The Christmas holidays! Boys and girls at school are counting off the days till the home-coming. Young men and maidens who have put away childish things do not reckon with date-stones, but consult their Bradshaws. The little ones at home are storing up surprises. The father says genially, "We shall soon have our young folk at home again." The mother? Nobody, not the youngest of the schoolgirls, is so glad as she. She thinks of setting out for church on Christmas Day with, let us hope, the whole of her scattered flock about her. Already she pictures to herself how each has altered and grown, and yet how every one is just as of old. She knows how Lucy will return prettier and more lovable than ever; Willie, more amusing; Harry, kinder; and, "how the elders will rejoice in baby May!"
And yet, there is a shade of anxiety in the mother's face as she plans for the holidays. The brunt of domestic difficulties falls, necessarily, upon her. It is not quite easy to arrange a household for a sudden incursion of new inmates whose stay is not measured by days. Servants must be considered, and may be tiresome. Amusements, interests, must be thought of, and then––Does the mother stop short and avoid putting into shape the "and then," which belongs to the holiday weeks after Christmas Day is over?
"Let us have a happy Christmas, any way," she says, "we must leave the rest."
What is it? Pretty Lucy's face clouds into sullenness. Kind Harry is quick to take offense, and his outbursts spoil people's comfort. Willie, with all his nonsense, has fits of positive moroseness. Tom argues––is always in the right. Alice––is the child always quite straightforward? There is reason enough for the strain of anxiety that mingles with the mother's joy. It is not easy to keep eight or nine young people at their best for weeks together without their usual employments, when you consider that, wanting their elders' modicum of self-control, they may have their father's failings and their mother's failings, and ugly traits besides hardly to be accounted for. Is it a counsel of perfection that mothers should have "Quiet Days" of rest for body and mind, and for such spiritual refreshment as may be, to prepare them for the exhausting (however delightful) strain of the holidays?
Much arrears of work must fall to the heads of the house in the young folk's holidays. They will want to estimate, as they get opportunity, the new thought that is leavening their children's minds; to modify, however imperceptibly, the opinions the young people are forming. They must keep a clear line of demarcation between duties and pastimes, even in the holidays; and they must resume the work of character-training, relinquished to some extent while the children are away at school. But, after all, the holiday problem is much easier than it looks, as many a light-hearted mother knows.
There is a way of it, a certain "Open Sesame," which mothers know, or, if they do not, all the worse for the happiness of Holiday House. Occupation? Many interests? Occupation, of course; we know what befalls idle hands; but "interests" are only successful in conjunction with the password; without it, the more excitingly interesting the interests the more apt are they to disturb the domestic atmosphere and make one, sulky, and another, domineering, and a third, selfish, and each "naughty " in that particular way in which "tis his nature to."
Every mother knows the secret, but some may have forgotten the magic of it. Paradoxical as the statement may sound, there is no one thing of which it is harder to convince young people than that their parents love them. They do not talk about the matter, but supposing they did, this would be the avowal of nine children out of ten:
"Oh, of course, mother loves me in a way, but not as she loves X."
"How 'in a way'?"
"You know what I mean. She is mother, so of course she cares about things for me and all that."
"But how does she love X.?"
"Oh, I can't explain; she's fond of her, likes to look at her, and touch her, and––now don't go and think I'm saying things about mother. She's quite fair and treats us all just alike; but who could help liking X. best? I'm so horrid! Nobody cares for me."
Put most of the children (including X.) of good and loving parents into the Palace of Truth, children of all ages, from six, say, to twenty, and this is the sort of thing you would get. Boys would, as a rule, credit "mother," and girls, "father," with the more love; but that is only by comparison; the one parent is only "nicer" than the other. As for appropriating or recognizing the fullness of love lavished on them, they simply do not do it.
And why? Our little friend has told us; mother and father are quite fair, there is no fault to be found in them, but "I'm so horrid, nobody cares for me." There you have the secret of "naughtiness." There is nothing more pathetic than the sort of dual life of which the young are dimly conscious. On the one hand, there are premonitions of full and perfect being, the budding of those wings of which their thoughts are full, and for which their strong sense of justice demands credit. Mother and father ought to know how great and good and beautiful they are in possibility, in prospective. They must have the comprehension, appreciation, which, if they cannot get in the drawing-room, they will seek in the kitchen or the stable-yard. Alnaschar visions? If so, it is his parents, not young Alnaschar, who kick over the basket of eggs.
If the young folk are pugnacious about their "rights," and are over-ready with their "It's not fair!" "It's a shame!" it is because they reckon their claims by the great possible self, while, alas! they measure what they get by the actual self, of which they think small things. There is no word for it but "horrid"; bring them to book, and the scornful, or vain, or bumptious young persons we may know are alike in this––every one of them is "horrid" in his or her own eyes. Now, if you know yourself to be horrid, you know that, of course, people do not love you; how can they? They are kind to you and all that, but that is because it's their business, or their nature, or their duty to be kind. It has really nothing to do with you personally. What you want is someone who will find you out, and be kind to you, and love you just for your own sake and nothing else. So do we reason when we are young. It is the old story. The good that I would I do not, but the evil that I would not, that I do. Only we feel things more acutely when we are young, and take sides alternately with ourselves and against ourselves; small is the wonder that their elders find young people "difficult"; that is just what they find themselves.
