H. Clay (Henry Clay) Trumbull.

Hints on child-training online

. (page 11 of 13)
Online LibraryH. Clay (Henry Clay) TrumbullHints on child-training → online text (page 11 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


of this home suited to the life and growth, to the developing of the
vigor and beauty, of a child’s best nature? That question cannot always
be answered in the affirmative; and where it cannot be, it is of little
use to talk of the minor training agencies which are operative in
behalf of the children in that home.

The atmosphere of a home is the spirit of that home, as evidenced in
the conduct and bearing of the parents, and of all whom the parents
influence. The atmosphere itself—there, as in all the natural world—is
not seen, but is felt. Its effects are clearly observable; but as a
cause it is inferred rather than disclosed. Indeed, the better the
atmosphere in a home, the more quietly pervasive its influence. Only
as the home atmosphere is inimical to the best interests of those
who feel its power, does that atmosphere make itself manifest as an
atmosphere, rather than give proof of its existence in results that
cannot otherwise be accounted for.

You enter one home, and, mingling with the family there, you feel the
balmy air of love and sympathy. Parents and children seem to live
for one another, and to be in complete accord in all their enjoyments
and occupations; and all is restful in the peace that abides there.
You are sure that everything in the moral and social atmosphere of
that home tends to the fostering and growth of whatever is best in the
child-nature. It is obvious that it is easier for a child to be good,
and to do well, in such a home as that, than in many another home.

You enter another home, and the chill of the household air strikes you
unpleasantly, at the first greeting given to you by any member of the
family. There is a side of the child-nature that you know needs more
warmth than that for its developing. Again it is the burning heat of
an excited and ever-driving household life that you are confident is
withering the more delicate and sensitive tendrils of the young hearts
being trained there. Yet again, it is the explosive storm-bursts of
passion which tear through the air, that make a home a place of peril
to the young for the time being, however it may seem in the lulls
between tempests. In the one case as in the others, it is the home
atmosphere that settles the question of the final tendency of the home
training.

In view of the importance of the home atmosphere, parents ought to
recognize their responsibility for the atmosphere of the home they
make and control. It is not enough for parents to have a lofty ideal
for their children, and to instruct and train those children in the
direction of that ideal. They must see to it that the atmosphere
of their home is such as to foster and develop in their children
those traits of character which their loftiest ideal embodies. That
atmosphere must be full of the pure oxygen of love to God and love to
man. It must be neither too hot in its intensity of social activities,
nor too cold in its expressions of family affection, but balmy and
refreshing in its uniform temperature of household living and being. It
must be gentle and peaceful in its manner and movement of sympathetic
intercourse. All this it may be. All this it ought to be.

Every home has its atmosphere, good or bad, health-promoting or
disease-breeding. And parents are, in every case, directly responsible
for the nature of the atmosphere in their home; whether they have acted
in recognition of this fact, or have gone on without a thought of it.
In order to secure a right home atmosphere for their children, parents
must themselves be right. They must guard against poisoning the air
of the home with unloving words or thoughts; against chilling it with
unsympathetic manners, or overheating it with exciting ways; against
disturbing its peaceful flow with restlessness, with fault-findings, or
with bursts of temper.

Parents must, as it were, keep their eyes on the barometer and the
thermometer of the social life of the home, and see to it that its
temperature is safely moderated, and that it is guarded against the
effect of sudden storms. Only as such care is taken by wise parents,
can the atmosphere in their home be what the needs of their children
require it to be.




XXVII.

_THE POWER OF A MOTHER’S LOVE._


In estimating the agencies which combine for child-shaping through
child-training, the power of a mother’s love cannot be overestimated.
There is no human love like a mother’s love. There is no human
tenderness like a mother’s tenderness. And there is no such time for a
mother’s impressive display of her love and tenderness toward her child
as in the child’s earliest years of his life. That time neglected, and
no future can make good the loss to either mother or child. That time
improved, and all the years that follow it shall give added proof of
its improvement.

