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Theory And Practive In Bringing Up Children

( Originally Published 1916 )

THE trouble with most of the theories of child training is that the child is supposed to be located in the middle of a forty acre lot, and to be attended by three all-wise angels, who work in shifts of eight hours each and who unerringly know always just what is, the matter and precisely what to do.

If there is anything more impractical and more maddening to a poor mortal parent or teacher than a grand educational programme I do not know what it is.

Several factors are invariably left out. In the first place, there are relatives. You may determine to refrain from carrying, rocking, or jiggling the baby, and to accustom him to lying in his crib without attention, but what are you going to do when Aunt Jane, who has money, comes along and insists on picking him up and showing him the boofle flowers?

You may endeavor to break him of crying and attempt to let him whine himself to sleep; but grandma has something to say about that.

And what happens to the most rational systems of child management when the mother has four little ones cooped up in a city flat, and must take care of them and keep them from poisoning or maiming themselves, and must do this in such intervals of time as she can snatch between washing dishes, getting dinner, cleaning house, sewing, and mending?

Besides, a perfectly good mother may not be physically strong. Four vigorous little personalities demanding instant care all day may reduce her to the borders of nervous prostration. And where are the grand laws of patience and prevention when your back hurts like the toothache and you are so tired you don't know your name?

Also, a good mother may not be endowed with mental perspicacity and deep wisdom. A thousand times she does not know what to do. She may have real love and a high purpose, and do the wrong thing from sheer bewilderment or ignorance.

As for the schoolteacher, her ideal systems for developing the growing mind are usually crushed to death by numbers. Sixty children in a crowded room are too much for any human teacher. By and by she is forced to drop back into mere routine because it is impossible to give each child due care and be alive at the end of the week.

Yet, somehow, children do grow up and flourish. Weak and incompetent mothers bring up capable children, who love her and give her credit in maturer years for the best that is in them. Out of the homes of the poor come great men and noble women. Out of the overcrowded school-room garden human plants rise strong and fruitful.

It is because human nature is better than any scheme for bettering it; because honest love is better than shrewd handling; because motherhood is more efficacious in its instincts than any experts are in their pedagogy and psychology; and because the child absorbs helpful forces from the atmosphere of a school that far outbalance the personal guidance he misses.

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