Thursday, 3 October 2013

Parenting

I have been thinking a lot about what makes a good parent this last few weeks as I watch my own parents cope with the difficulties of my father's illness and struggle to work out for myself how best to show my own love and support for them.

I think I am very lucky.  On the face of it the fact that my own father died when I was three and my brother one was clearly a tragedy, for my mother, for his own deeply loving family and for us.  Yet somehow out of that my mother, and my stepfather, conjured for us a very happy family and an easy, adventurous childhood. It is very many years since I thought of Dad as my stepfather.  He is just Dad.

When you are a teenager you do not know that your own family is not normal.  I have read much about the child of an unhappy family slowly learning that theirs is not the only way to live and finding that there are families out there which are places of sustenance and love.  Many of them build their own lives very consciously to produce a different experience from that of their childhood.  I don't think I have read very much about the experience of the happy family.  Happiness writes white as they say.  I assumed with the blitheness of adolescence that my family experience was the norm.  I knew my parents were younger and more energetic than those of most of my friends.  I knew they were more adventurous and more likely to respond to ideas with "Why not?" than with a string of reasons why something might not work.

It was only when I went away to university that I began to realise that my experience was not the norm.  Many of my friends, perfectly nice people with what seemed to me perfectly nice parents, struggled with the process of disentangling themselves.  For some their parents were a drag, an obligation, going home was something that had to be done from time to time but it pulled them away from the real business of their new lives.  Telephone conversations were inevitably conducted in a fug of irritation or mild guilt.  Parents' only useful function at that stage was to provide funds.  Others were so tightly tied into their home and family that the pain of homesickness was too much for them.  There were other people whose experience was like mine but we were much fewer than I would have imagined when I left home.  For me my parents' house was always a place where I felt nourished, recharged, re-energised but, crucially, recharged ready to go back into the outside world.  We used to joke about the way our parents were always delighted to see us come and delighted to see us go and I think both of those things were equally true and extraordinarily freeing for all of us when we were in our late teens and early twenties.  The delight at having us home again, or at having us visit later on when we had established homes of our own, was profound.  But they lived their own lives so vividly that there was no sense that, having waved us goodbye,  they did anything other than turn back to them with a smile when we went away again.  I had no idea at all how very unusual that was.

But whenever we needed them they were there: my dad making and mending things, my mother cooking and looking after babies and children, both of them driving up and down the motorway, or giving my children a glorious taste of life in Devon over many years of summer holidays while I struggled to work as single parent.  Of course from time to time we must have irritated each other or been at cross purposes.  But running under all of my life is the sense of being, with my Dad, loved and practically supported whether he understood me or not (and we are very different people) and with my mother of being heard, of being loved, of being let free to be myself.

So how to be present for them now as their lives close in through my dad's illness is the question of the moment.  But I do know I am lucky, both in them and in the family of my own I and my husband have created in my turn.  We shall work it out.

47 comments:

  1. I hope that my sons feel the same way about me as you did about your parents. I have tried to bring them up to be independent but know that I am always there. I know from talking to my youngest that his University housemates seem to have very different relationships with their parents - some seem to want nothing more to do with home and some seem to rely on their parents for absolutely everything.

    As for your parents I think it is that moment when the role of 'child' changes. We had a scare the other week when Mum had a stroke and I have to confess to having a moment of panic at the prospect of having a new role of career and supporter to my father thrust upon me. Luckily she has made a speedy recovery and the inevitable has been delayed but it is an interesting question.

    My approach was to try and be supportive of my Dad, to listen, encourage but also to remind him he wasnt alone and I was there to help with anything no matter how determined he was to conquer the washing machine and the cooking. I suppose you just have to feel your way through it and be there.

    best wishes

    Helen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have it perfectly Helen: feeling your way through and being there.

      Delete
  2. This is a very poignant and courageous post. Our generation are now all facing with the difficult and often traumatic experiences of watching our parents grow older and ultimately with their death. Unfortunately this is something which life does not prepare us for and it is a very distressing rite of passage. Sadly there are no words of wisdom which make this any easier.
    As with all things one does ones best.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doing ones best is the big question and for everyone there is a different answer. Your best and mine might well not look the same. The very first thing is to work out what your own best looks like. That is considerably more difficult than it sounds.

