Parented not Reared
I’ve been reading a book by Brennan Manning called “All is Grace”, and was interested by the following passage, as he looked back at his mother’s lack of affection in his childhood: “The word parenting , if you can believe it, did not become commonplace until the late 1950s; prior to that it was childrearing. The rule was discipline, regimentation, sternness and a minimum of affection. Early Behaviourists advised: ‘Mother love is a dangerous instrument that can wreck a child’s future chance for happiness””
It’s extraordinary to think that we older ones around the place were brought up by parents influenced by that way of thinking– this was in our lifetime, not in the era of Dickens! And certainly our own parents would have been brought up under those precepts – it explains a lot of the unfamiliarity and awkwardness around family relationships doesn’t it.
The dictionary describes parenting as the care and upbringing of a child – the care, love, and guidance given by a parent. But the word childrearing makes me think of sheep and cattle rearing in large numbers, nothing very intimate; more of a business than a relationship! We were walking on the beach at low tide a few weeks ago, and tried to make friends with a young dog who raced up to us enthusiastically, but then instead of wanting to be petted, just circled around us albeit in a friendly manner. We learnt from her owners that she was a Kelpie, an Australian cattle-herding breed, and that she was trying to round us up. No wonder she was a bit nonplussed when we wanted to stroke her and get personal! And whilst on the subject of children and animals, it’s surprising that child protection laws only came after those passed seeking to prevent cruelty to animals: the RSPCA was inaugurated first, and later the NSPCC!
A few years ago, we spent a week in the Cairngorms, and visited Abernethy Forest nature reserve where there were a pair of ospreys sitting on a nest of eggs; it takes both birds 14-21 days to make and complete a new nest. There was a live webcam on the nest or eyrie, but you could also see them quite easily with the naked eye. When we first arrived, the female, who does most of the incubating, was sitting on the nest at the top of a tall pine tree, whilst the male was perched alertly at the top of a nearby tree. Suddenly, she must have needed a leg stretch, because she flew off and circled high up in the sky, whereupon the male flew to the nest, adjusted his wings and under-feathers, trying to cover the eggs (he is smaller than the female, who is able to cover them more easily with her body), and settled down until she should return. The male is the major provider of fish for the female, and the young when they hatch. After fledging (caring and watching over a bird until its wings are strong enough for flight) at around 53 days, both parents provide food for the young, which stay close to the nest for a further two months.
What a happy picture of good parenting this is, which puts me in mind of all the biblical imagery of God’s intimate love being like that of a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wing; all the stuff about eagles, and snuggling under downy chest feathers and strong wing pinions, or when the young birds are ready to learn to fly, the description of the parent bird in Deut.32:11”like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.”
Right in the beginning, Gen.1:27 says,“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” So it seems to me that in the Godhead, in whose image we were created, both males and females, we have all the aspects of perfect mothering and fathering we could ever need; both male and female characteristics and qualities of faithful nurturing, watchful provision, strong protection, warmth, comfort, constant attention, unconditional acceptance, encouragement, preparation and teaching on how to “fly the nest”, and support as we approach adulthood. If we have felt a lack in any of these areas ourselves, how wonderful that we have a God supremely qualified to parent us in every way, and that as beloved children, adopted into his family, we can start learning how to appropriate all we need.