Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Growing Up Alone

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 20, 2015

Continuing on the topic of needing a “mother,” a person who is passionate and hopeful for your existence, I am thinking about those children out there, who for a variety of reasons lack that passionate advocate. It is my feeling that for some children, that passionate advocate is the key person who takes a hedonistic child and turns him into a productive and giving human being. Without that advocate, the child becoming an adult could be lost in a drifting world, where there is little future planning, and life is very self-centered, mostly as a means to survival. In other words, some children lack the imagination to see themselves as a powerful force who can bring change into the world, and with a passionate push, that child gets the confidence to grow, both personally and professionally. This is the tale as old as time. A supportive mother, friend, and/or wife, gives the child, friend, and/or husband the push to apply for a new job, move to a new city, or take on more responsibility, and in so doing confidence grows. Without the push, stagnation sets in.

Vince, fifty-four, comes to mind. He grew up with a mom who was always “busy” doing “charity things” and a father who was never home, and who years later confessed to having a girlfriend and another family. Vince was not good at school, but he managed to go through college, but dropped out when school got too hard for him. At thirty-five, Vince marries Cory, a thirty-year old female, who openly says  she is “desperate to have a family.” Cory encourages Vince to start a business in commercial real estate. Vince is scared, but Cory is a strong advocate that Vince can handle it, so with Cory’s encouragement, Vince starts and eventually grows a very successful business. What if Vince never met Cory? I would wonder if Vince would have remained a drifter. Vince is grateful to Cory, but he has a difficult time admitting it, because it makes him feel “small”. With time, though, Vince develops the courage to tell Cory how much he appreciates her push, and how now he is living a life he never dreamed he could. Vince opened himself to Cory’s ideas because he loved her, and he wanted to make her happy. Cory was able to push Vince because she saw potential in him that he did not see in himself. This is an example of how change happens, and sad lives become happy ones. Is it the “love cure”? Yes, the “love cure” with a “push”.

4 Responses to “Growing Up Alone”

  1. Shelly said

    What about the mother who has many children and, according to one child, cannot give her all the attention she needs or wants. This, of course, is from the child’s perspective and not the mother’s. The child then grows up believing that he was emotionally alone in the world and fails to make long-range plans, has troubles in relationships, and all of the things you describe in the blog. But what if, in fact, the mother DID give her child the attention she craved, but in the child’s opinion, it wasn’t enough? Would you predict all the things you say in this blog–that the adult is somewhat closed-off, lacking imagination to see themselves as powerful forces, etc…? What I mean is that the child may always feel that he or she is “growing up alone,” when in reality, he may not be.

    • Yes, I see your point. One person’s feeling of love and attention is another child’s feeling of neglect and deprivation. That is a very profound issue, as the neediness of each child is so vast that siblings can have very different experiences of the kind of attention they received. In extreme situations, some children will never feel the love, no matter how positive their environment. This is a double tragedy, as both parent and child feel despair. My point though is there is no reality, only subjective experiences, and as such, the child who says he grew up alone is speaking from his perspective and that may have little to do with how someone else might perceive their environment. Although painful, subjectivity is the currency in which we navigate our worlds. We need to respect that although it may be confusing, that is how the person feels. Thanks, as always, for drawing out the complexity of this conversation.

    • essemdee said

      Every child arrives in a family at a different time (and thus into a different context). The parents’ relationship may be at a better or worse point, the family may be in the midst of a crisis or an illness of another child or the parent, or one or both parents may be under particular stress. In my large family (9 children, 8 daughters), these and other contextual factors affected each child. And that is without considering the genetic differences among the children in a family (what Shirah refers to as the loaded gun). And then there is just the fact that in a family with many children, most will not receive the “good-enough” mothering they need. (Three of my siblings were born within 2 years — hard to imagine any of them got enough mothering when there was another baby arriving as little as 11 months later.) While I turned to therapy, several of my siblings became highly successful maintenance alcoholics, and one became morbidly obese. Each of has our own experience and our own truth, set in motion by our genes and our environmental context. I have no trouble imaging that in the same family, one child gets all/he she needed (often the first born) and another grows up feeling alone or neglected. The early experiences of two or more infants with the same mother can be vastly different and lead to very different outcomes.

      • Hello Essemdee…Thank you for your comments. You articulate this point very well and coming from a very large family adds an interesting perspective. Yes, “we have the same parents” is never true, but it sounds nice. Thanks again for chiming in.

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