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Finding it Difficult to

‘Leave’ – Part I

By Fr. Dr. Daniel Johnson

In the last article, we discussed two families: the family of Akhil and Renu, and the family of Daisy and Ashokan. In the first case, Renu had not emotionally left her home and found comfort in “running back” to her parent’s house if anything went wrong between her and her husband. In the other family, Ashokan had never emotionally left his domineering mother, which made it hard for him to make decisions on his own for the benefit of his family.

Change is difficult, and almost everyone will find it challenging to leave familiar circumstances, at least to some extent. However, some will find it more challenging than others.

There are three groups of people who will find it most difficult to “leave” their parents:

1. Children who are overtly attached to their parents and vice versa, perhaps due to circumstances like:

a. Being the only child in a family.

b. Being the child of aging parents.

c. Being the youngest child, especially if there is a significant age gap between them and their siblings. For example, in the Bible, we read about Jacob, who had twelve sons. Jacob was especially fond of his younger two sons, particularly Joseph. Later, we find that Jacob was also fond of his youngest, Benjamin.

2. Children of overly protective parents:

Such parents do not allow their children to do anything and continuously correct them. They go to great lengths to ensure that their children do not experience the necessary separation-individuation process required for independent lives.

3. Children of controlling parents:

Some parents do not allow their children to pursue meaningful activities and completely dominate them. These children grow up with the feeling that, no matter what they do, it will not meet their parents’ expectations. They live under strict rules and regulations in their household, and the slightest infringement results in severe and swift punishment.

Finding it difficult to leave?

The big question is, if you find yourself among those who struggle to ‘leave,’ what should you do? Perhaps you are not married yet, but even thinking about leaving your family makes you nervous, and you don’t know what to do. Maybe you are married but are still emotionally attached to your parents or family. You’ve realized that you need to ‘separate,’ but you don’t know how to go about it.

First and foremost, we need to realize that ‘leaving’ is not merely a physical action; there are several areas where one must ‘leave’ their parents and other influences. What are some of the areas where ‘leaving’ is necessary? Generally speaking, one has to leave emotionally, financially, and physically, and, if necessary, in terms of authority and direction as well. Let’s examine these aspects one by one.

Leaving ‘authority’ – Who’s in charge?

Take a moment to think about the Indian Army: How does it function so effectively? The reason lies in the fact that each person has a responsibility and a reporting officer. They know who the leader is. Now, imagine if a particular regiment were to go into battle with two leaders of the same rank. What chaos that would be! One person would command an attack, while the other would call for a defense. Eventually, that particular regiment would undoubtedly lose the battle.

A family functions in a similar way; it has a leader, and the others follow. According to the Bible, the leader of the family is the husband.

“For the husband is the head of the wife…” (Ephesians 5:23)

The husband, as a leader, can seek the opinions of others, but when the final decision is made, he must take it, and the others must follow.

Now, let’s consider the family of Ashokan and Daisy. Let me remind you of the most recent issue in that family. While the children are studying for exams, their grandmother wants to watch her favorite TV program. However, since it is disturbing the children’s study, Daisy, the wife in the house, asks her mother-in-law to turn it off or at least lower the volume. Seeing this as a challenge to her authority, the mother-in-law refuses. Daisy then approaches the ‘leader’ of the house for a solution. He, in turn, blames the children and not his mother.

So, who is truly in charge of that family, who is the leader? In this family, two things are amiss – first, the husband is unwilling to assume the role of ‘leader’ in the family, and second, his mother is unwilling to relinquish her ‘assumed chair’ of authority.

What’s the solution?

In reality, even though Ashokan knows that his mother is in the wrong, he lacks the courage to express this to her, for fear of offending her. What Ashokan should have done is to carefully consider the situation. Which is more important: his children’s studies or his mother’s TV program? Clearly, the children’s education is a thousand times more important than his mother’s favorite TV show. In such a situation, he should assume the leadership role.

Recognizing that his mother is in the wrong, he should communicate this with grace. As the Bible says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath…” (Proverbs 15:1). He should say to his mother, “Mother, do you want your grandchildren to receive a good education?” Of course, she would respond positively. He can then continue, “For them to excel academically, they must score well in their exams, right?” Her response would likely be in agreement. “To achieve good exam results, they need to study diligently. Is that true, mother?” By this point, she would understand the direction of the conversation. Ashokan can kindly request, “So please turn off the TV so that our children can study to the best of their abilities. I’m sure you wouldn’t want them to blame you for their exam failures.”

In this manner, Ashokan ensures that his mother comprehends that it is in the best interest of her own grandchildren to turn off the TV. Additionally, it establishes who the leader of the house is.

In most mother-in-law and daughter-in-law problems, the underlying issue is one of control. Imagine having raised your son for 25 years, during which he listened to you and obeyed you. To some extent, you may believe you have control because you are the only woman in his life. However, one day, another woman, his wife, enters the picture. Overnight, the mother loses control over her son. If not handled maturely, it can lead to a power struggle, with one woman attempting to control her son and the other trying to control her husband.

For those who are not married and are soon going to be married,

I would suggest that before marriage, you sit down with your mother and father and discuss these matters. You need to communicate that you love your parents and hold them in high respect. Let them know what the Bible says:

“Honour your father and mother…” (Ephesians 6:2)

Also, inform them that you will obey what the Bible says about taking care of them in whatever way you can, within the means available:

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (I Timothy 5:8)

However, once married, the Bible instructs you to ‘leave’ your father and mother and cleave to your spouse:

“For this cause, a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

Your spouse becomes the number one priority in your life. Though it may be challenging to communicate, I believe it is the only way for things to progress smoothly in the future.

For those who are already married,

If you are like Ashokan, already married but having difficulties leaving, you must do two things.

Firstly, engage in a heart-to-heart conversation with your parents. You must express your love for them and convey your commitment to taking care of them as a family because of your love. However, it’s crucial to establish that as the husband in your family, you are the leader. Even if your mother or father offers advice, you are not obligated to follow it. You can choose to consider their advice or disregard it. Nonetheless, it should be clearly asserted that ‘you are the leader of your family,’ which includes your wife and children.

Secondly, as a husband, you must recognize your role. God has appointed you as the leader of your family, which grants you the right and the responsibility to lead. Have the courage to make decisions; if God has placed you in this position, He will provide you with the grace to fulfill that role. If you find yourself hesitant to take the lead, remember what the Bible says:

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

If you feel you lack the wisdom to make the right decisions, ask God:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all… and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

By doing these things, I am confident that God will bless your family life, and you will be able to cleave to your spouse, just as God intended.

May God bless you.

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