On the pilgrim way: “Parents are expected to be interested”
Sheila Maxey reflects on taking an interest in your children
Our younger daughter – now a senior engineer for hydro-electric schemes in Scotland – stayed with us recently in order to prepare for and attend a meeting with the energy minister. When she emerged for meals or a tea break, we heard all about the issues and what she hoped to get out of the meeting.
We were both proud and fascinated – and I suddenly felt myself being taken back to all the other times in her life when we, as parents, were expected to be interested in what she was doing: Playing her cello in the school concert, showing her father round her simple hydro scheme in rural Zimbabwe, giving us her own girls’ glowing school reports to read, etc. In our other daughter’s case, we had to help with, as well as watch, her dramatic productions (aged 10), admire her teenage paintings and we are still offering a listening ear to the hopes and concerns of her ministry. We braced ourselves to listen to our son’s teenage band and, much more recently, have lasted for a whole evening of his current one. These are the privileges and obligations of love.
I don’t expect our children to be so very interested in our lives – it is not a reciprocal arrangement. In fact, I hope it is quite a long time before they take a keen interest in whether I am still able to walk to the shops and whether I have enough commitments to keep me happy. It is interesting that the Bible tells us to honour father and mother, but not to let them stand in the way of following Jesus. The model for parenthood is surely the father in the story of the prodigal son – endlessly forgiving and loving and welcoming.
My parents lived to a great old age and lived next door to me, so I did have many years of care for them. I was quite proud – and concerned – to see my father in his 90s on a ladder cutting the hedge. I was anxious when the care package for my mother did not work well. But I knew that what gave them endless pleasure was to hear about my life – and the life of all the other members of the extended family. Even if the news was bad – a broken relationship, illness, a great disappointment – it still gave them life.
However, there is a slippery slope from taking an interest in your children’s lives to obliging them to keep in touch. When one of ours phones up after a gap of some weeks, I try very hard not to say: “Hello, stranger.” I keep my mother in mind as the ideal in this respect. When I moved from local ministry, where I could pop in daily to see my parents, to commuting to Church House and often travelling away overnight, my mother was delighted for me. She said how relieved she was that I had not felt obliged to remain in local ministry for my parents’ sake.
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This article was published in the December 2015/January 2016 edition of Reform.