HOW is this habit of obedience to be established? This is not so difficult a matter as many imagine. It does not require profound learning, or a mysterious skill, which pertains but to the few. Where do you find the best regulated families? Are they in the houses of the rich? Do the children of our most eminent men furnish the best patterns for imitation? Obviously not. In some of the most humble dwellings we find the beautiful spectacle of an orderly and well regulated family. On the other hand, in the mansions of the wealthiest or most eminent men of our country, we may often find a family of rude girls and ungovernable boys—a picture of wild misrule. It is not greatness of talent, or profound learning, which is requisite to teach a child obedience. The principles by which we are to be guided are very simple and very plain.
Never give a command which you do not intend shall be obeyed!
There is no more effectual way of teaching a child disobedience, than by giving commands which you have no intention of enforcing. A child is thus habituated to disregard its mother; and in a short time the habit becomes so strong, and the child’s contempt for the mother so confirmed, that entreaties and threats are alike unheeded.
“Mary, let that book alone,” says a mother to her little daughter, who is trying to pull the book from the table.
Mary stops for a moment, and then takes hold of the book again.
Pretty soon the mother looks up and sees that Mary is still playing with the book. “Did not you hear me tell you to let that book alone?” she exclaims—”Why don’t you obey?”
Mary takes away her hand for a moment, but is soon again at her forbidden amusement. By and by, down comes the book upon the floor. Up jumps the mother, and hastily giving the child a passionate blow, exclaims, “There then, obey me next time.” The child screams, and the mother picks up the book, saying, “I wonder why my children do not obey me better.”
This is not a very interesting family scene, but every one of my readers will admit that it is not an uncommon one. And is it strange that a child, thus managed, should be disobedient? No! She is actually led on by her mother to insubordination—she is actually trained to pay no heed to her directions. Even the improper punishment which sometimes follows transgression, is not inflicted on account of her disobedience, but for the accidental consequences. In the case above described, had the book not fallen, the disobedience of the child would have passed unpunished. Let it be an immutable principle in family government, that your word is law!
I was once, when riding in the country, overtaken by a rain shower, and compelled to seek shelter in a farm house. Half a dozen rude and ungovernable boys were racing about the room, in such an uproar as to prevent the possibility of conversation with the father, who was sitting by the fire. As I, however, endeavored to make some remark, the father shouted out, “Stop that noise, boys.”
They paid no more heed to him than they did to the rain. Soon again, in an irritated voice, he exclaimed, “Boys, be still, or I will whip you; as sure as you are alive I will.” But the boys, as though accustomed to such threats, screamed and quarreled without intermission.
At last the father said to me, “I believe I have got the worst boys in town; I never can make them mind me.”
The fact was, these boys had the worst father in town! He was teaching them disobedience as directly and efficiently as he could. He was giving commands which he had no intention of enforcing—and they knew it! This, to be sure, is an extreme case. But just so far as any mother allows her authority to be disregarded, so far does she expose herself to the contempt of her children—and actually teaches them lessons of disobedience.
And is there any difficulty in enforcing obedience to any definite command? Take the case of the child playing with the book. A mild and judicious mother says distinctly and decidedly to her child, “My daughter, you must not touch that book.” The child hesitates for a moment, but yielding to the strong temptation, is soon playing with the forbidden book. The mother immediately rises, takes the child, and carries her into her chamber. She sits down and says calmly, “Mary, I told you not to touch the book, and you have disobeyed me. I am very sorry, for now I must punish you.”
Mary begins to cry, and to promise not to do so again.
“But Mary,” says the mother, “you have disobeyed me, and you must be punished.”
Mary continues to cry, but the mother seriously and calmly punishes her. She inflicts real pain—pain that will be remembered.
She then says, “Mary, it makes mother very unhappy to have to punish you. She loves her little daughter, and wishes to have her a good girl.”
She then perhaps leaves her to herself for a few minutes. A little solitude will deepen the impression made.
In five or ten minutes she returns, takes Mary in her lap, and says, “My dear, are you sorry that you disobeyed mother?”
