It’s always easier to say goodbye when you know your child is well cared for and you are choosing the separation for one reason or another. When Mom is going to do something fun or at least distracting, the separation seems less sharp. It’s much harder when you are forced into that separation. The divorce culture certainly understands well how traumatic court-mandated separations can be. One mother expressed to me, “My 4-year-old daughter clings to me, crying, ‘I don’t wanna go.’ My 6-year-old son withdraws saying, ‘Why can’t you come with me?’ I had no choice under the law to protect my children, and the pain of separation cut to the heart. They were so young, and no one cared about their desires, their needs, and their fragile emotions.”
So how do we combat the spiritual aspects of forced separation?
- Teach your culture/philosophy from a positive standpoint. Never criticize or blame another. This may be an absentee parent who just realized how expensive child support is and now wants custody. This may be Child Protective Services overreacting to a report. You can represent your commitment to family and safety without undermining another’s authority and relationship with your children. Disrespecting another’s authority is giving permission for your child to do the same to you later.
- Use the time you have. Be actively involved in their lives when you’re together. It’s most difficult when your emotions are raw, so take care of your mental and spiritual health so you can be engaged when you are together. Listen to them, and share their sorrow. Affirm their confusion as acceptable, and avoid correcting their expressions of anger or disappointment. You can teach later; your focus must be on time being quality.
- Establish a ritual. Consider a ceremonial presentation. Each goodbye should lead the child into a hopeful future, and every hello should be like a welcome home party. Find your expressions and gestures and use them regularly. Be unique and have fun with it.
- Watch your language. I’m not just talking about avoiding profanity, but disallowing yourself from true expression that may be used against you in court. Disparaging remarks and under-breath cuts create tension, so keep them to yourself. Whatever the legal matter that led to or allowed this separation in the lives of you and your children, it can only be made worse by a lack of self control.
- If you can’t stop the separation, make use of it. When my children don’t want to go, I tell them what I’m going to do without them. I have to work. I set up an appointment. I make it clear that I’m functioning and moving forward, that I have a purpose beyond mothering. I’m hoping not only to pass on resilience but also to build strength within myself, to distract myself from the pain, and to cultivate productivity.
- As a former foster mom, I still carry heartache from some of the forced goodbyes. Sometimes, I saw children leave for a better opportunity, and sometimes I saw children pulled out of my home only to be put in harm’s way. Some have kept in touch; one is now an obituary clipping in a scrapbook. My focus was to express love. No matter where the children go or why, an expression of love calms and de-escalates tensions. Goodbye leaves a lasting memory, and those last impressions carry you and the child for many years. It’s important to know how the child receives love; to express to her by way of an embracing hug or a casual fistbump should match the way she accepts love from you.
- If reunification is the plan, or if it is only a hope, be sure you express that desire to the child. Never let a child step away from you without surety that you desire to hug him again. Be sure you draw the line between what is and what should be without breeding contempt. Let him feel your love and sense your hope. Be strong in your mindfulness and faith, and remain positive.
By Yaki Cahoon