The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The "P.R." Letter Bag.

Volume 10, 1899, pg. 813-815

[The Editor is not responsible for the opinions of Correspondents.]

Dear Editor,--While agreeing, in the main, with Mrs. Sieveking's interesting articles, in the October and November numbers of the Review, I feel there are one or two reasons, why her suggestions are difficult to follow out. No one who walks for ten minutes in, say Kensington Gardens, in London, can fail to see how many of Mrs. Sieveking's strictures are deserved. The well-dressed babies of two, and even more, who, attended by "smart" nurses, are pushed and poked and made to "sit up" when they want to lie down, whose bonnets and hats are roughly forced on the head at the particular angle the nurse wishes, who are scolded for not walking quickly enough, who are slapped for picking up twigs, &c., &c., makes a child-lover's heart ache indeed. A propos of slapping; it is curious how many people recognize the sacredness of a child's body, and will dismiss a nurse for want of respect to that, when disrespect to the child's mind, and soul, is passed over lightly. We who believe that "education is an atmosphere," must feel how little our own work can prosper, when the nurses spread an atmosphere of coarseness, of gossip and untruth, and when things are called wrong and naughty, as their whim dictates. One knows of many instances, where nurses are kept to train the God-given soul of the child, and mould its character, when their want of true mobility of heart and character is known, simply because, they "keep the children well"; a not uncommon, if uninspiring phrase.

It seems to me that the whole question lies in Mrs. Sieveking's sentence, "Everyone has not the gift of discriminating character"; not only has everyone not got this gift, but many do not care to exercise it. How many people think of asking, in engaging nurses, what knowledge they have of training a child, and what their own character is like. Still there is another side to the picture. Surely everyone will admit that true gentlewomen are to be found in every class, just as the mother-heart is to be found in many an unmarried woman's breast. If the question of means does not come in, and Mrs. Sieveking speaks of a class, who can pay for good assistance. I believe that it is better for the children to spend some hours of the day with a good patient refined woman, who will follow out the mother's wishes with regard to training and habit formation, than to be constantly in the mother's presence. The constant society of the mother is too stimulating, too intellectual, too engrossing for a child. He should be with a more phlegmatic, less exciting mind than that of the over-anxious mother is likely to be, though nurse as well as mother should early learn the duty of "letting alone" and "masterly inactivity," and give the child many house of absolute "leisure." Moreover, a mother is a child-bearer as well as a nurse, and a wife as well as a mother, and the exceptions are, I believe, very few indeed, where a woman has the physical strength to follow the "practical profession of mother-nurse" besides the two professions, even if we leave out of the question, the necessity for her maintaining her interests in life, generally.

I cannot make this letter too long, but the arguments seem to me unanswerable that she should come fresh in mind and body, when she does come to the children. "For the children's sake," I believe too, that provided the nurse's views of life are right and true, it is well that the children should in a natural way mix with people of another class to their own. I believe there is more practical socialism in letting the children hear about their nurse's home and friends, and occasionally visit them, than in hundreds of lectures on "The Brotherhood of Men." Mrs. Sieveking says that it is a sine qua non that a mother have help, but considers intimate supervision impossible. I believe that the "help" who is not allowed responsibility, and who will probably not be capable of acting for herself, may be quite as dangerous a person, even, as the unreliable nurse "when the door shuts with a clang behind one."

But, probably, the difference is only one of words. The mother, even the mother-nurse, must have an occasional holiday; the children will, probably, not be all of the same age, so that the mother will have to divide her time and attention between them; and the gift of discriminating character is as essential in choosing the help as the nurse, and the help becomes the "nurse with a wise supervision" for the time being.

It seems to me, that for the mother of the leisured class the following advice might be given. Choose a nurse for her worth as a woman even more than for her experience as a nurse, provided the nurse has a truly refined soul, I would not pass her over because her accent is not absolutely correct, or her views on art somewhat "early Victorian."

Experience can be gained in wrong doing as well as right doing.

Be able to do everything for your child, learn from the nurse if necessary, and take your turn, when the nurse is out, or on her holiday. Study the laws that go to the formation of character, and the all-importance of atmosphere and environment, and talk the subject over with your nurse. I believe there is no truer touchstone as to the nurse's worth than her attitude to the mother, who does these things.

If she does not like you to come into the nursery always and at any time; if she does not delight in the baby wanting to go to his mother; if she considers the mother's educational principles fads and nonsense, and "all very well when the child is older"--she is worthless. If she is not willing for you to be nurse to the child, when occasion arises; if, in fact, she does not work with you for the child--have nothing to do with her. If you are "afraid of her," as many a young mother will confess she is (at the bottom of her heart) of her child's nurse--she is not the right nurse for you.

But when the good nurse and the true help is found, let the mother have a care that she values her, at her true worth. Happily, the mistresses are becoming rare, who expect nurses "only to go out when the children are in bed," and who consider holidays unnecessary--yet their race is not extinct. The greater expenditure of nerve force, and the more self-control and patience, we demand from our nurses, the more relaxation and leisure they need, for making and storing nerve force. An alternation of good mother and good nurse is, I venture to think, the true solution of the problem, and resting times for mother, nurse, and child.

Yours faithfully,
The Mistress of a Good Nurse.

Typed by Erika, Feb. 2009; Proofread by LNL, Feb. 2024