My son has left home. He is twenty and has been away at a military institute for the last two years where he earned an associate’s degree. After much debate, he decided not to go into the Coast Guard as he originally planned and will be chasing his dream of becoming a screen writer/director instead. Because he wants to do this completely on his own, he decided to move to Atlanta with a friend, get a job, establish residency, and enroll in college for the spring semester. He moved out. I have been told not to anticipate visits lasting more than a week; our house is merely a storage unit for the things he could not take with him as he begins his life away from us.
When I first took on this blog, I created a list of possible topics and one of them was inspired by a Facebook post I had seen: Dog Parenting vs. Cat Parenting.
This topic came back to memory when, at my son’s going away dinner, a friend asked me how I was reacting to his leaving. I really didn’t know how to answer her. I guess I’m supposed to be upset or missing him already or something, but I’m not. He’s already been twelve hours away for the last two years, at least now it will only take nine hours to get to him in an emergency. The only way I could respond was, “You know I’m a cat parent. We’ll all be fine.”
Now before I go any further, I have to say that my son and I have a great relationship. He can talk to me about anything, and I was aware that he was considering this path in April. My advice to him then was “do your research and build your argument” (he was on debate team in middle school). I am supportive, just not overly protective. My kids have plenty of friends’ moms (like the one who asked the question) who are dog parents and fill in where I am lacking.
This whole situation got me thinking about the parents portrayed in Jane Austen’s novels. Sense and Sensibility alone shows so many varying parental types: from the scheming Fannie Dashwood to the loving Mrs. Dashwood and jovial Mrs. Jennings, on to the overindulgent Sir John and Lady Middleton, and finally the nervous Mrs. Palmer and her indifferent husband. It is clear that Austen, as in all things, was exceedingly observant of people and their habits.
Because so much of JAFF focuses upon Pride and Prejudice (or at least my work does), I decided to do the same here. Why, Austen’s opening chapter paints a clear picture of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, but just to be sure the reader understands them thoroughly, the final paragraph states the poor woman’s character plainly.
Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three-and-twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character. HER mind was less difficult to develop. She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news. Pride and Prejudice – Chapter 1
What has always puzzled me, and many other JAFF authors based on some of the stories I have read, is how Jane and Elizabeth (and for that matter Mary) turned out the way they did. Some speculate the eldest two daughters spent more time with the Gardiners and were highly influenced by that couples’ superior manners. Others suggest Mrs. Bennet was not always so silly, but Austen clearly refutes this in the passage listed above. (Oops, I’m one of those. Oh, well, that’s why it’s called a variation.)
Clearly, Mrs. Bennet is a dog parent (Mr. Darcy’s insult to her child caused her to dismiss him and his money in a hot second) and Mr. Bennet a cat parent (constantly pronouncing his daughters the silliest girls in England), but they are not the only parents in P&P. Not much is said about the Lucases’ parenting style. The only real description we have of Lady Lucas is …
Lady Lucas was a very good kind of woman, not too clever to be a valuable neighbour to Mrs. Bennet. Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 5
That and Charlotte’s understanding that her parents would be pleased simply to have her not be a burden upon Lucas Lodge. The bonus points that she would be mistress of a larger estate in the same neighborhood was the most important thing to celebrate.
Sir William and Lady Lucas were speedily applied to for their consent; and it was bestowed with a most joyful alacrity. Mr. Collins’s present circumstances made it a most eligible match for their daughter, to whom they could give little fortune; and his prospects of future wealth were exceedingly fair. … and Sir William gave it as his decided opinion, that whenever Mr. Collins should be in possession of the Longbourn estate, it would be highly expedient that both he and his wife should make their appearance at St. James’s. Pride and Prejudice – Chapter 22
This brings us to the Gardiners. Though we see little interaction between them and their own children, the conversations between Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth are filled with more kind motherly advice than any of the schemes Mrs. Bennet provided. She warns Elizabeth not to fall in love where finances would forbid a match, offers to take Jane away from Hertfordshire to heal from her heartache, and weighs Darcy and Elizabeth’s actions to determine their interest and suitability. Yet she does not flutter and push them in the direction she would want them to go. Rather, she waits for them to ask, no matter how long, as the case with Elizabeth.
“… His understanding and opinions all please me; he wants nothing but a little more liveliness, and THAT, if he marry PRUDENTLY, his wife may teach him. I thought him very sly;–he hardly ever mentioned your name. But slyness seems the fashion.
“Pray forgive me if I have been very presuming, or at least do not punish me so far as to exclude me from P. I shall never be quite happy till I have been all round the park. A low phaeton, with a nice little pair of ponies, would be the very thing. …” Pride and Prejudice – Chapter 52
I like to think I might be a mix of Mrs. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet, but only my children can say for certain. I like to imagine Elizabeth Darcy taking the best of each of them as she raised her own children.
Which of Jane Austen’s parents would you have wanted? To which, if you have children, are you most similar?
**I wrote this blog a while back, but never posted it for one reason or another. Now I am in a similar situation with my daughter going away for three weeks to Musical Theatre Camp in New York and my husband suggesting I will be at my wits’ ends by the time she returns because I won’t have my theatre buddy around. (They just don’t seem to learn.)
My son is still in Atlanta and will be a full time student come August (it took a year to establish residency). In the meanwhile, he has directed several short films and worked as a production assistant on many more. He is looking forward to finding a mentor to guide him through the next steps of his career. His father and I couldn’t be prouder and are looking forward to a trip to Georgia.