The Hearth from Which We Leave

How different it is to be in a nurturing family! Immediately, I can sense the aliveness, the genuineness, honesty, and love. I feel the heart and soul present as well as the head. People demonstrate their loving, their intellect, and their respect for life.I feel that if I lived in such a family, I would be listened to and would be interested in listening to others; I would be considered and I also would wish to consider others. I could openly show my affection as well as my pain and disapproval. I wouldn’t be afraid to take risks because everyone in my family would realize that some mistakes are bound to come with my risk-taking—that my mistakes are a sign that I am growing. I would feel like a person in my own right—noticed, valued, loved, and clearly asked to notice, value, and love others. I would feel free to respond with humor and laughter when it fits.

One can actually see and hear the vitality in such a family. The bodies are graceful, the facial expressions relaxed. People look at one another, not through one another or at the floor; and they speak in rich, clear voices. A flow and harmony permeate their relations with one another. The children, even as infants, seem open and friendly, and the rest of the family treats them very much as persons.

The houses in which these people live tend to have a lot of light and color. Clearly a place where people live, these homes are planned for their comfort and enjoyment, not as showplaces for the neighbors. (Virginia Satir, The New Peoplemaking).

Doesn’t this open your eyes and your heart? Can’t you just see truth when you read Satir’s description of the nurturing family?

Doesn’t it make you look at your environment with new eyes, and ask what you’re communicating through your own behavior, and even through your home?

14 responses

  1. It’s not your fault, RG, that I take words at their literal definition … and the definition of “tease” is “to make fun of, or attempt to provoke, in a playful way.”

    I think what you do with your kids is joking, not teasing. 🙂

  2. Oh, my goodness! I must learn to write more clearly.

    I certainly know the difference between playful joking and the cruel kind of teasing. I am never mean or rude or sarcastic with my kids. I never joke about the areas that would hurt their feelings.

    Mostly I tell them dumb jokes or say things that I’m sure will make them sincerely laugh–things that are part of our family culture because we are open about them.

    I assure you that I don’t engage in cruel teasing. I have mistakenly done so as a teacher a couple of times , by getting carried away or putting my foot in my mouth, and have regretted it profoundly. Both at school and at home I am very cautious with what I say to the kids.

    The reason I have bristled at the teasing done by my children is twofold (1) I had it pounded into my head that children should “respect” their parents and (2) my children haven’t learned to distinguish playful joking from cruel teasing.

    There’s a voice that plays in my head sometimes: “You shouldn’t let them talk to you that way!” But then I realize that I actually should, if I have fostered that kind of joking and playfulness already. They are getting older, and I want them to have more freedom in the way that they talk to me and their mother.

    Part of my reaction to them is that they often don’t know when to quit or they push buttons that they know I am sensitive about, such as my gray whiskers. I have used those things as teachable moments, because I want them to be cautious in how they talk to people outside the family.

    I hope that I have defended myself somewhat. I’m sorry for the picture that I cast in David’s mind.

  3. RG and David, I’m going to comment to both of you at the same time, since RG hasn’t been back to comment yet.

    I think RG was probably taking literary license and I doubt he bristled in the way you seem to have read it. I only suggest this because I haven’t known him to be the bristling, defensive type. I think he’s more likely to be the bristling, wow-you-got-me! type. It’s usually a surprise when the kids you joke around with finally get old enough to joke back with some laugh-out-loud comments at the parent’s expense! I love it when my kids “get” me like that.

    But David has female friends whose hubbies use teasing as a form of humor. I remember my brothers used to tease me and my dad would say, “they tease you because they love you.” I’d think, “no, they tease me to annoy me.” Closer to the truth is the probability that they were still learning to use humor.

