Two old posts from the Feminacle, unrelated except in my mind, and a recent visit from my parents have got me thinking.
Over at FMH, Emily S. posted one of my favorite poems, about the austere and lonely “offices of love” which even the least skilled or emotionally savvy parents often perform for their children. Meanwhile, in the trenches of the mommy wars, a a guest poster and several commenters seem very certain of their superiority to their parents in terms of commitment to marriage and the ability to make it work. Naturally, I hope they are right. Divorce stinks, especially for kids, and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t aspire to atone for the sins of the last generation and make a better world for our children. Still, perhaps because of my advancing age (:)), and my pained awareness of the thousand ways I fail my children despite my best efforts, I feel a great deal of sympathy for the parents whose children describe their failures so starkly.
It seems to me that we have lost something in our sophisticated understanding of our parents and our “dysfunctional families of origin.” Heaven knows we have gained things, too, and I really truly might not be alive if I hadn’t lucked into a highly skilled therapist at a time when I really needed one, so I’m not engaging in thoughtless nostalgia for a simpler age. I’m asking how we honor our parents while recognizing their flaws.
I was reading an old issue of the German version of _Parents_ magazine that someone left at my gym. (Yes! In German! On the Stairmaster! Be very impressed!). It mentioned that nearly 70% of parents in the former East Germany described their parenting style as similar to their parents’, while only 38% of those in the West did. This was really striking to me–seems that the more educated and well-off we become (i.e. the better our parents have done at encouraging us and providing us with opportunities), the less likely we are to demonstrate our appreciation for their parenting by emulating it.
So, if we pay people to help us figure out how to overcome the deficits of our childhoods, if we want to be different kinds of parents than our parents were, how can we fulfill the fifth commandment, “that [our] days may be long upon the land?”