To whom does my child belong? Is it mine, or the Lord's? Surely this question should need no discussion by Christian parents. For do we not recognize, even before they are born, that they are peculiarly "a heritage from the Lord?" And when they come into the world, our first duty is to hold them for and offer them to Him.
Now, the keeping of this one fact before the mind of a mother will be the best guiding principle in their training. It is because Christian parents so often forget whose their children are, that they make such mistakes in training them. I say then to you, mothers, settle it in your minds that your child belongs to God, and not to you; that you are only stewards for God, holding your children to nurse them and train them for Him.
Now, any parent, however poor, unlearned, or occupied, can do this, if only she has the grace of God in her heart, and will take the trouble. A little child, who has been rightly trained, has unquestioning confidence in its parents. What father or mother says, is to it an end of all controversy; it seeks no further proof. This influence, wisely used, will be as an atmosphere around the child's moral nature, safeguarding and moulding all its future life.
I sometimes meet with parents who tell me that at the age of from 12 to 16 their children have become unmanageable, and that they have lost their influence over them. I cannot tell you which I pity most—such children, or such parents. One of the worst signs of our times is the little respect which children seem to have for their parents. There are numbers of boys and girls of from twelve to sixteen years of age, over whom their parents have little or no control. But how has this come to pass? Did their children leap all at once from the restraints and barriers of parental affection and authority? Oh no; it has been the result of the imperceptible growth of years of insubordination and want of proper discipline—the gradual loss of parental influence, until they have thrown it off altogether and resolved to do as they please. Hence the terrible exhibitions we frequently have of youthful depravity, lawlessness, and rebellion.
"Well," I think I hear some mother say, "I feel my responsibility, and long to train my children in the way they should go, but—how am I to do it?"
First, let us look at the meaning of the word "train." It does not mean merely to teach. Some parents seem to have the notion that all they have to do in training their children aright is to teach them; so they cram them with religious sentiment and truth, making them commit to memory the Catechism, large portions of Scripture, many hymns, and so on. All very good, as far as it goes, but this may all be done without any real training such as God requires, and such as the hearts of our children need. Nay, this mere informing the head without interesting or influencing the heart, frequently drives children off from God and goodness, and makes them hate, instead of love, everything connected with Christ.
In the early part of my married life, when my dear husband was traveling very much from place to place, I was frequently thrown into the houses of religious families for three or four weeks at a time, and I used to say to myself, "How is it that these children seem frequently to have a more inveterate dislike for religious things than the children of worldly people who make no profession?" Subsequent observation and experience have shown me the reason. It is because such parents inform the head without training the heart. They teach what they often do not practise themselves, nor take the trouble to see that their children practise, and the children see through the hollow theories, and learn to disrespect both their parents and their religion.
Mother, if you want to train your child, you must practise what you teach, and you must show him how to practise it also; you must, at all costs of trouble and care, see that he does it.
Suppose, by way of illustration, that you have a vine, and that this vine is endowed with reason, and will, and moral sense. You say to your vine dresser, "Now, I want that vine trained,"—i, e., made to grow in a particular way, so that it may bear the largest amount of fruit. Suppose your vine-dresser goes to your vine every morning, and says to it, "Now, you must let that branch grow in this direction, and that branch grow in another; you are not to put forth shoots here, nor many tendrils there; you must not waste your sap in too many leaves,"—and having told it what to do and how to grow, he leaves it to itself.
This is precisely the way many good people act toward their children. But lo! the vine grows as it likes—nature is too strong for mere theory; words will not curb its exuberance nor check its waywardness. Your vinedresser must do something more effectual than talking. He must fasten that branch where he wishes it to grow; he must cut away what he sees to be superfluous; he must lop, and prune, and dress it, if it is to be trained for beauty and for fruitfulness. And just so, mother, if you want your child to be trained for God and righteousness, you must prune, and curb, and direct, and lead it in the way in which it should go.
But some mother says," What a deal of trouble!" Ah, that is just why many parents fail; they are afraid of trouble. But, as Mrs. Stowe says, "If you will not take the trouble to train Charlie when he is a little boy, he will give you a great deal more trouble when he is a big one." Many a foolish mother, to spare herself trouble, has left her children to themselves, and "a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame!" Many parents teach their children in theory the right way, but, by their negligence and indifference, let them grow in just the opposite.
See that mother seated at some important piece of work which she is anxious to finish: her three little children are playing around her—one with his picture-book, another with his horse and cart, and baby with her doll. It is Monday afternoon; and only yesterday she was giving those children a lesson on the importance of love and good-will amongst themselves. That was the teaching; now comes the training. Presently Charlie gets tired of his pictures, and without asking permission, takes the horse and cart from his younger brother, whereupon there is a scream, and presently a fight. Instead of laying aside her work, restoring the rightful property, explaining to Charlie that it is unjust and unkind to take his brother's toys, and to the younger one, that he should rather suffer wrong than scream and fight, she goes on with her work, telling Charlie that he is a "very naughty boy," and making the very common remark, that she thinks there never were such troublesome children as hers!
