Popular Science Monthly/Volume 41/July 1892/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
MOTHERHOOD.

MUCH advance has been made within the last generation in the matter of the education of women; bat even the ambitious programmes of the present day do not make as full or as distinct provision as might be desired for instruction in the elementary duties and responsibilities of motherhood. We are very ready to allow that not every woman is called to be a mother, and we sympathize to a considerable extent with those who object to holding up marriage as the only goal at which women should aim. At the same time we incline very strongly to the opinion that the education of no woman can be complete unless it embraces the best obtainable knowledge as to how children should be brought up and trained, and as to the qualities, physical and moral, which their proper nurture and culture demand of the mother. The woman who is not called to he a mother may be called to he an aunt, and as such may have a large share in the education of children. We are not all called upon to rescue or resuscitate drowned persons; but most of us would willingly possess the knowledge necessary for such a purpose. It may be said, Why teach the duties of motherhood more than those of fatherhood? If so, the answer is, We should teach them more because they are more comprehensive than those of fatherhood, and because the relation between mother and child is so much closer than between father and child. But we fully recognize the necessity for teaching the duties of fatherhood also; and, when moral culture receives due attention in our schools, the duties which a father owes to his children will not be overlooked.

Meanwhile, however, let us consider the other and more important question. Surely it would be a most suitable thing to impress upon every girl of proper age the sacredness of the maternal function. How impressively might we apply to the expectation either of fatherhood or of motherhood the words, "He that hath this hope purifieth himself." What stronger argument for purity of life could be urged than that derivable from the duty of giving sound and cleanly parentage to one's offspring? Why are so many marriages unhappy? Mainly because they are entered upon without any thought of duty or responsibility, or any sense of the restraints upon individual caprice and impulse which are essential to subsequent happiness. It would not be difficult to show in a forcible manner the actual misery which ignorance or disregard of physiological laws entails not alone on the offenders but on their progeny as well. Passing to the important question of the hygiene of the nursery, there is much that could be taught on sure grounds of science; and the subject, in the hands of a competent teacher, could hardly fail to prove most interesting. What more satisfying object can there be to a normally constituted woman than a healthy, wellconditioned, intelligent child? The result of due instruction in matters pertaining to a mother's duties would be to make the mothers of the future happier in their children and the children happier in their mothers. It is science, as we more and more see, that is chiefly required in the household. It is the lessons of experience that need to be gathered, collated, sifted, systematized, and brought home to the minds of both fathers and mothers. We constantly hear of young couples who start off with theories of their own on the subject of the treatment of children, just as if there were no established principles available for their guidance. Surely this is folly: the very last matter to which wild experimentation should be applied is the bringing up of children; and we pity most sincerely the children whose parents think that it has been left for them to originate the true principles of child-education.

That thousands of children suffer from the over-indulgence of their parents and thousands more from their over-severity, does not admit of dispute. In any course of instruction such as we have hinted at a considerable place should be given to the psychology of the child, and a considerable place also to the commoner defects of parents. It is a wise mother that does not unduly stimulate the self-consciousness of her child, and thus lay the foundation for life-long habits of affectation. If clever children do not always make clever men and women, a partial reason may be found in the way they are commonly treated. They find grown-up people constantly on the watch to hear, and most industrious in repeating, their original speeches; and soon they exchange the gift of originality which consists in seeing and expressing things in an conventional manner, for the very inferior one of making smart speeches. They are thus forced by the very admiration of their elders into taking conventional instead of unconventional views, and speaking, as it were, to the "gallery" instead of uttering spontaneous truths. Thus—

"Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing boy"

or girl altogether too soon. The way to promote originality is to leave the mind as long as possible in direct and living contact with things, and, to do that, it is necessary to avoid any great appearance of interest in or astonishment at the judgments the child forms or the phrases it uses. As soon as a child begins to find its own opinions interesting, instead of, as before, finding things interesting, farewell to originality! Will any one say that, if girls were taught how the minds of children might be kept fresh, they would not value the knowledge and, when the time came, try to turn it to account? We hardly think so.

Too vigorous denunciation could scarcely be bestowed upon the fashion so many mothers have of making their children mere instruments of their own vanity. Most mothers, we imagine, even in this advanced age, regard their children as gifts from Heaven; but do they suppose that Heaven gave them children that they might turn them into preposterous human dolls, and prematurely age them with the burden of social follies? Here we see the need of a strong appeal to the mother-instinct of those who are not yet mothers, that they may be led to conceive a horror of sacrificing innocent children to the Moloch of an artificial and heartless society. What do we want manikins, puppets, little bedizened and bemannered creatures full of social spites and rivalries, or children full of healthy impulses, pure, truthful, and loving, of whom it might conceivably be said that "of such is the kingdom of heaven"? Alas, that so many should deliberately choose the former, and these not the less but the more religiously devout members of the community!

One point on which a judicious teacher, addressing girls on the duties of motherhood, would certainly utter a caution, would be as to allowing the mere maternal instinct to run to excess and pass beyond control. The maternal instinct must be considered as having for its object the good of the child; but, like all instincts and passions, it tends to become an object to itself, and then the interest which it is meant to subserve suffers; the child is worried and hampered by the over-abundance of maternal caresses and attentions, to the injury sometimes of its regard for the mother. We are well aware that a perfectly balanced human being is more than the most careful education can be expected to produce; but that is no reason why we should not aim at a desirable and possible balance of faculties—of reason and imagination, of thoughts and emotions, of judgments and impulses. A woman who is all mother does not make the best kind of mother. Cases are not wanting in which an unrestrained excess of the maternal instinct injures the relation between husband and wife and mars the harmony of the household. All this could be illustrated by numerous and varied examples; and this is the kind of knowledge which we maintain might with great advantage be imparted to the rising generation of girls. Why should human happiness be wrecked for want of knowledge which so many could supply from their own experience, and of scientific principles which are the common places of all who think? The time has surely come when motherhood should be redeemed from the automatism of blind instinct and wedded, for its own high purposes, with the force of intellect. We shall be happy if these few words should incite to thought on this most important subject, and cause attention to be paid to it in quarters where, as yet, it has been neglected.