m wide awake and still cuddling my phone when, finally, a message comes in informing me that he’s actually at the airport but that he’d been ill and was actually at the hospital, being treated by a doctor! What the hell? So, I may not have received an official memo but our ‘bond’ told me that something was amiss. Of course, there may only be a few more hours until Sunday and my anxiety levels may have shrunk slightly but I know I won’t be able to rest until he’s safely home.
The bonds we forge with the ones we love are a strong, unshakable and they exist not by choice but by compulsion. We can’t switch them on or off, they’re just there, permanently wired in our psyche, like it or not. There’s no easy remedy to deal with change, be it a flying of the nest or a dangerous dive at a far corner of the world. But there are ways that we all can contribute to treat the anxiety in an attempt to suppress the symptoms.
Well, if you’re lucky enough to be loved by somebody try to understand that whilst for you it is an adventure, it’s life, for the person who loves you, they’ll most likely be suffering from separation anxiety in mild or in severe form. Take a few moments to consider this and the following easy tips to assist them with dealing with their predicament!
Provide a detailed itinerary (especially when they’ve asked you for one). Where are you going? If travelling, what times are you expected to be where and how are you travelling? Know that they’re not necessarily trying to track you or meddle in your affairs, knowing where gives them some kind of control over the situation (although they really have none but try indulging them)
Communicate as often and as frequently as you can without it defeating the whole purpose of your trip (that is to get away). Knowing you’re doing well when out of their sight is reassuring. E.g. imagine back to when you were a little baby playing in a paddling pool. Chances are, your parent didn’t take their eyes off you for fear that you might drown. Right now, even if you’re decades older, that same anxiety still remains but for other reasons. Trust me on this.
Have a backup plan. Hey, the whole part of this exercise is that you experience life. However, one of the fundamental lessons you’ll learn at an early age is that if things can go wrong, they generally will. Transportation may fail as well communication devices. If you’re planning on travelling with somebody (this is often reassuring as there’s safety in numbers), make sure you provide their contact details also. That way , if communication breaks down with you, the frantic person at home has an auxiliary method of making contact with you as you will with them.
Travel with considerate people. The people who care about you (e.g. girlfriend or any travel partner) who cares about you and your wellbeing will also become acquainted with the things that are important to you so, in case of emergency, will actually offer to inform those back home of the state of play.
I could go on but I think you get my point; whether you’ve left home for university, for a holiday or a business trip, whatever the situation, consider the fact that what may be a few seconds, maybe even a minute, to you or your travel partner is potentially hours of worry for that person back home.
When you love someone, child, other family member, partner or best friend, you want them to get the best out of life, you’d like their perpetual happiness and, if you’re a parent, this becomes your lifelong ambition. It isn’t something you can switch on or off with age; it simply is.
So, the next time you leave home, whatever your journey, spare a few seconds for those back home who may have been brave enough to let you out of their sight but not your wellbeing.
“Take care of yourself and each other.”