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In praise of parents

by
13 March 2015

CUSTOMS and traditions have a life of their own, and Mothering Sunday is no exception. It does no harm to remind people of its church connections - the return of domestic servants and labourers to their mother church and, coincidentally, their own mothers; the association with Christ's mother - and the ubiquitous posies are a great draw for family services. In practice, though, the day is about showing appreciation and gratitude to individual mothers, in recognition of the prime part they play in rearing their children. Gifts, flowers, and cards are small recompense for the years of work and anxiety, let alone the burden of childbirth; but the genuineness of the thanks is what gives them value, and overrides the commercial promptings and directions of taste down questionable pathways. The gratitude also helps to offset the inadequacy felt by most mothers, who are acutely conscious of their failings as carers. It is good to be reminded of how forgiving children can be.

It would be helpful if there were some way of developing Mothering Sunday into a celebration of parents in general without its sounding earnest and humourless. Father's Day, judging by the illustrations on most of the cards, remains a celebration of adult, male pursuits: golf, fishing, sailing, drinking, and the like. A father's part in the upbringing of his children is still poorly acknowledged. Perceptions are changing rapidly, but the centuries of uneven parenting continue to cast a shadow over the present. A Parenting Sunday, were it not such a dreadful phrase, could do much to highlight the complementary - indeed, largely identical - tasks and responsibilities taken on by mothers and fathers.

To set this in a church context would be to invite comparisons with the love and care that God has for humanity. It is impossible to conceive of this love as genderless: when God chose to appear as a human on earth, he had to be one sex or another. Acts of parenting are performed by either a male or a female. Yet there is a danger of associating God too closely with the assumed characteristics of one gender or another. Every aspect of human love has a shadow side: the motherly attentiveness that smothers, the fatherly instruction that domineers. And both mothers and fathers are capable of neglect and cruelty, if seldom on the scale of that meted out to Ayesha Chowdhury, for which her mother was this week imprisoned for 13 years and her lover for 18. The saddest aspect of the case was the discovery of Ayesha's letters in which she berates herself for the naughtiness that, she thought, led to the beatings that preceded her death. There is no shadow side to God's love, no partiality, no selfishness. God's love overwhelms distinctions between mothers and fathers, lovers, friends, and siblings. All can draw on it indiscriminately.

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