      Delete
  3. I find, as I so often do when I read your posts, nodding and feeling oddly affirmed. We are, once again, in the same head space. I've just come from visiting my parents and have been in conversation with my far-flung siblings about how we can best support them at a very difficult time. Like you, I grew up thinking everyone's mother was funny and adventurous and that everyone's father adored his wife and made his children the centre of his life.
    I've been working on a similar post. I shouldn't be surprised anymore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh honora. Isn't it hard? Haven't we been lucky to have the relationships which make it so?

      Delete
  4. I have been astonished by how my parents changed roles, power relationships and virtually everything else as a result of my mothers stroke 9 years ago. It was like a whole unimagined new chapter, The End ever retreating as it seems now. It wasn't a series of willed changes, just unavoidable, and everyone rose to the challenges. I look back and wish I'd got them to move, too late now. That's the only useful information I've extracted from the situation apart from the surprise - my father had looked ready to bow out but has somehow had to find a whole new lease of life, and my mother is in some ways a personality at greater peace with herself, though one will never really know.

    I hope you have good surprises too, though you may not. It's a very alarming process but has no choice except to work itself out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Jane. That helps somehow. It has no choice other than to work itself out.

      Delete
  5. Elizabeth, you've written beautifully here. Yes, you are a fortunate daughter, and I would say that your parents are also very fortunate.

    xo

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was, like Pondside, nodding with so many elements that resonate with my life at the moment, but I also took comfort, for personal reasons, from your thoughts about your own childhood. Lovely writing - as always!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Chris. As so often, we are at a similar stage I think.

      Delete
  7. Such a beautiful tribute to some very special parents. I was not as lucky, although I was far from unlucky, in my parents. I am finding this time in which their health slowly fails to be particularly difficult as there is a lot that remains unresolved and that will probably now stay that way. I'm sure they did the best they could though, and as Croftgarden says, that's all that any of us can do.

    I like forward to your posts m'dear and I am never disappointed x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Annie. I feel that if I can do this next bit well we will have less that is unresolved than many do. Another way I am lucky.

      Delete
  8. *Look forward to ... darn predictive text!

    ReplyDelete
  9. While my parents are both amazing people who I love dearly, they were clearly unhappy in their marriage and it affected me and my siblings. There is no judgement here, because the older I get, the more I realize how hard it is to create a happy home. I am unhappily married for the second time and despite hoping to be intentional and attached in my parenting, I find that the flatness and sadness of my relationship with my husband is spilling over and affecting both our relationships with our son. While my son and I are still very close, I am sad to think that I am less able to raise him the way I wanted, than I might have been as a single mother.
    Thanks for the post Elizabeth. It was beautiful and encouraging.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your honesty. It is hard. All of us can only do our best, if only we can work out what that is!

      Delete
  10. Good post. I've thought so much about this that ultimately it is what my book was about!

    My eldest son started university the other week - I was fine till I left him to drive home; then a sort of mild grief kicked in. I can shake it off and wouldn't have it any other way, but it's still odd.

    I sometimes think ... 'we put in so much effort...' and wonder how it is repaid; but then I realise that repayment is the wrong way to think of it, Good parenting is about passing our love (and values / virtues too) down through the generations - we journey through life so quickly; parenting is a way of doing what we can to make it better - ostensibly for our children, but through the joy it brings, for us too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a great comment. yes, good parenting being about passing our love down through the generations. Yes.

      Delete
  11. Is there a 'how' - a book of instructions or is there just you? My sister in law once was asked what she 'did' and she replied 'I don't do anything I just am.' She was only half being facetious. She was, she existed, she interrelated in a certain way that defined her. Isn't that what you are doing and have done? Anyway I am sure your parents and your Dad feels very much loved and wouldn't want you do do anything differently.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wish there was a how to book of instructions Fennie! No, there is just me and mine, one step at a time.

      Delete
  12. Elizabeth - I hope you allow your parents to read this - it is a wonderful tribute and so well thought out. I agree with it absolutely. I feel it is only as one gets older that one really begins to look at the idea of 'family' in such detail. But we do all make mistakes in our parenting I think - I like to think not the ones my own parents made - but we can only do our best. One of the most important things is talking about things and I hope that my son can always do that with me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We can't help but make mistakes. It is a rather wonderful thing though to have your children grown to adulthood and realise how very much you like them!

