Our duty to the children

from William L. Worcester, Our Duty to the Children (Philadephia:  American New-Church Tract and Publication Society 1897)

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1. 1. Heredity
2. Heavenís Hold Upon the Child
3. Obedience
4. The Transition

 


4. The Transition

"When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up."

Psalm 27:10

The lesson of obedience has been learned. The next step in development is for the child to assume the guidance of his own life, which up to this time has been in his parents' care. The Lord, therefore, gives in opening manhood and womanhood the rational faculty, the power not only to know and remember, but to understand, to rise above facts to principles, and to see the application of principles to various conditions. The new faculty does not give us power to invent truth,- no human mind has that power, - but it does enable us to make for ourselves the applications of truth which before our parents have made for us, and so to look directly to the Lord as our standard of truth and our Teacher. The rational faculty is not given that a young man may turn from dependence upon his parents to dependence upon himself, but to dependence upon the Lord ; that he may advance from indirect obedience to Him to direct obedience. " When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up."

When circumstances remove children from their parents' care; when parents die, when children leave home for college or for work ; when, though they still live with their parents, they outgrow the dependence of childhood, then they should be prepared to transfer their dependence to the Lord. It is to enable them to do this that rationality is given them. This is the essence of the change from boy- and girlhood to man- and womanhood.

To see clearly what the change is, is a help in knowing our duty to children at this transition period of life. If we have the change in mind as something that is coming, we can do much to prepare the children for it, so that at the right time they can make the change safely and happily.

From the first we can cultivate the thought that the children are the Lord's children. We shall not selfishly wish to keep them in ignorance of their Heavenly Father, and claim all their affection for ourselves. We shall teach them about the Lord, and shall be glad to see their thoughts and affections turn to Him in childlike ways. If little children look up to us and think us very wise and good, we shall in our own hearts transfer their reverence to the Lord, knowing that whatever goodness or wisdom they find in us is from Him; and as the children grow older we shall not hide it from them that we are but giving them what the Lord gives us. It may be a trial to our natural feelings to think in this way of the children, as the Lord's, and gradually to lead their thoughts and affections beyond ourselves to Him. It is a process of weaning ; it is a taking the child to the tabernacle and lending him to the Lord forever. But we must remember that we cannot always nurse and lead the children ; they will outgrow us. If we love them we must teach them about the Lord as the only One who is good and wise, so that when the change comes they will be able to turn promptly to Him.

We can also help to prepare the children for the responsibility which is coming to them, when they must be trusted to take into their own hands the choice of their course of life and their eternal destiny, by giving them even as children little responsibilities and gradually greater ones, and by helping them as children to be trustworthy. Suppose parents in their anxious carefulness for a child never let him go out of their sight; they go always with him to prevent his doing wrong and to shield him from every danger. The child grows up with the feeling that nothing depends upon him ; parents do everything for him, or if he must do some things himself, they carry the whole responsibility for him, they continually remind him of what he is to do and when to do it, and stand over him to see that it is done. When the child becomes a man and such care is no longer possible, is he well prepared to take up the responsibility of guiding his own life? He would be better prepared if he had become accustomed little by little to meeting the difficulties of life himself; if his parents in little things and for short times had trusted him to do right without their presence to check him or remind him. This mistaken kindness does not make a manly boy, nor prepare him for the time when he must assume the responsibilities of a man.

To take one practical example. We want the children, when they are grown up, to be honest and careful in the use of money. Shall we prepare them for the responsibility by always taking care of the money ourselves, always buying for them, and deciding for them what to buy? Or will it be better for them gradually to learn the value of money by earning a little themselves, and to learn to use it carefully by giving and spending of their own with some guiding advice from us? It is no doubt easier to do it all ourselves, but there can be no question which course better prepares a child for the responsibility of earning his own living, or of caring for a fortune by and by. Moreover, trustiness in temporal things is the basis of trustiness in eternal things.

There is nothing more destructive of manliness of character than for a child to feel that he is never trusted, especially to feel that he is not trusted to do right without watching. Treated so, he very soon depends upon the watching and is not safe without it. But a child responds readily to trust reposed in him. He is upon his honor to do well, and the manliness in him is awakened not to disappoint the expectation. It is of course necessary to adapt the responsibility to the strength, and not to expect a child to know what he has never been taught, nor to exercise the judgment of a man. We must be sure that what he is asked to do is within his ability; then to trust him, and to let him know that we trust him, begins to make a man of him. Faithfulness in a few things prepares him to make good use of many things. Trustworthiness cultivated in the years of boy- and girlhood prepares the children to take up the responsibilities of man- and womanhood.

