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Parents and families - a reflection


On Mothers' Day,  a year ago,  I was challenged about my decision to focus on "Home and Family".   I was reminded that we all have a mother,  or we had one.   So this was a call to honour our mother and father.   Well,  for most people that is easy,  although for some their experiences of mother or father have been painful and destructive.

Probably our mother is the first person we remember.   We could not enter this world without a mother,  one whose role was to give us sustenance,  closeness,  affection and bonding.   We depended on her more than we knew for our total existence  -  a close relationship is not a luxury but a basic need.

Our parents formed our lives more than we were aware of and gave us values and beliefs to guide us.   Over the years we may have made those values and beliefs a part of ourselves.

If we are parents we perhaps decided to improve in the parenting role,  believing we could do better than our father or mother!   It may be that we need to get beyond the sentimental in thinking about our mother or father to recognise the qualities we want to celebrate.

After the death of a parent,  I usually ask families to talk about their memories.   Usually they speak of a person who was 'there for us',  who could be trusted,  who had all the time we needed,  'someone who gave us a sense of our importance,  and did things for us'.

The best parents give us love,  in touch and cuddles,  as they care for us.   They stimulate us and give us affirmation.   Good parents have time for us in the life of the home and in recreation.   They give us access to books,  music,  games,  news,  celebrations and fun-making activities.   They provide food and shelter.   The spiritual nurture we receive from them is more than religion,  giving us inner values and beliefs.   If we are lucky we have,  through them,  links with a wider family.

It is true that some mothers and fathers do fail in their parenting task.   Maybe their relationship ends in brokenness and separation.   This is always painful for everybody  -  the couple and their family.   Ending relationships is never a smooth and easy task.

Home is the place where we are named.   Being named is one of our earliest experiences.   Our awareness grows gradually as we come to recognise and respond to our name,  and it becomes an integral part of our identity.   So in time we come to say  "I am . . ."   Our name distinguishes us from others.   It is a symbol which designates us as a person.   At home we are sometimes given nicknames  -  only used in our own family.

In new family relationships,  such as marriage,  our name is sometimes adapted.   Through our name we participate in relationships.   When our name is used gently,  we feel cared for.   When we are called by the name we accept,  we feel able to respond.

On the journey of life we have to accept changes in the meaning of our name.   We may become parent and in time grand-parent.   It can take a while to get used to the unfamiliar role.   It's not so much with our own children we feel the difference,  as with those a generation further down.   We take on a role that once belonged to someone else.   We may have assumed that we would experience a smooth transition from child  to work,  to partnership,  to marriage and parenthood,  and maybe to grandparenting,  or to retirement and ending.   It's not always so smooth.

However,  these nice little boxes do not fit everyone.   While some choose traditional marriage,  others opt for more informal commitment.   Today there are many diverse models of relationships.

Some may want to ask are these safe?   Are they meaningful and fulfilling?   Does the relationship offer hope and security?   A range of criteria can be used to evaluate,  and then to approve or reject these new styles of family.   We need to think carefully about the criteria we use.   Surely it is better to be open and positive,  rather than judgmental and negative?

Norman West  (May 1998)



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