A Connectedness Beyond Bonding – Essay by Jesper Juul. Part 2.

af Jesper Juul | | 19. november 2017

Troubled children

Many families have experienced how differently their children have reacted to a divorce and the fact that they were suddenly deprived of the possibility to be with one of their parents full-time. Out of three children two are missing their mother or father on an emotional level. They are mourning their loss over a couple of years and often miss the absent parent. Their lives and psychosocial development continues on a natural and healthy path apart from a dive in school performance, which mostly lasts app. a year. For the third child – who has the intuitive contact – the separation is almost unbearable – emotionally as well as existentially. They are often sad or melancholy (frequently misdiagnosed as “depression”) and tend to withdraw or react aggressively, when the parent in charge tries to comfort or convince them that everything is going to be okay.

Example 3

Charlotte is fourteen and I meet with her and her mother as a part of a television series about youngsters who are having difficulties living up to the expectations from schools, parents and various social programs and institutions as well as their own (often secret) desire to learn. My role is to help each family discover what they can do to help their child.

C: I should probably tell you that I’m in the process of being diagnosed with ADHD.

J: And why is that?

C: Because I have been unable to concentrate on my schoolwork and homework for almost three years now.

J: What happened in your life back then?

M: Her father and I divorced because he found a new woman.

C: I visit him every second weekend, but I don’t really enjoy it. His new wife decides everything and she insists that my father and I cannot do things on our own. It always have to everybody – she has two small children – or not at all.

Charlotte was visibly in pain when she talked about her time with her father’s new family. She cried silently for a few minutes.

C: I don’t really know why I’m still so sad. I know that mom and dad are never going to live together again and it’s three years ago….I should have moved on.

J: (I told her very shortly about the intuitive contact) I think you have this kind of relation to your father, so you are not only missing him, you need him and you need time alone with him.

Charlotte burst into tears, her upper body collapsed onto the table and for a while she was crying her heart out. She then looked up with a completely changed facial expression and said,

C: Tell the producer that I want a copy of this session to show my Dad!! Thank you for telling me this, I think I can learn now.

The last two weeks of the learning program proved her right. She was able to focus and her short-term memory worked again. She had been stuck in her mourning-process because she did not realize what she had lost. Like so many other kids with one of the modern diagnosis she was just traumatized and in need of being recognized as such.


Charlotte had a submissive father, who was completely unaware of her need for him. A stepmother who were nor really interested, a very loving and caring mother, who felt utterly helpless and teachers who were unable to see the bigger picture. More and more professional adults were ganging up on her with plenty of good intentions, but everybody got stuck on the emotional level (I miss my Dad) and thus could not be helpful. This happens to more and more children and adolescents: when nothing of what we do to help is helpful, we react by doing more of the same and label the child as not motivated instead of confronting our own limitations.

Example 4

William was nine years old and two minutes from being expelled from school because of his defiant and aggressive behavior towards his teachers. The fact that his school was the only one within miles was a huge problem for his mother, who was a single, divorced mother with three other children to care for as well.

Since their parents divorced two years earlier, William and two of his sisters had been travelling (800 km) to visit their father for a weekend twice a year. The father had a new family with two of his wife’s children and a one-year old common child. The father was described to me as a stern, hardworking man with strict principles and little flexibility. One of these was, that there should not be any difference made between his biological children and his stepchildren. They should all be treated equally.

As his mother, sisters and I were talking, William walked back and forth in the other end of the room like a lion in a cage. Sometimes cursing and hammering a piece of chalk into a blackboard. He had refused my invitation to join us from the beginning.

M: Two months ago William refused to visit his father although I know that he misses him. He claims that he will never go again. I don’t know how to make sense of his behavior any more.

J: I have an idea. (I then started to explain about the intuitive contact and why I believed that William had it with his father. William stood still in a corner and listened intensively.)
I think that William refuses to visit his father because he does not want to treat his children differently, but since their relationship is special is does not make sense for William to spend time with his father. (When I finished that sentence William pulled up a chair and joined us and I knew that my fantasy was a fact.)

