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Wednesday, July 18, 2012


The Separation-Individuation stage of The Daughter's development is something I have never written about. It is one thing to write about the pain of Separation-Individuation we both lived through with each other. It's another to write about a theoretical idea you read about in textbooks on Developmental Psychology. I don't think it's ever a good idea to write about personal pain before one has had the time to develop some distance.

So yes... I am now ready to write about The Daughter's teenage years because The Daughter has become quite the adult and has now become one of the best friends a woman can ever hope to have.

Looking back, the thing that tripped us both up during The Daughter's teenage years was a developmental stage in human psychology called the separation-individuation stage. "Many child therapists believe that the stage known as separation-individuation is the most important. It is the stage that roughly lasts from 18 months to 2 1/2 years of age. The child will go through the dilemma of how to be separate from and dependent on you, the parent. Developmental stages are not exact on beginnings and endings. Separation Individuation is a stage most commonly known as the "terrible-twos." It can be terrible because a good-natured toddler can turn on a dime, into a red-faced, screaming, demanding, little person who is out-of-control." (Text sourced from here).

The separation-individuation stage is repeated twice in the course of normal human development -(1) The Terrible Twos and (2) Adolescence. If you had a tough time with your child during the Terrible Twos, expect the same thing but worse during Adolescence. "During the separation-individuation stage, the child (now a teen child) will go through the dilemma of how to be separate from and still connected to you, the parent. This developmental step is necessary, and the will of the child is again exercised in small or abundantly loud ways. The teen is trying to figure out how to be who he is and to be close to you and separate enough from you in order to maintain a sense of autonomy. Just like when your child was 2, it is necessary to pause and remember why this is going on. Your child is looking to you for education on ways of being independent and dependent. Too often, teens take the path that is easiest and most available to them: They do what their friends are doing." (Text sourced from here).

If you wanna visualise the PAINFUL process of separation-individuation, click here. Clearly, that amoeba was in pain. You don't think?

The process begins by pushing you, the parent, away. Teens stop chattering when they get into the car. Teens keep themselves to themselves. They lock themselves into their rooms and won't tell you where they've been and whom they've been with. Ohhhhhh... the rejection!! This is quite hurtful for parents who, like me, are used to my little ones following me around the house, thumb in mouth, because anything I was doing, was good enough for them to participate in. And ohhhhh... the fear!! You fear so much that they will fall into bad company and all that.

Psychologically, at this stage of their development, teens also begin to question their parents and all that their parents stand for. If you have brought them up to be Christians, it is at this stage that they will question your religion. If you have brought them up to be hard-working and achievement-oriented, it is at this stage that they will question your values. This is painful for Moms and Dads for a few reasons...
(1) Your authority as Wise Woman and Big Red Indian Chief is being challenged. Ouch!
(2) Your very beliefs and values are being challenged, and this can seem like a rejection. Ouch again!

I thought I was so smart. I side-stepped the issue of religion by never openly imposing mine. I just lived with God looming large in my life, and hoped that it was a life enticing enough to catch her faith. There was nothing there for her to challenge. ***Pat pat me.*** I side-stepped the issue of values in the same way. I never moralized her or explicitly talked about values I held dear. ***Self-congratulatory smile.*** So, I was a very smug pre-adolescence Mom indeed. I thought I had it made.

BIG mistake.

The Daughter still found a way to cause me pain through Separation-Individuation by rejecting my plans for her well-being here. And then, guess what, we had a fight about Whether Milk Calms Chilli Heat on the Tongue. Oh boy! What a fight! We were like 2 cats!

Little Boy had taken some chilli and his tongue told him firmly that it would drop dead if he just sat there. I told Little Boy to drink his warm Milo because I knew the milk inside would soothe his unhappy tongue. The Daughter told Little Boy to drink the glass of iced water because the ice would cool down his burning tongue.

Oi? The Daughter had just contradicted a TRUTH that I believed in most strongly. Milk soothes a spiced up tongue. I was CERTAIN that was true. The Daughter had just challenged my beliefs (without factual basis) and jeopardised the well-being of my son, whom I valued. I didn't like that one bit. My response was visceral. I won't spoil my reputation (and hers) by revealing the intimate details of our glorious Mother-Daughter Clash of the Titans.

Suffice to say that The Husband had to intervene.

This Separation-Individuation stage of development holds some implications for Teen Motivation. I don't have the energy to write a book about Teen Motivation, but over time, I can write short posts detailing how the strategies, in Petunia's Book, have to be adapted for use with teens. In some cases, one needs to do the opposite of what's documented in Petunia's Book. In order not to bore Petunia's blog followers, I've decided to put all posts on motivation here.


Malar said...

I just payed for the book using paypal! Finally! phew....!
Looking forward to receive the book soon! ;)

Petunia Lee said...

Malar - I am so glad you finally got Paypal to work on your end. I've just sent you a top-up request of SGD$5 for postage to Malaysia. Hope to hear from you soon. Meanwhile, the order is in an envelope on my study table.

Malar said...

I forgot to print the paypal page but it appear in the page - cost of the book and postage. I payed abt SGD30++...i totally can remember since i did in hurry...sigh....could you check?
Anyway where can I check the payment done? ;)

Petunia Lee said...

Malar - We did receive your first payment. SGD30. The total amount of book plus postage to Malaysia is $35. We have initiated a Payment Request to your account. Could you check your account and just respond to the payment request?

Petunia Lee said...

We have initiated a Payment Request to your Paypal account.

Malar said...

ok done! ;)