The worries of parents are protean, as are all other worries, and those herein named must be taken merely as suggestions as to scores of others that might be catalogued and described in detail.
Many mothers worry foolishly because their children do not obey, are not always thoughtful and considerate, and act with wisdom, forgetful that life is the school for learning. If any worrying is to be done, let the parent worry over her own folly in not learning how to teach, or train, her child. Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little, is the natural procedure with children. It is unreasonable to expect "old heads upon young shoulders." Worry, therefore, that children have not learned before they are taught is as senseless as it is demoralizing. Get down to something practical. I know a mother of a large family of boys and girls. They are as diverse in character and disposition as one might ever find. She is one of the wise, sensible, practical mothers, who acts instead of worrying. For instance, she believes thoroughly in allowing the children to choose their own clothing. It develops judgment, taste, practicability.
One of the girls was vain, and always wanted to purchase shoes too small for her, in order that she might have "pretty feet." Each time she brought home small shoes, her mother sent her back with admonitions to secure a larger pair. After this had continued for several times, she decided upon another plan. When the "too small" shoes were brought home, she compelled the girl to wear them, though they pinched and hurt, until they were worn out, and, as she said in telling me the story, "that ended that." One of her sons was required to get up every morning and light the fire. Very often he was lazy and late so that the fire was not lighted when mother was ready to prepare breakfast. One night he brought home a companion to spend a day or two. The lads frolicked together so that they overslept. When mother got up in the morning, there was no fire. She immediately walked to the foot of the stairs and yelled, "Fire! Fire! Fire!" at the top of her voice. In a few moments, both lads, tousled, half-dressed, and well-scared, rushed downstairs, exclaiming: "Where's the fire? Where's the fire?" "I want it in the stove," was the mother's answer—and "that was the end of that." The oldest girl became insistent that she be allowed to sit up nights after the others had gone to bed. She would study for awhile and then put her head on her arms and go to sleep. One night her mother waited until she was asleep, went off to bed, and left her. At three o'clock in the morning she came downstairs, lighted lamp in hand, and alarm clock set to go off. As soon as the alarm-bell began to ring, the girl awoke, startled to see her mother standing there with the lighted lamp, herself cold and stiff with the discomfort of her position. "And that was the end of that," said the mother.
Here was common-sense, practical, hard-headed training instead of worry. Bend your sense, your intellect, your time, your energy, to seeking how to train your children, instead of doing the senseless, foolish, inane, and utterly useless thing of worrying about them.
Imagine being the child of an anxious parent, who sees sickness in every unusual move or mood of her boy or girl. A little clearing of the throat—"I'm sure he's going to have croup or diphtheria." The girl unconsciously puts her hand to her brow—"What's the matter with your head, dearie; got a headache?" A lad feels a trifle uncomfortable in his clean shirt and wiggles about—"I'm sure Tom's coming down with fever, he's so restless and he looks so flushed!" God forbid that I should ever appear to caricature the wise care of a devoted mother. That is not what I aim to do. I seek, with intenseness of purpose, to show the folly, the absurdity of the anxieties, the worries, the unnecessary and unreasonable cares of many mothers. For the moment Fear takes possession of them, some kind of nagging is sure to begin for the child. "Oh, Tom, you mustn't do this," or, "Maggie, my darling, you must be careful of that," and the child is not only nagged, but is thus placed under bondage to the mother's unnecessary alarm. No young life can suffer this bondage without injury. It destroys freedom and spontaneity, takes away that dash and vigor, that vim and daring that essentially belong to youth, and should be the unhampered heritage of every child. I'd far rather have a boy and girl of mine get sick once in a while—though that is by no means necessary—than have them subjected to the constant fear that they might be sick. And when boys and girls wake up to the full consciousness that their parents' worries are foolish, unnecessary, and selfcreated, the mental and moral influence upon them is far more pernicious than many even of our wisest observers have perceived.
There never was a boy or girl who was worried over, who was not annoyed, fretted, injured, and cursed by it, instead of being benefited. The benefit received from the love of the parent was in spite of the worry, and not because of it.
Worry is a hindrance, a deterrent, a restraint; it is always putting a curbing hand upon the natural exuberance and enthusiasm of youth. It says, "Don't, don't," with such fierce persistence, that it kills initiative, destroys endeavor, murders naturalness, and drives its victims to deception, fraud, and secrecy to gain what they feel to be natural, reasonable and desirable ends.
I verily believe that the parent who forever is saying "Don't" to her children, is as dangerous as a submarine and as cruel as an asphyxiating bomb. Life is for expression, not repression. Repression is always a proof that a proper avenue for expression has not yet been found. Quit your "don't-ing," and teach your child to "do" right. Children absolutely are taught to dread, then dislike, and finally to hate their parents when they are refused the opportunity of "doing"—of expressing themselves.