Almost any child would say, “Yes!”
“Will you be careful and not disobey me again?”
“Well, Mary,” says her mother, ” I will forgive you, so far as I can; but God is displeased; you have disobeyed him as well as me. Do you wish me to ask God to forgive you?”
“Yes, mother,” answers the child.
The mother then kneels with her daughter and offers a simple prayer for forgiveness, and the return of peace and happiness. She then leads her out, humbled and subdued. At night, just before she goes to sleep, she mildly and affectionately reminds her of her disobedience, and advises her to ask God’s forgiveness again. Mary, in child-like simplicity, acknowledges to God what she has done, and asks him to forgive her, and take care of her, during the night.
When this child awakes in the morning, will not her young affections be more strongly fixed upon her mother, in consequence of the discipline of the preceding day? As she is playing about the room, will she be likely to forget the lesson she has been taught, and again reach out her hand to a forbidden object? Such an act of discipline tends to establish a general principle in the mind of the child, which will be of permanent operation, extending its influence to every command, and promoting the general authority of the mother and subjection of the child.
I know that some mothers say that they have not time to pay so much attention to their children. But the fact is, that not one-third of the time is required to take care of an orderly family, which is necessary to take care of a disorderly one. To be faithful in the government of your family, is the only way to save time. Can you afford to be distracted and harassed by continued disobedience? Can you spare the time to have your attention called away, every moment, from the business in which you are engaged, by the mischievousness of your willful children?
Look at the parent surrounded by a family of children who are in the habit of doing as they please. She is very busy, I will suppose, upon some article of dress, which it is important should be immediately finished. Every moment she is compelled to raise her eyes from her work, to see what the children are about. Samuel is climbing upon the table. Jane is drawing out the andirons. John is galloping about the room upon the tongs. The mother, almost deafened with noise, wonders what makes her children so much more troublesome than other people’s.
“Jane, let those andirons alone,” she exclaims. Jane runs away for a moment, chases Charles around the room, and returns to her mischief.
“Charles, put up those tongs.” Charles pays no heed to the direction.
The mother, soon seeing how he is ripping the carpet and bruising the furniture, gets up, gives Charles a shake, and places the tongs in their proper situation; but by the time she is fairly seated, and at her work again, Charles is astride the shovel, and traveling at the top of his speed.
I need not continue this picture. But every one knows that it is not exaggerated. Such scenes do often occur. Thousands of immortal spirits are trained up in this turbulence, and anarchy, and noise—for time and for eternity. Now this mother will tell you that she has not time to bring her children into subjection. Whereas, had she been faithful with each individual child, she would have saved herself an immense amount of time and toil.
We will suppose the case of another mother, who has the same work to perform. She has taught her children prompt and implicit obedience. She gives three of them perhaps some blocks, in one corner of the room, and tells them that they may play “build houses,” but that they must not make much noise, and must not interrupt her, for she wishes to be busy. The other three she places in another corner of the room, with their slates, and tells them that they may play “make pictures.” The children, accustomed to such orderly arrangements, employ themselves very quietly and happily for perhaps three quarters of an hour. The mother goes on uninterrupted in her work. Occasionally she raises her eyes and says an encouraging word to her children, now noticing the little architects in the corner, and now glancing her eye at the drawings upon the slates; thus showing the children that she sympathizes with them, and takes an interest in their enjoyments. The children are pleased and happy. The mother is undisturbed.
She does not let them continue their amusements till they are weary of them. But after they have played perhaps three quarters of an hour, she says, “Come, children, you have played long enough; you may take up all your little blocks and put them away in the drawer.”
“O, mother,” says Maria, “do let me play a little while longer, for I have got my house almost done.”
“Well, you may finish it,” says the judiciously kind mother, “but tell me as soon as it is done.”
In a few minutes Maria says, “There, mamma, see what a large house I have built!” The mother looks at it, and adds a pleasant word of encouragement, and then tells them to put all their blocks in the proper place. She tells the children with the slates to hang them up, and to put away their pencils; so that, the next day, when slates and blocks are wanted, no time may be lost in searching for them.
