Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
THAT SPOILED CHILD.
I was the other day one of many passengers in a railroad train in which a small girl of four or five years of age was making a journey, accompanied by her mother and an aunt. The child was beautiful, with a mass of golden curls. Her velvet coat and the felt hat trimmed elaborately with ostrich plumes were faultless in their style; her behavior would compare unfavorably with the manners of a young Comanche Indian. She insisted upon standing in the centre of the aisle, where she effectually blocked all passage, and, as the train was going rapidly, ran a great risk of being thrown violently against the seats. When remonstrated with by her guardians, she slapped her aunt full in the face, pulled herself free from her mother's restraining grasp, and, in a frenzy of rage, threw herself down right across the aisle. There she lay for a full half hour. When her mother would have raised her to her feet she uttered shriek after shriek, until her fellow-travelers' ears rang. After this triumph of young America over the rule and command of tyrannizing mamma, the innocent babe was allowed to remain prostrate in her chosen resting-place, while brakemen, conductor and passengers stepped gingerly over the recumbent form. She varied the monotony of the situation by occasional wrathful kicks in the direction of her mother or at some would-be passer-by.
"It is best to let sleeping dogs lie," sighed the mother of this prodigy to her sister. "When she gets one of these attacks (and she has them quite often) I just leave her alone until she becomes ashamed of it. She can't bear to be crossed in anything."
When I stepped from the train at my destination the humiliation for which her attendants longed was still a stranger to the willful child.
Trouble-fearing persons have a belief to the effect that it is, in the long run, easier to let a child have his own sweet way until he has attained the age of discretion,--say at fourteen or fifteen years,--when his innate sense of propriety will convince him of the error of his ways. Such a theorist was a dear old gentleman who, many years ago, remonstrated with me upon the pains and time I spent in training my first born. The children of this aged saint had been reared according to the old-fashioned notion, but when they had babies of their own they departed from it, and the rising generation had full and free sway. Their grandparent, albeit frequently the victim of their pranks, loved them dearly. He now assured me that--
"While they are regular little barbarians, my dear, still they have all that freedom and wild liberty which should accompany childhood. They eat when and what they please, go to bed when they feel like it, rise early or late as the whim seizes them, and know no prescribed rules for diet and deportment. But they come of good stock and will turn out all right."
They did come of good, honest parents, and this may have been what saved their moral, while their physical being has suffered from the course pursued during their infancy and early youth. There were six children; now there are four. One died when a mere baby from cold contracted from running about the house in winter weather in her bare feet. She was so fond of doing this that her mother could not bear to put shoes and stockings on the dear little tot. The other, a sweet, affectionate boy, suffered at regular intervals during the fifteen years of his life from acute indigestion. Directly after one of these attacks, he, as was his habit, followed the cravings of an undisciplined appetite, and attended, late at night, a pea-nut-and-candy supper, almost immediately after which he was taken violently ill and died in three days. The four remaining children do not, all told, possess enough constitution to make one strong man. They are all delicate and constant sufferers.
In this case judicious care might have averted the above-mentioned evils. Would the game have been worth the candle?
This is a question which parents cannot afford to disregard. It is expedient for them to consider seriously whether or not the stock on both sides of the family, of which their children come, is so good as to warrant neglect or to justify over-indulgence.
Our mother-tongue does not offer us a phrase by which we may express what we mean by l'enfant terrible. But our father-land produces many living examples which may serve as translations of the French words. Such an one was the small boy who, while eagerly devouring grapes, threw the skins, one after another, into the lap of my new light silk gown. His mother entered a smilingly gentle protest in the form of--
"Oh, Frankie dear! do you think it is pretty to do that?" to which he paid as much attention as to my look of distress. The reader who believes in "lending a hand" in righting the minor evils of society must have more temerity and a larger share of what the boy of the period denominates "nerve" than I possess, if she interferes with a child while in the presence of the mother. It is as unsafe as the proverbial act of inserting the digits between the bark and the tree. It is, moreover, a liberty which I should never permit the dearest friend to take. In fact, so strong is my feeling on this subject, that I should have allowed "Frankie dear" to make a fruit-plate and finger-bowl of the shimmering folds of my gown rather than utter a feeble objection before his doting mamma.
The practice of spoiling a child is unjust to the little one and to the parent. The latter suffers tenfold more than if she, day by day, inculcated the line-upon-line, protest-upon-protest system. That she does not do this is sometimes due to mistaken kindness, but oftener to self-indulgence or dread of disagreeable scenes, that brings a harvest of misery as surely as he who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind.
A spoiled child is an undutiful child. This must be true. The constant humoring and considering of one's whims will, in course of time, produce a stunted, warped and essentially selfish character, that considers the claims of gratitude and affection as nil compared with the furtherance of personal aims and desires. Never having learned self-control or obedience, parents and their timid remonstrances must go to the wall before the passions or longings which these same parents in days gone by have fostered. "Only mother" or "nobody but father" are phrases that are so frequent as to become habitual, while the "you yourself used to let me do this or that" is the burden of many an excuse for misdemeanors. And after all the years of parental indulgence, what is your reward? The spring is gone from your own being, while your children will not let you live your life over again in theirs.
We all recall Ęsop's fable of the young man about to be executed, who begged on the scaffold for a last word with his mother, and when the wish was granted, stooped to her and bit off the tip of her ear, that the pain and disfigurement might serve as a constant reminder of the hatred he felt for the over-indulgence and lack of discipline which had brought him to this shameful death. The hurt which the mother's heart feels at the thought of causing her child's downfall is pain too great to be endured.
The letting-alone principle is a short-sighted one. Even in infancy a spoiled child may make such a nuisance of himself as to produce a disagreeable impression upon all who know him,--an impression which it takes many years of model behavior to eradicate. It is actual cruelty to throw upon the child the work the parent should have performed. It is easy to train the growing plant, but after the bark is tough and the fibre strong it is a terrible strain upon grain and vitality to bend it in a direction to which it is unaccustomed.
Much of the insubordination to be found in the children of the present day is due to the growing habit of entrusting the little ones to servants whose own wills and tempers are uncontrolled and untrained. A child knows that his nurse has no right to insist upon obedience, and he takes advantage of the knowledge until he is a small tyrant who is conscious of no law beyond that of his own inclinations.
The prime rule in the training of children should be implicit obedience. The child is happier for knowing that when a command or prohibition is stated there is no appeal from the sentence, and that coaxing avails naught. Uncertainty is as trying to small men and women as to us who are more advanced in the school of life.
So much depends upon this great principle of obedience, that it is marvelous that parents ever disregard it. I have known in my own experience three cases in which it was impossible to make a child take medicine, and death has followed in consequence. One of the most painful recollections I have is of seeing a child six years old forced to swallow a febrifuge that was not unpalatable in itself. The mother, father, and nurse held the struggling boy, while the physician pried open the set teeth and poured the liquid down his throat. Under these circumstances it is probable that the remedy proved worse than the disease.
I have not space to do more than touch upon the great influence of early training on the future life. All my days I have been thankful for the gentle but firm hand that, as a child, taught me moral courage, self-denial and submission. The temptations of life have been more easily resisted, the trials more lightly borne, because of the years in which I was in training for the race set before me. We do not want to enter our children on the course as unbroken, "soft" and wild colts, whose spirits must be crushed before they will submit to the work assigned them. They may be young, yet strong; spirited, yet gentle; patient, yet resolute.