Monday, September 06, 2004

Milk & cookies vs. the adult world

There was a very good post over at intellecxhibitionist concerning a close reading of the proclamation on the family. Luckily this isn’t another SSM debate. Instead it revolves around the asymmetrical expectations of how spouses assist each other.

I think most family oriented people would agree that the main purpose of a family is to raise children in the best way possible. Obviously everyone has a different perception on what constitutes the best method. In an issue so dependent on personal experience, preference and philosophy, it is ironic that many people strive for a universally applicable interpretation of this directive. Even more ironic is the way people boil the issue down to whether or not a wife should work outside the home. To me, this black and white screen misses the emphasis of the preamble on parental responsibilities.

“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children.”

It is hard to imagine that there is only one correct way to love and care for your children. Obviously some ways are probably more effective than others. But doesn’t the effectiveness of the method depend on individual characteristics?

For example, my mother stayed at home to raise me. By the time I hit junior high, I was pretty independent. She however, still felt obligated (or still wanted to) to stay at home with me. She took a part time job as a lighting consultant, but always felt guilty about not being around. Personally I quite enjoyed having the house to myself. I enjoyed the space it gave me. I also was quite happy that my mom was out doing something she enjoyed, rather than being tied down by me. However, she felt unable to pursue her career because of her conflicted responsibilities. Should she use the job to develop her talents and interests (I don’t think money was really much of an issue), or should she stay at home for the half hour or so of extra time we would spend together? She sacrificed her personal development for the chance that it would help me. I am not sure on the way this choice was framed.

It is easy to see that staying at home was the safe bet for fulfilling her parental responsibilities, but what was really taught by this choice? I think the lessons one learns always depend on the interpretation the listener gives.

On one hand my mom was there to support me if anything critical happened. Of course for this to work, one needs to have a fairly open relationship developed. I was always pretty closed about things. Staying at home also gave my mom a chance to see if I was heading into trouble. Of course some kids get into trouble precisely because no one is watching them, or sometimes if people are watching them too closely. Staying at home also let me see the sacrifices my mom was willing to make just to give me a tiny bit of support. I do appreciate those sacrifices. However, what lessons didn’t I learn?

I didn’t get to see both my parents fully developing their talents. I didn’t get to see the potential of what could have been. I didn’t to see the joy of my mother progressing as she did seeing me progress. Who she was, to one extent or another, was dependent upon me. My perceived needs controlled what she did. For her to always be a mother, I would always have to be a child. But for a child to be an adult, what does a parent need to become?