The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Volume 4, 1893/4, pgs. 881-889
"And do you really think that these thoughts should begin so early?"
"Indeed, I do; I only wish that when people are about to marry, that they would give one thought beyond either their love-making or the worldly advantages that their marriage may bring with it! But the possibility of becoming fathers and mothers is altogether left out of their calculations. I suppose they would consider such thoughts indelicate, and so they go blindfold into untold responsibilities, and for the most part utterly unprepared for them, and this is more the fault of their parents then of themselves, I take it."
"I suspect that when they undertake these responsibilities the young people's training, such as it is, is already completed. As they were trained, so will they train. The inference, of course is, that in training our children we at the same time indirectly train out children's children. Well, let us hear what preparation it is possible to make for this future work. We are to begin, I suppose, with precept?"
"Yes, and by example. But once at man's estate our sons must and will think and act for themselves. No man of character will tolerate dictation in his choice of a wife even from those he loves best. But when he marries, I think a man should, so far as is possible, take his bird out of a good nest. If you buy a horse or a dog of value, you first inquire as to its breeding. Qualities in animals are transmitted to their young, and hence we have high-couraged horses and good or bad tempered dogs, to say nothing of those physical qualities, good or bad, the elimination or transmission of which render the breeding of animals a science. Is it not obvious that when possible, the human animal should choose a mate from a family at once pure in constitution and morals? Some will say, where shall we find such families? Surely, not so very difficult. To begin with, the best regulated families have usually the best health and often the greatest beauty; sickly constitutions, alas! bearing sad witness to the follies or vices of our ancestors."
"Oh! but surely it is expecting too much that a man should think of that. And as for moral weakness being transmitted, I don't believe in all the talk about that . . . ."
"God forbid that I should infer that members of a so-called 'delicate family' need be otherwise than good, innocent, and pure; but where the case is one of les meurs of a family being otherwise than of a good report, a man is, I think, bound to run no risk of importing into his family a taint, which sometimes leaves its mark upon more than one generation. There is no doubt that a race of strong healthful moral beings provides the material most fitted for the role of husband, wife, or parent, as the case may be. Mercifully, the Law of Natural Selection induces in a man a preference for what is fresh, clean and healthy, and many a rosy empty-headed little maiden will find a mate, while her less robust, though perhaps more interesting sisters, remain unwooed."
"Yes; that is true. Nature helps us! But where is the man or girl who will do otherwise than please his or her taste and ambition? It seems to me that you are advocating mariages de convenance."
"Not at all! But surely it is not too much to ask that, in choosing his wife, a man should remember that at the outset he bestows a good or evil heritage upon his future children as the outcome of that choice. If he marries only to satisfy an ephemeral fancy, and where the object is not worthy of either reverence or esteem, or if his choice be made on the grounds of worldly advantage only, he at the same time forfeits for himself that happiness which is within the reach of most men, and also imperils the perfect harmony of that family life in which his children will take their part, and which can only exist where God's good gift of pure love hallows every detail and circumstance. Of course, these principles apply equally to the woman, for she, too, can choose well or ill."
"Yes, yes! Now let us hear what the girl ought to do? I am sure you can't expect her to think about her future children."
"That is a broad way of putting it. No doubt there are girls who's purity is indistinguishable from an ignorance such as but few men can credit; but this exists, I think, only in that class where the home is surrounded and shielded from a too early knowledge of life and its mysteries, and is after all but the prolonging of that innocence of childhood, which, sooner or later, must open its mind to the solution of the problems of nature around it. But when you think of it, unless your girl is strangely stupid, she knows well enough the responsibilities that succeed marriage. All do. She will choose well enough if her training has been wise. If her mother sets her the bright example of what a wife and mother should be--if she sees in her father the good husband and wise parent, and she has been brought up in an atmosphere of love and harmony, she will have formed her own ideal. First aid her to form this ideal, and she will try and realise it by choosing her husband well. She will give love only where honour and respect can go hand in hand, and then her marriage will be happy, and the fate of her children assured. No, no! Mariages de convenance mean with us in England mariages a la mode, and we have all seen and hate these."
"Yes; it is horrible to think what some mothers are made of! Those whose ambition is to marry their daughters well, as they call it! Marriage is purely a matter of £. s. d. with such mothers as these. Shylocks they are, and heaven defend us from female Shylocks! But a merciful Providence still makes 'marriages in heaven,' and it is not only the good mothers whose daughters often marry happily."
"Yes, truly, love is a divine gift straight from heaven. But this invective of yours against female Shylocks is a digression; we are dealing with the training of girls whom we wish to see choose well and wisely."
"And the question I take it, is, are we to break the ice of reserve, or to maintain it?"
