Monday, February 13, 2017

Of little use or ornament

In Mad Men, Mona remembers full-time parenting: "you sit looking at your child across the tea table, absolutely exhausted by the day. But you haven't done a single, measurable thing to justify such exhaustion."

I paraphrase. Watch Season 7 for the exact quote, which is great.

Ah, they say, but parenting is SO important. What could be more so than raising a person? So demanding. So rewarding. So worthwhile. All probably true....

Somehow, though, this kind answer doesn't quite address the issue. Which is that non-achievement, a lack of public recognition - not to mention small people - are exhausting. And usually, early life only prepares us for the exhaustion of over-achievement.

A parent never knows for sure what he's 'done'. The link between his input and a child's life is extremely complex. (Thank goodness - we are judgemental enough without a clear relationship between Mother's teasing and Jack's anorexia or Father's stories and Rachel's literary brilliance.)

Pre-parenthood, we (are taught to) assess ourselves in gaugeable terms. School and work life facilitate this. Often, so does home life, where adults critique themselves in terms of societal good-standing, promotions and mortgages or even happiness. Children are rewarded (not necessarily with money) for meeting the required standards of behaviour, mood, morality, performance, sociability or whatever. We use these superficial ways of accruing value, of achieving, to propel ourselves through life. They are energising, if superficial.

Sitting at home with infants offers you no purchase whatsoever on the slippery slopes of progress. The slow fall can be liberating, if you embrace lessons offered up by this intense, hidden, purely relational existence. It is also quite terrifying and wearisome.

Most of us parents need to break free, go back to our safe zones and achieve somewhere, sometimes - in career, social life, religion, possession-accumulation, hobby or however we shored up our ego in days gone by.

Even though we cannot reliably discern the fruits of parenting in our children's lives, we can learn things from this chapter. Having allowed ourselves to feel the exhaustion of non-achievement, for example, we might develop more compassion not just for other parents but for those facing even harder chapters of 'uselessness' - unemployment, illness, old age.

We might sit at the tea table with them, proving we're quite at home in the company of the useless and exhausted.

1 comment:

Autumn Gold said...

The sudden vacant space where once you were a significant other can be unnerving, and make you desperate to fill it again with anything, but learning your intrinsic value to the Lord can only be done in our weakness and hiddenness