      Delete
  13. I have to admit, I put off reading this post for a bit - too many sad posts have been waiting in my feed lately, and I was thinking from the title that perhaps something had happened to your father-in-law. When I finally got here, it was such a relief to read this post. Yes, the topic is a sad one, and yes, there are sad times ahead for all of us at some point, but the tone of this post was more one of gentle pondering (despite a clearly serious topic), and sincere appreciation for something you recognize now was not the norm . I nodded my head all the way through - I was fortunate to have wonderful parents who thought I was marvelous and encouraged me to try everything that came my way, and we enjoyed each other tremendously when we were together. I always looked forward to seeing them - they were always the first ones I called with news, good or bad. When I broached the subject of moving to Seoul to my mum, her response was, "How exciting! I wish I was still young enough to do that!" With our boys, we have tried more than anything to foster their independence - providing roots while giving them wings, or whatever that old cliche is. So far, so good - #1 is doing well at Uni and managing his own life quite competently; #2 is well on his way. This is such a rewarding time of life - seeing your children grow up into adults you would choose as friends - even if you weren't related. It sounds like you are doing what your parents did for you - trying to give them the space they want while making sure they are aware that you are available if needed. A delicate balance, and certainly not easy, but I think they set the precedent for you in how it can be done, and that will be your guide as you navigate this new territory, as difficult as it will be. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love your phrase "we enjoyed each other tremendously when we were together". Exactly, exactly, exactly so. And thank you too for your last sentence. They did set the precedent, however different today's problem seems to be. Thank you.

      Delete
  14. All I'll add is, tell them how much they mean to you now, while you can. I hope I told my mum enough, but it's the one thing that now she's gone, I wish I'd done more. She lived with us for a year or so before she died, and that wasn't always easy and I wasn't always terribly forgiving - if I did it again, I'd tell her more often how much I loved her.

    ReplyDelete
  15. What moving and thought-provoking post! You were very lucky in your experience of family life, which is such a wonderful gift and, as you say, far from the norm. And now you wonder how you can support your parents as their health fails and this is hard because you have your life too and your husband, children and grandchildren to consider and somehow you have to balance this against their increasing need. I know you are a wise and kind woman, Elisabeth, and you will find a way through.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish I could see the way just now Marianne. Thank you for the wise and kind. That would be something to be!

      Delete
    2. Well, I could pop in and have a long chat with you about this tomorrow as we find ourselves briefly in North Wales! Just off the A55 actually! I hope you find the way through and I know you will x x

      Delete
  16. I get on far better with my mother now. Unfortunately, she can't stand children!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It must be hard to have children if you are not good with them, even if you love them. I have often wondered how many people might have made other choices if they had lived in other times.

      Delete
  17. as the youngest child of elderly parents, I was loved yes, but I didn't have the relationship I 'envy' between my niece, her husband and their 2 teacher children. Parents are travelling and their kids are lending them backpacks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was always aware that the youth of my parents was part of what gave them their flexibility and adventurousness. I love the relationships I have we our own adult children now.

      Delete
  18. I'd bookmarked this great post to come back and comment, but then got too busy. And still am too busy to give it the response it deserves -- can only say I know how hard it is to watch the failing health of such a supportive and beloved father. But aren't we lucky to have had that kind of support. Take care.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Another lovely, moving post from you, Elizabeth. And how lucky you all were.... My family was not a happy one, despite great efforts being made, and I too resolved to be different with my own child, but largely fell short of the mark. I guess you were writing about real, genuine, unconditional love. How wonderful to be part of a family where effort didn't have to be made! Your parents will know in their very being that they have your love and support.

    ReplyDelete
  20. What a lovely thoughtful post, you write so warmly about your parents. I have no doubt that you will find appropriate ways to show your support, I'm just sorry that you are all going through this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Still working on it Janet! Thank you for your confidence.

      Delete
  21. I'm going to say something that sounds completely ridiculous, but I think in some ways my happy childhood was a disadvantage. I grew up with a nearly storybook family. My little sister and I lived with our parents, who loved us and supported us and the whole nine. My mom stayed at home with us while we were young, then she went to college when we were in high school. My mom and dad were warm, funny, and insisted we bring our friends home for dinner. There were dance lessons, piano lessons, and day trips to historic villages and parks. Sure, there were arguments like "you're not wearing that short skirt out of the house, young lady" and the regular growing pains, but all in all our childhood was idyllic.

