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The Pain of Absence and Presence

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With 23 years between my two children, I entered a different world in 1995 when my second child was born. As an old-schooled mom, I wasn't familiar and grew terribly confused by the aggressive parenting style I encountered the second time around. But I continued raising my second child in the same way as my first, having learned my mother's devout teachings "to feel what another feels by walking in the other's shoes." To this day, I'm pleased with the results whenever I put her words into action.

An example of my mother's wisdom: When my first husband was critically ill and in the hospital, I spent endless days and nights by his side while my daughter stayed with my parents. Every night I'd come home after my daughter had just fallen asleep. Already feeling guilty for leaving the hospital, I now had to face my mom's complaints that I didn't get home soon enough to tuck my daughter into bed yet again! Heartbroken, I wondered why Mom didn't realize that I had no choice. Yet she could only hear my daughter cries, "Mom-mom, when are mommy and daddy ever coming home?" Mom went on to explain that my daughter at only age 5 didn't understand my absence, whether due to being in the hospital with her ill father, working in another town, or even out shopping. At the time, I felt my mother was insensitive to my situation, but I've since realized that she was right, coming to understand that young children feel even more emotional emptiness from a parent's absences, regardless of the reason. In truth, my mother was seeing the larger picture, having put herself in all our shoes, especially her 5-year-old granddaughter's vulnerability.

I've since seen the tears that follow when children's needs are not fully considered, regardless of whether the separation results from parents over-working, tending to others, or other demands preventing parents from being with their children. I believe we are missing out when we ignore our most important guidance by busying ourselves with what society values instead of making our children our top priority. Perhaps it was my experience of being left alone and the pressure to keep up that opened up my eyes.


Think about it: Have you ever felt disappointed or sad when your spouse or partner can't make it home for one reason or another? Did you feel a sting from their absence? I don't know about you, but many a time throughout my life, I've felt that sinking feeling of disappointment. Now, can't you imagine how this must feel to a child? How are they supposed to deal with this feeling? And yet, how many times do we disappoint our children who are eagerly waiting for us? This is powerful when we realize what our own absence might feel like for a child and her intense feeling of being let down. Adults talk endlessly about their pain when their spouse is too busy for them and some go into counseling. There is an infrastructure supporting working mothers with day-care that may permit even further absence. We support parents who seek higher education to earn their degrees, which is a blessing for those parents but not always fulfilling for their children. This is a gray area in which we have to consider the entire picture and decide what's best for everyone. These days I sense a silent cry from the children greater than before. I sometimes wonder if we were to ask our children whether they'd prefer their parents be more of a go-getter attaining awards, degrees, and achievements and fatter paycheck or if they'd just want us closer to them. It's not so different from wanting our spouses or partners to be with us as much as possible.


I've learned that a great many people feel discontent over their spouse's absences, and yet they still practice arms-length parenting of their children. I wonder if those parents examined their own childhoods if they'd then recall who was there for them, and might still be there, and then ask themselves: "Do my children have as much support as I did and still have? What more can we do for our children to keep them feeling loved and supported? My wise mother said, "When we become a mother, we no longer think only for one. We have to think and feel for someone else first. We have to imagine being in their heart and to hear what they are saying." Her words are as sound and true today as they were when she said them to me over 30 years ago. It's the best advice and might prevent some disappointment for many of us. It might also serve as rule for all your relationships. The simple method of stepping into another's shoes might deliver the love and kindness we all need.

About Catherine Nagle: Catherine grew up in Philadelphia with 16 brothers and sisters, reared by loving, old school Italian parents. Catherine's artist father's
works graced locations from churches to public buildings; her mother was a full-time homemaker. A professional hairdresser, Catherine worked in various salons while studying the Bible and pursuing spiritual growth through courses, seminars, lectures and inspirational books, including A Course in Miracles and the works of Marianne Williamson among many others. The mother of two children and a grandmother, Catherine lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and son. She is the Author of Imprinted Wisdom.