Even when a man seems to be dead to every other influence for good,
the recollection of a mother’s prayers and a mother’s tears often has
a hold upon him which he neither can nor would break away from. And a
mother is so much to a man when he is a man, just because she was all
in all to him when he was a child.

Although God calls himself our Father, he compares his love with
the love of a mother, when he would disclose to us the depth of its
tenderness, and its matchless fidelity. “As one whom his mother
comforteth, so will I comfort you,” he says, as if in invitation to the
sinner to come like a grieved and tired child, and lay down his weary
head on his mother’s shoulder, where he is sure of rest and sympathy,
and of words of comfort and cheer. “Can a woman forget her nursing
child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?”
asks God, as if to turn attention to that which is truest and firmest
of anything we can know of human affection and fidelity. And then to
show that he is a yet surer support than even mothers prove to their
loved children, he adds, “Yea, they may forget, yet will not I forget
thee.”

David, the man after God’s own heart, could find no words which could
express his abiding confidence in God, like those wherein he declares,
“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me
up.” Nor could he find any figure of the profoundest depth of human
sorrow more forcible than that in which he says of himself, “I bowed
down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.” When David’s
greater Son was hanging on the cross in agony, with the weight of
a lost world upon him, he could forget all his personal suffering,
and could turn, as it were, for a moment, from the work of eternal
redemption, to recognize the tenderness and fidelity of his agonized
mother at his feet, and to commend her with his dying breath to the
faithful ministry of the disciple whom he loved.

The Bible abounds with pictures of loving mothers and of a mother’s
love,—Hagar, weeping in the desert over her famishing boy; Rachel
mourning for her children, refusing to be comforted because they were
not; Jochebed playing the servant to secure the privilege of nursing
her babe for the daughter of Pharaoh; Hannah joying before God over
her treasure of a longed-for son; the true mother in the presence
of Solomon, ready to lose her child that it might be saved; Rizpah,
watching on the hill-top the hanging bodies of her murdered sons, month
after month, from the beginning of harvest until the autumn rains,
suffering “neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor
the beasts of the field by night;” the wife of Jeroboam, longing to be
at the bedside of her dying son, and torn at heart with the thought
that as soon as she should reach him there he must die; the widow
of Zarephath, and the Shunammite woman, securing the intercession
of the prophet for the restoration to life of their dead darlings;
the mother of James and John pleading with Jesus for favors to her
sons; the Syro-Phœnician woman venturing everything, and refusing to
be put aside, that she might win a blessing from Him who alone was
able to restore to health and freedom her grievously vexed daughter;
the mother of Timothy, teaching her son lessons by which the world
is still profiting; and so on through a long list of those who were
representative mothers, chosen of God for a place in the sacred record,
and whose like are about us still on every side.

And the Bible injunctions concerning mothers are as positive as the
examples of their loving ministry are numerous. “Honor thy father and
thy mother” is a commandment which has pre-eminence in the reward
attached to it. “Forsake not the law of thy mother,” said Solomon;
“and despise not thy mother when she is old.” It is indeed a “foolish
man,” as well as an unnatural one, who “despiseth his mother,” or who
fails to give her gratitude and love so long as she is spared to him.
In all ages and everywhere, the true children of a true mother “rise
up and call her blessed;” for they realize, sooner or later, that God
gives no richer blessing to man than is found in a mother’s love. Even
in the days when a queen-wife was a slave, a queen-mother was looked
up to with reverence, not because she had been a queen, but because
she was still the king’s mother. “A mother dead!” wrote gruff and
tender-hearted Carlyle. “It is an epoch for us all; and to each one of
us it comes with a pungency as if peculiar, a look as of originality
and singularity.” And it was of the mother whose death called out this
ejaculation, of whom, while she was still living, Carlyle had written,
“I thought, if I had all the mothers I ever saw to choose from, I would
have chosen my own.”

