Hugo explains the cruelty of the Thenardier mother in that she requires hatred of others to love her own. Such a love is merely nominal since the object becomes but a prop for one’s pride. So how does this happen? And what does her example teach me in my own relations?
As a parent, I have had hopes and expectations for my children, starting from a very young age. These expectations I am sure at times have become burdens for them when they are motivated by a selfish drive to fulfill my childish vision for who I want to be. And to this day I end up using my kids to prop up my own reputation. When I speak the words “I am proud of you” to my daughter, I am saying it as a compliment to her, to express how pleased I am with her past choices and accomplishments. But alas, the extreme cruelty of Thenardier mama exposes to me this morning that my statement could be taken literally in truth: I am proud of her in a selfish prideful sense, and the ugliest part of that pride is exposed when I see the linkage to the sorry practice of comparing my kids to others. This unconfessed subtle practice seeds cruelty in that it leads to a satisfaction that my kids have not made the missteps of other youths. And the cruel comparison is not limited to those unfortunate youths, but I encumber my own kids with my expectations, asking them to live up to my artifice of the successful life. Although I preach that I want them to follow their own path, I have erected idols of “right” living that I expect them to worship.
My kids have made great choices and are successful to the world. But my words for them often betray that my acceptance and approval is tied to that success. And then I think of how I have been loved: how I have been received and approved without meeting up to some standard, least of all a standard set up by a needy father. Rather, I have been lavished upon as a prodigal son returned once again to his home. I am invited into joyous adventure, not to serve an ego, but to serve in truth.
So resolved to give up cruel parenting – or similar cruelty in any relationship.