Well, I’ve gone and done it again. I’ve begun to do something that at one time I promised myself I would never, ever do. I’ve turned into one of those older folks who will frequently preface their comments with, “you know, back in my day...”
Friends, this isn’t the first time I’ve broken a promise to myself, either. I have to confess, because the burden is weighing heavy on my heart. My mother was not what you’d call a touchy-feely kind of woman. No, she was more the kind who believed that one had children because indentured servitude was so passé. She would forever be assigning tasks for me to do. Now, on this side of age the equation I can truthfully say that’s definitely not a bad thing at all. But back then when I would ask (and when I was a kid I almost always asked), “why do I have to do that?” her answer inevitably would be, “why should I keep a dog and bark myself?”
At the time, I thought that was a horrible thing to say to your child. I promised myself many times that I would never, ever say such a thing to my children. Yeah, I know, please don’t laugh. It’s truly sad, that the first time I felt totally frustrated by a recalcitrant child who mouthed that very same well-known question? You guessed it, my mother’s words came right out of my mouth without even asking my permission first!
I think it’s a part of living that’s universal. Certain words and phrases and habits become ingrained in us early in life, and we can’t help but repeat those patterns over again as we get older.
Some, however, I have broken. And maybe it’s a clue for me the ones I did break, were really the worst of the lot.
My father died when I was eight and a half years old. He was the love of my mother’s life. She followed him just thirteen years later. And in the time she was a widow, she never once even looked at another man. In 1963, the year my father passed, we hadn’t arrived at the welfare state yet. People still did for themselves or did without. We hadn’t reached a stage, either, where we insured ourselves out the wazoo for every conceivable eventuality. Mortgages weren’t life insured in those days as a matter of course, and my parents’ mortgage certainly wasn’t. There was enough money in my father’s estate from his modest life insurance to pay for his funeral, and that was about it.
Because I know the kind of person my mother was, the weight of responsibility she felt at suddenly being the sole provider for the three of us was a heavy burden for her. Her job had to come first, in her mind, because that was the means to take care of us all. As a nearly 60 year old woman, I can certainly understand that. But as the youngest in the family at the time, a little girl who was bereft of her daddy, I didn’t understand it at all. She rarely told me she loved me, and even more rare were the outward signs of affection that I would receive from her, like hugs.
As a teenager going through the inevitable season of angst, I once wailed out my deepest sorrow: “I just feel that you don’t even love me!” My mother’s response? “If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t put a roof over your head.”
Like I said, some patterns were not repeated by me as a parent. Not a day went by, when my children were in my care, that I didn’t hug them and tell them that I loved them.
Also, I grew up more than a little afraid of my mother. I can tell you that while that fear kept me in line, it also kept me insecure and frightened. Again, that pattern ended with me as a child. I might have been a little too lenient with my own kids—but to me that was a far preferable reality to the alternative.
You know, back in my day, they used to say “spare the rod and spoil the child”. And while I can relate to that tenet, especially in this day of permissiveness into which this current generation seems to have fallen, there is a negative result to that creed as well.
And I’m not sure at all that the positive affects justify the negative. That pendulum keeps swinging between leniency and discipline, but what we really need is to try to find the balance that my day, and this day, both seem to lack.