sense husband and wife become each other’s conscience. But anger is not resentment, nor is it irritability. Anger flares up quickly and then comes reconciliation, forgiveness and compassion for the one who is hurt. Marriage is not about the coming together of two perfect individuals, but about imperfect individuals coming together and enjoying their differences.
As family life progresses, it gains a new dimension and a new perspective. If marriage involved giving up one’s singleness, each spouse becoming a part of the other one, then with the arrival of children parents find themselves giving up more and more of themselves and sometimes feel lost in the whirlpool of family preoccupations and duties. In this process each member of the family has to find his or her own new personality, a stronger and richer one. This true ‘askesis’ of family life is a difficult and painful process. The ‘self’ of each member is constantly squeezed, abrased, trodden upon because of the needs of the others. And this has to be made whether you are supported by your Christian faith or not. Broken nights, physical exhaustion, limitations of one’s freedom, worry cannot be avoided. The father may feel neglected because his wife becomes more mother than wife. This violation of ‘self’ can be resented and cause much bitterness. In terms of Christian faith, a willing sacrifice of one’s swollen sense of ‘selfness’ or self-importance can become the sacrifice from which a new and bigger person is born. Parallel to the willingness to sacrifice something of oneself, there has to be an equally willing effort to recognize the ‘self’ of others, to understand their personalities, their points of view and their gifts.
Parents need enlightenment and guidance in understanding the meaning of their relationship with their children. The basis of this relationship is a responsible love, which includes authority and respect and understanding for the child’s personality. From a Christian point of view parental love has all the emotional richness of love, but it must not be possessive. At its best it is completely unselfish, its model given to us by the love of Mary the Theotokos for her Son. Parental love should not be felt by the parent as a gift given to the child, for which we can expect gratitude. That is why it is common to hear parents complain that their children are ungrateful. This brings serious doubts about the quality of their parental love. A mother’s love for her child fills her own life, enriches it. It is felt as a love for something bigger than herself that does not belong to her in the sense of ownership. Children have to grow away from their parents. The sacrificial or Christian meaning of parental love is precisely the acceptance of this, a joyful acceptance of the children’s growth into independence. Every parent today should be willing to offer the life of the child to God.
Children’s love for parents and siblings
The difficulty involved in the changing love of children for parents is that it is a part of a process of growing away from the parents. The total dependence of early childhood, the complete reliance and confidence in parental omnipotence, is very important and satisfying for the parents. But a child’s normal development takes him/her through stages of growth, of independence and rebellion. Under the best circumstances relationships of friendship and mutual respect eventually are established; and gradually these change into the compassionate, understanding and grateful love of adult children and elderly parents.
The love-hate relationship between brothers and sisters is, in a sense, a pattern of our relationships with all human beings. Affection and love between brothers and sisters is often taken for granted. To a certain degree this is justified, but we all know the violence of the opposite feelings among siblings. It is normal for a growing child to experience anger at others, just as it is normal for an infant to scream when it is hungry. It is good to get it out of the system and there is certain wisdom to this attitude. Because simply repressing one’s anger and never showing it is probably more unwholesome than a good clean quarrel, after which all is forgotten and forgiven.
Yet there is another side to it. If quarrels and anger are symptoms of inner needs, these needs must be recognized and dealt with. Anger is a way of saying that something in my relationship with another person does not satisfy my wants. It is a conflict in the desire to dominate, possess or of obtaining love. It may even be a form of jealousy, an effort to determine one’s own position, one’s own role, to determine ‘who is the boss?’
The purpose of education, especially Christian education, is to help a person grow up and mature, to help him adopt a creative, constructive and ‘good’ way of dealing with these problems. In handling children’s quarrels and fights a parents should first of all recognize the symptoms. Repressing symptoms does not help, though obviously a measure of self control must be taught: one cannot allow children to hurt each other or to make life intolerable for all around. Symptoms are a wholesome thing if they help us to recognize and deal with the cause. Many causes of anger, such as frustration at not being recognized or inability to do something, are properly and adequately dealt with in the normal process of growing up in a basically secure and loving family. This provides the opportunity for the parent to help the child gain understanding of himself/herself and of their place within the family and their life.
Children’s anger and their quarrels can draw the parents attention to some conditions that cause them, and these should be dealt with by the parents. A child that feels rejected has to be given more