"It is a very difficult question I admit. Love and marriage are delicate plants. I have know much happiness marred or imperilled by an injudicious word. I should say that where a drama is being enacted, which we hope to see brought to a happy conclusion, that the reserve should be intact. No word should break the spell, no action mar the working out of the mutual understanding, and the development of the heaven-born gift of Love. And this holds good, I think, in the case of both sexes."
"How romantic you are! Do you really think there is so much poetry in the love-making of the nineteenth century? But proceed. How about the other side? suppose the elders disapprove--that the girl is drifting into--"
"Yes! yes! Then I say, speak at once and speak plainly, and don't put it off too long. If you have trained your girl well and she loves you, she will defer to your judgment: the tinsel will no longer seem gold, the glamour (if there is any) will disappear. If it is needful, owing to inexpediency (poverty or the like), that she should guard her heart, her duty, and her deference to your knowledge of the world will help her; only for mercy's sake speak in time, and save her pain."
"After all, it could often be done without such an ado. Tact would teach one what to say. A little seed of warning will take root in the well tilled soil of a girl's mind. Then your precepts would bear fruit, eh? Yes, I think there is much to be said for these theories, although at first sight it seems much against the grain to train for what may never be called into action. Think of the scores of girls who never marry."
"That's true enough, but the training will not be wasted. It will fit the girl for any life of usefulness; and, thank heaven, the careers of women are enlarged in these days, and the 'old maid' is a creature of the past."
"Well! we have now our model young man, who has chosen and been accepted by a good healthy young woman of a respectable family, and they embark on a well considered and very desirable matrimonial alliance. What next?"
"Add, that the mutual choice is inspired by a pure, disinterested affection, that each is taking the other for weel or woe, and is by his or her early training fitted and prepared, ot only for the happiness but the responsibilities of married life."
"Well go on. Once married, our couple will to a great extent be wise or foolish parents, according to their own bringing up?"
"No doubt. The young mother will, in dealing with her little ones, in most cases cast her mind back to her own treatment as a child, and before she gains a personal experience, her own children will probably be treated in the same way as she was herself. Unless, indeed, she or her husband have had to suffer from an extreme of either strictness or indulgence, in which case a violent reaction on opposite lines will probably be the result."
"But it takes a long time to learn all the lessons of a parent's life. Some begin full of zeal with their elder children, taking immense pains at first. But have you not noticed how in some cases, where perchance there is a large family (and in consequence a great increase in 'things to do'), that the parents seem to get weary and discouraged, and one child after another presents itself, claiming individual attention? Their efforts seem exhausted, and the younger children are left more or less to 'take their chance!' Fortunately for these, their elder brothers and sisters will probably educate them in 'living and letting live' in the well known way that makes people say, that members of large families are best calculated to make their own and the lives of others happy; their corners having been rubbed off."
"Quite true, and did it ever occur to you that the squabbles amongst brothers and sisters--the sound thumps administered to the selfish or greedy ones--the quizzing of the vain or conceited, form the moral pumice-stone that polishes and rubs down those sharp corners, and that produce the fine and unselfish characters? And yet people shake their heads sadly over this so called dog-and-cat fighting in families. Control it by all means, look serious over it, but I think there is no need to take it much to heart, provided it is properly kept in check."
"Yes, and provided the children au fond--love each other. Then to resume. Other parents in their youth, inexperience or pressing occupations, whether of pleasure or of duty, concern themselves but little with their elder children, who are left too much to the training of others. It is not unusual that results awaken in these parents the necessity of a closer care in the case of their younger children who profit thereby, but in the meantime the elder ones have suffered. I think that the amount that parents are able to do, must to a great extent depend upon the circumstances of their lives. But where these will permit of a nursery or schoolroom life, the mother will then bring a freshness and interest to her intercourse with the children that will greatly add to the effect of her training. Provided that parents choose carefully those to whom they commit the charge of their children--(and Ambleside, by the way, is doing much to make this easy), I have no sympathy with those people who think that the unfortunate mothers should devote their whole time and attention to the care of their children, bodily and mentally. I think these dogmatic expressions of opinion (at any rate with regard to the care of infants) usually emanate from those of the male sex, who would be the first to complain loudly if they were called upon to sacrifice any of their own comfort or convenience to the carrying out of a theory. Such men fail to realise that women require rest and relaxation, and that in their case, as well as their own, a large amount of 'Child Society' is a very great strain."
"I am glad to hear you say that. But is it not a merciful provision of nature that there exist women, who seem specially endowed with such a physical love of other people's children as enables them to bestow on them all a mother's care and devotion? But let us hear now about the little ones and their ways!"