A mother can never be replaced. She will be missed and mourned when she
has passed away, however she may be undervalued by the “foolish son” to
whom she still gives the wealth of her unappreciated affection. Indeed,
the true man never, while his mother is alive, outgrows a certain sense
of dependence on a loving mother’s sympathy and care. His hair may
be whitened with age; he may have children, and even grandchildren,
looking up to him in respect and affection; but while his mother lives
she is his mother, and he is her boy. And when she dies he for the
first time realizes the desolateness of a motherless son. There is
then no one on earth to whom he can look up with the never-doubting
confidence and the never-lacking restfulness of a tired child to a
loving mother. There is a shelter taken away from above his head, and
he seems to stand unprotected, as never before, from the smiting sun
and the driving storms of life’s pilgrimage. He can no more be called
“My dear son” in those tones which no music of earth can equal. To him
always:

“A mother is a mother still,
The holiest thing alive.”

Biography is rich with illustrations of this truth, although the
man whose mother is still spared to him need not go beyond his own
experience to recognize its force. Here, for example, is testy old Dr.
Johnson, bearish and boorish in many things. When he is fifty years
old, and his mother is ninety, he writes to her in tenderness: “You
have been the best mother, and, I believe, the best woman, in the
world. I thank you for your indulgence to me, and beg forgiveness of
all that I have done ill, and of all that I have omitted to do well.”
How many men there are whom the world little thinks of as child-like,
who could make these words their own, and set their hands to them with
Johnson’s closing assurance, “I am, dear, dear mother, your dutiful
son.” And the lion-hearted Luther, who seems better suited to thunder
defiance at spiritual oppressors than to speak words of trustful
affection to a kind-hearted woman, turns from his religious warfare
to write to his aged and dying mother: “I am deeply sorrowful that
I cannot be with you in the flesh, as I fain would be.” “All your
children pray for you.”

St. Augustine has been called the most important convert to the
truth from St. Paul to Luther. Near the close of his eventful life,
St. Augustine said: “It is to my mother that I owe everything. If I
am thy child, O my God! it is because thou gavest me such a mother.
If I prefer the truth to all things, it is the fruit of my mother’s
teachings. If I did not long ago perish in sin and misery, it is
because of the long and faithful years which she pleaded for me.” And
of his mother’s remembered devotedness to him, he said at the time of
her death: “O my God! what comparison is there between the honor that I
paid to her, and her slavery for me?”

John Quincy Adams’s mother lived to be seventy-four; but he had not
outgrown his sense of personal dependence upon her, when she was taken
away. “My mother was an angel upon earth,” he wrote. “She was the real
personification of female virtue, of piety, of charity, of ever-active
and never-intermitting benevolence. O God! could she have been spared
yet a little longer!” “I have enjoyed but for short seasons, and at
long, distant intervals, the happiness of her society, yet she has been
to me more than a mother. She has been a spirit from above watching
over me for good, and contributing, by my mere consciousness of her
existence, to the comfort of my life. That consciousness has gone, and
without her the world feels to me like a solitude.” When President
Nott, of Union College, was more than ninety years old, and had been
for half a century a college president, as strength and sense failed
him in his dying hours, the memory of his mother’s love was fresh and
potent, and he could be hushed to needed sleep by patting him gently on
the shoulder, and singing to him the familiar lullabies of long ago,
after the fashion of that mother, who he fancied was still at hand to
care for him.

Lord Macaulay has been called a cold-hearted man, but he was never
unmindful of the unique preciousness of a mother’s love. He it was who
said: “In after life you may have friends, fond, dear, kind friends,
but never will you have again the inexpressible love and gentleness
lavished upon you which a mother bestows. Often do I sigh, in my
struggles with the hard, uncaring world, for the sweet deep security
I felt when, of an evening, nestling in her bosom, I listened to some
quiet tale, suitable to my age, read in her untiring voice. Never can
I forget her sweet glances cast upon me when I appeared asleep; never,
her kiss of peace at night. Years have passed since we laid her beside
my father in the old churchyard, yet still her voice whispers from the
grave and her eye watches over me as I visit spots long since hallowed
to the memory of my mother.”

