Dressed and staying in bed on a Saturday morning to relieve the pressure on a sore throat and cold exacerbated by a late evening meal out, I’m finally opening up to ‘the Power of the Now’.
What is staying with me from yesterday’s enjoyable evening with Conor is what kept emerging at intervals throughout our conversation, the theme of marriage and the rearing of a family.
What made our conversation a growing, learning and enjoyable experience is that we were each interested in the experience, the life experience of the other, becoming a sounding board for the other, enabling each other go down into our own depth from which to draw water, a sharing of wells.
Background to the Conversation.
In order to savour the full riches of what came across, let me sit a while to contemplate the two life giving wells from which we were drawing. Conor, husband of Julie and father of two children, anxious to have more family time available, is in process of selling his share in the now thriving Computers Systems Firm he and two colleagues launched some years previously. He had come in to Dublin that morning from U.K. for a meeting with the Directors of a Firm who had invited him to buy the franchise on a British branch of their Firm they proposed to open up. The day for him had ended with the signing of the contract.
Conor’s Church of England wife Julie, equally qualified academically but with less opportunity for developing skills in the field, has worked with him on a part time basis over the years while giving maximum support to both husband and young family. They have everything in common though he has been largely engaged up to now in work demanding time away from home and family.
Now in active retirement, I look back on my own life as a Religious, member of the Society of the Holy Child, with a rich inter cultural life experience of living in community over the years in Ireland, England and subsequently Nigeria, USA and Brazil. My life’s mission, basically educational, was carried out over a period of sixteen years in the schools, followed by leadership training and administration, followed by a ten-year span of accompanying Basic Christian Communities in Brazil. I look back on a learning, enriching phase in my life, affording me also an on-going close up study of various forms of family life within living, supportive community.
Back to Last night’s table fellowship
Last night’s dinner out with Conor brought our two backgrounds and present life situation into sharp focus, engendering in both of us a deep sense of gratitude and of the power of the now, as we sat together by those two wells, drawing life-giving water for our mission in today’s world. I suppose what really kick started our communal reflection and brought us down into our depths was my sharing with Conor on my recent conversation with an elderly man in the early stages of dementia and now resident in a Nursing Home. That brief conversation proceeded somewhat as follows.
“How are you feeling now, James?”
“I’m not very well. Not well at all. I feel he has taken away my soul.”
“ Yes, and you are missing her presence with you now?”
“ I’m missing her all the time. But I know she’s still with me at this difficult phase in my life”.
Marriage and Family Vocation
On my suggesting to Conor that possibly a man is the more dependent partner in a marriage relationship, I was surprised at his immediately agreeing with the suggestion. What followed has thrown a strong light for me on the current Church Synod study on Marriage and Family.
Conor’s response went something like this. ‘You know, my own marriage and family experience would strongly support that view. Julie, on part time employment, is the stronger parent in the sense of always being there for the children, and the stronger marriage partner in always being there for me. She is good on the administrative side of my work and a strong presence in the home. In some ways she’s closer to the children than I am though I give them all the time available when I am at home. With Julie, I prioritise time with them for listening and discussing, enabling them develop their personal interests, views and opinions and we have chosen with them the schools most amenable to this. We are currently engaging with Sean who has done well in the 11+ secondary school entrance exam’, in choosing the school most suitable to his needs, taking into consideration not only the academic standard but also the whole social range of sport and a broad vision in terms of inter cultural relationships and openness to others people’s religions.
We then got on to the topic of religious education, an area of great disappointment to both parents and their two children. They don’t believe their children were born in sin. They do believe in Baptism as a powerful and effective symbol of response to God’s call to choose life rather than death, as Jesus did in the story of the temptations and subsequent Baptism in the River Jordan. For this reason they have engaged with their children in coming to a decision on the most appropriate stage in life for their Baptism, namely young adulthood. Needless to say, they are on a collision course with the local parish priest whom they see as trying to use the sacraments as weapons of control.
I was thinking afterwards of the Synod Lineamenta Questionnaire which has come across to many as blocking rational and faith reflection on family life and marriage. What a powerful tool for reflection and community response it would have provided had it been drawn up by parents actively trying to respond to their vocation through rough times and smooth.
In response to the Lineamenta question on how priests can support married life, my own answer would be, ‘by becoming accompanying sounding boards’, quite a challenge to people specialised not in listening but in preaching.
Corresponding Lineammenta Questions on Family within Society
1; 5-6; 8; 14-15; 17-18.
20-30; 32-36; 40; 43-46; 49-50
Thank you Teresa for a lovely reflection. My experience is different to Connor’s so let me explain.
I belong to a Catholic-Presbyterian house group in Northern Ireland. It has been going for about 35 years, meeting monthly in each other’s homes to study Scripture, pray and discuss. We are all now in the upper 60s and 70s. Recently we discussed how we should prepare for our declining years of ill health and the eventual death of a spouse. It touched on aspects of what you have written about; who is the most dependent partner and what are they dependent on?
