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Our Prodigal Children

Aug 17, 2007
The story of the Prodigal Son has always bothered me. It seemed to me that the loyal son, the one who stayed and helped the father, lost status when the Prodigal son returned. That didn't seem fair. I had been reading the story from the perspective of a son. I think the lesson is from the perspective of the parent.

The father understood that his loyal son might have hard feelings. But he trusted that the relationship he and his son had built through the years was strong enough to withstand the stress of the moment. He also understood his obligation to his other son, the Prodigal.

The role of the parent is to give whatever is necessary whenever it is needed. There is no guarantee that giving results in a positive outcome. If it did many parents would withdraw support once they determined that the child wasn't worth the effort.

Parental giving is a sacrifice without expectation of reward. Having some proof of the child's success, such as being on the "A" honor roll, and the resulting pride in the child is a kind of reward received by the parent. But many kids don't exhibit obvious successes that can be measured. Being a giving, loving parent does not guarantee that the child will be successful or that the child will take the desired path. Being a giving, loving parent does not guarantee that the parent will receive the reward of pride in the child's success.

In our current state of frequent divorce imagine the consequences if parental obligation was tied to the success or failure of the child. A painful divorce and prolonged custody struggle might result in a child with behavior problems. If those behaviors were especially challenging, say if the child is a boy who hits and swears, steals and lies, and if that boy only exhibits those behaviors toward his mother and looks just like the dad that cheated on her, then she might conclude that he is a clone of the father and remove her nurture.

The parent of the Prodigal Child understands that the obligations and the rewards of parenting are the same thing. They are not dependant upon outcome. The parent gives whatever is necessary whenever it is needed.

The reason this is so important is because there is no similar relationship. Every other relationship is in some way contingent upon reciprocal relating. There is a give and take and an expectation of some sort of balance. Every other relationship has an escape clause because in every other relationship one must look out for self first.

The story of the Prodigal Son gives the reason for this as well. If we allow ourselves to become consumed by another we would then lack the capacity to give sufficiently to our children. We give whatever is necessary whenever it is needed. In every other relationship we do what is possible to ensure that reciprocal relating exists. When the reciprocity is lost, absent or un-repairable we must exit. We must safeguard our resources in order to care for our children at those times when nobody else will.
About the Author
Ted Lobby is a clinical social worker in private practice in Edina, MN. He works with all ages. He is the author of two books, one to help small children with bad dreams and the other to help adolescents become self regulating. http://www.anxiouskids.com
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