I believe I finally understand what a family is – well, at least to me.
A child is a part of one’s self. They are an extension of your persona, as real and as meaningful as an arm or leg, or possibly a part of your brain. When a child gets ill, you get ill with them. When they do well at school, you feel you are doing well at school and when they fail or fall, you feel the same way. When they get a career, you gain a career, when they learn, you learn and when they do well, you do well. When they make their own family it adds to that extension and the grandchildren and spouses equally become a part of you.
I am not talking about the material side of things but rather it is as if you have achieved or failed at their fortune or misfortune. You assume, with little ability to refuse or influence, the weight of this incredibly emotional and, often as not, rewarding experience. This explains a great deal about the intense emotions that accompany their growth from conception to your death (or sadly dementia).
It is a very one-way relationship. Your children do not feel the same way about you, they can’t. You are not an extension of them. In fact, I suspect their whole makeup is to try and break away from that bond to establish their own life, independent existence.
Your partner is also an extension and equally, you live through them, their fortunes, illness, struggles. I don’t think it is with the same passion and un-breakablility that lies with a child but it is equally demanding and rewarding on you. The existence of children from that partnership just cements the relationship even more. Divorce, while catastrophic for the ego, is tolerable, but the loss of a child is an unremitting grief like losing a limb or worse.
What does all this mean? Well, it gives you something to consider (and few of us do) what becoming parents really does to you. It undoubtedly grows you but each child demands so much more of whatever it is that gets us up in the morning. It is why in the middle of the night you go and get them, you give them whatever you can, you spoil them, you struggle with punishment and you welcome them back into your home at any time because you are doing it for or to yourself. You think, why am I doing this? You are doing it for you.
I have to think more on this but it gives me an understanding of why we are not perfect parents as we are not perfect in looking after ourselves. We can expect no more than what we can deliver. We get fat, we exercise, we study, we get upset, we fail and we succeed – we are indeed human and that is how we manage all our bits and pieces including our extensions.
Is it selfish? In a way. It certainly relates to “the self”, but is it selfish to avoid walking on glass, is it selfish to eat well? I think it is simply that these human entities are now part of our “self” and we have no choice but to do our best to look after our “self”.
I have a lot more to think about on this but that’s enough for now – my brain is starting to ache.