Rather seek to find ways in which they may be active. Give them opportunities for pleasure, for employment, for occupation. And remember this, there is as much distance and difference between "tolerating," "allowing," "permitting" your children to do things, and "encouraging," "fostering" in them the desire to do them, as there is distance between the poles. Don't be a dampener to your children, a discourager, a "don'ter," a sign the moment you appear that they must "quit" something, that they must repress their enthusiasm, their fun, their exuberant frolicsomeness, but let them feel your sympathy with them, your comradeship, your good cheer, that "Father, Mother, is a jolly good fellow," and my life for it, you will doubtless save yourself and them much worry in after years.
Hans Christian Andersen's story of The Ugly Duckling is one of the best illustrations of the uselessness and needlessness of much of the worry of parents with which I am familiar. How the poor mother duck worried because one of her brood was so large and ugly. At first she was willing to accept it, but when everybody else jeered at it, pushed it aside, bit at it, pecked it on the head, and generally abused it, and the turkey-cock bore down upon it like a ship in full sail, and gobbled at it, and its brothers and sisters hunted it, grew more and more angry with it, and wished the cat would get it and swallow it up, she herself wished it far and far away. And as the worries grew around the poor duckling, it ran away. It didn't know enough to have faith in itself and its own future. The result was the worries of others affected it to the extent of urging it to flee. For the time being this enlarged its worries, until at length, falling in with a band of swans, it felt a strange thrill of fellowship with them in spite of their grand and beautiful appearance, and, soaring into the air after them, it alighted into the water, and seeing its own reflection, was filled with amazement and wonder to find itself no longer an ugly duckling but—a swan.
Many a mother, father, family generally, have worried over their ugly duckling until they have driven him, her, out into the world, only to find out later that their duckling was a swan. And while it was good for the swan to find out its own nature, the points I wish to make are that there was no need for all the worry—it was the sign of ignorance, of a want of perception—and further, the swan would have developed in its home nest just as surely as it did out in the world, and would have been saved all the pain and distress its cruel family visited upon it.
There is still another story, which may as well be introduced here, as it applies to the unnecessary worry of parents about their young. In this case, it was a hen that sat on a nest of eggs. When the chickens were hatched, they all pleased the mother hen but one, and he rushed to the nearest pond, and, in spite of her fret, fuss, fume, and worry, insisted upon plunging in. In vain the hen screamed out that he would drown, her unnatural child was resolved to venture, and to the amazement of all, he floated perfectly, for he was a duck instead of a chicken, and his egg was placed under the old hen by mistake.
Mother, father, don't worry about your child. It may be he is a swan; he may be a duck, instead of the creature you anticipated. Control your fretfulness and your worry for it cannot possibly change things. Wait and watch developments and a few days may reveal enough to you to show you how totally unnecessary all your worries would have been. Teach yourself to know that worry is evil thought directed either upon our own bodies or minds, or those of others. Note, I say evil thought. It is not good thought. Good thought so directed would be helpful, useful, beneficial. This is injurious, harmful, baneful. Evil thought, worry, directs to the person, or to that part of the body considered, an injurious and baneful influence that produces pain, inharmony, unhappiness. It is as if one were to divert a stream of corroding acid upon a sensitive wound, and do it because we wished to heal the wound. Worry never once healed a wound, or cured an ill. It always aggravates, irritates, and, furthermore, helps superinduce the evil the worrier is afraid of. The fact that you worry about these things to which I have referred, that you yield your thoughts to them, and, in your worry, give undue contemplation to them, induces the conditions you wish to avoid or avert. Hence, if you wish your child to be well and strong, brave and courageous, it is the height of cruelty for you to worry over his health, his play, or his exercise. Better by far leave him alone than bring upon him the evils you dread. Who has not observed, again and again, the evil that has come from worrying mothers who were constantly cautioning or forbidding their children to do that which every natural and normal child longs to do? Quit your worrying. Leave your child alone. Better by far let him break a rib, or bruise his nose, than all the time to live in the bondage of your fears.