"Where the little minds are eager and receptive they will tax the knowledge and experience of those with whom they live. Questions are a bore to many people, and one often hears of the consternation caused by children's extraordinary questions. Of course, if parents neither know about nor care for the various subjects that give rise to these questions, they are naturally a bore and an embarrassment; but some children's questions evince such originality and freshness of thought that one may learn many a lesson from the ideas they may give rise to, and the pleasure one receives in the children's receptive interest in what one can tell them is very great. I, of course, here do not include those impertinent questions asked by some children, usually apropos to the peculiarities of people with whom they come in contact. Such questions as these should be rigorously suppressed, and never laughed at; but those thoughts which spring from their observation of natural phenomena, or from an eager desire to "know," deserve as great a care and consideration in the replies given, as the person questioned is able to bestow. I have found that these kind of conversations usually take place when walking in the country, sitting under trees, and sometimes standing under the stars. Another valuable training for children and young people is the habit of listening to and taking part in conversation. By conversation I do not include that trivial talk which discusses our neighbours and their sayings and doings, nor yet the weather, nor the fashions of the day. But I take for granted that where there is a desire for the children's good, morally and intellectually, interests and tastes already exist in their elders that should make the subjects of their conversation interesting and improving. How is it that the talk at meal times is so often trivial or worldly, or at best about the food being partaken of? Are people afraid that using their brains will impair their digestions? There is no need to solve problems, but the tedium of a long sitting at table is altogether obviated if the conversation is at once lively and interesting. In it all should take part: a single 'wet blanket' damps the whole circle."
"Then you do not think that this 'give-and-take' talk is apt to make the young ones argumentative?"
"No, not if properly controlled. I think that when it is not out of their depth, or if strangers are not present, that the young ones should be encouraged to take part in the conversation; this will teach them to try their wings, and putting thought into words is a valuable training. Nothing can be more delightful than the bright sparkling talk and fun round the dinner table of certain families where there is no mauvaise honte, no ill nature, no jeering at sometime "intelligent ignorances," if I may so call them. I have heard wit from the lips of little schoolroom girls that would hardly disgrace a Sydney Smith. But all this demands a freshness of heart and mind in the parents that will enable them to both lead and take part in both the serious and merry talk; and those parents who can both unbend and enjoy this happy intercourse are those who will obtain the boundless love and loyal devotion of their children. In such an interieure was it my fate to spend my young life! At the same time it must be always borne in mind that this general conversation should not be tolerated when guests are present, or where discussions or arguments are going on, during which the elders must be listened to, not interrupted. But you asked me some time ago if I had ever noticed how often now-a-days the relations between mothers and grownup daughters were strained,--how they lost touch with one another. One certainly sometimes sees this a cause of unhappiness. I should think in most cases that there are faults on both sides. While the daughter, perhaps, is wilful, the mother sometimes forgets that her daughter is grown up, and were she married would be independent. Her tastes and interests are probably formed, and if not wisely, perhaps that is her mother's fault. Unless the grown-up girl feels herself of use to her mother, and unless the mother is in sympathy with these tastes and interests, is it to be wondered at, if the girl should go her own way? or at any rate that she should fret if not allowed to do so? Occupation is one of the great happinesses of life. A taste for reading, a love of nature and art, or of music,--these will make the home life happy to the girl; and it at the same time she can open out for herself some occupation of usefulness to others, so that she feels herself of value in the world, she will be contented instead of restless, and will not fret if no chance of a home of her own should come in her way."
"At this age you would drive with a very light rein, would you not?"
"Undoubtedly. A judicious freedom should be given to our children I think, once that they are old enough not to misuse their liberty. Having been well trained, they should now be encouraged to continue that training themselves. Let there be no onerous rules, no vexatious restraints, but, in things essential, let there be a clear understanding as to what may, or may not be done, and for the rest let them be free in the spending of the time that is their own, and in the formation of interests and occupations. In this way, if the early training has been wise and the mother possesses the love and confidence of the children, she will probably find in them a willing obedience, and in the case of the grown up daughter, the 'right hand' that is so great a help and comfort in the wear and tear of life."
"Well, you have thought it all out, certainly, and yours is the wisdom of experience."
"I have only a few words more to add and I have done. Let us not expect too much from our young ones. They are not hot house plants; they must not be forced too early either mentally or spiritually. Out blessed Lord Himself was content to grow 'in wisdom and stature.' A slow and steady development in both mind and body, of intellect and moral order, is both wholesome and natural. Do not let us be discouraged if we miss in our children that devotion in things spiritual that we would fain see in them. The laws which govern the gradual development of the natural object around us, equally hold good in the development of heart and mind. A precociousness in the religious life is as likely to be ephemeral as the too rapid growth of the body, or of the mental capacity, is likely to be exhausting to the strength. The happy unconscious simplicity of childhood and youth, as yet unstirred by any deep emotion, is doubtless that condition most pleasing to God in His children. Bye and bye 'the fruit will ripen when summer is come.' Is all this of too high an ideal? I think not. In the work that God has called upon parents to perform He will be content if we do our best. We have but to lay the foundations of a goodly building--the pinnacles will be finished in heaven."
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