(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Marie, you have a question, an interesting question?
Marie: Yes. I was wondering, if a baby is separated from its mother at birth for several weeks before being returned to the mother, would that have a traumatic effect on the baby and would it add such an effect that the child would grow up to be an addict?
Dr. Kenner: An addict? Let me see if I’ve got this right, because I used to work at an infant hospital and I worked with newborns and I was one of the people that were with the babies when their mothers were cocaine addicts and the baby were called cocaine babies at the time – it’s probably a politically incorrect term – but we would sit and rock them. We would try to nourish them. We would try to give them some comfort. You’re saying, were you the one that was separated from your mom?
Marie: I was separated from my mom at birth.
Dr. Kenner: For how long?
Marie: For several weeks, anywhere from a month to a month and a half. The reason why I was separated, because she had almost died. I’m in my 50s, so that was a few years back. But growing up, I always felt this void. I began drinking at the age of 14 and it seemed to feel the void. So I drank. Right now I’m a recovering alcoholic.
Dr. Kenner: Congrats.
Marie: I’ve been in recovery for two and a half years.
Dr. Kenner: Amazing. Very good.
Marie: My question is, because of that separation, would that have anything to do with this void that I’ve felt?
Dr. Kenner: That’s been eating at you. I see people as self-made. For example, what is therapy about? At any time in your life, if you don’t like a bad habit you have – I used to bite around the edges of my nails, and I worked on that. I don’t have that problem anymore. If you have a problem where you’re angry at people, therapy gives you skills to change. So if you grew up with a mother who pushed you away, not intentionally for the first month and a half, I don’t think … depending, I don’t think that would have any bearing whatsoever, Marie, on your current situation. However, your view of this situation can affect it. If you feel like you were abandoned by your mom –
Marie: I never felt connected to her. I never bonded with her.
Dr. Kenner: That’s a different question, isn’t it? Many parents can be separated for even a month, situations like you’re describing. Maybe the mother almost died in childbirth or maybe there are medical complications. Maybe they had a complicated c-section and the mother needs to recover. There can be multiple reasons why a baby could be kept in an intensive care unit and a mother could be separated from her child for a while. But that doesn’t mean that that baby is doomed for life. But however, if you came back and your mother had the view of you – what feeling do you get from your mother? If you could put it into words, what is the feeling and what would it say, Marie?
Marie: I know that she loved me. But she was not connected with me emotionally.
Dr. Kenner: Yes. When you love somebody, love is an emotion, isn’t it?
Marie: I guess. I didn’t get any hugs or kisses from her. She took real good care of me, she was a good mother that way, but she was detached emotionally.
Dr. Kenner: What is one of the most, to me, that sounds like a horror movie. If I lived with my husband, and he fed me, there was a good meal on the table, but he never hugged me, he never caressed my face, he never put his arm around me, what type of a marriage is that? You didn’t have the nurturing which is what I’m hearing, that your mother … do you have other siblings?
Dr. Kenner: How many?
Dr. Kenner: Older?
Marie: Yes, a lot older.
Dr. Kenner: So you were a surprise baby?
Dr. Kenner: And you think she had some feelings around getting pregnant and having you?
Marie: I don’t know, but I know with one of my siblings that she didn’t feel connected to her either. We knew that she loved us, but she didn’t use to express it.
Dr. Kenner: She didn’t express it. So I don’t know what kept your mother from robbing herself of the value of having three children, her children, but you want to get that nurturing somewhere, and I know when you feel that emptiness, yes, alcohol – in quotes, and please don’t quote me out of context here – “works.” It makes it so you don’t think about things so deeply. But not thinking about things so deeply doesn’t help you solve the problem. So what I’m hearing is that you are hungry for that wonderful emotional connection that you missed throughout your childhood?
Marie: Yes, I think so.
Dr. Kenner: Do you get it from anybody now?
Marie: I’m married and I have three grown kids and I have a granddaughter now, but I still feel like I missed something that I should have had.
Dr. Kenner: Go ahead, tell me.
Marie: Growing up was like I had this void, and this is how I felt all the time. I felt like I was the void, really.
Dr. Kenner: You were the void?
Marie: It was like this is what made me who I was. I was this void. I really felt like there was something I was born without. Always had that feeling.
Dr. Kenner: You can either keep that view, or you can write the word “void” on a paper and decide whether you want to go through life with that on you or to rip it up, rip it to shreds, and fill that void with things you enjoy. Whether it’s your sisters, if you do enjoy thing, and if you don’t, they don’t get to fill your void. If it’s the good relationship with your granddaughter or your kids or husband, and I’m talking about people, create that emotional intimacy that you missed with your mom and you may already have done that. The label of the void, you can choose to just rip it up to shreds, crumple it, throw it in a wastebasket and go back and have a different perspective on your own life.
Marie: But I was just wondering, where I was separated from her –
Dr. Kenner: No, I don’t think that has any impact.
Marie: That seems traumatic for a baby.
Dr. Kenner: No, I don’t think so, because a baby doesn’t even have words at that point. So I think what she did later on was much more serious, which is that she didn’t emotionally nurture you. Listen, thank you so much for your call.
Marie: Thank you.
Male 1: Makes you miss out on what’s really important in this life.
Male 2: What are you talking about John? You’ve been a good father.
Male 1: Sending presents doesn’t make you a good father.
Dr. Kenner: Sending presents doesn’t make you a good father or a good mother. Now, occasional presents are nice; however, when they replace a sincere desire to be with your child, your child knows it. I’ve had kids in therapy that have told me, “My dad gives me a lot of gifts and he thinks that that counts and it doesn’t. I like the gifts and I’ll take the gifts,” so kids learn what? What lesson is being taught? It’s being taught to work people for gifts. Not very good. If you want a dynamic relationship with your child, listen to them. It doesn’t mean you agree with everything. It doesn’t mean you can’t say what you want to say. You need to learn to know how to say it. Listen to them. What do they enjoy and like? What was their day like? What is their thinking like? Could you help them along with their thinking by asking questions or cherish something that maybe they thought very well about a problem they ere having with a friend and you just sit there and say, “Man, you really thought this through.” They’re going to feel good. They’re going to feel more connected with you than you could achieve with any gift.