Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Everyone agrees that it's impossible . . . . .

Everyone agrees
That it's impossible
To have a real relationship with one's parents,
But the same ones, becoming parents,
Never think
For one moment
That it will be impossible for them to have a real
relationship with their sons and daughters.

Margaret Tait "Origins and Elements" 1959

For many more these days, this poem seems to sum things up, and I have been reflecting on my own parent/child relationships, from both sides of the equation. I think that I am extremely lucky in my parent/child relationships, in that I had much more of a peer to peer relationship with my mother than most, due to my father's early death and my early admission to boarding school, and that of my 4 children, I can count 2 of them as not just much loved, but amongst my dearest friends - that I have much in common with, and would choose as friends if we were to meet as strangers because of our common beliefs and values. This is not to say i hold my other 2 children less dear, simply that they have much more of their fathers' genes and characters of that side of their family, so they are simply different kinds of people.

Once my father died, my mother needed me to be less dependent on her, emotionally - not a demand that she deliberately or consciously made, simply that she had no reserves left. This created a different kind of parent/child relationship, with me physically dependent, but having to give as much as I took on an emotional level, much more like a peer-to-peer relationship. In many ways this could have easily become little more than what would today be regarded as child abuse, but, for me, it became a positive thing. It gave me faith in myself, in my own ability to deal with whatever life threw at me, at an early age. This coping was not always easy, pleasant or wildly successful, but I did cope, and came out the other side having learned useful lessons, and with an interesting and unusual relationship with my mother. When she died, at the sadly young age of 65, I lost not just my mother, but a friend to whom I was becoming closer all the time, and coming to respect in a way few children respect their parents - not simply as parents, but as an amazing person, whose achievements left me open mouthed.

My own children, 3 daughters and 1 son by 3 fathers, are a very mixed bag of characters, all having coped with their difficult childhoods in different ways. I was far from an ideal mother, suffering long bouts of serious, untreated depression for most of their childhoods, and it has, of course, left its mark on all of them, as well as on me. I don't feel any guilt about the ways in which I let them down, because I know that I held their welfare dearest at all times, and that I always did the best I could at the time. However, I am deeply saddened by the price they paid for my incapacity, as I paid for my own mother's, and do whatever I am able to redress the balance - but one can never go back and one can never change the past, nor how it affected people. At the same time, I can see that, in many ways it made them stronger personalities, as it did me, so there is a balance which is hard to assess in terms of good/bad. If my children hadn't felt protective towards me as children, would they be able to see me as clearly, as an individual, as 2 of them do now - the other 2 are gradually coming to the same point, too. When I compare my relationship with my children, it actually seems to me to be less dependent and more intimate, than those of many of my acquaintance, and, generally, a more honest and open one, with more mutual respect. I may be deluding myself, I'm perfectly willing to acknowledge that! But I do feel that we have more of a 'real relationship' than many.

So, where does that leave me? And the truth about my parent/child relationships? I can only give my perspective, you'd need to hear my children's, and my mother's, stories, to have even a part of the full picture. Again and again I return to Margaret Tait, and and question myself. It's really got no answer, no resolution, and I'll never know if 'everyone' is right.

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