I asked the mother if she felt comfortable explaining this to her ex-husband, which she did not. Since there was a telephone in the room I offered to call the father. It took only a few sentences before the father began to sub.

F: I know what you are trying to say. I guess I always knew but I was too stubborn to admit it to myself. I wanted to be fair to my children and ended up being unfair to William. I would like to talk to him now, if it’s ok with him.

The local school psychologist had witnessed the session and with his support, William was able to go back to school and later got a whole week alone with his father fishing in the mountains. His sisters were more than happy to oblige. Their personal puzzles had also become a little more complete.

Williams mother was able to enjoy this revelation right away. Like so many other mums and dads, she always knew but never spoke about it. Williams father with all his strict principles and strong male-attitudes appeared to his son as a strong and powerful man who did not take any nonsense from anybody. His softer and warmer sides had been hidden from his families and maybe even from himself. William’s pain manifested itself in a very “macho” behavior, because he had not (yet) had access to other ways of dealing with his emotions and experiences. His mother represented all the all the constructive alternatives, but William was not able to utilize them for his own being.

This session was a demonstration within a seminar for professionals and they spend the rest of the day reminiscing and discovering the patterns in their own families of origin as well the present ones. A gift from a courageous nine-year old who was brave enough to fight for his most urgent need and risk social exclusion.

Williams mother asked a very crucial question at the end of the session: Would it be better for William to live with his father? My answer was far from being clear:

– If his father did not sense or recognize their special contact, I’m not sure it would make a lot of difference in terms of helping Williams problems with adapting to school and relating to authorities. Fathers like his have an unfortunate tendency to respond to problems with blaming, lecturing, setting “boundaries” and installing consequences, which are making things worse and the children more lonely and alone.

– In a longer perspective it would most likely be better for him, simply because he would be able to integrate more of his fathers inner and outer behavior than he would otherwise be. Two weekends per year is very far from enough and even one weekend per month plus two weeks of holidays is often more frustrating than helpful for all parties involved.

Many children feel this urgent need to live with the designated parents, which they are not legally allowed to live with. In the Scandinavian countries where more and more children from divorced families live half the time with one parent and half with the other, we often meet children around 11, 12, 13 who ask permission for a different solution, where they get to spend most of the time with the parent with whom they feel a special connection.

Very few of these children can verbalize their desire to change the agreed state of affairs. In cases where one or both parents are solely focused on their parental “right” to a certain percentage of their child’s life and attention, children are in serious existential trouble. The girls still tend to become submissive, introvert and depressive and the boys develop psychosocial difficulties, which upsets the adult world. Both genders describe feelings of emptiness and a lack of meaning in their lives.

Example 5

Thomas is eight years old and his teacher is getting increasingly worried about his well-being. He has longer periods where he is quit and withdrawn and because his teachers treat him with compassion and respect, he has no difficulty sharing his thoughts and feelings with them. The statement was always the same: I miss my father and I wish he would come back to us.

Two years ago his parents divorced on the fathers initiative. His mother felt betrayed and was still living in denial – believing that her husband would come to his senses and return to his family. After 16 months Thomas’ father moved to another continent and planned to return for a few long visits every year. During their marriage he had allowed his wife to monopolize the parenting process and had taken refuge from her constant criticism. Consequently he distanced himself from his son as well.

I was asked to consult with Thomas’ teacher and suggested that mother and son should be present. During our conversation I became more and more convinced that there was an intuitive contact between son and father. I did not want to create any more animosity on the mothers side, so I did not talk about my idea/phantasy, but asked permission to contact the father.

During a Skype Conference with the father I managed to make him aware of the nature of their relationship and he responded by regretting the fact that he had withdrawn and by realizing his own loss for the first time. We agreed that he should come back and share this with Thomas and establish the best contact possible under the given circumstances.

These dialogues between father and son turned out to be very constructive and two years later the situation is, that they spend minimum 2 x 1 month together. Thomas is feeling and doing much better, but is still sad weeks before his father’s arrival and weeks after. He is now old enough to use Skype and they often meet in this way.


