Knowledge Of Reproduction
( Originally Published 1923 )
Knowledge of Reproduction.--- When the child asks "Where did the baby come from?" he is not asking a sexual question. Since he is thoroughly ignorant, such a question is necessarily as guileless and as free from ulterior thought as the question "Where does the snow come from?" And the answer should be just as direct and as free from any untoward emotional coloring. The child comes from the mother. It had developed—or "hatched," if that is a familiar term—from a tiny egg inside mother's abdomen. For most children, this is enough as a beginning. Its importance lies not so much in the amount of information conveyed ,as in the assurance which it gives the child that satisfying replies are to be had from the parent, that the latter is not hiding any-thing, not holding anything back, not misrepresenting the world. Moreover, a frank, direct, truthful, matter-of-fact reply will go a long way toward preventing the divorcement of the whole subject from other subjects, which so commonly results quite as much from a quality in the speaker's voice as from anything explicit that he may say.
Before long, the logic of the child will bring him to the inference that if the neighbor's baby or the little brother or sister came from its mother, then he must have come from his; and he will seek for confirmation. Father or mother should help him to this truth, symdpathetically indeed, but again without any attempt to squeeze from the circumstance an excessive amount of sentiment. In many cases a statement of the facts in as simple a manner as the parent can command will of itself set up in the child a flow of feelings that will draw him closer to his mother. If there is no immediate emotional response, it is wise to let well enough alone. The affection of the child for his mother will have more to feed upon than this particular discovery, and it should have abundant opportunity to manifest itself on other occasions. The extremes should in every case be avoided. There is danger both in the thoroughly cold-blooded treatment which some will adopt in reacting too strongly from the other extreme, and in the over-heated sentimentalism which seeks immediately to capitalize the child's interest for the increase of affection. Perhaps with most parents today the greater danger is in over-emphasis upon the sentimental rather than in its repression. It will help many parents who are aware of the latter danger, if, when presenting the child the essential facts of reproduction, they refer at once to the universality of the story. All living things come from eggs, and the eggs originate within the mother. In some plants and animals the eggs are thrown out and hatch by themselves ; in some cases, by the heat of the sun. In some animals the mother helps the eggs to hatch by supplying heat from her own body. In many animals, including human beings, the egg hatches inside the body of the mother, and is supplied with food as well as with heat. And baby's mother supplies food from her own body after he is born,
In the country, where animal life of many forms is abundant, or in homes that can make room for pet animals, the child's interest in the care of the animals will facilitate the introduction of further bits of useful information. But even children who are quite removed from these aids will sooner or later want to know what share the father has in the being of the baby. And the answer should still be truthful and direct. The egg of the mother cannot hatch unless it is "fertilized." The eggs of plants have to be fertilized, the eggs of fishes and frogs have to be fertilized, the eggs of birds and mammals have to be fertilized. The eggs of the fish and of the frog and of many other water animals are fertilized by the "sperm" from the father's body, swimming in the water. The egg cannot become a young living thing unless it joins with a sperm. Without the fertilizing sperm it dies. Neither can the sperm alone grow or do anything unless it combines with an egg. The two together, when joined, become the new baby plant or baby animal. In birds and mammals the sperm has to be placed inside the body of the mother by the father.
The biological function of the male parent cannot appeal to the sentiment of the child as does that of the mother. There is no use pretending that it represents sacrifice or exertion or solicitude, for it very rarely does any of these things. On the other hand, where the child has already some appreciation of the service of motherhood to the baby, both before and after birth, the service of the father in the home and his economic function may properly be brought out, and this too can be associated with analogous services among lower animals.
It is well to recall again that the information which may thus be given to the young child is of no direct use to him. It does, to be sure, satisfy his curiosity; but that may also be accomplished by deception and fraud. The stork story or the doctor's satchel might serve for several years to come. The value of the direct and truthful story is to be found in the fact that it forestalls misleading and degrading information which is sure to come sooner or later from unwholesome sources, and it keeps open the confidence and sympathy between child and parent, which will be of great and growing value as time passes.