So what are these famous stages of separation? Here is a quick list.
Stage 1: by the age of about 18 months, a child should become comfortable with the idea that Mommy leaves sometimes and then comes back. If every time Mommy leaves the room, the child collapses in hysterics, this isn’t a sign that he really loves Mommy. All kids love their Mommies. It’s a sign that something is not going right.
In adulthood, failure successfully to go through this stage translates into clinginess in relationships. abandonment issues, anxiety, depression, and when it’s coupled with feeding issues into eating disorders, smoking, alcoholism.
Stage 2: by the age of 3, a child arrives at a complete realization that Mommy is a separate person. This is a moment when he begins to experiment with asserting his will. He says no to everything, rejects food, insists on his own clothing choices, throws tantrums.
If this stage is thwarted, in adulthood this is somebody who is uncomfortable with leadership roles, has trouble speaking in public, feels judged, finds it hard to carry things through.
Stage 3: by the age of 5, a child begins to confront the role of “the excluded third.” She figures out that Mommy and Daddy are a couple and learns to deal with the trauma of that realization. She begins to say things like, “Mommy, when will you finally die so that I can marry Daddy?” She begins to cling to Daddy and tries to disrupt the activities that the parents do as a couple.
If this stage is thwarted, in adulthood this is somebody who recreates triangular situations and feels rejected.
Stage 4: at around 6-7, the peer group displaces parents from the center of the child’s life. Simply put, friends become more important than parents. A child becomes defiant, loves to contradict, criticizes the parents, rolls her eyes. When this begins to happen, many parents feel sad and think they are doing something wrong. But it’s the exact opposite! They are doing everything right and should feel very proud. (If this happens a bit later, at 8-9, that’s fine, too.)
Stage 5: there is a wider range here because different kids approach puberty at different speeds, so this is a stage that is around ages 9-13. This is when the most important thing becomes being a boy or a girl and developing an interest in boys or girls.
Stage 6: this is a loooong one. It’s the transition to adulthood and it will take as long as the enormous hormonal transformations are occurring. This shit is very individual and it takes place between 13 and 18 years of age, approximately. This is the final stage of separation where a child needs to come into his own as a fully separate human being. He does this by rejecting everything about the parents. Even the sound of their voices becomes grating. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his parents. Of course, he does. But he needs to position himself as a separate human being, and the only way is to declare his difference from his parents.
I have a colleague who says, “My teenage son is so rebellious. He locks himself in his room and doesn’t even want to talk to us. He is always angry at me. He is secretive, and I don’t even know who his friends are. What have I done wrong?”
And I’m like, “Lady, you’ve done everything right, and this is your evidence. Go buy yourself a gift and throw a party. You did good with this boy.” She doesn’t believe me and thinks I’m trying to be nice. Which is patently silly because when did I ever try to be nice?
The really sad thing about this is that it’s precisely the good parents who do everything right and let their children separate that feel guilty because their children don’t conform to the stereotype of a “good”, permanently polite, obedient, and convenient child. As if a thriving individuality could ever arise from obedience, politeness and convenience.
And to conclude the endless post, I want to remind you that a famous psychoanalyst once said, “The most important role a parent can play is preparing a child to the parent’s eventual death.”