Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Churchill Series - Feb. 10, 2009

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

John Strange Spencer Churchill, Winston’s only brother and sibling, was born Feb. 4, 1880, in Dublin, Ireland, where the brothers’ father, Lord Randolph, was serving as Vice-Regent.

Sixty-five years later, Churchill recalled the day: “I remember my father coming into my bedroom at Vice-Regal Lodge in Dublin and telling me (aged 5), ‘You have a little brother.’” Shortly thereafter, the family returned to England.

The brothers’ parents were indifferent to their emotional needs and often away, even at Christmas. When they were at home, they often arranged for the boys to stay elsewhere, lest they distract the Churchills from their political and social pursuits.

But Winston and Jack were not totally denied the kind of care and attention parents owe their children. They received it from a servant: their nanny, Ann Elizabeth Everest.

“My nurse was my confidante, Churchill later wrote. “Mrs. Everest it was who looked after me and tended all my wants. It was to her I poured out my many troubles.”

Everest had been employed when Winston was a baby. As a toddler he began calling her “Woom.”

With Jack’s birth, Woom was no longer just “Winnie’s nanny;” she became “the boys’ nanny.” Everest gave Jack the same deep affection and care she gave Winston.

Jack’s birth and Woom’s care, really love, for Jack confronted Churchill with the first great crisis of his life.

A five year old can be very angry and resentful when a sib arrives. Often, those emotions are directed savagely at parents, cherished caregivers and/or the sib. They can last a person’s whole life.

But a five year old can also take on a “big brother/ big sister” role, “helping” parents or caregivers nurture the new sib.

We know how Winston resolved his crisis. Whatever anger or resentment he may have felt toward his parents, “Woom” and Jack, must have been slight and well-repressed. Historians and documents I’ve read note no change in Winston’s feelings or behavior toward “Woom” following Jack’s birth.

Everything we know about the brothers’ relationship in their early years suggests it was then as it was as it remained throughout their lives: warm, affectionate and caring; in a word loving.

A five year old who resolves a great crisis in the way Churchill did has taken a long stride toward a confident, generous adulthood. He’s already shown that faced with threats to himself and the risk of losing what he holds most dear, he has within himself the resources to master such threats and preserve what’s most dear.

The old expression comes to mind: “The child is father to the man.”
Churchill's recollection of his father telling him of Jack's birth is found in Martin Gilbert's
Churchill: A Life (p. 2). This post draws on that work, John Keegan's Winston Churchill, and Speaking for Themselves: The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill (Mary Soames, Editor) for background.

The discussion regarding Jack’s birth as a crisis and Winston's resolution of it is my responsibility.


Anonymous said...

"A five year old can be very angry and resentful when a sib arrives."

That is definitely the "conventional wisdom" and I was aware of it when my second child was born. My son was 4 and a half years old. When I went home from the hospital with his little sister, I arranged for him to come home after we were settled,she was asleep, and I could give him my full attention. To everyone's surprise he came through the front dooring demanding, "Where is my baby?" She was asleep on a pallet on the floor and that's where he went and stayed. If anyone could have felt neglected, it would have been mom. I know he was loved and he knew it but I do not believe anything I said or did made him so capable of accepting new people to love in his life. That's the way he is, not just with "his baby" but also with his step-father, and a baby brother.

I think some people are just special like that and perhaps Winston was as well.

"Conventional wisdom" "can" explain some typical behavior but people, especially children, are far too complicated to be so easily understood.