Napoleon Bonaparte, with all his self-reliance and personal
independence of character, never ceased to look up to his mother with
a reverent affection, and he was accustomed to say that he owed all
that he was, and all that he had, to her character and loving ministry.
“Ah, what a woman! where shall we look for her equal?” he said of
her. “She watched over us with a solicitude unexampled. Every low
sentiment, every ungenerous affection, was discouraged and discarded.
She suffered nothing but that which was grand and elevated to take root
in our youthful understandings.... Losses, privations, fatigue, had no
effect on her. She endured all, braved all. She had the energy of a man
combined with the gentleness and delicacy of a woman.”

When all else seemed lost to him, as he lay a lonely prisoner on the
shores of St. Helena, Napoleon was sure of one thing. “My mother loves
me,” he said; and the thought of his mother’s love was a comfort to him
then. He who had felt able to rule a world unaided, was not above a
sense of grateful dependence on a love like that. “My opinion is,” he
said, “that the future good or bad conduct of a child depends entirely
upon its mother.”

A young army officer lay dying, at the close of our American civil
war. He had been much away from home even before the war; and now for
four years he had been a soldier in active army service. On many a
field of battle he had faced death fearlessly, and in many an hour of
privation and hardship he had been dependent on his own strength and
resources. What could more have tended to wean a man from reliance on a
mother’s presence and sustaining care? The soldier’s mind was wandering
now. It was in the early morning, after a wakeful, restless night.
Exciting scenes were evidently before his mind’s eye. The enemy was
pressing him sorely. He was anxious as to his position. He gave orders
rapidly and with vehemence. His subordinates seemed to be failing him.
Everything was apparently wrong. Just then the young officer’s mother,
who had come from the North to watch over him, entered the room where
he lay. As the door opened for her coming, he turned toward it his
troubled face, as if expecting a new enemy to confront him. Instantly,
as he saw who was there, his countenance changed, the look of anxiety
passed away, the eye softened, the struggle of doubt and fear was at an
end, and with a deep-drawn sigh of relief he said in a tone of restful
confidence, “Ah, mother’s come! It’s all right now!” And the troubled
veteran soldier was a soothed child again.

Soldier, statesman, scholar, divine; every man is a child to his
mother, to the last; and it is the best that is in a man that keeps
him always in this child-likeness toward his loving mother. Were it
not for the power of a mother’s love, that best and truest side of a
man’s nature would never be developed, for the man’s good and for the
mother’s reward. It costs something to be a good mother; but there is
no reward which earth can give to be compared with that love which a
faithful mother wins and holds from the son of her love. Oh! if good
mothers could only know how much they are doing for their children by
their patient, long-suffering, gentle ways with them, and how sure
these children are to see and feel this by and by, the saddest of them
would be less sad and more hopeful, while toiling and enduring so
faithfully, with perhaps apparently so slight a return.




XXVIII.

_ALLOWING PLAY TO A CHILD’S IMAGINATION._


Imagination is a larger factor in the thoughts and feelings of a child
than in the thoughts and feelings of an adult; and this truth needs to
be recognized in all wise efforts at a child’s training. The mind of a
child is full of images which the child knows to be unreal, but which
are none the less vivid and impressive for being unreal. It is often
right, therefore, to allow play to a child’s imagination, when it would
not be right to permit the child to say, or to say to the child, that
which is false.

A child who is hardly old enough to speak perceives the difference
between fact and fancy, and is able to see that the unreal is not
always the false. Hence a very young child can understand that to
“make believe” to him is not to attempt to deceive him. A child in his
mother’s lap, who is not yet old enough to stand alone, is ready to
pull at a string fastened to a chair in front of his mother’s seat, and
play that he is driving a horse. As he grows older, he will straddle
a stick and call that riding horseback; telling his parent, perhaps,
of the good long ride he is taking. Not only is it not a parent’s duty
to tell that child that the chair or the stick is not a horse, but it
would be unfair, as well as unkind, to insist on that child’s admission
that his possession of a horse is only in his fancy.

