Wife, Mother, the Holidays (Somewhat Cautionary Advice from William Shakespeare in Coriolanus)

Wife, Mother, the Holidays (Somewhat Cautionary Advice from William Shakespeare in Coriolanus) November 7, 2019

A Man’s Wife and His Mother: How is it going? 

Every so often I run into a common problem  I do not have. After recovering from the shock of not having or causing a problem, I generally find this is not because I have done anything particularly well.

What trouble have I avoided?

If Shakespeare and more than one acquaintance is to be believed, there can exist tensions between a man’s wife and his mother.

Why I Avoided This Problem: No Merit in Me, Wisdom from Mom 

As I said, through no virtue of my own, this has never had to be on my list of concerns. Hope, my lady wife, loves my mom and Mom loves Hope. They get along splendidly: wise women of good character who love God and their neighbor. They insist on honesty, dialog, and respect as the basis of a relationship. They love each other and that love would continue if I were gone. They also both love me, so there is that too.

My mom has, does, and will give me a good bit of wisdom. Most of these ideas she discussed with me extensively. One caution was that when two people join together, they become part of a larger extended family. This is safe, providing jollity in good times and help in hard times. The parents, in-laws, cousins, aunties, uncles, all the kin are a great social safety net, yet better still a source of wisdom and a fount of fun at holiday parties. (Love you Cousin Josh and Heather!) A Christian especially should honor his parents and grandparents: the patriarch and matriarch of the clan. Mom and Dad did this, so there was a good example.

“But.”

And when Mom said this, one listened: “But your first duty is to love and cherish your wife and children.” For a romantic, this seemed obvious, but she pointed out that parents, particularly mothers, have a big influence in molding children. Sometimes if the molding has been too great, breaking free where necessary is hard. If one should honor those who shaped, it is more necessary to guard the present and look to the future.

I do not know, and shall not even attempt to explain, what Mom would have said to a daughter. Perhaps the same advice, perhaps not. How can I know? This much I do know: when I married, Mom pointed me Hope-ward. Meanwhile, Hope valued a wise woman as guide and friend without becoming fully defined by either her relationship with Mom or with me.

Hope remains Hope.

As I have known more folks, read more great literature, this problem avoided has loomed as a larger blessing.

Oh No Coriolanus: Three Errors 

A caution: just as there is no merit in me for how things turned out, so there is no blame for relationships that a man cannot even hope to heal. Sometimes people, even mothers, choose badly or two people, even two people we love, cannot get along.

What can be done? Sometimes something, but sometimes nothing.

A broken world has not safe and easy solutions. There are circumstances in the lives of mothers that shape her outlook that happened long before our own birth. People, even very good people, are a mixture of choices and not all our hopes in relationships come to pass.

Some blessings wait for paradise.

Yet there are a few things a husband can do. They are not “solutions,” but avoiding errors. Just in case somebody (anybody!), I know would think that these tips are directed at them, I have drawn them directly from a reading of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Coriolanus is tragic in part, because he fails to attend to his wife and son while being overly shaped by his mother. He has other faults, some like his unbending pride, much greater, but there are some practical errors like those my Mom cautioned against.

First, Coriolanus wisely listens and talks to his Mother, but rarely if ever to his wife. Count the lines. The two can be in the same room and Mother gets all the dialog, while Virgilia (the lady wife) is left with throw away lines.

Second, Coriolanus values the good his mother has given him, but does not question his upbringing. My mom wanted me to question everything. Coriolanus’ mother, Volumnia, has stamped her opinions on her son so hard that even she cannot save him by changing his mind. When his lady wife and mother clash, Virgilia’s opinion is ignored.

Third, Coriolanus ignores the future for the past. He spends little time with his child, treating him (almost) as a vital accessory, not as a human. He forgets that the family will continue in his wife and son. He looks to how things were done with mother and father, not how they must done in the changing circumstance of the city. As a result, even the extended family becomes stagnate and brittle so harm is done to all.

God save us all from the errors of Coriolanus and his family. Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

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