The mutual realization of the special relationship between son and father has been a big relief for both of them, and Thomas’ mother collaborates as much a she can. My guess is that Thomas will try to move to his fathers in a few years.

Example 6

Lisa is a five-year old girl living with her father. Her parents divorced when she was two and her mother has been struggling with a mental disorder for many years. She is heavily medicated and every now and then she commits herself to a psychiatric hospital for a few weeks. She loves her daughter to pieces but always knew that if she should live as a single mom, she would fail as a mother.

Unfortunately the majority of professionals involved with the mother have recommended, that Lisa does not spend a lot of time with her mother and does not stay over night. Lisa’s father actually disagrees intuitively (!), but find it difficult to go up against the more eloquent “experts”. Lisa’s signals are very similar to Thomas’ and even her kindergarten teachers recommend a minimum of contact with the mother, because they notice her unhappiness, when she has spend time with her. They fail to recognize it as a healthy reaction to the separation.

In this case the father asked me to step in by, and I chose to invite both parents, Lisa, three grandparents, Mothers social worker and the leader of the kindergarten. I started our meeting by giving a fifteen-minute orientation about the possible existence of an intuitive connection between a child and one of its parents.

Lisa was all ears and looked more and more happy and finally moved over at sat on her mother’s lab.

Father had tears in his eyes and stated how he had always felt “inadequate” or “not enough” as a parent.

His mother said that she had always known this and that her son had this contact with her.

Lisa’s mother was smiling and crying simultaneously. Smiling because she felt of validated as a mother for the first time and crying because she was afraid of the negative influence she might have.

F: does this mean that Lisa can spend more time with her mother?

J: Lisa can spend as much time with her mother as both of them can manage, but for many years to come she will need you to balance her mothers influence and to provide her with experiences, which her mother is unable to give her. Your ex-wife has a lot of empathy and wisdom and some severe limitations. Her wisdom will prevent her from harming Lisa.

L: Papa, I know that Mama is not well.

Lisa’s last statement proved that she had inherited her mother’s wisdom and it seemed an appropriate moment to end the session.


I had a few talks with Lisa and her father during the following months and the good news was, that her whole network was now trying their best to support her instead of demonizing her mother. They had all sensed the significance of the relationship but failed to recognize its nature and potential.

Troubled parents

As I have already pointed out the identification and acceptance of the intuitive contact can make an enormous difference especially for single parents or parents who live with their children part-time. Sometimes when a child, an adolescent and even an adult child is having trouble with social behavior, adjustment to school, learning difficulties, loneliness, drugs, the law, studies etc. one parent gets intensively and wholeheartedly involved in various attempts to help and support. But no matter how dedicated the parent is it simply does not help. In fact it is sometimes counter-productive and becomes a risk for the very relationship between parent and child. Either because both of them feel more and more failures or because the parent is putting all the blame on the child. Very often the many attempts to be of value to the child threatens the parents new relationship with another adult as well.

When this happens soon after a destructive divorce process, where both parents have abused a child as a weapon in their power struggle, two phenomenon occur. One as a result of the child’s grief and difficulties adjusting to the new situation (two homes etc.). The sign is, that it takes the child a day or two to find its balance after each shift. This imbalance is not recognized by the parents for what it is but merely interpreted as proof that the child is feeling terrible with the antagonist. The other occurs when a child lives most of the time with one parent in a more or less dysfunctional relationship, which (along with missing the significant parent) causes it to “misbehave” at home, outside or both. Teachers, psychologists, social welfare agents are often not recognizing the nature of the relationship and the child is defined as the problem. We must never forget that the child loves both parents and feels equally loyal and responsible for their well being.

How to recognize and identify the intuitive contact.

Whenever a phenomenon like “intuitive contact”, which many people recognize and find interesting, occurs two things tend to happen:

– One is that laymen as well as professionals ask for a general signs, which might “prove” the existence of (in this case) the intuitive contact.

