Emotional Amputation

The term “amputation” commonly has horrific and negative connotations in today’s society. It actually means to cut away or to prune and usually refers to the loss of a bodily extremity. Many times amputations are unexpected traumas that leave little time for the person involved to prepare for the loss. After an amputation occurs, amputees must persevere through the long, arduous journey of making changes to their everyday living and learn to live in new and creative ways. Though difficult, it is possible to make the necessary adjustments and even thrive in accomplishing tasks that demand effort over and above the “norm.”

In a similar fashion, when a child turns eighteen and prepares to leave home, a similar trauma occurs that I call emotional amputation.

Emotional amputation can be gut-wrenchingly difficult. That “body part” that has been present for seventeen-plus years is now being removed. The baby who needed diaper changes and constant care and cuddling grew into the toddler who was constantly watched and protected during the bumps-and-bruises stage. That toddler became the elementary-aged child with a sponge-like interest in life, looking up at you with big, loving, curious eyes. He was the one you had to make sure had clean underwear or you might end up at church and realize that he had gone commando (without underwear). That same child sprouted into the preteen who wanted to be treated as an adult and incessantly bugged you until you taught him how to drive a car, but he still ran around and played like a child. Then he matured into the next—but not final—season, the teenager who sometimes amazingly, sometimes clumsily, made their own independent way.

As parents, many of us, at one point or another as our children grow older, begin to think more long-term about our children’s futures. We all give lip service to the desire to raise independent adults who will follow God’s leading in their lives, make wise decisions, balance a checkbook, maintain a job, pay their own bills, and wash their own laundry, but when it actually comes down to releasing them to college or adulthood, it is a difficult task (for dads and moms alike).

Everyone knows this is how life goes, right? This, it seems sometimes, is what we are striving for, is it not? Many times, though, emotional amputation hits us like something unexpected, and as parents we may find ourselves surprised by the heavy effect this new loss has on us.

Our family has graduated the oldest two of six children—one within the last year and one five years ago. Our only daughter was the first to graduate, and she made a slow, easy transition into adulthood while she lived in a garage apartment next to our home and paid her way through her first year of community college. She eventually moved out on her own and has since completed an associate’s degree. She has already begun online courses toward a bachelor’s degree and is heading to Full Sail University in Florida to pursue a film degree.

The transition toward independence has been slow and easy with her; we have patiently found our way in allowing her to make decisions on her own without always feeling the need to give advice on what to do and how to do it.

If the story ended there, we could continue in our fairy-tale ideology of the perfect family transition and experience. However, when our son graduated, there was no easy transition. In fact, I have related his journey toward independence as something akin to a karate-chop (hi-yah!) for which neither I nor my husband was at all prepared. Our son was not completely rebellious or disrespectful, but he definitely asserted his adulthood from the exact point of his eighteenth birthday. He even at one point said, “Mom, Dad, I want advice, but I would like some non-biased, non-parental advice.”

There were tears and shock and then anger at the audacity that he did not appreciate the sacrifices we had made for him. We had potty-trained him, for goodness’ sake.

We wondered why no one had prepared us for this and asked ourselves if our son was completely going off the deep end and forgetting every ounce of advice and godly wisdom he had ever been given. Why would he, all of a sudden, stop listening to us?

Is it not funny how we become overdramatic and slightly panicked and confused as soon as our children begin to make their own decisions instead of doing what we would think or do? Yet, is not this what we have said all along that we want: independent adults?

My husband and I met with our pastor to try to get a fresh perspective on the situation and really seek out some godly advice and wisdom on how to “fix” our son. Unexpectedly, instead of advice on “fixing” our son, we gained insight into the fact that we now had a new role as parents. The truth was that we needed to adjust our attitudes and replace our anger and feelings of being unappreciated to the realization that we had entered a new season, a place of transition that was necessary. Our son had to find his way, and we needed to be there for him yet allow him to grow in independence.

As soon as the light bulb clicked on, the heightened sense of drama in our home dissipated. The choice to sit down, calm down, talk with our son, and trust that our God is in control (and that He has a love for each of our children that surpasses the love of doting parents) was an anesthetic to the new change in our family.

We now have a fourteen-year-old son who has already begun making his own preparations to move into independence, but the story does not end there. Children are brought up, they leave, and parents are left feeling like a part of them is missing. Praise God that it does not end there. This emotional amputation season is not such a dud. It is just different. For us, the loss endured has actually turned out to be a blessing.

The transition has not necessarily been easy or perfect. As parents we have had to relinquish old habits of micromanaging our adult children, changing from directing (telling) them what to do to simply taking on the position of a coach/counselor/prayer warrior, allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them. The blessing is in getting to watch them from the sidelines (and not the bleachers), witnessing their thriving, growing, and touching the lives of others for Christ in the environments in which God has placed them.

Our family has decided the season of emotional amputation is not so bad after all. Our friends have informed us that the next season is weddings and grandbabies—a season that cannot be topped. As we move forward in life as parents, we have determined to tread on the solid ground of knowing that nothing is unknown to God, and even though the process seems shaky at times and we are tempted to worry and fear, God’s will is perfect, and our family is comforted and protected as we trust in Him!