Mother As Teacher
( Originally Published 1916 )
As our conception of the dignity and responsibility of motherhood rises, we come to expect of women a larger and larger share in the education of their children. It has been taken for granted that the physical care of the child, and to some extent the moral training—at least in so far as this grows out of the usual relations of the home—should be provided by the mother. But there has been noticeable a tendency to demand of the mother more and more mental training, more of the sort of instruction for which we usually provide schools. Some have even gone so far as to advocate that all of the child's instruction, until well past the primary grades, be furnished by the mother herself.
This point of view apparently assumes that every woman naturally has the kinds of ability that are essential to successful imparting of knowledge—or at any rate, that the mother's "instincts" make up for any shortcomings in this direction. But wide observation brings out the fact that the knack of getting along with young children, while possessed by very many women, is by no means a universal characteristic of the sex. Moreover, it is conspicuously absent in many women who are eminently qualified in several other directions to be excellent mothers.
Mrs. Swift had been for years a successful teacher of singing. As her little girl was growing up, she thought it would be fine to do all the teaching for the little one herself. She found to her sorrow, however, that she was temperamentally unfitted to carry out effectively this self-imposed task. While she had no difficulty in teaching adults, and children in the reasoning age, she was quite unable to assume that sprightliness of imagination, that playfulness of spirit, so essential for reaching the interest and attention of the young child. She found that the love-task bored her—and that it also bored the child.
That there are many women, as there are many men, who have what may be called a natural talent for teaching, cannot be questioned. And the children of such people are no doubt fortunate, at least so far as concerns the acquisition of various kinds of information. But for such women to turn about and say to the other women : " You can do what we have done," is to betray a fundamental misconception as to the true nature of the relation between the teacher and the pupil. Such women, since their talents are of great value to society, and comparatively rare, should be utilized so far as may be, as teachers for others as well as for their own children.
We must recognize also that there are many women who have special talents in other directions. It may therefore be questioned whether there is not, from a social point of view, more to be gained by the development of such talents on the part of every woman who has them, than by allowing every woman to become a fourth rate teacher of her own children. There is no doubt that during the early years, when the mother should be with the child a great deal, she will often have the opportunity to assist in the mental development. In general, mothers have not yet begun to take advantage of this opportunity ; this opens a wide field for thought and effort. But we must be on our guard against the faddists who would lead us to look for marvelous results from the application of a few simple rules.
Aside, however, from the mother's having or not having the ability to impart the information required by the young children, there is another important mat-ter to consider—and that is the child himself. Even before he gets to be three years old, ordinarily, the child is in need of companionship he must have about him children of nearly his own age. This does not mean that he must be thrown into a vast crowd, wherein he may lose his identity. Nor is the alternative to the crowd a carefully guarded and sterile isolation. In groups of moderate size the child learns not only social adjustments, but a great deal of the essential knowledge about people and things, which is just as important as anything his mother can teach him.
Although you may send your child to school, or even to kindergarten, there will still remain a great deal for the home to do. The home is the place where the child gets most of his moral training. And even on the intellectual side, what the child accomplishes in school will be very largely determined by the background supplied by the home. It is here that the mother can most profitably make her contact with the mental life of the child. By being a sympathetic guide to the child's bewildered wanderings in the world of mystery around him, she can supplement the school to good purpose. She should be the one to know his needs and his capacities better than any other person; and she should also make it her business to know the resources available to meet those needs. Through her companion-ship in the fields or in the museums, in the streets or in the library, she will continue her own education while helping the child to find his way.
The ideal mother must be the child's best guide, philosopher, and friend. She may also be a good cook; but if she is not, never mind; there are many good cooks to be had. She may be able to nurse one through sickness; it is well to be able to do that, for children will get sick. But if she is not, there are trained nurses who can do it better. She may know as much as an encyclopedia. That's always convenient ; but if not, there are trained teachers to impart information. But whether she has all of these accomplishments or not (and a training for motherhood would include something in each of these departments) she is certainly not an expert in all. Yet she must always be for the child the source of counsel in meeting life's trials, and a refuge from life's tribulations.