(a) Honour towards Parents.—This brings us to the consideration of that education in morals which the young people must get at home, or not at all. The chief of their duties, that which should be kept always before the young, is the duty they owe to their parents: from this stem, all their other duties, to kindred, commonwealth, and neighbours, branch out; and more, they only perceive their obligations to Almighty God in proportion as they know what they owe to their human parents.
Now, parents do not always think wisely on this subject. There is a feeling abroad, that the behavior of a child to his parent is a matter between those two alone; that if the parent choose to absolve his child from any close confidence, from obedience, respectful demeanour,—that is his business: he has as much right to do so as the slave-owner has to manumit his slaves. At the same time, two other notions
prevail,—that the kindest and best thing parents can do by their children is to give them “a good time,” as the Americans put it; and that the children of these days are so much in advance of anything that went before them, that it is rather absurd to keep them in subordination to parents not half so clever as themselves. The outcome of these three popular fallacies is, that many parents give up the government of their children at a very early age—so soon, that is, as the school steps in to take possession: lax discipline, imperfect confidence, free and easy manners, the habit of doing that which is right in their own eyes, are permitted to grow up.
That school boys and girls should be thus thrown upon their own government is a blow to the interests of society, and a great loss to themselves—the loss of that careful moral training which it is the bounden duty of their parents to afford, throughout school life, at any rate, and through the two or three years that follow it. The problem is, how to maintain due parental dignity, to repress anything like a “hail, fellow, well met!” style of address, and yet to keep up the flow of affectionate intimacy, confidence, and friendly playfulness. Now, here is the secret of home government—put the child into the attitude of a receiver, the parents into that of an imparter, not merely of physical care and comfort, but of a careful and regular training for the responsibilities of life, and the rest comes easy. The difficulty is, that many parents find it hard to maintain this superiority to their children as the latter advance in age and set up other standards than those of home. They possibly feel themselves less clever, less worthy, than some others with whom their children come in contact;
they are too honest to assume a dignity to which they doubt their right, so they step down from the rostrum, and stand on the same level as their children, willing to owe to affection and good-nature the consideration which is their lawful due.
Very likely such parents are not less, but more worthy than the persons they give place to; but that is not the question; they are invested with an official dignity; it is in virtue of their office, not of personal character, that they are and must remain superior to their children, until these become of an age to be parents in their turn. And parents are invested with this dignity, that they may be in a position to instruct their children in the art of living. Now, office in itself adds dignity, irrespective of personal character; so much so, that the judge, the bishop, who does not sustain his post with becoming dignity has nothing to show for himself. So of the parent; if he forgo the respectful demeanour of his children, he might as well have disgraced himself before their eyes; for in the one case as in the other, he loses that power to instruct them in the art and science of living, which is his very reason d’être in the Divine economy.
If parents put it to themselves that their relation to their children is not an accident, but is a real office which they have been appointed to fill, they would find it easier to assume the dignity of persons called upon to represent a greater than themselves. The parent who feels that he has a Power behind him,—that he is, strictly, no more than the agent of Almighty God, appointed to bring the children under the Divine government, does not behave with levity and weakness; and holds his due position in the family as a trust which he has no right to give up.
And now, given the parents in their due position as heads of the family, and all the duties and affections which belong to the family flow out from that one principle as light from a sun. The parents are able to show continual tenderness and friendliness towards their children, without partiality and without weak indulgence. They expect, and therefore get, faithful and ready obedience. Their children trust them entirely, and therefore bestow confidence, and look for counsel; and, of course, treat their parents with due honour and respect. There is a spurious dignity which sometimes brings the parental character into discredit; a selfish and arbitrary parent requires much from, and gives little to, his children, treating them de haut en bas; and the children rebel, setting up their claims in opposition to those of their parents. But cases of this kind do not touch the point. Few children resist the authority of a parent who consistently and lovingly acts as the agent of a higher Authority. He is all the more a sovereign because he is recognised as a deputy sovereign.
But there are times when the “relations are strained”; and of these, the moment when the child feels himself consciously a member of the school republic is one of the most trying. Now, all the tact of the parents is called into play. Now, more than ever, is it necessary that the child should be of the home authority, just that he may know how he stands, and how much he is free to give to the school. “Oh, mither, mither! why gar ye no’ mak’ me do it?” was the cry of a poor ne’er-do-weel Scotch laddie who had fallen into disgrace through neglect of his work; and that is just what every schoolboy or schoolgirl has a right to say who does not feel the
pressure of a firm hand at home during the period of school life. They have a right to turn round and reproach their parents for almost any failure in probity or power in after-life. But no mere assertion of authority will do: it is the old story of the sun and the wind and the traveller’s cloak. It is in the force of all-mighty gentleness that parents are supreme; not feebleness, not inertness—there is no strength in these; but purposeful, determined gentleness, which carries its point, only “for it is right.” “The servant of God must not strive,” was not written for bishops and pastors alone, but is the secret of strength for every “bishop,” or overlooker, of a household.
