It can be very hard to lean on others, especially when you know they have their own problems. Some people don’t want to be lent on, but others do.
In Giri/Haji, there is a poignant moment when a dangerously drug addicted young man goes home, full of guilt and anxiety and needing a shoulder to cry on. His bouncy, cheerful mother welcomes him home happily, ignoring his distress. Eventually she can ignore it no longer and she says: ‘You look sad; but look, when you’re sad, I get sad, and we don’t want that do we?’ He pulls himself together and smiles wanly. We then see him sobbing in the bathroom, alone. Later it looks as if his mother turns to alcohol to drown her own sorrows.
Children of ill parents, as well as children of alcoholic parents, often feel they cannot turn to their own parents with their troubles. One child told me that she had been homesick when she stayed overnight with a friend, and wanted to tell her mum. But ‘Granny said I wasn’t to bother mum, she’s ill’. Her mother had MS, which made her tired and affected her legs, but at that time certainly did not affect her mind or her capacity to support her small daughter. The mother told me that she felt very guilty about the way her MS affected her children: she was a counsellor herself and the one thing she could still do, and really wanted to do, was offer emotional support. She was distressed that her daughter had always cut herself off from her: now she understood why. Both ‘granny’ and her daughter wanted to spare her trouble, but in fact they increased her distress and prevented her being fully there for her daughter, as she felt a mother should.
When a parent has lost someone they love, when they have financial worries or trouble at work, their children know. They often decide they have to ‘go it alone’. They end up feeling terribly responsible, perhaps for the whole family.
Now, in a coronavirus epidemic, those feelings and that need to go it alone my emerge all the stronger. And yet, help is there. There are counsellors and professionals, many of whom are giving their services free at the moment: but there are also friends and parents and grandparents, all of whom have their own troubles, and yet all of whom may well feel better for being able to offer comfort and emotional support.
It does make a mother sad to hear her child has reason to be sad. It also makes a counsellor sad to hear of a client’s troubles: but counsellors know that the next week the client will be feeling differently; that off-loading and sharing their distress means that that a client can think again and regain some balance. Mothers too may know this.
‘A trouble shared’ really is ‘a trouble halved’; it really is ‘good to talk’; our culture tells us these things. Mothers and friends can take some of the weight, even if they have limits. Professionals have ways of tolerating going on taking the weight beyond the point when friends and family. Either or both may be enough to prevent a descent into alcoholism or drug addiction, or just long-term sadness and depression.
And knowing you have helped your daughter, your son, or a client, is the best thing that can happen to a mother or a counsellor.