Our neighbor Oscar enjoys our fountain.
With schools closed during the pandemic, parents and children are spending a lot more time together, and so I thought this entry from my book, Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy, might be helpful.
Children carry a promise with them, a hidden treasure that has to be led into the open through education (e=out; ducere=to lead) in a hospitable home. It takes much time and patience to make the little stranger feel at home, and it is realistic to say that parents have to learn to love their children. –Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen, 56-57.
Both experience and science suggest that there is a parental inclination to nurture and protect offspring. But love is also a matter of choice. Parental love and especially maternal love is likely to want to hold on to the child; but it is the parent’s will that recognizes and values the child as an independent soul, not an extension of the parental self.
I truly wonder at my parents’ extraordinary ability in the midst of life’s demands and stresses to make my sister, brother, and me feel “at home,” as well as “to lead us out” into our own unique self-expressions. True, stereotypically, my father was more distant and my mother held on more tightly. And, like all people who love each other deeply, we wounded one another in various ways. Yet I am grateful for the comparatively safe environment my parents provided even as they worried about paying bills, the state of the world, as well as what we were up to. I don’t mean just safe from abandonment, neglect, or abuse. I mean also safe for us to cultivate identities, embrace values, and pursue goals different from their own.
With similar awe, I have watched my sister raise three sons, largely on her own, and serve as proud matriarch of an extended family that now includes three daughters-in-law and seven grandchildren—all while pursuing two different professions.
In my view, parenting is the most important task an adult may do, yet it is the one for which most receive the least training. To understand parenting as a spiritual movement, as Henri does in Reaching Out, is a beginning. He places it in the context of the movement from hostility to hospitality, transforming enemy (hostis) to guest (hospes), in this case, stranger to friend. Parents act as hosts and children as guests.
A host has not only the right but the responsibility to set the boundaries of a guest in the host’s home. We are not to welcome another with an “ambiguous presence,” Henri says. We are to be clear about who we are and what are our limits. At the same time, to be good hosts, we are to welcome the guest and the promise or gift inherent in every guest, encouraging the fulfillment of the promise they hold deep within themselves, enabling the development of the gifts every guest brings into the home. As such a movement toward hospitality, then, parenting is as delicate and vital and as fraught with danger as welcoming any guest into one’s home.
Just as we learn through experience to become good hosts in relation to other guests, we learn through experience to become good parents, uncles, and aunts. By the time I came along, I believe my parents were more experienced, relaxed, and secure in their avocation than when rearing my older siblings. And grandparents may be the most experienced of all, especially when they grasp that now their own guests, their children, are hosts in their own homes.
+Help me to be a good host to all children, welcoming their promise, encouraging their gifts, reminding them they are beloved by God.
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