Human Life Education

Chapter 14: How Child Learns From Mother

Herbert Ratner, MD

Love, then, for the sake of others and not for your own sake is a great principle. It protects parents from kidding themselves. When parents send a child off to sleep early in the evening, they can ask themselves whether they are doing it for the sake of the child or to have a long and quiet evening for themselves. We say nothing of the stupidity of sending a child off to sleep when the child isn't really ready for sleep. This only results in a long harangue centering about the child's requests for a drink of water and the child's request to go to the toilet and other requests until real sleepiness descends upon the child and exhaustion upon the parent. The parent's long evening - so cherished in thought will have become an exasperation. This is not unlike the equally familiar case of the mother who insists that the child eat, or finish dinner because she has slaved over the hot stove preparing it.

A second rule of "love your neighbor" is that you should love him ordinately. Most people who "love" too much are really indulging themselves in the pleasure the child gives them, and not letting the child alone when they should. This is what is known as momism. It is the mother's need to become a slave of a misbegotten love that stimulates the so-called tyranny of the child. For the most part, however, the real tyrant is the parent. Montessori speaks strikingly of this in THE SECRET OF CHILDHOOD.

In thus appealing to parents to love for the sake of others, I am not concerned about making them feel guilty. To realize that you have done something wrong in the past gives you the hope of doing something right in the future. We're on earth for 70 or more years. We don't want to remain static; we want to change and grow. If we've made mistakes in the past, surely we don't want to continue them. Fortunately, the mistakes of parenthood are remediable because true love is creative.

A child gets his education to a large extent by observing the face of his mother under different circumstances. For instance, when the mother takes a child to a wake, the child keeps looking up to her face to find out the emotion that goes with this experience... He learns that there is an element of joy when the Christian dies.

But the child, always having this face to face relationship with the mother - which really initiates the face to face relationship we're going to have with God in the beatific vision - gets its education there. And this is why breast feeding is so important; because nobody can establish a personal relationship with a bottle; no baby having finished a bottle will smile at it. The only thing it may teach a baby is that a bottle early in life [and late in life] may be some kind of relief.

But you see the baby at the breast is watching the mother's face all the time. The eyes are the entrance to the mother's soul and the baby becomes a mirrored reflection of those values and emotions, the established values which the mother has.

And so if you are concerned that your daughter will have a good marriage in Church when she grows up, the best way to assure this is not by lectures; instead, take your daughter to every wedding to which you are invited from the time she is at the breast upwards, so that she has this one identification imprinted on her; namely that when you marry, it should be a holy matrimony in the Church. This is the kind of thing you get in the dynamics of the family.

The reason the family is the primary teacher of the child is that the primary need is to get our emotions educated; the mother, the family, must do this. The mother has to be so uniquely and intuitively organized that she can quickly grasp what the baby is telling her in natural language. ...

*Dr. Herbert Ratner, recently deceased, lecturer and author, was past President of The National Federation of Catholic Physicians' guilds. His home was in Oak Park, Illinois, USA.

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