Honoring Differentiation 

“We are all vulnerable to confusing closeness with sameness. Real intimacy requires a profound respect for differences.” – Harriet Lerner 

Standing with our hands on our hearts and our eyes closed, the women in our Mindful Moms circle drew in a slow, deep breath as we said silently in our minds, “This is my path.” As we slowly exhaled, we extended our arms out in front with palms up, as in an offering, silently saying in our own minds, “And that is your path, my dear child.”

During various flow-sequences throughout the mindfulness-based yoga practice, the words shifted to:

“I am here,” and “You are there”…

“I honor my path through life,” and “I honor your path through life”…

“This is my life,” and “That is your life, my dear child”…

All of these statements were offered to help us explore and embody a sense of differentiation – the ability to cultivate close connections with our children while honoring our children’s uniqueness and maintaining our own. To deepen the exploration, we also explored the importance of differentiation between us and our parents.

Harriet Lerner explains that differentiation “refers to the preservation of the ‘I’ within the ‘we’ – the ability to acknowledge and respect differences and to achieve authenticity within the context of connectedness.”

Differentiation allows for healthy development, but maintaining our own “shape” while in close proximity to others can be challenging because of a compulsion most of us feel to please and thus conform. And our children, relying on us as their main attachment figures, will feel a strong compulsion to please us, and thus conform…to our opinions, our views, our beliefs and our standards.

It can be helpful for us, as the adult, to develop a deeper awareness of and appreciation for the differences between us, and to celebrate and honor the twin needs our children have for closeness and separateness. In order to do so, it is first helpful to become aware of any unpleasant feelings we have about those differences and separations between us.

On a more basic level, it is also important to honor the boundaries between our lives and our children’s lives. It helps to consciously acknowledge, and remember, that we can give our children their roots, but we can’t direct how the blossoms of their life will unfold. In deeply acknowledging this, we free ourselves to redirect our focus back home to ourselves, to live the one life we were given to live, instead of trying to live our lives for our children.

David Snarch states that “The most important feature of differentiation is the ability to maintain a sense of self while in relation to others.” And Harriet Lerner encourages, “To differentiate means…working slowly toward a new and potentially richer kind of connectedness.”

May we practice becoming more aware of our hopes and fears about our children, and the important boundaries between us, so we can return home to ourselves, and nourish our own lives, while developing a potentially richer kind of connectedness with our kids.

Jaclyn Long, MFT
Mom, wife, friend
Founder & Director
Mind Body Moms