These Are Fantasies

Children are unable to provide for themselves.  Not unlike travelers in the ancient world, who often depended on the kindness of strangers for meals and shelter, children are born into the world naked and hungry and dependent for their very lives upon being taken in and fed and clothed and otherwise nurtured by people they have never met before, namely, their parents.  They depend, in other words, on hospitality.

Hospitality does not require perfection on the part of those who offer it nor those who receive it.  It can be tempting to believe that it does.  The perfect host or hostess, we imagine, is one whose house is immaculate, whose table is beautiful, whose food is elegant, and whose parties always come off without a hitch.  The perfect guest, in turn, is well dressed and well behaved, a charming and witty conversationalist who always pleases and never annoys and goes home promptly at the end of the evening.

And so we are sometimes inclined to believe concerning parents and children.  A good parent, we suppose, is a perfect parent.  Good parents know all of the answers and never make any mistakes.  They are endlessly patient, endlessly nurturing, endlessly loving.  And good children are perfect too.  They are beautiful and healthy and intelligent and obedient.  They never demand more from their parents than the parents are prepared to give, and they always reflect well on the families of which they are a part.

Of course these are fantasies.  We all know that real life is not like this.  But powerful currents at work in our society encourage us to believe that it ought to be…

(From Are You Waiting for “The One”?, pg. 168)

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