Charities/Volume 13/Number 10/The Struggle in the Family Life
The Struggle in the Family Life.
It is said that the criminals of the cities come from the ranks of the children of the immigrants, not from the immigrants themselves. Those who live near these transplanted people tell us of the struggle in the family life between the standards of the old country father and mother and those of the children who have learned the language and caught the spirit of the new country, and have become the important factor in the family life.
The child stands between the new life and its strange customs; he is the interpreter; he often is the first breadwinner; he becomes the authority in the family.
The parents are displaced because they are helpless, and must trust the children. This superficial, though very practical superiority forces the children and parents into a false position with relation to each other and towards the outside world. The parents have religious and social ideals, and an impassioned faith that in America is to be found liberty and independence. The children's ideals are formed by the teachers, the politicians and often the saloonkeepers. The parents ideals are discredited; they are old fashioned; in some way the children enter into their parents' vague desire for freedom, but it becomes to them such freedom as is hurriedly realized in a do-as-you-please philosophy. They have lost the restraints of an old community feeling that surrounded the parents in their old home and have not yet become rooted in the new restraints by the public opinion of a neighborhood they do not know. The parents' values are belittled and their loyalties scorned. "Shut up talking about Bohemia," said a boy to his mother who was shedding homesick tears as she spoke of the beauties of her old home. "We are going to live in America, not in Bohemia." She had the vision of beauty, while she was living in the sordid ugliness of the stockyard district of Chicago, and her boy could never have her vision.
The children are determined to drop the mother tongue, and they very soon learn English, while the parents are past the age when it is easy to acquire a new language. One often hears of children refusing to answer in the language of the family. Everything seems to be done to develop and educate the children, for getting that this cannot be done for the child independently of the family or the community. The school, the church, the social settlement all emphasize the child's importance. The parents are ignored, left behind and the breach between the new and the old in the family is not spanned as yet by any of the agencies in the community.
The American citizen in the making is left to become a rather pert, important self-deceived young person because he has been isolated in his education. How shall this breach be bridged? What is done will be experimental, but something must be done for the situation is serious and often tragic. The public school lectures given in the foreign tongues to adults are suggestive, and lead one to ask why not enlarge the usefulness of the schoolhouse to meet the need of foreign families.
To begin the bridge from the child's side: cannot the parents, their home country, its beauties, its heroes, legends, stories, history, songs, be made of interest to the children? Will it not place the parents in an atmosphere of poetry of idealization and make them an important factor to the children? Admiration is a strong element in education. Win back the parental authority by admiring all that is admirable in their past. Create a historic perspective that will give self-respect to the new citizenship and will lead to respect for authority in the home and the state.
Start the bridge from the side of the parent by giving to them in their native tongue, American history, constitutional history, old country songs, old country art, etc., with that of the new scenes, country.
Let the parents and children together have a special life in the schoolhouse, bring them together in social relation with English-speaking teachers and friends, let them sing together the national songs of America and of the old lands.
Patriotic Americans may think this dangerous and say the English language is the only one that must be used in the schools, forgetting that this closes all avenues of culture to the adult foreigners. It is more dangerous not to supply this great need of the hungry hearts of the homesick old country parents who are losing their grip on their children. The too early developed young Americans must gain reverence for their parents, and for authority in the home or we shall have an increase of lawlessness. Open the schools for the foreign parents who, with their children, may learn what true freedom is and what American hospitality is. What the new patriotic societies are doing for Americans, we can do for the foreigners: recall the best of their past, recognize their heroes and start an impulse of admiration for all that is noble in the old and the new.