What transpired from our discussions was that wives in the group were very attached to daughters and their grandchildren, spending as much time as possible with the latter when they lived locally. Cooking, shopping, house cleaning and laundry were mostly, but not solely, their domain. Husbands, on the other hand, were more involved in running the family finances (including banking, various investments and savings and tax returns), seeing to the fabric of the house, gadget and car maintenance (including insurance, tax, MOT, servicing, oil, tyre pressures, searching out best deal on car insurance) etc. Searching out best deals on house and car insurance involved use of the family computer, which most wives said they stayed clear off, apart from emailing. Both shared garden maintenance. Some husbands suffered somewhat by being left a lot on their own. Most of the Catholic wives had been full-time mothers; all the Presbyterian wives had held full-time jobs while also being responsible for much of the house work and child rearing. Husbands and wives both felt, after these discussions, that they needed to know more about the ‘technical side’ of what their spouse was taking care of, so that they could cope better with life after their spouse had died or become seriously incapacitated.
My feeling from our discussion is that both wives and husbands were more, or less, dependent and independent but in different areas. One woman whose husbands had died, expressed anxiety at trying to learn the ‘technical’ things her husband had done with regard to the finances, house maintenance, car, computer etc. Some widowers I know outside the group said they experienced a level of anxiety about trying to master cooking, using the washing machine, ironing, keeping the house looking nice etc.
Observing my daughters and sons-in-law, I suspect that the experience of our house group is very much reflective of our age and culture. Many young married couples today, but perhaps not enough, share equally in the tasks that were done separately by my generation, caused largely by the fact that most women have now an important role in the work place. Perhaps men have still to see their equal role in child care as more important than, or as important as, their jobs and play a more equitable role.
I loved the idea I saw operating in the Netherlands where some parents took it in turn to have 6 months at home giving full time attention to the upbringing of their children, with their return to their former jobs guaranteed by law. I appreciate that house prices, and prices in general, have now risen on the back of two salaries, so that may not be possible for everyone.
May the roles of fathers and mothers continue to develop equitably to the benefit of both and be for the good of children and the happiness of their marriage!
I wanted to reply to this enlightening response earlier, Aidan, but was overtaken by the throes of ‘moving house’.
Your long experience of Inter Church house group, presumably in Northern Ireland, must have been both faith broadening and family supportive.
It would be interesting to hear why in the past the Presbyterian but not the Catholic wives and mothers were able to undertake full time work while caring for their families.
It would also be interesting to hear from today’s generation of parents something on whether their equal sharing of all aspects of child rearing brings the couple closer together, the children reinforcing the bonding of the parents. ‘Children are a blessing from the Lord’, as the psalmist put it.
Thank you Teresa. You ask about why the difference between Presbyterian and Catholic wives with regard to going back to work. I suspect it was part of Irish Catholic culture in the 50s, 60, and 70s.
The Presbyterian wives likely presumed that all wives went back to work as the most normal thing to do, perhaps part-time at first, when their children reached the primary school age of four. I suspect the Catholic wives thought that the ‘normal’ thing to do was to stay at home full-time until the children finished school at 15. Remember, that was the era when female Catholic teachers, and women in some other areas of employment (I think also in banking and the Civil Service) had to stop work once they got married.
By the time the Catholic children had finally left school it would have been difficult to get back into employment. Also, by that time the Catholic husbands’ incomes had likely increased enough to make life fairly comfortable economically, so the Catholic wives remained at home.
Whether or not they would make that choice now, with hindsight, is another question? Did our Catholic children benefit? Again, a big question. Were our marriages happier? Fewer Catholic couples divorced compared to those of other Christian denominations but that was likely more to do with the social and religious view of divorce among Catholics than with the state of Catholic marriages. I would be interested in reading any reputable research on those issues from that era.
Let me give a resounding “hear, hear!” to Teresa’s suggestion.
“In response to the Lineamenta question on how priests can support married life, my own answer would be, ‘by becoming accompanying sounding boards’, quite a challenge to people specialised not in listening but in preaching.”
I would suspect, Teresa, that an answer to your question on why, in the past, more Presbyterian wives than Catholic wives had jobs outside the home was simply because they had fewer children?
I also see a great change in my daughters’ generation of young parents in that the fathers are no longer embarrassed to be seen pushing a pram/buggy, or being house husbands (for want of a better word. It’s not intended to be demeaning.) which is fantastic for mums and the children. I would see parenting as more equitable now and it is a great sadness that my father and his generation missed out on that bonding of parent and child which comes so naturally to most men.
Parenting skills however do need to be taught and ideally learned from good example in one’s own home.
Finally, may I reiterate Aidan’s wish.
“May the roles of fathers and mothers continue to develop equitably to the benefit of both and be for the good of children and the happiness of their marriage!”
It is so heartening to read this discussion and to share in different life and Spirit filled experiences. That is how we learn, after all.
By the way, I am so sorry not to be able to attend the ACI Forum on the Family in the Regency Hotel in Dublin this Saturday but I booked my place in our 3rd Diocesan Spiritfest in neighbouring Portadown a long time ago. Breda O’Brien and Fr Michael Drumm are the guest speakers and no doubt, the Holy Spirit has guided me into their paths! Look forward to sharing our reflections of each other’s events to our mutual benefit. May the Holy Spirit guide each and every one of us in wisdom, understanding and compassion and give us ears that really will listen to the other. 🙂