    Thing is, once we started going to college and experiencing the real world, we learned that almost no one else had a life like ours. Not only that, our parents divorced and our happy family was no more. It was like living in a fairy tale and then getting a bucket of ice water dumped on your head. It didn't prepare us at all for the realities of adulthood. Getting good grades in school and trying your hardest really didn't mean that the rest of your life was set up for success. No one actually cares about what grades you got in 9th year history. Being good and pretty and playing the piano did not mean that Prince Charming was just biding his time, waiting for you to graduate university (with fabulous grades, of course) before sweeping you off to the castle. While spending my youth steeped in Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, and the like was enjoyable, it made for a rather harsh shock when I realised the world really, really doesn't work that way.

    Neither my sister nor I chose to have children. I'm not sure of all the reasons, but for me at least part of it was that I could never live up to the kind of childhood my parents gave me, as I can barely afford to feed my cats, nevermind take care of a child. There's no way I would let a stranger have charge of my child, and I will never be financially able to stay home. And honestly, with the headlines in the news every day, I'm not sure this is a world I'd want to be responsible for bringing anyone into without their consent.

    So there's my rear-view mirror look at the perfect childhood.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now this is tricky marcheline. I am touched that you write so fully and so honestly. If you will allow me to be honest in return I will say that my own childhood wasn't perfect. We were at times very short of money. There were tensions and difficulties. But there was real love and generosity and trust and a willingness to let us be who we were. That's what I mean.

      Delete
    2. Elizabeth - I suppose, in short, it's great to be a wonderful parent in the sense of acceptance and support of your child(ren), fun times, and all that. But I would add in a good dose of "reality training" - focusing on how to get along in the real world, preparation for the hard knocks, good practical discussions (when the child is old enough to understand) on what you need to know to live on your own.

      I have the same semi-resentment against schools. Our schools here in the US are still focusing on classes which largely don't help you at all once you're graduated. I wish the schools would teach every child at least one marketable skill, so they could get a job doing something right away in the case they don't (or can't) go to university. Teach them to balance a checkbook. Teach them to budget their money. How to pay bills, use a credit card without getting in over their heads. How to write a resume. How to dress and speak for a job interview. Things that will really be useful.

      Delete
  22. How you see your childhood , in retrospect , is probably helped by being able to forgive the odd bump .
    When I was working with pre-school children , I knew that their mothers all loved them , however un-Janet-and-John the circumstances .The young recovering drug addict , whose own mother had died of a heroin overdose , was trying with all her might to give her child the stability and chances she hadn't had . Scrubbed and well fed ... and above all loved ...the child seemed to know that mum's tatty shoes or her unpunctuality were just part of her .
    Being able to let one's children go , while always delighting in their company, is the greatest trick of all !

    ReplyDelete
  23. I've been thinking for ages about commenting on this post.

    Like you, I was very lucky in my parents (they had a light but deeply affectionate touch, giving my enough security to pull away and come back without feeling resentful) and, like you, was slightly puzzled by the alternatives I discovered when I went away. Mine were perhaps a bit older; they'd been together for ages before I came along, and there's a Froggie saying, 'the children of lovers are always orphans, which was occasionally relevant and made me feel a little spare from time to time. But they got the balance right about 95% of the time, which I think was pretty good.

    But in a very significant way I was much less lucky than you - both my parents died comparatively young, my father at 52, and I wish you all the very best dealing with their current situation...

    ReplyDelete
  24. Top Ten Classified Website List, Pakistani Classified Sites, USA Classifieds, Indian Classifieds, Entertainment Articles, Entertainment News, Entertainment Pictures, Bollywood, Hollywood and Lollywood Pictures and Videos, Entertainment Latest updates, Hot Entertainment News and Pictures Funny Entertainment Pictures, lol Pictures, Funny Pictures and every thing you want...
    www.hotcurrentaffairs.com

    ReplyDelete
  25. Top Ten Classified Website List, Pakistani Classified Sites, USA Classifieds, Indian Classifieds, Entertainment Articles, Entertainment News, Entertainment Pictures, Bollywood, Hollywood and Lollywood Pictures and Videos, Entertainment Latest updates, Hot Entertainment News and Pictures Funny Entertainment Pictures, lol Pictures, Funny Pictures and every thing you want...
    www.hotcurrentaffairs.com

    ReplyDelete

Comments are the best thing and the conversations they produce are the whole purpose of blogging for me. Do tell me what you think!