This is an older post by Mile Hi Mama, still something to think about. The Little Boys come to mind, of course.
My husband and his sisters could relate- their mother walked out the door when he was a baby, leaving them in the care of a babysitter, with a note on the door telling her husband she was leaving. My husband next saw her when he was ten, for a short two week visit that was supposed to be longer, but she just put him on the grayhound bus and sent him home early- he was never sure why. Actually, I’ve heard she’d left several times before, and the last time but one everybody thought was permanent break up. They got together one last time, however, and allegedly my husband was a reconciliation baby. It wasn’t much of a reconciliation after all, but I’m glad it happened regardless.
Stories about why she left vary, depending on when and who you ask. It’s pointless to rehash them, as I cannot entirely believe any of them- the thing is, the most believable versions come from the people who were only children at the time- my husband’s older sisters and their cousins. It doesn’t reflect well on either parent
Meanwhile, a baby and two schoolaged girls were left in the care of their father. My husband was too young to remember any of it. The girls remember being left alone night after night while he bar-hopped. He was a ranch overseer for a while, and tells about having to drive the truck all over the large southern California ranch in Goleta where he worked, with a one year old standing up on the seat next to him as he drove, and he thought that was ridiculous- not that the one year old was not adequately restrained: nobody did car seats then- but that he had to supervise ranch-hands with a baby accompanying him everywhere he went. He finally shipped the kids to Grandma and Grandpa.
A few years later Grandpa died. A little after that the girls started getting into trouble, sneaking out at night, going to parties. It was the sixties. Grandmother was scared and overwhelmed. She gave the girls a choice: Behave. Go live with Dad. Go live with Mom. The older sister told us years later why they chose Mom. ”We already knew Dad was a flake,” she said. ”We didn’t know much about Mom, so we thought we’d try her out. It turns out it wasn’t much better than it would have been at Dad’s.”
My husband is 52. Something changed in the sixties and seventies. When my grandfather was alive, he said that when he was a young parent in the forties and fifties a parent who abandoned his or her children could be charged with a *crime,* punishable by a jail sentence- even if they abandoned them to another spouse.
I don’t know what it was, probably a combination of things. Over the last two, perhaps three generations, we raised children with too few responsibilities- that ‘let them be kids, they’re only kids such a short time’ mentality, and they cannot keep on doing the right thing when it’s ‘too hard.’ We sneered at duty and responsibility and so we became irresponsible children who look at duty as something foreign and burdensome.
It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat’, than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms (logical arguments) that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism … about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. The operation of The Green Book (a book promoting relativism) and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests. … A persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment… It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.
And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
From The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis, the chapter on Men Without Chests
If you are reading this, you are probably not like my in-laws. Not like the men in our Little Boys’ lives. Not like the mothers Mile Hi Mama mentions. We have not abandoned our children. And we thank God that we are not like those….
But there is more to mothering than being the warm body in the home. One of my favorite Disney movies is So Dear to My Heart, starring Burl Ives and Beulah Bondi. In one scene the little boy who is the main character has stormed off in anger, and runs off to the woods. His granny is worrying, fretting, and praying over him. The uncle (played by Ives) tries to reassure Granny, telling her the boy knows the woods like the back of his hand and she needn’t worry, he won’t get lost. She points out to him it’s not his physical safety she’s worried about by saying tersely, “They’s more ways o’ bein’ lost than just bein’ lost in the woods!”
They’s more ways of leaving your children alone than just walking out the door. Are you sure you’re not guilty of some of those more subtle ways of abandoning your duties? I know I’m not.