VII.—SOME MORAL HABITS—OBEDIENCE
It is disappointing that, in order to cover the ground at all, we must treat those moral habits, which the mother owes it to her children to cultivate in them, in a slight and inadequate way; but the point to be borne in mind is, that all that has been already said about the cultivation of habit applies with the greatest possible force to each of these habits.
The Whole Duty of a Child.—First, and infinitely the most important, is the habit of obedience. Indeed, obedience is the whole duty of the child, and for this reason—every other duty of the child is fulfilled as a matter of obedience to his parents. Not only so: obedience is the whole duty of man; obedience to conscience, to law, to Divine direction.
It has been well observed that each of the three recorded temptations of our Lord in the wilderness is a suggestion, not of an act of overt sin, but of an act of wilfulness, that state directly opposed to obedience, and out of which springs all that foolishness which is bound up in the heart of a child.
Obedience no Accidental Duty.—Now, if the parent realise that obedience is no mere accidental duty, the fulfilling of which is a matter that lies between himself and the child, but that he is the appointed agent to train the child up to the intelligent obedience of the self-compelling, law-abiding human being, he will see that he has no right to forego the obedience of his child, and that every act of disobedience in the child is a direct condemnation of the parent. Also, he will see that the motive to the child’s obedience is not the arbitrary one of, ‘Do this, or that, because I have said so,’ but the motive of the apostolic injunction, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Children must have the Desire to Obey.—It is only in proportion as the will of the child is in the act of obedience, and he obeys because his sense of right makes him desire to obey in spite of temptations to disobedience—not of constraint, but willingly—that the habit has been formed which will, hereafter, enable the child to use the strength of his will against
his inclinations when these prompt him to lawless courses. It is said that the children of parents who are most strict in exacting obedience often turn out ill; and that orphans and other poor waifs brought up under strict discipline only wait their opportunity to break out into license. Exactly so; because, in these cases, there is no gradual training of the child in the habit of obedience; no gradual enlisting of his will on the side of sweet service and a free-will offering of submission to the highest law: the poor children are simply bullied into submission to the will, that is, the wilfulness, of another; not at all, ‘for it is right’; only because it is convenient.
Expect Obedience.—The mother has no more sacred duty than that of training her infant to instant obedience. To do so is no difficult task; the child is still “trailing clouds of glory . . . . from God, who is his home”; the principle of obedience is within him, waiting to be called into exercise. There is no need to rate the child, or threaten him, or use any manner of violence, because the parent is invested with authority which the child intuitively recognises. It is enough to say, ‘Do this,’ in a quiet, authoritative tone, and expect it to be done. The mother often enough loses her hold over her children because they detect in the tone of her voice that she does not expect them to obey her behests; she does not think enough of her position; has not sufficient confidence in her own authority. The mother’s great stronghold is in the habit of obedience. If she begin by requiring that her children always obey her, why, they will always do so as a matter of course; but let them once get the thin end of the wedge in, let them discover that they can do otherwise than obey, and a woful struggle
begins, which commonly ends in the children doing that which is right in their own eyes.
This is the sort of thing which is fatal: The children are in the drawing-room, and a caller is announced. ‘You must go upstairs now.’ ‘Oh, mother dear, do let us stay in the window-corner; we will be as quiet as mice!’ The mother is rather proud of her children’s pretty manners, and they stay. They are not quiet, of course; but that is the least of the evils; they have succeeded in doing as they chose and not as they were bid, and they will not put their necks under the yoke again without a struggle. It is in little matters that the mother is worsted. ‘Bedtime, Willie!’ ‘Oh, mamma, just let me finish this’; and the mother yields, forgetting that the case in point is of no consequence; the thing that matters is that the child should be daily confirming a habit of obedience by the unbroken repetition of acts of obedience. It is astonishing how clever the child is in finding ways of evading the spirit while he observes the letter. ‘Mary, come in.’ ‘Yes, mother’; but her mother calls four times before Mary comes. ‘Put away your bricks’; and the bricks are put away with slow, reluctant fingers. ‘You must always wash your hands when you hear the first bell.’ The child obeys for that once, and no more.
To avoid these displays of wilfulness, the mother will insist from the first on an obedience which is prompt, cheerful, and lasting—save for lapses of memory on the child’s part. Tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience is hardly worth the having; and it is greatly easier to give the child the habit of perfect obedience by never allowing him in anything else, than it is to obtain this mere formal obedience by a
constant exercise of authority. By-and-by, when he is old enough, take the child into confidence; let him know what a noble thing it is to be able to make himself do, in a minute, and brightly, the very thing he would rather not do. To secure this habit of obedience, the mother must exercise great self-restraint; she must never give a command which she does not intend to see carried out to the full. And she must not lay upon her children burdens, grievous to be borne, of command heaped upon command.
Law ensures Liberty.—The children who are trained to perfect obedience may be trusted with a good deal of liberty: they receive a few directions which they know they must not disobey; and for the rest, they are left to learn how to direct their own actions, even at the cost of some small mishaps; and are not pestered with a perpetual fire of ‘Do this,’ and ‘Don’t do that!’