Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for November 29th, 2011

Speaking The Unspeakable: Divorcing Your Child

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 29, 2011

  “I want my child to go away,” reports a mom to me about her fourteen-year old daughter. “You mean you need a break from her,” I say, trying to clarify. “No, I mean I want her to go to another family,” Zoey, forty, tells me with little anger, but with a great deal of tension. “You know, I wish I never adopted Eli,” Yumi tells me about her three-year old son, explaining that she honestly feels she made a big mistake. Both Zoey and Yumi have difficult marriages, with little perceived support from their husbands. They both have other children which they are content with. They are not begging to resign from parenthood, only to resign from parenting this particular child. These words can never leave my office, as the admission of such feelings seems unbearable, and yet bringing them to the light of day is somehow helpful. The obvious trap that both Zoey and Yumi feel is palpable. Neither one can act on their impulse to expel their children, but the worry that this feeling could harm their respective children rises as the words flow out of their mouths. As a child psychiatrist, I think about their children, but my job in the moment is to help Zoey and Yumi come to grips with what they are feeling so that we can process together these complicated emotional experiences. I have a strong hunch that Zoey and Yumi are both displacing their disappointment with their husbands on to their children. This hunch will be explored, but our first step is to struggle with the shame associated with these feelings. Mothers are supposed to always want to be mothers, or so our society seems to tell us. Women are born to reproduce, many women feel.

   The unacceptable wish to return your child to its maker needs to be understood as a feeling that needs to be examined and metabolized, not denied and displaced. “You can want your child to go away,” I say, “but let’s see what is underneath those feelings,” trying to explain that wanting to get rid of your child does not mean that you want to get rid of your child, but rather it means that in this moment, you are having a hard time and that is the thought that occurs to you. I try to grant permission to Zoey to have her feelings, however dark they may be. This will open the door to new ways of seeing her world. It is hard to acknowledge that a mother may have feelings of regret about mothering. It is hard to see that in oneself and in one own’s mother, yet the reality is stark. Of course, a long-term commitment such as parenting, is bound to create the deepest kind of ambivalence. That is obvious on the one hand and deeply shameful on the other. Zoey, Yumi and I have a lot of work to do.

Posted in Parenting, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »

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