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Sympathetic Parenthood

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



THE Mothers' Congress and its work is a living epitome of sympathetic motherhood. As Daniel Boone, the brave pioneer in Kentucky, placing his ear to the earth beneath the shade of primeval forests, exclaimed to his companions: "I hear the tramp of unborn millions, who will, in the years to come, cross this land." So we tell you, we are working, not only for the children of today, but for the untold numbers who are even now journeying earthward, and who will rise up and bless you for what you and every other organization in the world are doing to give us the ideal civilization. Cultivate sympathy in your children, but beware lest you overdo this and make them morbid. Like all other great truths, it is best taught by example. Children are naturally sympathetic. Looking from my window one day on the eve of a summer departure, I saw two little figures going slowly down the path, and carefully sprinkling something as they went. Upon inquiry at luncheon as to what they were doing, the eldest replied, " Oh, Mamma, we are sprinkling bread-crumbs, so the poor little ants won't get hungry while we are away."

Many heart-broken lonely men and women suffer so much before they attain unto the joys of sympathy with and of service for others, and this they might often have been spared, had they been encouraged to think of others in their childhood.

If we could only know all that a little child feels and thinks, we should be so tender, so considerate of them; we hurt them in a thousand ways, we grown-ups; we are so absorbed with our point of view, we cannot see theirs, and some mothers and fathers never realize the full need for sympathy until the baby hands can no longer give that little tug at coat or skirts with which all parents are familiar, and the baby voice has passed forever from earth, and there remains only that unending tugging at the heart-strings, which we call vain regret.

Mary Wood Allen relates that a young merchant, intent on business, while rushing across the city on his wheel, met with a collision, resulting in bruises and dislocations which kept him from active duties for a few days. The mental currents, which had been rushing out along lines of business activity, were suddenly checked, and boiled and seethed in irritation and rebellion. "It would not have been so hard," he said, "if I could have been let down easy; but this sudden stoppage from a point of intense activity to a state of enforced quietness is almost unbearable." One evening, while lying upon his sofa, he noticed that his little boy, a bright little fellow of four years, was remaining up after his usual bedtime, and, calling the nurse, he commanded her to take the child to bed. The little fellow resisted with kicks and screams, was scolded and slapped by his father into sullen acquiescence and carried off rebelliously to bed. "I declare," said the father, "that child is getting to be incorrigible. I shall certainly have to take him severely in hand."

This remark was addressed to a friend, a woman of experience, who, sitting in the room, had been a witness to the proceedings. The comment of the father opened the way for the expression of thoughts which were welling in her mind. "Did you notice what the child was doing when you ordered him to bed?" she said. "Why, no; not particularly. He was playing, I believe." "He was very busy," said the friend. "He had a grocery store in one corner of the room, a telephone in another, and a magnificent train of cars with a coal-scuttle engine. He was taking orders from the telephone, doing up packages in the grocery store and delivering them by train. He had just very courteously assured Mrs. Brown that she should shortly have a pound of rice pudding and a bushel of baked potatoes; had done up a pumpkin pie for Mrs. Smith, when he was rudely disturbed in his business by Sarah and carried off to bed. He resented, and probably if he could have put his thoughts into words would have said just what you did a short time ago-that if he could have been let down easy it would not have been so hard. But to be dropped suddenly right in the midst of business was intolerable. Now, he knows that tomorrow the grocery store will have been demolished, the telephone will have disappeared, the train will have been wrecked, and if he goes into business again he will have to begin at the foundation. You think your experience is hard enough; but you know there are others at your place of business who are looking after things as well as they can. How would you feel if you knew that your store was demolished and had to be built up again from the foundation?" "Oh! well," said the father, "but that is business. The boy was only playing." "The boy's occupation to him was business, just as much as yours is to you; his mental activities were just as intense; the sudden checking of his currents of thought were just as hard to bear, and his kicks and screams were no more unreasonable in him than have been your exclamations and sufferings during the time that you have been ignominiously consigned to bed. You have been worrying over plans that were suddenly con-fused because of your accident; he goes to bed feeling that Mrs. Brown would be disappointed because she didn't get her rice pudding, and it was just as hard for him to bear this as it was for you to bear your experience." "Well, what would you have me do?" said the father. "Would you let the child sit up all night because he is interested in his play?" "No, but, you might have let him down easy. Suppose you had given him fifteen minutes in which to rearrange his thoughts. Sup-pose you had called him up and said: `Well, Mr. Grocer, I would like to give you some orders, but I see that it is about time for your store to close, and I shall have to wait until to-morrow.' No doubt the little grocer would have been willing to have filled your orders at once; but you could have said: `Oh, no. Shops must close on time, so that the clerks can go home. There will be plenty of time tomorrow. I see you still have some goods to deliver, and your engineer is getting very anxious to reach the end of his run. In about fifteen minutes the engine must go into the roundhouse and the engineer must go home and go to bed, so as to be ready for work tomorrow.'

"Do you not see that this would have turned the thoughts of the child into just the line that you wanted him to go? He would have been glad to close up his shop, because that is the way men do; and as the little engineer at the end of a run he would have been very glad to go to bed and rest. Instead of a rebellious child sobbing himself sulkily to sleep with an indestructible feeling of injustice rankling in his heart, as a happy little engineer he would have gone willingly to bed, to think with loving kindness of that father who had sympathized with him and helped him to close his day's labor satisfactorily." "I see," said the father, "and I am ashamed of myself. If I could waken him I would go to him and ask him to forgive me. Sarah, bring Robbie here." "He is asleep," was the reply. "Never mind; bring him anyhow."

The girl lifted the sleeping boy and carried him to his father's arms. The child's face was flushed and tear-stained; his little fists were clenched and the long-drawn, sobbing breath showed with what a perturbed spirit he had entered into sleep. "Poor little chap," said the father penitently, as he kissed the cheek moist with weeping, "can you forgive your father, my boy?" The child did not waken; but his hands gently unclosed, his whole body relaxed, and, nestling his head more closely against his father's breast, he raised one chubby hand and patted the father's cheek. It was as if the loving voice had penetrated through the encasing flesh to the child's spirit, and he had answered love with love; and they will always answer love with love.



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