The child is here not deceived to begin with; therefore, of course, he
does not need to be undeceived. Yet it would be wrong for the parent
to permit his child to say, as if in reality, that he had been taken
out to ride by his father, when nothing of the kind had happened. In
the latter case the statement would be a false one, while in the former
case it would be only a stretch of fancy. The child as well as the
parent would have no difficulty in recognizing the difference between
the two statements.

A little girl will delight herself with setting a table with buttons
for plates and cups, from which she will serve bread and cake and
tea to her invited guests; and she will be lovingly grateful for her
mother’s apparently hearty suggestion that “this tea is of a fine
flavor,” when she would feel hurt if her mother were to tell her,
coolly and cruelly, that it was only a dry button which had been passed
as a cup of tea. The fancy in this case is truer by far than the fact.
There is no deception in it; but there is in it the power of an ideal
reality. And it is by the dolls and other playthings of childhood that
some of the truest instincts of manhood and of womanhood are developed
and cultivated in the progress of all right child-training.

It is in view of this distinction that the story of Santa Claus and
Christmas Eve may be made one of reprehensible falsity, or one of
allowable fancy. The underlying idea of Santa Claus is, that on the
birth-night of the Holy Child Jesus there comes a messenger from him
to bring good gifts to children. So far the idea is truth. Just how
the messenger from Jesus comes, and just who he is, are matters in
the realm of fancy. The child is entitled to know the truth, and is
entitled also to indulge in a measure of fancy. For a parent to take a
child, the night before, and show him all the Christmas gifts arranged
in a drawer as preparatory to the stocking-filling, leaving no room for
the sweet indulgings of fancy, would neither be wise nor be kind. It
would not accord with the God-given needs of the child’s nature. Nor,
again, would it be wise or kind for the parent to tell the full story
of Santa Claus and his reindeers as if it were an absolute literal
fact. Children have, indeed, been frightened by the belief that Santa
Claus would come down the chimney at night, and would refuse them
presents if they were awake at his coming; and this is all wrong. The
child should be taught the truth as the truth, and indulged in the
fancy as fancy.

It is, indeed, much the same in this realm as in the Bible realm. To
say that Jesus is the Good Shepherd is to present a truth in the guise
of fancy; and unless a child is helped to know the measure of truth and
to perceive the sweep of fancy, there is a danger of trouble in using
this Bible figure; for it is a fact that children have suffered from
the thought that they were to be literal “lambs” in the Saviour’s fold.
This recognition of the limits between the fanciful and the false needs
to be borne in mind at every stage of a child’s training. The false is
not to be tolerated. The fanciful is to be allowed a large place.

This truth applies also to the realm of fairy-tale reading. A child
can read choice fairy tales, understanding that they are fanciful,
with less danger to his mind and character than he would incur in the
reading of a falsely colored religious story-book. In the one case he
knows that the narration is wholly fanciful, while in the other case he
is liable to be misled through the belief that what is both fictitious
and false may have been a reality. Not the wholly fanciful, but the
fictitiously false, in a child’s reading, is most likely to be a means
of permanent harm to him.

A child’s imagination can safely be allowed large play, in his
amusements, in his speech, and in his reading. He knows the difference
between the fanciful and the false quite as well as his parents do.
It is the line between the false and the real in moral fiction that
he needs help in defining. It will be well for him if he has parents
who understand that distinction, and who are ready to give him help
accordingly.




XXIX.

_GIVING ADDED VALUE TO A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS._


Christmas is a day of days to the little folks, because of the gifts it
brings to them. But Christmas gifts have a greater or a lesser value in
the eyes of children according to the measure of the giver’s self which
is given with them. It is not that children intelligently prize their
gifts, as older persons are likely to, in proportion as they read in
them the proofs of the giver’s loving labor in their preparation. But
it is that to children the Christmas gifts by themselves are of minor
value, in comparison with the interest excited in the manner of their
giving, through labors that really represent the giver’s self, whether
the children perceive this, at the time, or not.

The Christmas stocking and the Christmas tree give added value to the
gifts that they cover; and neither tree nor stocking can be made ready


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13

Online LibraryH. Clay (Henry Clay) TrumbullHints on child-training → online text (page 11 of 13)