“Family Education,” by Mrs. Lavinia H. Pillsbury (from The Mother’s Assistant, April 1845; pp. 73-76)
None but a parent can conceive the grateful delight and the tender joy which a father experiences, as he receives from the hand of his Creator his first-born child. His full heart feels a new channel opened, in which may flow his purest affections. That helpless infant, all unconscious of its power, has awakened in his bosom new and thrilling emotions, to which a few hours before he was an utter stranger.
‘With young affection springing in his breast,
His infant’s cheek and then his wife’s he prest;
While the deep flush which spread her features o’er,
Bespoke a joy she never felt before.’
Happy affection! Blessed love! Bestowed by our beneficent Father in heaven, in kindness both to parent and child; for his little being has entered the world in a state of such entire dependence, that, were it not for parental attachment, extreme suffering or early death would be the consequence. But with this attachment, all that tender care and unremitting watchfulness, so necessary to the infant, become a source of pleasure to the parent.
How should the heart of every parent, especially of every mother, glow with gratitude to God, as she watches over her sleeping, or caresses her waking infant. How should she lift her fervent petitions that the warm love which she feels for her child, may ever be directed to promote its true happiness.
As another and another are added to the little flock, the same affection is felt, the same care required. A few years pass, and some of them can listen with attention to rational discourse; others are full of life and activity, freak and frolic; another is helpless in
the maternal arms. Is there a father or mother thus situated, who will not inquire, with the deepest solicitude, ‘How may I best promote the enduring happiness of those committed to my care?’ For, unconscious as they now are of their high destiny, each of these children has an immortal spirit, on the right training of which its happiness in a future and eternal state may depend.
‘To train the infant mind to goodness, and
To plant the seeds of virtue, e’er deforming vice
Has sown her noxious tares, be now our care.’
Attention to the bodily comfort of your infant is all you can bestow, for the first few weeks of its existence; but not long does it remain an unconscious spectator of the world into which it is introduced. The first smile reciprocated, indicates a dawning of intellect, which from that moment is capable of cultivation. Little, indeed, can be done at first; but something may be, by the ever watchful and observant mother. Every one who attends it should be required to wear a mild and pleasant aspect; and it should never be spoken to but in a mild and gentle tone of voice. It need scarcely be said that every thing should be done to promote its personal comfort; not only for its own sake, but because bodily suffering may very early produce irritability of temper. Its mind should be kept calm and tranquil. No expression of anger, fear, or surprise, should be allowed in its presence; all around it should preserve that serenity of temper and countenance, which you would wish to see in your child. A very young child will sympathize with the feelings of those who have the care of it, and not many months will elapse before it will catch much of their spirit.
A gentleman once amused himself by exciting the feelings of his child merely by varying the expressions of his own countenance. Whatever feeling he wished to produce in his child, he found it perfectly easy to produce by assuming the expression of countenance which indicated that feeling. A lady, with a child I think not more than six or eight months old, was once living in a very lonely place. Her husband was necessarily absent much of the time. Her only companion was a sister. Both these ladies suffered much from fear; and so frequently did they start and look wildly around, that the babe would also look fearful and timid, and was apparently as much distressed by apprehension as either of them.
A mother cannot be too careful that nothing meets the eye or ear of her babe, which would have a tendency to wound or irritate its tender mind. It is to be feared that the reverse of this is frequently the case. Babes are committed to the care of persons whose passionate behaviour, and corresponding tones of voice, necessarily produce bad tempers in those committed to their care. I know it is not possible for a mother always to prevent this, but let her do the utmost in her power, watching at the same time her own feelings, lest harsher ones than those of pity be excited toward those persons whose neglected education has left them the slaves and not the sovereigns of their passions.
As the capacities of your child enlarge much more may be done for its improvement. Teach him love, kindness, generosity. He will easily learn to return the affectionate caresses of his mother or sister; to impart a portion of the little presents he receives to his brother, or lend his rattle to a little companion. Much difference will doubtless be observed in the dispositions of children; but those who are naturally amiable will easily be taught these lessons, and the smile of approbation from the parents will be a sufficient reward.
To subdue self-will, in its daring stubbornness, is quite another and far more difficult task. There, too, dispositions widely differ. While some may be governed by a word, or a look, (though I think comparatively few,) others require rigorous punishment. But obedience must be enforced, or all your exertions to improve the heart of your child will be thrown away. If, when with firmness and deliberation, you have spoken to your child and he does not obey you, if time be given him to reflect, for it should not be done hastily, you must punish. But first retire, and in deep humility lift your heart to Him who is able to give wisdom and strength, and bless your endeavors with success. While looking with confidence to your heavenly Father, you will be preserved in calmness during a conflict, painfully trying to your parental feelings. But God will bless your conscientious performance of duty, and you will succeed in procuring submission. The moment this is obtained, you will gladly resume your usual kindness; but let an air of seriousness and decision convince your child that you have not yet relinquished your authority. If careful to maintain what you have now gained, you may not perhaps be again obliged to correct your child for stubbornness; but should you have another and another struggle, be not
discouraged. Let perseverance and firmness mark your course, and ultimately submission will be obtained.
No Christian parents can have had the care of a family for any considerable time, without feeling that their success must depend on Him who has the hearts of all men in his hand; yet here, as in all other things, he generally blesses those means best calculated to produce the desired end. An amiable disposition is certainly the gift of God, and such a gift as should call forth the lively gratitude of every parent. Shall fathers and mothers, who feel so lively an interest in all that affects the happiness of their offspring, fail to render grateful praise for every gentle and endearing quality bestowed on their children? And should they have the pain to see some of them passionate, selfish, or tyrannical, let them summon all their energies, and with steady aim go forward in the path of duty, assured that our Father in heaven sees, approves, and will assist them.
‘That eye, which watches o’er the universe,
And views with kind regard the sparrow race,
Sees every aching head and throbbing heart,
And knows the pain of deep solicitude.
Doth He not look on parents, in whose breasts
Himself has planted love unsearchable;
And in their being woven it so strong,
That nought but death can tear its tissue out?’
Londonderry, N.H., March, 1845.