We annoyed each other last night as we sometimes do. The better you know each other, the easier it is to hit those pressure points. Granted, the subjects of our argument were little things blown out of proportion but anger seethed through the darkness palpably.
Eventually we did talk it through and this morning we were able to take everything before God for renewal. Prayer is a helluva thing.
But last night, I lay awake thinking about our need to learn to handle conflict in healthy ways that don’t affect the baby. It’s all well and good to “have it out” when it’s just the two of us but when there’s a little person absorbing everything and looking to you for stability it’s a bit more complicated.
Then out of nowhere, Philip Larkin’s poem, This Be the Verse jumped into memory. It goes like so:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
One of my English courses at university began with this poem. I think the idea was to help us get turned on for “Aspects of Literary History” by a sweary verse or two.
At the time, I found it unbelievably depressing. Actually, to an extent I still do, especially the outcome. But it would take an optimist of clinical proportions not to see that there is some truth in what Larkin is saying.
We are all profoundly shaped by our families of origin (this is a term I get from my father – he loves it). It’s where some of our deepest hurts lie. But it’s not a case of pointing the finger at your parents. We’re all products of the human condition. We’re not perfect.
Remembering this poem, I now find it a bit affirming, even in spite of its ending. It’s not saying that you might mess up. It’s assuring you that you will. That’s not a “get out free” card from doing the best we can with this parenting thing. It’s also not a reason to avoid taking responsibility for the people we become and the direction of our lives.
Reading this again now, I feel more strongly that we must do our best, minus the frightening pressure for perfection.
The image is of Philip Larkin. Doesn’t he look cheerful?