Sunday, July 13, 2008

Guessing games

How do you know what your children will learn?

My mother wanted us to learn self-reliance. She told me once how proud she was at the lack of connection between us-my father, my brother, her and me. She felt she had achieved her purpose in making us "just four people who happen to share a house."

But I did not learn self-reliance from this. I learned to hold with all my might to my family, whether they wanted to be held or not. I learned that I wanted to teach my children that loyalty to the family comes first, and that family is the most important thing in their lives.

But I don't think my children learned this. I think they learned that family is a stranglehold to be resisted. My son fears commitment will tie him to a life he doesn't want. He doesn't seem to feel, as I do, that commitment and lifestyle do not proceed in lockstep, but that one can inform and support the other. My daughter uses commitment as a bludgeon, a weapon, to get her way. "Thwart me and I will withhold myself."

Of course, these outcomes are my worst nightmare-- one child running as fast as he can from family commitment, and another threatening the same thing in order to make my own commitment stronger. Which is, of course, a pattern in my life, of loved ones and friends using my loyalty against me, and punishing me with their absence, physical or emotional, when I demand a return in love and loyalty.

Will my children punish me with distance, or reward with me with proximity? What price will I have to pay?

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