A Mother & Son Connection
An adolescent’s relationship with his mother can be a confusing one. I encounter many young men who are approaching adulthood, feel they need to break away from their mother’s authority and influence. This is a desire for independence that in one way is normal and healthy for teenage boys. But sometimes, a young man will use destructive methods to break away from his mother, which is neither normal nor healthy. In juvenile hall, we encounter many young people who have no qualms about lying to their parents in general, mothers specifically. Stealing from them, manipulating them, intimidating them, even striking them when it suits their purpose.
Unfortunately, there’s even a worse scenario which I encounter all too often in the population of juvenile hall. And that is when it’s the parent, the mother more specifically, who is the problem. The relationship of a young man to his mother like that is often just the opposite of the relationship between a boy with a loving mother who is simply seeking independence. Sometimes, he fails to see or refuse to admit that his mother has abused him, and very little evidence that he’d ever been loved. Rather than cutting the apron strings, he hangs on, hoping to gain the love and acceptance he never received as a child.
A boy with an abusive mother sometimes tries to compensate for her failures by convincing himself that she was really a paragon of virtue, but he was the problem. It’s been my observation that the more evil the mother inflicts, the more some young men will tend to believe in her goodness. But then, of course, there’s eventually a crisis which begins when a young man begins to recognize how deeply he’s been abused by his mother, and finally concludes that she never loved him in the first place. A young man I’ll call Michael had been locked up for a year, and his mother had not visited or written to him once.
For a long time, he believed that he really loved her. But as the months passed and he received no word from her, the realization of her true feelings set in. And he began to review his childhood and recognized for the first time the neglect and abuse he’d suffered at her hands. In his pain, he wanted to hurt his mother back and thought the best way he could do that would be to commit suicide. Before he could do that, however, he had to escape the institution. The staff caught him in his escape attempt, and in the process of restraining him, he took a swing at a staff officer, missed, and put his hand through a window, severely cutting his hand.
Following that escape attempt, the staff found a sealed envelope on his bunk which had been addressed to me. I was called late at night, and with that young man’s permission, I was allowed to open the envelope and read the contents. Inside was a letter addressed to his mother and a note asking me to see that she received it. The letter read as follows. “Dear mom, this letter is kind of short, possibly my life. I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve put you through my 17 years. I know you’ve been through a lot with me, and I’m sorry it has to be this way, but I don’t have nothing to give my life for. I have a lot of good people on my side, but no one that really loves me, no one that I can give my life for. I think you don’t love me, and when a person’s mother don’t love them, it hurts. It hurts them a lot. This will probably be the last time you hear from me. It was a hard decision for me. Blank you.” And he signed his name.
In the days and weeks that followed, he received a lot of help from the professional staff at the institution, and he responded well to their efforts to bring about a reconciliation between him and his mother. The question I came away with after working with him for a long time was, how do you help a young man rebuild his life when so much damage has already been done? It is this sense of helplessness that makes working with hurting young people so frustrating, so difficult. That young man’s attempt at escape in suicide was not hard for me to understand for his way of coping with his pain. It was the mother who was so hard for me to understand. Louis Banks has written,
“God have mercy on a mother who so forgets the sacred bond of motherhood that she does not throw all of the power of her influence and life for the good of her child.”
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