Parable of the parents
Erin Thomassen | Tuesday, October 13, 2015
There were once two parents who loved their children. Or at least they tried to. They found it difficult to love each other, and because there were reflections of each other in the children, it was impossible for them to love the children fully. The saddest part was that the two parents found it hard to love each other because they disagreed over the right way to love their children.
The quarreling began when the mother discovered she was pregnant with her first child. Both parents could agree on one thing: this one child was actually three children. They both accepted this rather mysterious and logically challenging truth. They could not agree, though, on something else: how to raise them.
Both parents agreed that they based their parenting practices on the first parenting book ever written. The introduction consisted of stories of their child’s ancestors and predictions of what their child would do. It even included lullabies. The middle contained the story of the child’s life. The end described the child’s legacy through letters written about him by those who knew or heard of him.
The mother wanted to combine the wisdom gleaned from the parenting book with the parenting tradition handed down by her ancestors. The father would not accept her ancestor’s advice; if the advice was not explicitly written in the parenting book, he could not accept it as truth. He did not realize that though the writers were surely privy to parenting wisdom, his wife’s ancestors also had access to such wisdom. The wife thought the author of the parenting book would have wanted them to learn from the diverse experiences of parents who lived after the book’s publishing. The father did not understand why his wife wanted to trust in seemingly questionable tradition, and thought it wiser to stick to nothing but the book. The mother thought the father was narrow-minded and prideful, and the father thought the mother accepted what her ancestors told her rather than thinking for herself.
The mother liked to frame pictures of her smiling children above her bed. She even wore a locket with her children’s pictures and names engraved in it. The father disapproved of these graven images. Framed images of his children made him uncomfortable. It made him think that his wife adored their image rather than their person. He was able to love his children’s person without an image. He did not realize that his wife was able to appreciate her children’s image without compromising her adoration for their person. In fact, their image was simply a way that allowed her to more fully appreciate and love their person.
The mother liked to say: “I love you” to her children every night. The father thought that this became rather repetitive, even robotic. The father did not understand that every time the mother said the same phrase to her children, she understood the same words in a deeper way. There was something special about adoring her children with the same words her mother and her mother’s mother used to adore their children. It unified them. Their words, and thus they, lived on through her repetition. The father preferred to praise his children in a new way every night, letting his soul lead the way. He did not want to recite the words of others. He wanted the words to come from himself, because he thought it was a more meaningful, genuine way for him to express his love.
The father and mother were not able to communicate well and this led to misunderstandings. Each time one spoke, the other did not truly listen — he or she was too busy composing a rebuttal. They began to think their differences were irreconcilable, especially since the father refused to see a family therapist for reconciliation. The mother, though, was not completely without blame. When the father composed a list of complaints about her parenting, she was too offended and defensive to respond in a constructive manner.
Ever since the list, both parents focused on proving that their way of loving their children was best. Yet their children just wanted to be loved. The children wished their parents could see past or even appreciate each other’s differences, as it was not a question of “either/or” but of “both/and.” The children benefited from both the mother’s contemplative reflections and their father’s zealous speeches. The children loved them both. Couldn’t their parents love each other?
They gave up trying and separated from each other. Though the parents were able to survive for centuries, they were not able to live forever. They started showing signs of physical and even mental decay. They could no longer take care of themselves or live independently. They had to move in with their children.
After centuries apart, the two parents were finally reunited in their children’s house. They could not refuse to talk to each other anymore. When they spoke, they started to see how silly their disagreements were. They realized they were placing too much emphasis on their different styles and too little on their shared substance. They learned they never should have insisted on their complete independence: Eve needed Adam, and Adam needed Eve.
Yes: the mother should have listened better to the father’s grievances, but the father never should have separated himself from the guidance of the mother’s ancestors. Separated, they could not be the family they were meant to be.
United with each other, they could finally unite with their children. They always knew that both of them were in their children and their children in them. Now they realized: if they fully loved their children, they would fully love each other. They no longer quarreled over how to parent, for they had become children.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.