Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wise Words for Women: To Young Mothers

This week's wise words come from a man who lived over 200 years ago, and yet they are extremely relevant to women today. They come from John Angell James, a pastor who lived and worked in England in the early nineteenth century. He authored an number of books including Female Piety, which this quote is taken from. Although the language is slightly old-fashioned, this book is well worth reading and can be read online here. In this extract, James addresses mothers:

[The] strength of woman's love to her child must be turned to good account, and be directed in its exercises to the best and most useful purposes. There is this difference, and it is a momentous one, between the maternal care of the animals and that of woman; in animals it goes no further than provision and protection—training forms no part of it. The same power which endowed the beasts with the habits which belong to its nature, endows also its offspring. The latter, without any pains bestowed on its education, or any solicitude cherished for its welfare, will learn the lessons of its existence by the instincts of nature, and be capable of rising to its specific perfection, unaided either by parent or teacher. Not so the young of the human species; they also require provision and protection. But more than this they need instruction. And who must be their instructor? First of all, and chief of all—their mother...

The mother has most to do with the character, while yet in the flexible state in which it receives its shape. The earliest exercises of thought, emotion, will, and conscience, are all carried on under her eye. She has to do not only with the body in its infancy, but with the soul in its childhood. Both mind and heart are in her hands at that period, when they take their first start for good or for evil. The children learn to lisp their first words, and to form their first ideas, under her teaching. They are almost always in her company, and are insensibly to themselves and imperceptibly to her, receiving a right or wrong bias from her! She is the first 'model of character' they witness—the first exhibitions of right and wrong in practice are what they see in her. They are the constant observers of the passions, the graces, the virtues, and the faults—which are shown in her words, disposition, and actions. She is therefore unconsciously to herself educating them, not only by designed teaching—but by all she does or says in their presence!

Children are imitative creatures. During their early years, imitation is the regent of the soul, and they who are least swayed by 'reason', are most governed by 'example'. Learning to talk is the effect of imitation—not intuition. And as children so early and so insensibly learn to repeat sounds, so may they also learn to copy actions and habits. This applies to the mother in a fuller sense than it does to the father of course, just because she is more constantly with the children in the early stages of their existence. It is therefore of immense importance that everyone who sustains this relation should have an accurate idea of her own great power over her children. She should be deeply and duly impressed with the potency of her influence.

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