Volume 3 Number 3
Parents' Upbringing
01 March 1990

We found that we could lose our rigidity without compromising our fundamental beliefs.

It never occurred to us that we would be anything other than wise, enlightened and successful parents to our children. Having graduated from university towards the end of the economic depression of the early Thirties, we knew how to work hard. We had also found a faith in God and a purpose for our lives.

Lesley, our elder daughter, grew up responsible, cooperative and happy to follow our footsteps - which seemed to us only right and natural. We failed to understand that her primary aim in life was to please us. She wanted to win our affection and approval, which she had never felt sure of, even as a small child. When she was 18 she told us how she felt. She went through some hard times but eventually found her security in something deeper than other people's approval.

Marmie, our younger daughter, was good at sports, a promising artist and cellist, gifted with that extra creativity which often goes with a turbulent spirit. There were stormy scenes as she fought to assert her independence.

Towards the end of her school days, her cello teacher and her husband encouraged Marmie to live with them, despite our unease and opposition. The teacher's work often took her away from home and in the end the husband became Marmie's lover, even though he was older than her father. It seemed tragic to us and we tried hard to dissuade her. Despite our efforts, and perhaps partly because of them, she cut herself off from us completely. Later, they got married, and for four years we did not know where they were living.

My husband and I felt a deep sense of failure and despair. But when we started to tell each other what we really thought we began to find a way forward. Though we often differed, we tried to talk things out until we had a common mind. We found that we needed each other's help. I saw my selfish desire as a mother to remain central in our children's lives. My husband recognized the ambition which made him insensitive to the children's need for imaginative care. We found that we could lose our rigidity without compromising our fundamental beliefs.

Slowly we began to look more objectively at what had happened. We had felt so justified in the stand we had taken, but gradually we faced the harsh, judging attitude we had held towards Marmie's husband. The words `forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us' haunted us. We looked back to Marmie's teenage years at-home and saw that whenever she had not done what we felt was right an atmosphere of disapproval had arisen. We had withheld affection when she needed it most. We had cared for her deeply but our fear and anxiety had led us to attempt to control her. Our pride was also involved, of course.

We wrote to Marmie and her husband, asking forgiveness for our self-righteousness and lack of compassion. The letter went on, `We feel too, Marmie, that as you grew up we were more concerned with standards of behaviour than with the deep things in your heart. Blinded by this, we did not give you the love you needed. There are so many things we recall with regret. We know they cannot be undone but we do wholeheartedly ask your forgiveness.'

Their response was immediate. They said it was a miracle. When we met, we understood that Marmie had suffered too. She told us later, `I could never tell you what I was feeling because I knew what you would say and thought you would never change your ideas.' New bonds of trust were established, with her especially. Perhaps inevitably, the marriage broke up after ten years, with their two small daughters in Marmie's care. We are proud of the lovely woman she is today.

Meanwhile, it fell to our two sons to continue our re-education. As they reached their late teens each of them broke out in his own way.

Ben took to painting all night and sleeping all day. Unkempt and unshaven and his bedroom a shambles, he countered all our protests with, `You only care about what others think.'

Steve had a passion for girls and cars, with a possible bias towards the latter. At one stage there were eight cars - several of them gifts - in our backyard. His capacity for study was almost nil.

Our sons' mode of living grew more and more at variance with our values. Only their lack of money held them at home.

When we apologized to Marmie and her husband we saw many implications for our attitudes towards the boys. We were too involved, too vulnerable. We decided that we would try not to react to them until we felt free of any hurt or blame or sense of demand. We often failed.

Capture the heart
We found great illumination in St Francis's saying: `The citadel you have to capture is the heart, and no man has yet carried it by repression and reprisal. These do but harden the defences against you, which will succumb only to the long siege of love.'

Painfully we began to stop trying to control the boys. We learned to trust them even though they seemed untrustworthy.

A turning point came when we sold the family home and moved to another city. It meant our sons becoming fully responsible for themselves. Steve won a university scholarship and Ben, studying at night and working by day, became a talented artist and teacher of woodwork.

Steve later told us, `What I think life is all about is learning and growing. We kids have seen you two do that.'