Now, who cannot see the different effect it would have had on these children if that mother had taken the trouble to make them realize and confess their faults, and voluntarily exchange the kiss of reconciliation and brotherly affection? What if it had taken half an-hour of her precious time; would not the gain be greater than that which would accrue from any other occupation, however important? Mothers, if you want your children to walk in the way they should go, you must not only teach, you must be at the trouble to train.
But how is the training to be given? The first and most important point is to secure obedience. Obedience to properly constituted authority is the foundation of all moral excellence, not only in childhood, but all the way through life. And the secret of a great deal of the lawlessness of these times, both towards God and man, is that, when children, these people were never taught to submit to the authority of their parents; and now you may convince them ever so clearly that it is their duty, and would be their happiness, to submit to God, but with their unrestrained, unsubdued wills, which have never been accustomed to submit to anybody, it is like beginning to break in a wild horse in old age. Well may the prophet inquire, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil."
God has laid it on parents to begin the work of bringing the will into subjection in childhood; and to help us in doing it, He has put in all children a tendency to obey. Watch any young child, and you will find that, as a rule, his instincts lead him to submit. Insubordination is the exception, until this tendency has been trifled with by those who have the care of him.
Now, how important it is, in right training, to take advantage of this tendency to obedience, and not on any account allow it to be weakened by encouraging exceptional rebellion! In order to do this, you must begin early enough. This is where multitudes of mothers miss their mark—they begin too late. The great majority of children are ruined for the formation of character before they are five years old by the foolish indulgence of mothers.
I am sometimes asked, "What do you consider the secret of successful training?" I answer, "Beginning soon enough—not letting Satan get the advantage of us at the start." This is the secret of success. "Well, but," mothers say, "it is so hard to chastise an infant." There is seldom need for chastisement where mothers begin early and wisely. There is a way of speaking to and handling an infant compatible with the utmost love and tenderness, which teaches it that mother is not to be trifled with; that, although she loves and caresses, she is to be obeyed, and will be obeyed; and a child that is trained in this way, will not, as a rule, attempt to resist. In exceptional cases it may be tempted to become obstreperous, and the mother must show her authority.
Take an illustration. We will suppose your son of six months old is in a fractious mood, and indisposed to take his morning nap; his nurse has put him in his cot and struggled till she is tired, and the child is tired too. At last you come and take the baby, after he has been rolling and tumbling about, and lay him down with a firm hand, saying with a firm voice, "Baby must lie still, and go to sleep," putting your hand on him at the same time to prevent his rising in the cot, or turning over after you have spoken. Now, if this child has already been trained in this line, he will, as a natural consequence, lie still and go to sleep; but if he has not been accustomed to this kind of handling, he will perhaps become boisterous, and resist you; if so, you must persevere. You must on no account give up; no, not if you stop till night. If he conquers you this time, it will be harder the next, and it will get more and more difficult. Almost all mothers mistake here; they give up because they will not inflict on themselves the pain of a struggle, forgetting that defeat now only ensures endless battles in the future.
Remember, you must conquer in the first battle, whatever it may be about, or you are undone. "Ah, but what time and patience this requires!" Yes, but it is only for once or twice, and what is that compared with the time and toil of conquering further on? But you say, "It is so hard." Not half so hard as the other way; for when the child finds the mother is not to be got over, he will yield as a matter of course. I have proved it, I think, with some strong-willed children as ever came into this world. I conquered them, six and ten months old, and seldom had to contend with any direct opposition after. I have a son, who is now preaching the gospel, and a great joy to my heart. The only decided battle I ever fought with him was at ten months old. I do not say that he never disobeyed me afterwards—he sometimes forgot himself, and was disobedient—but I do say that I never remember him setting his will in direct antagonism to mine in all the succeeding years of his childhood. It was a painful struggle, that first contest, but has not the result paid for it a thousand times?
O mothers, if you love your children, begin early to exact obedience. If chastisement be necessary, inflict it; and for every pang you suffer, every tear you shed, you shall reap comfort, honor and glory.
But, perhaps, there are some mothers who are saying, "Ah, I see it now, but it is too late; my children are too old." I say, Better late than never. Begin, and do all you can. Perhaps you can never undo all the mischief, but you may part of it. Call your children around you; confess your past unfaithfulness in your dealings with them, fall on your knees before the Lord with them, and tell Him of your failure to train them for Him, and ask His help to enable you to do it in the future. Begin at once to exact obedience. Be judicious and forbearing, remembering that your children's habits of disobedience are the results of your own folly, and deal as gently as the case will permit; but, at all costs, secure obedience, and never more allow your commands to be trifled with. Now is your chance; a few more years, and it is too late.
