A Parent’s Love Grows Toward Separation

A Parent’s Love Grows Toward Separation

How weird! How can love as strong as parental (or grandparent) love grow toward separation? Two weeks ago my wife and I spent a portion of Spring Break with our grandson. He is in his first real job out of college. We are particularly close to him as he grew up in a single parent home and we co-parented with our daughter. During our visit he described stress in his new job. We both listened, and since he asked for no advice, we kept our mouths shut. What a waste of knowledge — there was so much knowledge available for transfer. However, we have reached the point in our relationship with him that we are observers not guiders! We are available in emergencies; mostly financial in nature. Beyond that we watch. He must succeed or fail on his own. Our direct love has been consummated.

I have spent most of my professional career in and around parents, families and individuals whose lives have been altered by a developmental disability. In those relationships I have seen the “grows toward separation” relationship play out in many ways. As a professional asked to guide some of those relationships, I carry three overriding philosophies [1] love can hurt, [2] individuals cannot maximize their potential without being exposed to risk and [3] after reaching the age of 21 years (CA not MA) each person, no matter their disability, should be held accountable for their own behavior. Along these same lines, my wife taught me a powerful but painful lesson. I was the Director of an ICF/MR and, according to me (I always like me), doing a great job. She, however, saw something else. I was in my first real job as a manager. Managers manipulate humans as a component of achieving organizational success. What she saw was me attempting to manipulate the behavior of those I supervised by being their friend rather that their “boss.” By being their friend I hoped they would follow my instructions. She said to me “Tony, just because something feels good to you does not mean it is good for you.” OUCH!

I have much the same message for a parent or a family member who find themselves in the “grows toward separation” dilemma. Could it be that you, the supervising adult, is disabling your family member who already has at least one disability? I have seen the mother of a person with a disability become the president of the association that collectively advocates for the wellbeing of a group of individuals with disabilities. She did a great job for one member of her family. Not so much for her husband or the siblings. The work became an obsession that I assume felt good to her. Try this — I was in the mall a few days back and saw a woman who appeared to be in her 70’s with a woman that appeared to be in her 50’s. The younger of the two had a disability. They were dressed like twins. Could it be that the mother’s love had become perverted? Rather than one person with one disability, the disability had been doubled by the mother’s love.

It may be that this “grows toward separation” dilemma plays out in its most powerful way related to the out-of-home placement decision. If you believe in normalization, and I do, the “grows toward separation” process requires separation. No person can maximize their potential without being exposed to risk. Period! I provide expert witness services to attorneys across the country. I have been involved in this activity since 1992. At least 70% of my work involves cases where a person with a disability in out-of-home placement (most often in a community residential setting) experiences abuse or neglect. So, what to do? Does the preceding reality simply reflect what happens in real life to everyone? Do we all experience some form of abuse or neglect as we matriculate through life? What about a daughter’s divorce? What about a son’s wrongful termination? What about a grandson who is clearly making a vocational error but does not seek advice from adult family members?

A parent’s love grows toward separation. We love them, teach them, and discipline them as we move from dependence to independence. Is this process applicable to parents of persons with developmental disabilities? I have made my decision.

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