"Fudge!" says the reader, who satisfies himself with the surface, and recalls the fun and frolic and gaiety of heart, the laughter and nonsense and bright looks of scores of young people he knows: of course they are gay, because they are young––but we should have many books about the sadness of youth if people in their "teens" might have the making of them. Glad and sad are not a whole octave apart.
How soon does this trouble of youth begin? That very delightful person, the Baby, is quite exempt. So, too, are the three, four, and five-year-old darlings of the nursery. They gather on your knee, and take possession of you, and make no doubt at all of your love or their deserts. But a child cannot always get out of the nursery before this doubt with two faces is upon him. I know a boy of four, a healthy intelligent child, full of glee and frolic and sense, who yet has many sad moments because one and another do not love him; and other very joyful, grateful moments because some little gift or attention assures him of love. His mother, with the delicate tact mothers have, perceives that the child needs to be continually reinstated in his own esteem. She calls him her "only boy," treats him half as her little lover, and so evens him with the two bright little sisters whom, somehow, and without any telling, poor Georgy feels to be sweeter in temper and more lovable than he. An exceedingly instructive little memorial of a child who died young came under my notice some time ago. His parents kept their children always in an atmosphere of love and gladness; and it was curious to notice that this boy, a merry, bright little fellow, was quite incapable of realising his parents' love. That they should love his sister was natural, but how could they love him?
The little ones in the nursery revel in love, but how is it with even the nursery elders? Are they not soon taught to give place to the little ones and look for small show of affection, because they are "big boys" and "big girls"? The rather sad aloofness and self-containedness of these little folk in some families is worth thinking about. Even the nursery is a microcosm, suffering from the world's ailment––love-hunger, a sickness which drives little children and grown-up people into naughty thoughts and wicked ways.
I knew a girl whose parents devoted themselves entirely to training her; they surrounded her with care and sufficient tenderness; they did not make much of her openly, because they held old-fashioned notions about not fostering a child's self-importance and vanity. They were so successful in suppressing the girl's self-esteem that it never occurred to her that all their cares meant love until she was woman-grown and could discern character, and, alas! had her parents no more to give them back love for love. The girl herself must have been unloving? In one sense, all young beings are unloving; in another, they are as vessels filled, brimming over, with love seeking an outlet. This girl would watch her mother about a room, walk behind her in the streets––adoringly. Such intense worship of their parents is more common in children than we imagine. A boy of five years was asked what he thought the most beautiful thing in the world. "Velvet," he replied, with dreamy eyes, evidently thinking of his mother in a velvet gown. His parents are the greatest and wisest, the most powerful, and the best people within the narrow range of the child's world. They are royal personages––his kings and queens. Is it any wonder he worships, even while he rebels?
But is it not more common, nowadays, for children to caress and patronise their parents, and make all too sure of their love? It may be; but only where parents have lost that indescribable attribute––dignity? authority?––which is their title to their children's love and worship; and the affection which is lavished too creaturely-wise on children fails to meet the craving of their nature. What is it they want, those young things so gaily happy with doll or bat or racquet? They want to be reinstated; they labour, some poor children almost from infancy, under a sad sense of demerit. They find themselves so little loveworthy, that no sign short of absolute telling with lip and eye and touch will convince them they are beloved. But if one whom they trust and honour, one who knows, will, seeing how faulty they are, yet love them, regarding the hateful faults as alien things to be got rid of, and holding them, in spite of the faults, in close measureless love and confidence, why, then, the young lives expand like flowers in sunny weather; and, where parents know this secret of loving, there are no morose boys nor sullen girls.
Actions do not speak louder than words to a young heart; he must feel it in your touch, see it in your eye, hear it in your tones, or you will never convince child or boy that you love him, though you labour day and night for his good and his pleasure. Perhaps this is the special lesson of Christmas-tide for parents. The Son came––for what else we need not inquire now––to reinstate men by compelling them to believe that they––the poorest shrinking and ashamed souls of them––that they live enfolded in infinite personal love, desiring with desire the response of love for love. And who, like the parent, can help forward this "wonderful redemption"? The boy who knows that his father and his mother love him with measureless patience in his faults, and love him out of them, is not slow to perceive, receive, and understand the dealings of the higher Love.
But why should good parents, more than the rest of us, be expected to exhibit so divine a love? Perhaps because they are better than most of us; anyway, that appears to be their vocation. And that it is possible to fulfil even so high a calling we all know, because we know good mothers and good fathers.
"Parents, love your children," is, probably, an unnecessary counsel to any who read this page; at any rate, it is a presuming one. But let me say to reserved, undemonstrative parents who follow the example of righteous Abraham and rule their households,––Rule none the less, but let your children feel and see and be quite sure that you love them.
We do not suggest endearments in public, which the young folk cannot always abide. But, dear mother, take your big schoolgirl in your arms just once in the holidays, and let her have a good talk, all to your two selves; it will be to her like a meal to a hungry man. For the youths and maidens––remember, they would sell their souls for love; they do it too, and that is the reason of many of the ruined lives we sigh over. Who will break down the partition between supply and demand in many a home where there are hungry hearts on either side of the wall?