Now which mother has the most time? and which mother has the happiest time? And which mother will find the most comfort in the subsequent character and affection of her children?
Perhaps some one will say, this is a pleasing picture, but where are we to look for its reality? It is indeed to be regretted that such scenes are of so infrequent occurrence. But it is far from being true that they do not occur. There are many such families of happy parents and affectionate children. And these families are not confined to the wealthy and the learned. It requires not wealth, and it requires not extensive learning, to train up such a family. The principle of government is simple and plain. It is to begin with enforcing obedience to every command. It is to establish the principle that a mother’s word is never to be disregarded. Every judicious parent will, indeed, try to gratify her children in their reasonable wishes. She will study to make them happy; but she will never allow them to gratify themselves in contradiction to her wishes.
To illustrate this, let us refer to the children playing with the blocks. The mother tells them to put up the blocks. Maria asks permission to play a few moments longer, till she can finish her house. The mother, desirous of making her children as happy as she can, grants this reasonable wish. Here is a judicious indulgence. But suppose again that the children had continued playing without regard to their mother’s command. They intend perhaps to continue their amusement only till they complete the pile then in progress. Here is an act of direct disobedience. The children are consulting their own inclinations instead of the commands of their mother. A judicious parent will not allow such an act to pass unnoticed or unpunished. She may perhaps think, considering the circumstances of the case, that a serious reprimand is all that is required. But she will not fail to seize upon the occasion to instill into their minds a lesson of obedience.
Is it said that by noticing such little things a mother must be continually finding fault? But it is not a little thing for a child to disobey a mother’s commands! This one act of disregarding authority prepares the way for another. It is the commencement of evil which must be resisted. The very first appearances of insubordination must be checked. There are doubtless cases of trifling faults occurring, which a wise parent will judge it expedient to overlook. Children will be thoughtless and inadvertent. They will occasionally err from strict propriety, without any real intention of doing wrong. Judgment is here requisite in deciding what things must be overlooked; but we may be assured, I think, that direct and open disobedience is not, in any case, to be classed among the number of trifling faults. The eating of an apple banished our first parents from paradise. The atrocity of the offence consisted in its disobedience of a divine command.
Now, every mother has power to obtain prompt obedience—if she commences with her children when they are young. They are then entirely in her hands. All their enjoyments are at her disposal.
God has thus given her all the power she needs to govern and guide them as she pleases. We have endeavored to show, by the preceding illustrations, that the fundamental principle of government is—when you do give a command, invariably enforce its obedience. And God has given every mother the power. He has placed in your hands a helpless babe, entirely dependent upon you; so that if it disobeys you, all you have to do is to cut off its sources of enjoyment, or inflict bodily pain, so steadily and so invariably that disobedience and suffering shall be indissolubly connected in the mind of the child. What more power can a parent ask for than God has already given? And if we fail to use this power for the purposes for which it was bestowed, the sin is ours, and upon us and upon our children must rest the consequences. The exercise of discipline must often be painful—but if you shrink from duty here, you expose yourself to all that sad train of woes which disobedient children leave behind them. If you cannot summon sufficient resolution to deprive of enjoyment, and inflict pain when it is necessary, then you must feel that a broken heart and an old age of sorrow will not be unmerited. And when you look upon your dissolute sons and ungrateful daughters, you must remember that the time was when you might have checked their evil propensities.
If you love ‘momentary ease’ better than your children’s welfare and your own permanent happiness, you cannot murmur at the lot you have freely chosen. And when you meet your children at the bar of God, and they point to you and say, “It was through your neglect of duty that we are banished from heaven—and consigned to endless woe!” you must feel what no tongue can tell. Ah! it is dreadful for a mother to trifle with duty. Eternal destinies are committed to your trust. The influence you are now exerting will go on, unchecked by the grave or the judgment, and will extend onward through those ages to which there is no end!
John Abbott, The Christian Mother