Elsewhere I have referred to the fact that we often bring upon our loved ones the perils we fear. There is a close connection between our mental states and the objects with which we are surrounded. Or, mayhap, it would be more correct to say that it is our mental condition that shapes the actions of those around us in relation to the things by which they are surrounded. Let me illustrate with an incident which happened in my own observation. A small boy and girl had a nervous, ever worrying mother. She was assured that her boy was bound to come to physical ill, for he was so courageous, so adventuresome, so daring. To her he was the duck instead of the chicken she thought she was hatching out. One day he climbed to the roof of the barn. His sister followed him. The two were slowly, and in perfect security, "inching" along on the comb of the roof, when the mother happened to catch sight of them. With a scream of half terror and half anger, she shouted to them to come down at once! Up to that moment, I had watched both children with comfort, pleasure, and assurance of their perfect safety. Their manifest delight in their elevated position, the pride of the girl in her pet brother's courage, and his scarcely concealed surprise and pleasure that she should dare to follow him, were interesting in the extreme. But the moment that foolish mother's scream rent the air, everything changed instanter. Both children became nervous, the boy started down the roof, where he could drop upon a lower roof to safety. His little sister, however, started down too soon. Her mother's fears unnerved her and she slid, and falling some twenty-five feet or so, broke her arm.
Then—and here was the cruel fatuity of the whole proceeding—the mother began to wail and exclaim to the effect that it was just what she expected. May I be pardoned for calling her a worrying fool. She could not see that it was her very expectation, and giving voice to it, in her hourly worryings and in that command that they come down, that caused the accident. She, herself, alone was to blame; her unnecessary worry was the cause of her daughter's broken arm.
Christ's constant incitement to his disciples was "Be not afraid!" He was fully aware of the fact that Job declared: "The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me." Hence, worrying mother, curb your worry, kill it, drive it out, for your child's sake. You claim it is for your child's good that you worry. You are wrong. It is because you are too thoughtless, faithless, and trustless that you worry, and, if you will pardon me, too selfish. If, instead of giving vent to that fear, worry, dread, you exercised your reason and faith a little more, and then self-denial, and refused to give vocal expression to your worry, you could then claim unselfishness in the interest of your child. But to put your fears and worries, your dreads and anxieties, around a young child, destroying his exuberance and joy, surrounding him with the mental and spiritual fogs that beset your own life is neither wise, kind, nor unselfish.
Another serious worry that besets many parents is that pertaining to the courtship or engagement of their children. Here again let me caution my readers not to construe my admonitions into indifference to this important epoch in their child's life. I would have them lovingly, wisely, sagely advise. But there is a vast difference between this, and the uneasy, fretful, nagging worries that beset so many parents and which often lead to serious friction. Remember that it is your child, not you, who has to be suited with a life partner. The girl who may call forth his warmest affection may be the last person in the world you would have chosen, yet you are not the one to be concerned.
In the January, 1916, Ladies' Home Journal there is an excellent editorial bearing upon this subject, as follows: A mother got to worrying about the girl to whom her son had become engaged. She was a nice girl, but the mother felt that perhaps she was not of a type to stimulate the son sufficiently in his career. The mother wisely said nothing, however, until two important facts dawned upon her: First, that possibly her boy was of the order which did not need stimulation. As she reflected upon his nature, his temperament, she arrived at the conclusion that what he required in a life partner might be someone who would prove a poultice rather than a mustard plaster or a fly blister.
This was her first discovery.
The second was not precisely like unto it, but was even more important —that the son, and not the mother, was marrying the girl. The question as to whether or not the girl would suit the mother as a permanent companion was a minor consideration about which she need not vex her soul. The point he had settled for himself was that here, by God's grace, was the one maid for him; and since that had been determined the wise course was for the mother not to waste time and energy bemusing (worrying) herself over the situation, especially as the girl offered no fundamental objections.
Thus the mother, of herself, learned a lesson that many another mother might profitably learn.
How wonderfully in his Saul does Robert Browning set forth the opposite course to that of the worrier. Here, the active principle of love and trust are called upon so that it uplifts and blesses its object. David is represented as filled with a great love for Saul, which would bring happiness to him. He strives in every way to make Saul happy, yet the king remains sad, depressed, and unhappy. At last David's heart and his reason grasp the one great fact of God's transcending love, and the poem ends with a burst of rapture. His discovery is that, if his heart is so full of love to Saul, that in his yearning for his good, he would give him everything, what must God's love for him be? Of his own love he cries: Could I help thee, my father, inventing a bliss, I would add, to that life of the past, both the future and this; I would give thee new life altogether, as good, ages hence, At this moment,—had love but the warrant love's heart to dispense.
Then, when God's magnificent love bursts upon him he sings in joy: —What, my soul? see thus far and no farther? When doors great and small Nine-and-ninety flew ope at our touch, should the hundredth appall? How utterly absurd, on the face of it, is such a supposition. God having given so much will surely continue to give. His love so far proven so great, it will never cease.
O! doubting heart of man, of woman, of father, of mother, grieving over the mental and spiritual lapses of a loved one, grasp this glorious fact—God's love far transcends thine own. What thou wouldst do for thy loved one is a minute fraction of what He can do, will do, is doing. Rest in His love. He will not fail thee nor forsake thee; and in His hands all whom thou lovest are safe.
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