Do not be afraid to use your authority. One would think, to hear some parents talk of their relations with their children, that they did not possess an iota of God-given right over them. All they dare to do is to reason, to persuade, to coax. There is no command, no firmness, no decision, no authority, and the child knows it by its instincts, just as an animal would. Men are much wiser in breaking in and training their horses than their sons, hence they generally get much better served by the former than the latter.
What a contrast the conduct and fate of Eli present in this respect to the conduct of Abraham! "I know him," said Jehovah, "that he will command his children and his household after him." Not merely remonstrate with and persuade, as Eli did, but "command"—he will use his authority on God's side; and, as a consequence, the Lord promised that they should keep the way of the Lord."
Another important point in training a child in the way it should go, is to train it in the practise of truth and integrity. Human nature is said to go "astray from the birth, speaking lies!" and, doubtless, untruthfulness is one of the most easily besetting and prevalent sins of our race. To counteract this tendency, and to establish the soul in habits of truth and sincerity, must be one of the first objects of right training. In order to do this, parents should beware of palliating or excusing the tendency to falsehood in their children. In nothing have I been more amazed than in this. I have actually seen mothers smile at, and almost extol, the little artifices of their children in their attempts to deceive them, and to hide some childish delinquency. No wonder that such parents fail to inspire their offspring with that wholesome dread of falseness which is one of the safeguards to virtue in after-life.
No mother will succeed in begetting in her child a greater antipathy towards any sin than she feels for it herself. Children are the quickest of all analysts; instinctively and quickly they detect all affectation of goodness. They judge not so much from what we say as how we feel. Take an illustration. A person calls to see you, whose society your child knows you neither esteem nor desire, but you are all smiles and gracious words, as if her visit has given you very great pleasure. What more effectual lesson could you give your wondering little one in deception and double-dealing than this? And yet how common is this kind of thing in many households. A child hurts himself against the table, the mother strikes it, and says, "Oh, naughty table! you have hurt baby; "but the child soon learns that the table was not to blame, and at the same time learns to distrust his mother who said it was.
Again, Charlie is ill, and it is needful for him to take a dose of unpleasant medicine; he has been so badly trained that his mother knows he will not take it if she tells him it is nasty. So she resorts to stratagem, and tells him that she has got something good, and thus coaxes him to take it into his mouth, but before it is swallowed he detects the cheat, and medicine and mother's veracity are spit out together. In such ways how many children are taught deception and untruth; and you may labor in vain in after-years to make them truthful and sincere—the soil has been spoiled by early abuse.
Mother, if you want your child to be truthful and sincere, you must not only teach it to be so, you must be so yourself, and see that your child practises what you teach. You must not wink at, nor cover up any falseness or deception in him, because he is yours. Sin should be the more dreaded by you, because you see it in those so dear, and those for whom you are responsible.
O parents, don't be deceived; if you want your children to be the Lord's when they grow up; if you want your boy to withstand the unknown temptations of the future—if you want him to come out a man of righteous principles, integrity and honor—superior to all the doubleness, chicanery, and deviltry of the world, you must train him to look upon everything as dross compared with the joy of a pure conscience and God's approval. If you want your daughter to be a true woman, willing to sacrifice and to suffer in the interest of truth, humanity, and honorable ways, you must inspire her now with contempt for the baubles for which so many women barter their lives and their souls—you must teach her that she must live for Eternity. Day by day, as it flies, you must labor to wake up your children's souls to the realization of the fact that they belong to God, and that He has brought them into the world not to look after their own petty, personal interests, but to devote themselves to the promotion of His; and that in doing this, they will find happiness, usefulness, and glory.
Dear BRETHREN: I have been deeply interested in the perusal of the articles on "The Training of Children," by "A Mother." I have been greatly pained in witnessing the lack of right training of the young, and desire to express my hearty sympathy with the writer.
The subject has not by any means been exhausted; and I would like to mention one more fruitful source of failure—namely, in giving too much importance to these little ones in the presence of others, making them so prominent on every possible occasion by calling attention, perhaps, to their supposed precocity or attractive ways. The wholesome, old-fashioned way of quietness on the part of the child, when guests were present in a family, is almost obsolete.
May the thoughts presented in these articles be received as admonitions from the Lord. Surely, every Christian parent would shrink from contributing to the marks of the last days portrayed in 2 Timothy, chap. 3. May not these two articles be put into tract-form and scattered broadcast in Christian families wherever a young child is found? I would gladly help to this end.
Yours in our Lord,