Sunday, December 9, 2012

Do You Eat Your Children?

     In the beginning, Gaia, the beautiful Earth, fell in love with Uranus, the overarching Sky.  They had twelve children, the Titans, who were the first gods, the begetters of all things living.
     There were six Titan brothers, who married their six Titaness sisters.
     After that, Gaia had more children:  the three Cyclopes, as well as three more offspring born with fifty heads and a hundred arms.  Uranus thought they were ugly, and hated them, so he threw them under the earth into Tartarus, to get rid of them.
     Gaia couldn't stand to see her children banished, and begged the Titans to challenge their father, her husband.  It was Cronus, the youngest, who was strong and brave enough to seize the throne from Uranus.
     Cronus became the new lord and, like many in power, he feared that one day one of his sons would overthrow him, as he overthrew his father.  Therefore, every time his Titaness wife, Rhea, gave birth, he took the little god and swallowed it.  His offspring were inside him, then, and could not pose a threat to his sovereignty.
     Rhea resented losing her first five children in this way, and asked Gaia to help save her sixth, Zeus.  As soon as he was born, the women hid the infant on the faraway island of Crete, where his cries couldn't be heard.  They tricked Cronus by giving him a stone wrapped in baby clothes to swallow.
     Zeus grew strong, and accumulated allies so that he could conquer his child-devouring father, Cronus.  Zeus petitioned his wife, Metis, to give Cronus an herb that made him so sick he threw up the stone as well as all five pf the children in his belly.  Then, they all rose up against him along with Zeus, and usurped Cronus's power.  In this way, Zeus became the lord of the universe.
     The story may be an ancient Greek myth, but it has survived because of its allegorical truth.
     There are two kinds of parents:  the ones who eat their children, and the ones who don't.
     Over the years I have been impressed by patients whose children were terrifically devoted to them.  How does one raise children who love their parents so much, I wondered?  Here they were, children growing up in America, with all kinds of freedom and a world running over with potential adventures-- but they never left their home town.  Now full-fledged adults, they called their parents one, two, even ten times a day, and were available at a moment's notice to care for them.  Their own children became similarly devoted, it seemed, and the love and concern was passed down from one generation to the next, with nary an exception.
     My own sons, on the other hand, were anxious to leave the nest.  They snatched their drivers' licenses on their sixteenth birthdays as though that was the first ticket for passage into real life.  They suggested ways to get out of the house:  taking risks with their friends, visiting relatives far away, spending entire semesters of high school away from home. They seemed unconcerned for my well-being, as they ventured out into the world, and though I made it clear that I loved hearing from them and catching up on their news, this didn't inspire them to call more often, or rush home for holidays or special events, or worry about my health and happiness.  At least, they weren't concerned in the way I've observed some adult children taking an almost painful interest in their parents' everyday lives.
     It's not that my children don't care about me, for sure, but that I haven't "eaten" them.  I haven't lived in fear that one day they would leave me all alone, or surpass me in some threatening way, or vanquish me, or seize control of my authority.
     What authority?  I am a child of the sixties, an era that encouraged us to think of all people as flower children, including our own babies.  Leave them alone, and they'll grow into themselves, their true, creative selves, like the flowers of the field in Ecclesiastes--that was the prescriptive.  My philosophy, borrowed from my generation, was to stay out of the way of my children's personal unfolding.
     Of course, this isn't entirely possible.  Humans are imitative creatures--they look for role models to mime, and ideas to try on.  They play house, and school, and war, pretending to be their elders.  And they need parameters, when they're young.  But it was against the rules, in a way, for civil rights- and women's lib-era parents like me to tell our children who they were and what they ought to become, and it was even a little irritating if our children didn't rebel, become creative, or take the path, diverging in the yellow wood, not traveled by.
     This has turned out to be a difficult path, because the freedom this generation of similarly-raised children have been afforded is far-fllung and, paradoxically, burdensome.  There are too many options, and no firm, guiding principles bequeathed by tradition and religion, or imposed by the dire straits  of subsistence.   The children of flower children don't boomerang home every time they encounter problems, and they're out there all by themselves, scared, overwhelmed, unmoored.  Will they find courage, as Cronus did?  Will they be able to remake the universe, like Zeus?
     My style of child-rearing was the epitome of not-eating-your-children.
     Eating your children means taking them inside yourself, envisioning them as aspects of who you are--it's an unconscious process.  You don't know you're doing it.  You don't intend to clone them. You would deny getting in the way of their aggrandizement, if someone mentioned it.
     Eating your children means being shocked and unnerved when they tell you they're homosexual, or want to couch-surf for a few years, or aren't getting a job or going to college or doing what you think they should do.  It's feeling offended when they get themselves into trouble, take drugs, get pregnant, or start smoking.  "I taught them better than that," you think. "Where did I go wrong?"  It's using guilt or the vague symptomatology of illness in yourself, without even knowing it, to manage your children's behavior by getting inside their heads.  Eating your children is keeping such close tabs on them that nothing can go wrong.  They live inside you, they fail to sprout in directions that veer from the sturdy, strong stem of your being.  They replicate your life, which might, finally, be boring.
     There are definite advantages to eating your children.  They stay close to home, and are available when you're sick or need someone to fix the plumbing or tote you to the grocery store.  You can be proud of them, because when you look at them it's like seeing a handsomer version of yourself.  They fret over you, when you hurt, and they know where you're going and what you're doing every day.
     It might feel like love, to have people who are so concerned with your life--and maybe that is love.  Or maybe it's a subtle form of oppression, which even keeps you from being who you really are, you're so preoccupied with them.
     Whether you eat your children or not, it's important to know that you have a method, like it or not.  Are you Uranus, making your children part of you from Day One, swallowing them like so much nutrition, and preventing them from overthrowing you...or are you Rhea, fighting for your children's freedom, and yearning to discover what new thing might emerge from your unobtrusive tending of them, and from your own individuation?

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a good topic of discussion for the Jungian archetype??