Sunday, April 28, 2013
Loving but not in Our Way
Can there be a more tormenting experience for a mother than to hear that her child has attempted or committed suicide? Recently a mother received such news: a phone call from a hospital doctor informing her that "the crisis was over," but that her son will continue to need hospital care. When she was allowed to see him later that day, the face of her child, a 2nd-year middle school student, was pale but peaceful. In his farewell note to his parents and younger sibling, he said he was sorry for not having been any help to them.
The Sogang University professor who discusses the incident in her column in the Peace Weekly mentions that the boy often did cause trouble. Frequently impetuous and unable to accept being unfairly treated, he would quickly resort to using his fists to settle an argument. The mother, who regularly attended parent-teacher meetings, would apologize for her son's unruly behavior, and on one occasion, when he had ruptured the ear drum of a classmate, she kneeled before the student, and asked him to forgive her son.
Her son's school marks would fluctuate from very good to very bad, usually dependent on his emotional life, provoking anger from his father, who would then ask him if he knows how difficult it is for him to support the family. And does he know how much it costs to send him to the academy. And if this is the best he can do, why not give up.
The mother's more benign responses usually focused on urging her son to study more, which she did frequently. When he said he didn't want to go to the academy, she would ask how was he going to make a living as an adult. There was no conversation with the child to find out what he wanted; it was always about what the parents wanted for him. He would at times kick the walls of his room and bang his head against the wall, which she passed off as prompted by the onset of puberty. She doesn't remember that she ever had a heart-to-heart talk with him.
In the dark hospital room where her son was recovering she shed many tears. Thinking of the role she played in causing his rebellious behavior and attempted suicide, her attitude toward him changed completely. She finally came to the conclusion that his life was the thing she cared most about in her own life.
No longer taking the initiative but determined to support her son, she changed into a person whose new relationship with her son could be described as "being a step behind and no longer out in front." The boy soon began to make judgements and decisions on his own.
The professor mentioned in her column three ways for parents to support their children. One way is "to be out in front of the child," leading the child according to what the parents want for their child, which means the child has no life of his own. The second way is "to walk together with the child," sharing the child's experiences. The problem with this second way is that the child learns to depend upon the parents for everything. The third way is "to be behind the child," putting everything into the child's hands. This is a slower way, using the trial and error method, but the child learns self-reliance and creativity with this third way.
The professor sums up her account by saying the mother realized that by dying to herself, the son could live more authentically, more as his own person. She learned that by ridding herself of her methods of loving and taking a step back to watch, and when necessary stepping in to help, was a wiser way to love. Our society is a difficult place for our youngsters to find their way, the professor says. But not because there is a lack of love. It's because we demand that love be expressed in our own personal way.