Our daughter went to seminary in Israel this year. This was something she had very much wanted and was looking forward to. Basically, since Succos she has been telling us how miserable she is and that she wants to come home. She is too old to be homesick and I’m not sure what is going on. She has never been the most independent girl but I didn’t think she would have such a problem there. The mechanchos in the seminary have spoken with her (though they haven’t been as involved as I would have liked) but haven’t really made any progress. One of them recommended therapy but I am hesitant to send her to someone so far away where we can’t meet them and see how she is doing. We are at a point where we are seriously considering bringing her home but I think that would really be a blow to her self-esteem. On the other hand, how can we force her to go on being so miserable? We are looking for ideas and I hope you can help. Thanks.
There are a few aspects to your question. You state that your daughter is too old for homesickness. In order to respond to this, we need to define homesickness. Though not a “disorder” in and of itself, depending on factors like duration and severity it can be classified as an adjustment disorder. This is basically what it sounds like—significant trouble adjusting to stress. Adjustment disorders can affect people of all ages. Most commonly, adjustment disorders include depressed mood, anxiety, or both. In the case of homesickness, the stress is a negative reaction to sudden changes to things like social, academic, or home life. The underlying cause is often a sudden decrease in the sense of love, security, and protection that children associate with family and home.
Homesickness is often associated with children. The first day of kindergarten can be traumatic for a child who feels a strong need for the sense of love and security of home. For an older child, changing schools, going away to summer camp, or even a sleepover can cause feelings of homesickness. Possibly the best way to guard against future homesickness is…dealing with homesickness. As with most life adjustments, our coping mechanisms strengthen as we learn to cope with new situations. In addition, with homesickness we form a sense of security based on the new surroundings.
If your daughter has used her coping skills in the past, but hasn’t learned to form a sense of security around places other than home, it will likely be harder for her to do so in this circumstance—in which she is forced to abandon her sense of security based on home. Your parenthetical statement—that seminary faculty hasn’t been involved enough—can be a significant factor in your daughter’s trouble dealing with her feelings of homesickness. If she would form an attachment to someone in the seminary, it could help her to feel more secure.
If there is someone within the seminary who can help your daughter feel more comfortable and secure, that would probably be the best option. Although therapy can be helpful, your concerns are noted. Assuming that her homesickness is not debilitating, and there are no other factors that would require professional guidance, the main function of a therapist may be simply to give your daughter a sense of security. This would likely work better if supplied by someone within the seminary—your daughter’s new “home.”
As far as bringing your daughter home, you mentioned your concern related to her self-esteem. Additionally, this could reinforce her need for security as based on her childhood home. This could, in turn, affect her ability to cope with future issues. On the other hand, you don’t want her to be miserable.
As with many issues, feedback and self-feedback is important. If you recognize that your daughter seems less upset as time passes, be sure to mention this to her, citing specific examples (like, “You seem to be spending more time with friends,” or “You’re laughing more when I speak with you.”). If you daughter begins to see that she is moving in a positive direction, it can make it easier for her to deal with the situation.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317
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