“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” – Carl Jung
This winter, my son’s father spent a large chunk of time in Asia tending to family matters. As you might expect, that was difficult for my son. One evening he asked me how long my own parents had spent away from me when I was small. Oh, a week or so, I answered. And then I remembered that it wasn’t my parents who left during my childhood – it was me. Every summer starting when I was eight years old, I enthusiastically and without reservation waved a cheery goodbye to my parents, hopped on a plane and flew to south Florida to spend long weeks with my grandparents. During the summer of my tenth or eleventh year, I left on the last day of school and returned the day before school started again. This was too much for my parents. They put their collective feet down the next year, and my grandmother and I had to make do with only six weeks together.
It might have been because my grandmother and I were so close, but I don’t remember feeling at all traumatized by these separations from my parents. I remember missing them, but I also felt quite sure that at the end of the summer, everyone would be where I had left them at the beginning. My mother understands this, having the same wandering tendencies that I do. Sometimes when she feels the need to leave, she’ll call me and inform me that she is “running away from home.” Briefly and impermanently, of course. So I suppose I too have run away from home, in the grandest of my mother’s traditions.
But despite the urge to wander that has never gone away, it’s not as easy to do as it was when I was ten. Indeed, running away from home gets much more difficult when I have two things at the same time: 1) a partner and 2) a child. At the times in my life when I’ve only had one or another, striking out on my own wasn’t quite so difficult. There’s a constellation of things that can make it difficult for a woman in my era of life to set off and pursue activities that are hers alone – money, time, even just the general gravitational pull of home relationships, which can sometimes feel overwhelming. Either the culture or my own hardwiring – and I’m not sure it matters which – tells me that everything at home will fly to shit without my presence. Or will I fly to shit without them? Hard to tell, but I will admit that I usually have to forge ahead with my plans through a lot of anxiety, dismantling irrational fears piece by piece.
Or I could just be crazy. But whatever the case, my rational mind keeps the Jung quote handy. It’s ironic to justify seeking my own spaces with assurances that it’s good for my kid, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
Jung’s handy that way.