(b) Gratitude towards Parents.—The parent will find that, for the sake of his child, tasks of some delicacy fall to him, which would be almost impossible as between man and man, and even in the relations of parent and child require tact and discrimination. For instance, he must foster gratitude in his child. There is nothing left to be said for the ungrateful person; even amongst the ancients, ingratitude was held heinous; and yet, what in the world is more natural than to take benefits as matters of course, our own due, and the duty of those who bestow them? We think so highly of our own deservings, are so unready to put ourselves in the place of another and see at what cost he is kind, that, certainly, gratitude is not to be held a wild fruit native to the soil of the human heart. Now, no one can ever owe so much to any living soil as to devoted parents; and it the man is to experience the holy emotion of gratitude, it is as these same parents cultivate in him the delightful sense of their love and their never-failing kindness.
It is a pity, but so it is; the children are so obtuse
that they think no more of their parents’ kindness as a personal matter than they do of sunshine or flowers, or any other pleasant thing in life. A mother sits up till midnight darning stockings for her boys; she says nothing about it, and the boys put their stockings on, scarcely knowing whether they are in holes or not. But “how hateful to be always reminding the children of such things, with a ‘There now, see how I’ve had to work for you! I hope the time will come when you will do as much for me.’” Hateful, indeed, and most mischievous; that sort of thing not only irritates the hearer, but cancels the debt. But gentle rallying of “those great holes which kept mother up till midnight,” with a “Never mind, my boy; you know, work for you is pleasure to your mother,” sinks deep; and the boy is not worth his salt who, after that, does not mean to buy his mother silks and satins, gold and jewels, “when I’m a man!” If ever it is necessary to pinch, to do without things for the children’s sake, let them know it; but do not treat it as a hardship, but as a pleasure, for their sakes. That is, it is lawful for parents to bring their good deeds before their children as a child offers a flower to his mother, as a show of love, but not as a demand for service. For gratitude is nothing else but a movement of love, and only love kindles love.
(c) Kindness and Courtesy.—So of the other manifestations of love—kindness, courtesy, friendliness; these the parents must get from their children, not upon demand, but as love constrains them. Make occasions for services, efforts, offerings; let the children feel that their kindness is a power in the lives of their parents. I know of a girl upon whom it dawned for the first time, when she was far in her “teens,”
that she had any power to gratify her mother. Do not let the little common courtesies and attentions of daily life slip,—the placing of a chair, the sanding aside or falling behind at proper times, the attentive eye at table, the attentive ear and ready response to question or direction. Let the young people feel that the omission of these things causes pain to loving hearts, that the doing of them is as cheering as the sunshine; and if they forget sometimes, it will only be that they forget, not that they are unwilling, or look upon the amenities of life as “all bosh!”
Again, let there be a continuous flow of friendliness, graciousness, the pleasantness of eye and lip, between parent and child. Let the boy perceive that a bright eye-to-eye “Good-morning, mother,” is gladness to her, and that a cold greeting with averted face is like a cloud between his mother and the sun. Parents are inclined to drop these things because they are unwilling to take even their own children by the throat, with a “Pay me that thou owest”; but that is not the way to look at the matter; it is not a personal question at all. Wordsworth has a deeply suggestive little poem illustrating what I mean:—
“There is a change—and I am poor;
Your love hath been, nor long ago,
A fountain at my fond heart’s door,
Whose only business was to flow;
And flow it did; not taking heed
Of its own bounty, or my need.
“What happy moments did I count!
Blest was I then, all bliss above!
Now, for this consecrated fount
Of murmuring, sparkling, living love,
What have I—shall I dare to tell?
A comfortless and hidden WELL.
“A well of love—it may be deep;
I trust it is—and never dry;
What matter? if the waters sleep
In silence and obscurity.
Such change, and at the very door
Of my fond heart, hath made me poor.”
There is in the heart of every child a fountain of love,
“Whose only business is to flow”;
and this it is the part of the parents to keep unsealed, unchoked, and flowing forth perennially in the appointed channels of kindness, friendliness, courtesy, gratitude, obedience, service. Keep the fountain flowing, and it will gladden not only the parents, towards whom is the first rush of the current, but all about them and beyond them—the family, the household, friends, kindred, schoolfellows, neighbours, the needy, the world, so far as it can reach. But let the spring be choked in its rise, in its natural outlet towards parents, and the chances are, it is lost, a mere buried well of love. How is the fountain to be kept aflow? Partly by this method of the poet’s “Complaint.” Let son and daughter perceive the gladness which every outgoing of their love produces—the cloud that falls on the parent’s heart when the love of the child is restrained. Natural reticence and pride incline us to take the “bounty” of the children’s love for granted, and to make no sign of the pain caused by their thoughtless omissions. But these barriers of reserve should be broken down for the sake of the children, and they should be permitted to see, so far as possible, what is in the hearts of their parents towards them. And this, because no education tells so much, Godward or manward, as this education of the power of loving.
Another point to be borne in mind is, that love grows, not by what it gets, but by what it gives. Therefore, the young people must not get out of the habit of rendering services of love. There is danger of confounding mere affection, a more or less animal emotion, showing itself in coaxing and fondling, in “Mother, darling,” “Father, dear,” and—no more, with love, which, however affectionate it be in word and gesture, does not rest in these, but must exhibit itself in service. The little children are demonstrative, ready to give and take caresses, “loving” in their ways; but the boys and girls have, partly out of gaucherie, partly from a growing instinct of reticence, changed all that. They want at this awkward stage of life a great deal of tact and tenderness at the hands of their parents, and the channels of service, friendliness, and obedience must be kept visibly open for the love which will no longer flow in endearments.