The Unlived Lives of Parents

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” Carl Jung

“I remember so well the agony of being torn between my love and joy for my child, and my desperation to hang onto a sense of my self. There is something very seductive about being the mom of an infant. All those maternal hormones kick in, and often you literally ‘lose’ yourself in the wonderful, joyful bond with this tiny, perfect little human being. It has been equated with the same intensity of feeling as falling in love. I think it can be the greatest challenge of young motherhood to know when to take a step away from this primal bliss, and say, ‘Now, wait a minute, how do I structure time in my new life for my own personal growth?’ Knowing you are still a separate person, with her own likes, loves, and passions makes a huge difference to your development, and to the healthy development of the baby.” Elizabeth Carl-Stern (Jungian Psychotherapist)

So how do we stay true to the maxim “To thine own self be true” and teach our children to do the same? For a parent there may be no more difficult question, and for some generations, nigh on impossible to answer.

My parents matured during the Great Depression and World War II.  I witnessed firsthand the frustration of both of them not being able to pursue their dreams. Through no fault of their own they were born into an age that allowed little time for dreaming. The war was no sooner over when they had five children to raise.

Life can be so heartlessly demanding.

Dad was good at what he did but it lacked meaning for him. Mother, well, she never even was asked if she had a dream.

The choice for them both was to either recast their dreams to match their reality, or to live their lives with a belly full of frustration. Sadly, what I saw was frustration. Neither one ever became fully reconciled to their reality.

Frustration manifests itself in many ways. My father attempted to offload onto me some of his unexplored dreams thinking, perhaps, I might finish living portions of his unlived life. Mother, on the other hand, simply suffered in a sad state of passive aggression.

To be sure, my mother and father loved their children and gave each of us the foundation on which to launch our lives. Let me say that again. Jack and Theresa Moriarty were good parents for the most part, just not fulfilled as individuals.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke describes what I witnessed growing up:

“Sometimes a man stands up during supper and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking, because of a church that stands somewhere in the East. 

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead. 

And another man, who remains inside his own house, stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses, so that his children have to go far out into the world toward that same church, which he forgot.”

Finding that great church in the East claims many a life. Remaining inside the house does, too. Many young people today seem to understand these things. They go East and then return home to the dishes, back and forth, showing their children their own dreams matter while providing the nourishment those children will need to go into the world.

When I think upon my long-departed parents and consider my life and the lives of my children and grandchildren I’m struck by the importance of molding dreams around the reality we have. Few of us draw all the cards we want in life.

When I get to wherever it is we go, and if, when I get there, I have an opportunity to check in with Jack and Theresa Moriarty, I’m going to first thank them for the life they gave me. I’m also going to report that when all was said and done the dream that life gave them both was a pretty good one. The sixty-some human beings that now make up the clan are really thankful they did what they did in the time they were given.

After all, Mom and Dad,

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. ~ Kahlil Gibran, 

Just a thought…

Pat and Marsha

Copyright © 2021 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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