The Child's Home
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WHAT a child shall become depends largely, almost entirely, upon the atmosphere of its home. Environment, not heredity or temperament, in the long run settles the disposition and character. For this reason it is not enough to give a child a home of comfort alone; it is far more important to give him one which will develop the best in him.
It is the mother more than the father who sets the keynote of family life. She is there when the father is necessarily away; usually, too, it is she who decides the small matters of training, and it is her disposition which determines whether the home shall be gay or sober, full of the dull spirit of work, or bright with the air of interest and amusement. That it is difficult for an over-worked mother-and what mother of small children is not over-worked ?-to maintain the highest ideals of personal conduct for herself and her family, there can be not the smallest doubt; but that this responsibility is hers must be admitted.
Cheerfulness a Rule.-One mother said recently in a magazine article that if she were to begin over again her family life she would make its spirit that of deliberate cheerfulness. The phrase exactly describes the best possible atmosphere of a home; parents must not be guided by their feelings, the moods induced by cares and anxieties, but must deliberately, conscientiously be cheerful, if they are to have their children grow up with the light-heartedness youth should know.
This does not mean that parents should keep from their children all knowledge of care, nor that the mother should spare them their rightful share of the burdens of the family. On the contrary, as they grow older they should be taken into the family councils and told of the money anxieties which may be pressing, that they may grow thoughtful and careful of their own expenses; and by all means they should bear their part in the work of the home; to save them these things would make them selfish; but the whole tone of the home life, in spite of them, should be bright. If the father is worried, so much the more reason when he comes home at night to make him happy; if the mother is tired, then by all means let everything be bright to cheer her. Even sorrow itself should not be allowed to darken the spirit of home life, but bereavement should be borne so bravely that the air of quiet happiness should in some degree still exist.
Children Should Share Household Work.-The division of the work of a household should begin while the children are still very small. Even a five-year-old with a tiny dust-cloth can rub the rungs of the chairs, and will really enjoy feeling he is of use; and from that age on, there are plenty of light tasks which any child can do. A boy's own room is to be kept in order; kindling-wood, perhaps, brought in in little bundles suitable to his strength, or waste-paper baskets emptied; a girl can begin to rub the silver with a bit of chamois and some polish when she is only a little thing, and she will love to do it, especially if mother helps too. As to making beds and straightening rooms, she can be a perfect little maid before she is twelve, and never once feel herself abused because a trifle of housework is expected of her daily. On the contrary, she will grow more and more to enjoy the home she helps keep clean and orderly.
It is one of the greatest mistakes that a mother can make, to excuse her children from helping her in her daily tasks; nothing makes them grow up so hard, so bent on pleasure, as to let them have all the easy times while their mother takes the burdens on her own shoulders and spares them. It is a cruel wrong to any child to let it know nothing of personal service in the home. But to have the tasks done willingly, and so as to be enjoyed, the mother must treat them as though they were light and easy by being cheerful herself in doing them, and so make them seem half play.
Pleasures at Home.-The ideal home is one where a child's friends are welcome. When the small children come in to play in the nursery, it means a great deal if the mother gives the visitors a cordial greeting, and if in addition she has always some clever ideas as to ways of amusing them. A tea-party is a joy for girls; an improvised circus for boys; a candy-pull for both together; all these things make children feel that their home is the nicest place on earth, and look with pity on other children who are restricted when their visitors come. It is worth while to have the house upset for an afternoon to receive the reward of a grateful hug at the end and the exclamation, " Oh, we do have such a good time here!" It was Holmes who once said that his mother had a fixed rule that before going anywhere else after school he must come home, and it was only when he grew up that he understood that it was because she wanted to keep him there that she made it; she always had gingerbread ready for him and his friends, and when they had eaten it they decided to stay where they were rather than look farther for a good time. Such a clever bribe as gingerbread or its equivalent, makes a boy love to bring his friends to his house, and creates in him the pride of home which later will hold him strongly.
Perhaps the most important thing next to unselfishness which home life must teach, is the habit of courtesy, and here the mother and father, must set an example, perhaps the father more than the mother. If he habitually addresses his wife with politeness and gives her a chair when she comes into the room, opens the door for her, lifts the heavy bundles, helps her in a thousand ways, the boys accept such things as a matter of course, and before they guess it, they have learned that important lesson of carefulness and thoughtfulness for those weaker than themselves. Saying "please" to a child, and "thank you," and "Won't you help me do this?" and all the little courtesies of daily intercourse, must be as natural as breathing to both parents if they desire to have their children gentle and considerate.
Courtesy and Forbearance.-But in addition to these things, there should be a fixed rule in a family that no squabbling is to be tolerated. The child who begins to "talk back" to the other children and generally becomes quarrelsome, should be quietly put by himself, as temporarily unfit to associate with his fellows. It is true that children, like all young, growing things, naturally struggle and push and squabble; even birds in their little nests do not always agree, the poet to the contrary notwithstanding. But if the atmosphere of the home is distinctly against all such things, and if they are quietly suppressed, generally the children soon learn that politeness is expected as a matter of course, and they fall in with the idea.
One thing a mother who sets for herself the ideal of cheer-fulness in home life will learn at the start is that too much correction must be avoided. Helen Hunt Jackson, in her wise little book "Bits of Talk About Home Matters," said that a child must never be corrected in public; even at the table, no matter how objectionable he might become, he must be reasoned with not at the time, but later. That standard is a high one, one perhaps not always to be followed out in practical life, but still it is something to try to live up to. A child will often forget his promises made when talked to privately and do over again exactly what he has been told not to, but in the long run he will learn; meanwhile, the home is freed from the tone of admonition, which is infinitely irksome.
Family Joys in Common.-The busiest family can always arrange to have a little time together if only they plan for it, and this is one of the delightful things to remember when the home circle breaks up. A half-hour for reading aloud is not much, but it is a joy to recall; a summer tea in the woods, a row on the river, an excursion to town, anything whatever, if it is only done as a family, serves to bind the members together and to let love deepen. The esprit de corps of family life is too rare, too precious to be missed.
A certain mother of eight children, living in a small house with a tiny income, determined to give her children a beautiful home. The cares were shared with gaiety; their friends were welcomed at any hour with overflowing hospitality; their evenings were spent in reading together, or playing games, or singing; nothing was hard, because all were happy and light-hearted with their gay mother. Sorrows came and the family circle was broken, but they drew their chairs closer together; one and another went out into the world, but came back so often that there was perpetual holiday; the shabby little house was never too small for children and grandchildren to be together. It was all done because the mother determined at the start to be resolutely cheerful and to make every one else cheerful, and that home was heaven on earth to all who knew