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Can’t Leave the Nest

Rosie Einhorn, LCSW, and Sherry Zimmerman, JD, MSC

What if your child doesn’t want to leave the comfortable cocoon and get married? How to help your child separate from you and become a self-sufficient individual

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

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"S

uch a beautiful simchah!” Shani Gold* remarked wistfully to her daughter Chana, as her husband drove them home from Chana’s friend Estee’s vort. “I’m so happy for her.”

“So am I,” Chana replied, dreading what her mother would say next.

“Estee is your tenth friend who is, baruch Hashem, engaged,” Shani said. “And you haven’t started dating yet. You’re 21, almost finished with your accounting degree. Isn’t it time already?”

“But I’m happy with how things are.” Chana crossed her arms and looked determinedly out the window. Shani sighed, knowing the conversation was over, once again.

Later, Shani accosted her husband. “We need to do something about Chana. Will she ever be ready to get married?”

“I’m upset, too,” he said. “What’s the matter with our daughter?”

The Golds described the situation to a therapist. “Chana is a perfect daughter, so agreeable. She hardly fought with her siblings and classmates, always did her homework without complaining, got good grades, kept her clothes in order, and followed all of our rules. As a teenager, she was a dream — no conflicts, no slammed doors, no sullen moods. We felt so lucky with Chana, because her siblings weren’t as easy. 

“Chana was happy to go to the seminary we chose and agreed with our recommendation that she study accounting because she was great in math and could support a husband in learning. But she’s finishing school and still shows no interest in dating. Is this normal?”

 

Mama Knows Best, Right?

All parents want their children to trust them and follow the rules… up to a point. Chana was relying on her parents too much, to the extent that she made no decisions of her own. She went along with their suggestions because she felt they knew what was best for her. To Chana, marriage meant leaving her parents’ house, wisdom, and protection — a terrifying prospect. Why would she choose to do that?

Chana is far from alone. A number of young adults are choosing to stay single because they just don’t feel compelled to get married. They haven’t undergone a developmental process called separation-individuation. 

“Separation” entails achieving emotional independence and meeting milestones such as establishing personal goals, starting a career, marrying, and setting up a home. “Individuation” means developing into a unique, self-aware individual. When these don’t take place, the young adult continues to view herself as her parents’ child, rather than as an independent adult.

This failure to separate and individuate is why some adults don’t “launch” into adult responsibility at the same time as most of their peers. Some are reluctant to start dating, or find it difficult to choose a spouse, or struggle to figure out what to do with their lives. If they do marry, they may have trouble bonding with their spouse, or a few years later, may question who they are and whether they’re living the life they really want.

 

What Do I Want?

After five years of dating with no real relationships, Miriam decided to see a dating mentor. When Mrs. Brooks asked her, “Where do you see yourself in six months? A year from now? Five years from now?” Miriam was floored.

“I don’t even know what I want for breakfast tomorrow,” Miriam responded. “How do I know where I want to see my life going? I don’t even know who I am.” She laughed, but Mrs. Brooks did not — it was clear that Miriam’s lack of direction and self-awareness was impeding her dating. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 602)

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