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“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.”
-Erich Fromm

Not just mothers but all parents have an impossibly difficult task in front of them, especially in our individualistic Western culture that considers differentiation and self-actualization such important goals. How and when do you take a step back and stop trying to control every facet of your child’s development?

We are going to talk about some existential ideas to help shed light on a confusing process. I think an unpalatable but ultimately useful recognition is that many of us structure our lives around possessions. The attitude is not always limited to inanimate objects like houses or cars but also extends to ephemeral objects like a college degree or a job and sometimes to people. Whether we like to admit it or not we feel a sense of ownership towards certain individuals in our lives and the pronouns we use to describe them prove it. My girlfriend, my parents, my children. Mine.

There is probably no more tempting relationship to view through the lens of ownership than the parent-child. You passed along your genes, may have housed them in your uterus, and played or will play an essential role in their survival and development. At its most extreme the feeling manifests in the threat “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.”

When you feel a sense of ownership towards someone you will be threatened and confused when that person attempts to forge an independent identity and worldview. It’s why bringing the feeling into conscious awareness and looking at it honestly is one of the best ways to make sure you use your love to help your child grow into who they are. Most of us know from personal experience how liberating it is when someone loves us for who we really are, yet we often find it difficult to be the one doing the loving when personality traits or behaviors don’t sync up with what we wanted or expected.

There is no perfect time to know when to let go of the reins but the simple act of changing your underlying attitude from one based on ownership to one based on the desire to help a person self-actualize will change how you perceive conflict. Rather than an obvious sign of blatant disobedience, ungratefulness, or hostility (which it very well might be), you can consider whether your child is simply attempting to assert personhood, and you might start viewing differences of opinion in a positive light and worth further exploration.