Moral Briefs – Chapter LX – Disinterested Love in Parents

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonLove seems to resume all the obligations of parents toward their offspring; certainly, it directs all their actions, and they fulfill these obligations ill or well according to the quality of that love. But love is not sufficient; love is of two kinds, the right and the wrong; nothing good comes of an affection that is not properly ordered. In itself, parental love is natural, instinctive; therefore it is not meritorious to any high degree. But there is much merit in the proper kind of parental affection, because it requires sacrifice.

There may be too little love, to the neglect and misfortune of children. There may be too much, to their spoiling and utter perversion. Again there may be affection that is partial, that singles out one for caresses and favors to the exclusion of the others; hence discord and dissensions in the family. The first two forms of inordinate affection are equally bad, while the last combines both and contains the double evil thereof. It is hard to say which is the worse off, the child that receives too much or the one that receives too little of that love which to be correct should avoid extremes.

Parents are apt, under the sway of natural affection, to overlook the fact that God has rights over the children, and that the welfare and interests of the children must not be left outside all consideration: herein lies the root of all the evil that befalls the family through degenerate love. What is commonly, but improperly, called love is either pagan fondness or simon-pure egotism and self-love.

When a vain person looks into a mirror, she (if it be a “she”) will immediately fall in love with the image, because it is an image of herself. And a selfish parent sees in his child, not another being, but himself, and he loves it for himself. His affection is not an act of generosity, as it should be, but an act of self-indulgence. He does not seek to please another, he seeks to please himself. His love, therefore, is nothing but concentrated vanity – and that is the wrong kind.

Such a parent will neglect a less favored child, and he will so far dote on the corporal and physical object of his devotion as to forget there is a soul within. He will account all things good that flatter his conceit, and all things evil that disturb the voluptuousness of his attachment. He owns that child, and he is going to make it the object of his eternal delights, God’s rights and the child’s own interests to the contrary notwithstanding. This fellow is not a parent; he is a pure animal, and the cub will one day make good returns for services rendered.

A parent with a growing-up family, carefully reared and expensively educated, will often lay clever plans and dream elaborate dreams of a golden future from which it would almost be cruelty to awake him. He sees his pains and toils requited a thousand fold, his disbursements yielding a high rate of interest and the name his children bear – his name – respected and honored. In all this there is scarcely anything blame-worthy; but the trouble comes when the views of the Almighty fail to square with the parental views.

Symptoms of the malady then reveal themselves. Misfortunes are met with complaints and murmurings against Providence and the manner in which it runs the cosmic machine. Being usually self-righteous, such parents bring up the old discussion as to the justice of the divine plan by which the good suffer and the wicked prosper in this world. Sorrow in bereavement is legitimate and sacred, but when wounded love vents its wrath on the Almighty, the limit is passed, and then we say: “Such love is love only in name, love must respect the rights of God; if it does not, it is something else.” The Almighty never intended children to be a paying investment; it belongs to Him to call children to Himself as well as parents themselves, when He feels like it. Parents who ignore this do not give their children the love the latter have a right to expect.

Intelligent and Christian parents, therefore, need to understand the true status of the offspring, and should make careful allowance for children’s own interests, both material and spiritual, and for the all-supreme rights of God in the premises. Since true love seeks to do good, in parents it should first never lose sight of the child’s soul and the means to help him save it. Without this all else is labor lost. God frowns on such unchristian affection, and He usually sees to it that even in this world the reaping be according to the sowing.

The rearing of a child is the making or unmaking of a man or woman. Love is the motive power behind this enterprise. That is why we insist on the disinterestedness of parental love, before touching on the all-important question of education.