Effects of parent-child separation, Helping immigrant children and parents reconnect, parent-child conflict in immigrant families, reunified families, Serial Migration of Families, Transnational families, Undocumented minors
Helping parents and children understand and accept that the children cannot feel the filial love they expect of them and this is a normal consequence of the separation. Some parents feel tremendous hurt and disappointment when they are confronted with the reality that their children are more strongly attached to a grandparent, or another adult that was at their side while growing up, than to them. A father put it into his own words this way: “ …¡Pero, como puede ser eso, si la sangre es más fuerte!!” “How can that bewhen the blood ties are stronger!! While recognizing how painful this must be for the parent, it is important to keep presenting the facts of the natural consequences of prolonged separations. Insisting that this happens in all cases where parents have been separated for such a long time, not just to them. Sometimes, as well, it may be possible and necessary to identify and separate the feelings that belong to their past history of losses, abandonment, or neglect in theirown family, now reawaken by the child’s apparent rejection, from the current relationship with their child, in order to facilitate this process of acceptance of a painful reality.
The parents, and also their children reuniting with them, necessitate the understanding that they separated from the child as an adult, so that the memories and feelings towards the child were very much present in them all the time. Not only that, but they have been struggling for so long and working so hard, precisely to be able to bring their son or daughter, so, they have been very much at the center of the parents life. Not so for the children. Their memories and feelings for the parent have faded with time, as it is normal for any young child whose memories are fragile; furthermore, other persons replaced them as his/her center of gravity, because the child needs to bond to the new caregiver to feel secure and continue safely into their development. So, this is the same information that the child needs to hear, so that he/she can let go of the feelings of being a “bad child”, “an ungrateful child”, “or, an “unloving child.”
Often it becomes necessary to repeat this new framing many times, due to the great emotional weight of the meaning the parent attributes to his/her perception of rejection, when the child expresses his/her attachment to someone else, or shies away from the parental attempts to get closer. Once, I witnessed an immediate reaction from the parent, during a presentation of these facts in a workshop. A mother turned to her daughter, in front of everybody, and asked indignantly and loudly: “Is that true that you do not love me?” Forcing the child to painfully lie and feel guilty and ashamed in front of everybody. Of course, this type of parent did not hear anything else, but that isolated fact, ignoring all the explanations for such a phenomenon and refusing to accept the larger truth. Rejection is a much feared possibility for such a parent and totally intolerable. More than likely, it is a painful issue in this parent’s history. If this issue is ignored, it will probably always obscure and distort the relationship with her children and other important persons in her life. Unfortunately, we cannot always engage such parents in counseling possibly because their ability to trust another person may be impaired by painful life experiences. In those cases we may only be able to work with the child, trying to make him or her understand that this is the parents little inside child feeling the hurt of rejection because of past experiences, which sadly she or he cannot separate from the young person in front of them, even though it has nothing to do with her/him and what this child is feeling right now is what all children feel under the same situation of prolonged separation.