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?


fMhLisa said...

Wonderful thoughts. I remember a story a Young Women's teacher once told us about coming home from school, excited to tell her mom about a test she had aced and finding her mom was not home. She waited and waited for her mom to get home, and when her mom finally did return, my leader was no longer excited about her test.

The lesson she was trying to teach was how important it is for moms to be there for their kids when they get home from school. But at the time (my mom worked) I remember thinking, "what, you thought the world revolved around you? Get used to disappointment."

I think it's essencial that kids see their mothers as a person who also needs to grow and learn and be someone. It says a lot that you thought about your mom that way.

chris g said...

Thanks for the comments. I think deciding when to end the "just being around stage" is tough. Eventually it ends. I guess it just depends on whether a child gets more out of having someone around or having them do something. I don't think one is necessarily better than the other. I think it really depends on what both kids and parents need. Of course what they need is a function of how they were raised. Personally I think it is very easy to get in a rut. This is especially true after the years of demands that kids make. I just wonder how easy it is to convince one's self that they are not actually in a rut.

I wonder if the demands on women around 40 are lopsided compared to men. If we expect women to jump into the career world, do we also expect men to make a major career change at that time of life? I know most men would find that incredibly stressful. Perhaps this is the reason few people expect women to make a substantial leap into a career immediately after raising their kids. It is just too big of a leap. Of course labelling that actioin as unrighteous also makes it even less likely to occur.

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