Breaking Home Ties

by Muriel Lindahl

The greatest gift we can give our children is their independence. Our first child had to struggle for hers; she paved the way for the others. Our second and third had it easier, for all I had to hear was, "Mom, this is not your business," or "If I want your help, I know where you are," and I backed off. When our fourth came of age, we handed her independence gift wrapped and on a silver platter. We knew it was inevitable. We held our breath for a few years, but somehow we all survived—mother, father, and child.

I am reminded of the story of the father whose child was becoming a young adult and was experiencing the emotional trauma and problems which come along with those turbulent years. The father went to the library to get some help. He walked up to the shelves and picked out a book; he read the first sentence and then closed it; he put the book back on the shelf and left. He had all the insight he needed. The sentence read: "Your child is about to embark on a long journey and you’re not invited to come along."

Which leads me to another story… It is just the two of them. The early morning sun and the fresh crisp air remind them that this is the beginning of a new day. They sit quite close on the rusted-out running board of the Model A truck parked near the railroad tracks on which the 6:40 comes through each day. There is no regular stop in their town, not even a station in which to buy a ticket and wait for the train. The flagman’s lantern and flag are handy so when he comes on his rounds he can wave the train down—for this morning there is someone wanting a ride out of town.

They sit there in silence, father and son. They have said all there is to say. At the back door of the old home the son had hugged his mother and kissed her good-bye, but he couldn’t really remember what was said. He must have told her he loved her and thanked her for being such a great mom, and she must have said how proud she was of her son, telling him not to worry about failures, and encouraging him to make something creative out of what his heredity and environment have done to him. These thoughts were in both their hearts, but they probably had said nothing, letting the warmth and tenderness of their love say it all.

While driving to town he and his father talked and laughed a little about the old town, the old truck, and the old times, but not much. It was mostly quiet. His father thought of a couple last minute bits of advice, but never uttered them; instead, he just said, "You have a good head on your shoulders, and I know you’ll use it." To which the son remarked, "Thanks, Pop, thanks for your confidence." Then his father concluded the conversation by saying, "Write us sometime, son, when you’re writing all your other friends." "Sure, Pop, sure I will!"

Now they are just waiting—waiting for the train. The father, casually dressed in his work clothes, looks down at the ground, hat in hand and a hand-rolled cigarette in his mouth. His face reveals mixed emotions—satisfaction and fulfillment, as well as sadness and apprehension for this is the moment of separation. Hope and enthusiasm for his own future are also present because he, too, is ready to get on with his life. Life as they have shared it together in the past is but a memory; it is now a challenge for each of them to work through existence alone. The son is hardly aware of his father nor his lassie dog, with its nose nestled comfortably on his knee, as he sits up as straight as he can, wearing his Sunday best, watching with excitement and anticipation in his eyes for the first glimpse of the train. The train is coming to take him away to begin life as it is on the campus of the State University!

This is my interpretation of Norman Rockwell’s painting Breaking Home Ties. For me, it portrays a definite emotional experience in the life of the individual as he or she moves psychologically from the stage of dependence on someone else (childhood) to the stage of independence where one depends on oneself for security (adulthood). It pictures both the traumatic experiences of the one breaking away as well as of the one letting go, granting freedom to move on. This is what emotional independence is all about.

The lifelong developmental task of human beings is to separate successfully from parents. Once this task is completed, we find ourselves, as it were, on that independence train, heading out of town. No matter what our adult age, we can come on board. We do not know what lies ahead for us on the "university campus," but we can be sure it will be a learning experience! We will discover the wonders of the universe in a new and fresh way and the thrill of new relationships that overflow with understanding and compassion. Like the son in Rockwell’s painting, our eyes will gleam with the excitement and anticipation of encountering a whole new life.

The rewards of the self-reliant, emotionally independent life are great. It may seem strange, but the more self-reliant and independent one is emotionally, the more one is ready to be a part of the human community by sharing, caring, and belonging. To be able to cut loose and separate from childhood and parental dependencies and move on to new challenges is the beginning of the most exciting and fulfilling time in our lives. It will be something to write home about!