– The other is the search for an answer to the question “why” is it like that? Is there a purpose or a meaning and if I don’t recognize it in my own family, does that mean that we are “wrong”?

The first question is easy for me to answer: I have never come across any objective signs. Even when I describe the intuitive contact to a family and the two people involved recognizes it and are able to utilize it, this is still a very subjective experience and the fact that it is shared by 2,3 or 5 people close to them does not make it an objective truth. My tendency is to trust peoples own perception no matter if it confirms my experience or not.

I’m pointing this out because we live in a time where everything must be based on evidence in order to be taken seriously. This demand almost excludes experience as a source of “knowledge”, which in my opinion is a sign of intellectual and spiritual poverty, but so be it. And again that might just be a convenient standpoint from a non-scientist?

A feasible first step in your own investigation is to reflect on your connectedness to each of your own parents. How did the saying go in your family: “You are the spitting image of your mother/father”, “You have your fathers looks and your mothers soul”? This might very well be true and the next step is to contemplate on the emotional state of this relationship. Was/is there a steady flow of emotional exchange between the two of you, or is this more true in your relationship with the other parent? Or look at your immediate family. Who is connected to whom and how does it manifest itself in words, body language, behavior etc.? Beware of the difference between having the intuitive contact and being branded as “Daddy’s princess”, “Mamma-boy”. These definitions are often misleading and have their own intriguing phenomenology.

Beware also that actual contact in the form of verbal exchange, physical closeness and outspoken interest – or lack of the same – from the parent is of minor importance. For many children the phenomenon of “absent fathers” has meant living in a life-long existential void often accompanied by severe emotional issues in close relationships. Regardless of age and gender the awareness of what was really missing often helps people to stand on more solid ground and explore the possibility of finding alternative role models. In order to be successful this must be a personal choice as opposed to being staged by others.

My best advice is to trust your intuition, gut-feeling and your observations. When a combination of those leads you to assume that the intuitive contact between two people does exist and plays an important role in their lives, personal issues and interpersonal conflicts – just tell them and see how they react. Never try to convince any of them! That will merely feed your own ego.

Jesper Juul er familieterapeut, forfatter, stifter af det internationale netværk familylab og en af nutidens største pædagogiske teoretikere og praktikere. Sammen med psykologen Helle Jensen har han skabt og udviklet begrebet relationskompetence der i forbindelse med den ny skolereform er blevet en del af folkeskolens grundlag. Hans nyeste bog handler om agression. Det tyske magasin Die Zeit har kaldt ham "Europas mest efterspurgte specialist i afslappet venlighed overfor børn og unge." jesperjuul.com

Jesper Juul er familieterapeut, forfatter, stifter af det internationale netværk familylab og en af nutidens største pædagogiske teoretikere og praktikere.
Sammen med psykologen Helle Jensen har han skabt og udviklet begrebet relationskompetence der i forbindelse med den ny skolereform er blevet en del af folkeskolens grundlag.
Hans nyeste bog handler om agression. Det tyske magasin Die Zeit har kaldt ham “Europas mest efterspurgte specialist i afslappet venlighed overfor børn og unge.”

If you are a parent and your child is 2-3 years old or more, you should also ask, “I often feel that I have a special connection to you. Do you feel something like that too?”

No matter what the answer/reaction is you can tell the child a little about your own experience and thoughts and maybe also, which of your own parents you were connected to in this way. Make it short and leave it to simmer. If you feel that the special connection is between your partner and your child, talk only with your partner about it! (The only exception from this rule is if the other parent is dead or has broken all contact with the child.)

The second question – why it is like that – I’m not able to answer and to be honest, I’m not so interested. We have all kinds of role models when we grow up. Some are important and leave life-long imprints, others are intense and short and of a more social nature, so it is only natural that we also have existential ones. Don’t worry if you do not recognize latter within your own family.

Personally I had this connection with my father, but it was only “active” about five minutes when I was seventeen and again a short moment minutes before he died. My own son had it with his mother and they both enjoyed it. He has it with his son and they are both aware of it.

Continue reading part 3 of this article here >>