If the earlier stages of development have done their work we need not fear the transition period, which is commonly recognized as a trying season in life, and a critical one. Infancy has laid up a store of innocence which has given heaven a hold upon the soul. Childhood has given a store of knowledge of what is good and right, and has disciplined the powers to obedience; the child has learned in small dangers and small duties not to disappoint the trust reposed in him by his parents; he is prepared for the greater responsibility with which the Lord now entrusts him. Still, the transition period needs our tenderest and wisest help. It is called a disagreeable age, and often it does not receive the sympathy and consideration which it needs. It is a trying and disagreeable age for reasons which we shall consider, but it is most of all trying and disagreeable to the one who is passing through it. He finds himself growing hard and critical; he finds himself questioning the decisions of his parents; he is rebellious and irritable; even the kindness of friends is an annoyance to him and he returns it with rudeness. This new state is distressing to one who inwardly loves his parents and friends as tenderly as he ever did. He is ashamed of himself, and sorry, when he has been rude to them. Even at the time he treats them so it hurts his better feelings, and yet he seems hardly able to do otherwise. He does not understand the meaning of this change. He does not know why it has come, and whether it is temporary or must last for the rest of his life. He certainly deserves not blame but kindly sympathy.

The cause of the change is that the faculty of rationality is developing. When fully formed it will give strength and grace to the manly character, but in the process of development it shows an unlovely side. The faculty first develops on the natural side, and in a hard and intellectual way. Afterwards it may open upward and become spiritual, and its hard intellectualness may be softened by a regard for use.

In the panorama of life presented in the Bible story, this faculty of rationality is represented by Abraham's sons Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael is the first, natural reason, critical and hard; the son of the Egyptian hand-maid, a man of the deserts, described as "a wild-ass man, his hand against every man, and every man's hand against him." (Genesis 16: 12) In explaining these words about Ishmael, Swedenborg describes the character of one whose rationality is developed only in a natural way, and is not yet softened by regard for use. " He is morose," he says, " impatient, in opposition to all others, regarding every one as in the wrong, instantly rebuking, chastening, punishing; he is without pity, and does not try to bend the minds of others; for he regards everything from truth, and not from good." (AC 5949) Again, the natural rationality likened to the wild ass is described as " morose, contentious, having a dry, hard life." (AC 1964)

When one who has been a good and affectionate child comes into this critical, contentious state, it may be hard for his friends, but it is harder still for himself; he is not to be blamed, but helped with the utmost kindness and patience to come through the Ishmaelite stage to a more lovely and wiser rationality. And how shall we help ? by disputing and ridiculing the first efforts of a young man to reason for himself? To be sure his conclusions are very crude; he sees only the natural side of the question that he undertakes to solve; he thinks little of the opinion of any one in comparison with his own. But it may be an honest effort to use the faculty of reason. Shall we ridicule it? Do we treat so a child's first efforts to walk? Does a bird treat so the efforts of her young to fly? This comparison is a good one, for the wings of a bird are emblems of the power of thought. " He led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings : so the LORD alone did lead him." (Deuteronomy 32: 10-12) The patience of the parent-bird in teaching the young to fly is a suggestion of the Lord's patience with our first efforts to use the faculty of reason. It is a lesson of patience to human parents.

Remember also that it is application to use which softens the hard intellectualness of the natural reason. We can be helpful, then, by leading a young man's thoughts to usefulness, by encouraging the doing of useful work, turning his active mind from speculation and theory to good use, in which the truth will find the softening influence of good. There is nothing so wholesome for a young man or woman as work, good work, useful work; nothing is a surer help to bring them safely through to substantial manhood and womanhood.

What a help and safeguard it is if we have kept the children's confidence from their babyhood till now, by sharing their interests with them, by meeting always kindly and patiently their confessions of weakness and failure! New dangers and temptations meet the children in these transition years; they need our instruction and warning, yet if we have not their fullest confidence, if we are not their tried and faithful friends, we cannot reach them with the help they need.

It may be with an agony of fear that parents see their children pass from their control. But if they have learned to be trustworthy children, trust them still, and let them know that you trust them. If we would have influence with a man and strengthen his manhood, we must treat him like a mean. Coercion is not useful at this stage. If it succeeds at all it does so by forcing the young man to remain a child. There is far more power in trust. It recognizes the developing manhood, and appeals to it to show itself worthy of confidence. We must respect a young man's right to think for himself; if he is crude in his conclusions, not contradicting him, but comparing his view with ours, as man with man. Such treatment disarms his opposition, the self-assertion melts away, and often, with almost his old childlike docility, he voluntarily seeks advice and follows it.

Much of our ability to help the children in the new relation of opening manhood and womanhood depends upon our recognizing that it is a new relation. We must not treat them now as children, subject wholly to our will and judgment. The subjection they now owe is to the Lord, and we are their companions in the service. We help them with loving advice and sympathy and by doing our part to keep alive the tender things which give heaven its hold upon the soul. We help still more by expecting a young man to do right and trusting him to do it.

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