    A sense of humor is a sign of mental health, and a robustly good sense of humor is a sign of robustly good mental health. Many people don’t have these. I suspect that the wives complaining about their husbands’ teasing may be just as under-developed as those husbands. Puns are one of the highest developed types of humor, as is satire, and you don’t see either type of humor much in our society today. In fact, if you turn on the Comedy Channel, you’ll see a lot of coarse sexual humor. We’re devolving in some ways, I think because we’re not refining our communication skills. We don’t have to. And we have too much television and not enough reading of good literature.

    Anyway, on the other hand it’s true that teasing, sarcasm, and other potentially negative forms of humor are also used in dysfunctional families to humiliate and hurt family members. There’s a proverb somewhere in the Bible that says that the one who mocks his brother and then says “was I not teasing?” is like someone who throws flaming arrows around. I think that’s apt. When I worked with families in the process of healing, I recommended that they drop teasing, insults, and sarcasm as humor and take breaks from humor except to watch truly funny movies (and yes, I had a recommended viewing list). After growing up in toxic families, many folks have no clue how to use humor in a healthy way, and need to learn.

    So, David, your concern is well placed; but I am pretty sure that teasing as used in RG’s family and teasing as used in toxic families is quite different. It’s OK to tease; it’s all in the way it’s done. Hopefully RG will come along and clarify; but my guess is going to be that he didn’t mean it the way you read it.

    I’ll give you one of my favorite examples of how my daughter Olivia and I had fun one day teasing about, of all things, her physical handicap, which required the use of a wheelchair. Not politically correct, eh? But here’s what happened.

    One afternoon the doorbell rang. Olivia called out, “MOM! Doorbell! Can I answer the door?” (she loved to answer the door).

    “Sure!” I called from the kitchen. “But don’t run in the house!”

    As I came out of the kitchen, drying my hands, I caught sight of Olivia speeding toward the front door to open it. As she rolled along, she cast a laughing glance over her shoulder and retorted, “Yeah, I wouldn’t want to break my leg—because then I couldn’t walk!”

    Ha ha ha, she laughed. And I burst out laughing, too.

    That’s teasing for you.

  4. Scott, your children are so young; they need that snuggling! One of my favorite parenting books is “The Family Bed,” which, while a little over the top in terms of family bonding, is also a wonderful example of thinking outside the box–or bed, as the case may be.

    One of my sons was such a cuddlebug that he graduated from our bed to his brother’s bed. I don’t think he slept by himself for any considerable length of time until he was about seven years old. He’s a brilliant and loving 16-year-old now, and I don’t regret giving him all the cuddling and bed time he needed until he was finished. I’m so glad to know that there are other parents out there who put their king sized beds to good use, too. We can change the planet one kid at a time, eh?

  5. Alida, what a lovely story. I could tell one memorable story on myself about how the cleanliness of my house was more important to me one day than the friend who dropped by early one morning, unannounced. I found it nearly impossible to be hospitable in my robe, even though my friend really needed someone right at that moment.

    Your story is a good reminder of what’s important. It really is the spirit in a place.

  6. Carmen, yes it does make one look at even the environment differently. It sounds like you’ve been on your loving journey for a long time. That’s good. :o)

  7. RG — I have to confess, I’m curious as to how teasing can ever be loving. I realize that question sounds more critical than it actually is, but I’m genuinely curious. Since you find yourself “bristling” at it, I imagine that your kids bristled similarly when teased, no matter how benevolently it was meant.

    I’m curious about this due to a long discussion I’ve had with several women who are mothers, who complain that men, generally speaking, tease inappropriately as a method of communication both with them and with their children.

  8. Yes, after having children “Job one” has not been to provide for their material concerns, but their spiritual and psychological upbringing. We laugh a lot, and I like that. But even though we know we should discourage it, our kids (5 and almost 3) always wake up at night and come snuggle in our bed. It’s a kingsize bed, so we have room. And in the morning, the four of us as a family snuggling together, waking up together…I just want to package those moments and save them!

  9. Yes! That is exactly the kind of home that my wife and I (especially I) have tried to create. I believe that my children do feel that way. I know for sure that we talk together and laugh together. We even laugh at each other sometimes.

    As my children have gotten older, they have taken to teasing me. Sometimes I bristle at it, but then I remember that I have teased them–lovingly–and so now I should be able to take it back from them.

  10. “not as showcases for the neighbors.”

    It’s one of the things I’ve struggled with and just yesterday I had to pat myself on the back. I had friends coming over for lunch. The morning took on a life of it’s own and an hour before they arrived the house was a disaster. I cleaned up the kitchen, had the kids pick up their mess and when I looked around, I saw all the flaws in my home. Some dust bunnies on a floor I had swiffered the night before, the kids home school stuff piled on one of the dining room tables, the hand prints on the sliding glass door, the water damaged ceiling that hasn’t been repaired, the entry that’s four different colors because I can’t decide on a color…Ugh! I decided these were my friends so be it.

    We had a truly wonderful visit and I was complimented when the kids all agreed they had to come sleep over because they just loved being at my house!

    I thought about the good vibe my house emits. It’s hardly perfect, but it’s relaxed and fun and welcoming.

  11. Doesn’t it make you look at your environment with new eyes, and ask what you’re communicating through your own behavior, and even through your home?

    What I am communicating through my behavior and through my home is that I am a loving, graceful and beautiful person who is willing to share my joy and compassion with others. I also do this through my work. I make a daily decision to hold onto the good things that my family has tried to communicate to me, instead of the bad.

  12. If you do end up reading that particular book, be prepared for the odder side of anthroposophy: elementals, the astral body, reincarnation, etc. All in a book about homemaking!

    Interesting to observe what some see as a declining culture in the US, and the concurrent decline in the home life. Families not eating together, not cooking, filling their homes with plastic and blaring TV’s, etc. Soulless, for the most part. Yet another reminder that there is an esoteric, spiritual aspect to even the most mundane things.

  13. Heni, the priestess of the temple of the home?! Wow, I like that!

    In the Greek, when Paul wrote that women were to be “workers at home,” the word he actually used was oikouros, a combination of the words for “guard” and “dwelling” or “hearth,” hence a “hearth-keeper,” or “dwelling guard.” The word for dwelling there can be translated into home, dwelling, family, household, or (believe it or not) temple! So Schmid-Brabant had it right.

    I believe that every home reflects something, and in fact am going to write about that next. I agree that it’s about far more than cleaning and decorating. Being the hearth-keeper is quite the calling and privilege. I would even go so far as to say that homely pursuits are essential, the bedrock of society. It’s the soil from which we grow people. The question is, what sorts of people?

    Thanks, by the way, for the book link. Now I know where to find all these great books you read!

  14. “The children, even as infants, seem open and friendly, and the rest of the family treats them very much as persons.”

    That describes our family very much. My kids are shockingly friendly to random strangers, so much so that people often comment on it. And I’ve always believed that children have the same spirits inside them as adults, so why treat them differently? Not something I always achieve, but it’s an aspiration and I do see us doing a better job than many other families.

    One area in which I know I have a lot of work to do is being less judgmental and allowing mistakes. I need to rechannel all my Virgo energy elsewhere! Hopefully “flow and harmony” will come as a result of that work.

    This reminds me of a book that has been very important to me as a mother: The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker by Manfred Schmidt-Brabant. He talks about the role of the home and the homemaker in developing and maintaining true culture in our time, and of the numerous nonphysical aspects of homemaking.

    We don’t just create a pleasing visual experience by cleaning, decorating, etc. — we create a sense of harmony, a sense of rhythm, a soul sense that is quite perceptible, if not consciously. One of my favorite parts is when he describes the homemaker (assumed at the time of writing to be a woman) as the “priestess” of the temple of the home! That reminds me that homely pursuits are noble and very, very important for the health (physical, soul, emotional, etc.) of the family.

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