Friday, June 5, 2009

Kids and Break Ups

When I was a kid, my family had developed a very close friendship with the associate pastor at our church. Being a Catholic church, the associate was a youngish priest, assigned to our parish for an indeterminate, but not indefinite, number of years. Being Catholic, our family was a large one: I was the 7th of 8 children. There was a longer than usual gap between #6 and me (and my one younger sibling), so most of my brothers & sisters were a good bit older. To illustrate the relationship, one summer when several siblings were returning from college, my little brother asked Mom, "Is Father Charlie one of our brothers and sisters, too?"

Father Charlie (who played guitar, and scandalously smoked outside after Mass, and had let me sit on his lap for my first Confession) eventually was reassigned, when I was probably eleven years old. The new parish was about an hour away. The leaving was bearable, but what I could not understand was that we never heard from him.

My mom once tried to explain it to me, while she looked out the window at our yard, saying that it was easier for him to cut ties with the people he loved in the old parish, as he established new relationships in his new one. She understood it better than I did; I had felt like he was family, and he dropped us. It hurt. Naturally, I did not have the perspective that my mom had.

This story occurred to me because today, my son's TSS (his "wraparound") will tell him that next week will be their last week together. The TSS accepted a full-day assignment for the coming year with another child, which will be a much easier commute for him. My son - we can call him Peanut - has worked well with this young man, has a certain level of trust with him and I worry about how he will perceive this ending and cope. Peanut has Asperger's Syndrome, and relies heavily on maintaining structures and schedules. He has already dealt with so much.

Last year, there was the temporary separation between my husband and myself. This year, we separated again and are in the process of divorce. The ex- is still local, still spends lots of time with the kids and tries, as I do, to get along for their sake. In between separations, one of our friends from next door also moved away, for his career, someone for whom both my boys had developed a strong affection. The kids ask periodically when he'll be back, to visit, or to stay (they keep hoping).

It is hard to know how to help Peanut, and his older brother, too, in processing loss. While I know that the Asperger's Syndrome makes it harder for my 8-year-old, I also know that life will always have a coming and going of relationships, with people, with places, and with things that had suggested some degree of permanence. The best I can do is to reinforce the structures and relationships that are not changing right now, and realize that Peanut will need to work through how he feels.

Recently, there was another young man, a therapist where Peanut goes for a Social Skills group, who had worked with him for a short while, then was out with a Worker's Comp injury for a few weeks. When the therapist came back, Peanut avoided him, finally yelling at him, "Stay away from me! I don't trust you anymore!" It was evident that Peanut needed to process feeling insecure, with the male relationships in his life.

It is not possible, nor really desirable, to prevent losses, even for a child with Asperger's, who will have a harder time than most with acceptance. I hope to share with him over time the perspective that everything continues to flow, that even the relationships that are over are still part of us, and that a change in a relationship, whether permanent or temporary, may be difficult but can still be good. When I was his age, I had already seen four older siblings going away to school, then coming home again for holidays and summers. It was difficult at first, but it was a good predictor of how things can go, throughout life. I can't create a false expectation that things won't change, however badly he may feel the need to believe that.

I imagine the best way to help the kids is to model healthy levels of sadness and acceptance for them. Some of the changes have been difficult for me, too, even the positive changes.

No comments: