Every difference between parent and child is somehow assumed to be rooted in and ascribable to the inherent perversities of the parental-filial relation. When scrutinized, these will often be found to be wholly unrelated thereto. Ever are parents and children ready to take it for granted that their clashing arises out of the relation between them when in truth, viewed dispassionately and from the vantage-ground of remoteness, parent and child are not pitted against each other at all. They are persons whose conflict has not the remotest bearing upon the relation that obtains between them. Would not much heartache be avoided, if parents and children clearly understood that the grounds of difference between themselves, however serious and far-reaching these sometimes become, are not related to or connected with the special relation that holds them together?
Thus the irritations of propinquity may not be less irritating when seen to arise out of the fact of physical contact rather than from the circumstance of intellectual antagonism or moral repulsion, but it is well to know that such irritations are not the skirmishes of life-long domestic war. I say "irritations of propinquity," for, excepting among the angels, the status of propinquity cannot be permanently maintained without at least semi-occasional irritation. Professor R. B. Perry, dealing with domestic superstitions, declares, in reference to scolding: "The family circle provides perpetual, inescapable, intimate and unseasonable human contacts.... Individuals of the same species are brought together in every permutation and combination of conflicting interests and incompatible moods.... The intimacy and close propinquity of the domestic drama exaggerates all its values, both positive and negative."
Not only does the unavoidable persistence of physical contacts account, however unprofoundly, for occasional differences in the home, but another and parallel circumstance ought never to be lost sight of. There are two samenesses in the home, the sameness of blood and the sameness of contacts. Putting it differently, the oneness of environment for all the tenants of a home continues and sometimes intensifies the strain in either sense of blood-oneness. This may sound playful to those who have never bethought themselves touching the enormous difficulties that arise in the home insofar as some parents, having inflicted a certain heredity upon their offspring, are free to burden these filial victims with an environment escape from which might alone enable them to neutralize or palliate the evil of their heritage. I have in an earlier passage asked the query whether filial revolt is not the unconscious protest of children against the authors or transmitters of hereditary defect or taint.
Let me name two types or kinds of what are held to be conflicts between parents and children, which are not conflicts in any real sense of the term; first, intellectual differences and, second, the inevitable but impersonal antagonism of the two viewpoints or attitudes which front each other in the persons of parent and child. As for purely intellectual differences, it is well to have in mind the world's current and suggestive use of the term "difference of opinion"—Carlyle saying of his talk with Sterling: "Except in opinion not disagreeing"—as if that in itself were quite naturally the precursor of strife and conflict. If difference of opinion oft deepen into conflict, is it not because in the home as in the world without we have not mastered the high art of patiently hearing another opinion? Graham Wallas would urge: "A code of manners which combined tolerance and teachability in receiving the ideas of others, with frankness and, if necessary courageous persistence in introducing one's own ideas.... Whether we desire that our educational system should be based on and should itself create a general idea of our nation as consisting of identical human beings or of indifferent human beings" is the problem with which Wallas faces us.
In the world without men may flee from one another but the walls of the home are more narrow. And within the home-walls, for reasons to be set forth, the merest differences of opinion, however honestly conceived and earnestly held, may be viewed as pride of ancient opinion on the one hand and forwardness of youthful heresy on the other. Parents are no more to be regarded as intolerably tyrannical because of persistence in definite opinions than children are to be viewed as totally depraved or curelessly dogmatic because of unrelinquishing adherence to certain viewpoints. I am naturally thinking of normal parents, if normal they be, who would rather be right than prevail, not of such parents as imagine that they must never yield even an opinion, nor yet of children surly and snarling who do not know the difference between vulgar self-insistence and high self-reverence. For the father a special problem arises out of the truth that the mother presides over the home as far as children are concerned and as long as they remain children, and he steps in to "rule" ordinarily after having failed through non-contacts to have established a relationship with children. This is the more regrettable because often it becomes almost the most important business of a father, through studied or feigned neglect, to neutralize the over-zealous attention of a mother, such attention as makes straight for over-conventionalization.
To regard differences of opinion as no more than differences of opinion will always be impossible to parents and children alike until these have learned how to lift these things to and keep them on an impersonal level. And of one further truth, previously hinted at, parents and children must become mindful,—that what, viewed superficially and personally, is their clashing, is nothing more than the wisdoms of the past meeting with the hopes of the future—past and future embodied in declining parent and nascent child.
Because of their fuller years and the circumstance of protective parenthood, parents are conservators, maintainers, perpetuators. Because of their uninstructed years and freedom from responsibility, children often become radical, uprooters and destroyers at the imperious behest of the future. These impersonal clashings of past and future can be kept on an impersonal basis, provided parents can bring themselves to see that things are not right merely because they have been and that things are not wrong solely because they have not been before.
Perhaps at this point, though parents have experience to guide them and children only hopes to lead them, it is for parents to exercise the larger patience with hope's recruits, even though these find light and beauty alone in the rose tints of the future's dawn. Felix Adler has wisely said: "A main cause is the presumption in favor of the latest as the best, the newest as the truest.... The passion for the recent reacts on the respect or the want of respect that is shown to the older generation.... Now if one group of persons pulls in one direction and another group pulls in exactly the opposite direction, there is strain; and if the younger generation pulls with all its might in the direction of changing things, and if the older generation leans back as far as it can and stands for keeping things as they are, then there is bound to be a tremendous tension."
It may be true, as has lately been suggested by the same wise teacher, that the children of our time are in protest against parents, because these are the authors and agents of the sadly blundering world by them inherited. Is it not also true and by children to be had in mind that parents are fearful of the ruthless urge and, as it seems, relentless drive of the generation to be, which become articulate in the impatiences of youth? Dealing with the difference that arises out of the fact of parents facing pastward and children futureward, Professor Perry declares : "The domestic adult is in a sort of backwash. He is looking toward the past, while the children are thinking the thoughts and speaking the language of tomorrow. They are in closer touch with reality, and cannot fail, however indulgent, to feel that their parents are antiquated.... The children's end of the family is its budding, forward-looking end: the adult's end is, at best, its root. There is a profound law of life by which buds and roots grow in opposite direction."
It were well for parents and in children to remember that past and future meet in the contacts of their common present, and that these conflict-provoking contacts are due neither to parental waywardness nor to filial wilfulness. These are not unlike the seething waters of Hell Gate, the tidal waters of river and sound, meeting and clashing, and out of their meeting growing the eddies and whirlpools which have suggested the name Hell Gate bears. Through these whirling waters there runs a channel of safety, the security of the passerby depending upon the unresting vigilance of the navigator. The whirl of the waters is not less wild because the meeting is the meeting of two related bodies, two arms of the self-same sea.