An Essay By My Mother, 1962: A Young Mother’s Story

[[My mother, Ruth Shonyo Trask, is a free-lance writer who spent over 20 years working for the WPI Journal as a writer and an editor. She wrote this in 1962 when she was in her early 30s. While my father recently unearthed this essay after many decades of being MIA, the last page has not been found.]]

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Carrie, Ruth, Jeff, Laurie
1962

All our books on child development and psychology have been relegated to the deepest part of the closet. Time was when they were referred to daily. As an inexperienced, first-time mother it was reassuring for me to have an expert as close as the nearest book shelf. Now, after five years and three babies, I have finally decided that in child rearing, it is better to play it by ear.

According to the books, Laurie, our first-born, was almost certainly doomed to physical or mental retardation. Perhaps both. At age one she had not yet sat up alone. She had not creeped. She rolled. She was placid, sometimes almost to the point of inertia. She rarely uttered an intelligible syllable. After reading what the “average” child her age was doing, I began to be frightened.

The family doctor assured me that there was nothing to be worried about. But being an anxious, expert-oriented mother, I continued to worry until at least 18 months our “little laggard” finally took her first step. She hasn’t stopped going of growing since.

Now, at five, she is a peppy, straight-backed extrovert whose strong will, emotions and off-beat humor are both our pleasure and our bane. Her exposes of family conversations keep us on tenderhooks.

Recently a very punctual professor friend who had suffered a heart attack was nearly an hour late for lunch. We phoned him repeatedly, but there was no answer. “Oh,” I moaned, “I hope he hasn’t had another heart attack – or something worse.”

A few minutes later he rang the doorbell and Laurie greeted him with, “Why, Uncle Claude, aren’t you dead yet?” (Luckily, he has a sense of humor.) [[Note from Laurie in 2016: I remember that day. He had a great laugh over it.]]

Anyway, since age one, Laurie has leaned to communicate. Sometimes only too well.

After Laurie came Carrie, 4, and Jeff, 3. Although, of necessity, the household was busier than ever, I did try to follow the book’s advice, particularly in the matter of discipline. Nothing can be more frustrating, especially when the experts say:

    “Never Spank a Child. Reason with Him.”

On the surface this sounds fine. I always tell my children what they are being punished for and why they should not do what they are doing. Then I ask them if they understand. This often works with the older youngsters. But trying to “reason” with a two year old when he is doing something dangerous (like darting out in front of an oncoming car) is utterly ridiculous. A sharp, open-handed spank kept our Jeff out of the road at two and today at three (the beginning of the “Age of Reason”) he more clearly understands why he must be careful. The spanks are now few and far between.

On one point I heartily agree with the experts, but purely for practical reasons. In our case banishing the children to their rooms is to no avail as a punishment. They simply unlock their first floor window and slide down the bulkhead as soon as my back is turned!

If, after reasoning, et.c. the older girls continue to misbehave, warming their derrieres is still effective. Actually the worst punishment for them is taking away of special privileges. (Bribery in reverse.)

    “Never Bribe a Child to Make Him Behave.”

In theory this seems sound and is aimed a eliminating the child’s mistaken notion throughout life “If I’m good, somehow I’ll get paid for it.” There is an age, I am sure, when children can be successfully taught that “Vriture is its own reward.” For most pre-schoolers (especially mine!) that concept is utterly incomprehensible. If giving a timid child a pressed leaf to take to Sunday School will get him there without the usual fuss, it seems sensible to do so. The dentist’s “Good Patient” balloon lure our little ones in for a cleaning with hardly a murmur of dissent. Perhaps I should feel guilty but I just feel grateful. When they are older and more able to understand, they can elarn the adult idea of being good for goodness’ sake.

    “Never Let Your Child Violate the Rights of Others.”

Nearly everyone wants his child to respect the rights of his family and friends. Practically nobody wants him to be the bleak bully, the instigator of every neighborhood free-for-all. But after a pre-schooler has had his own rights violated it seems grossly unfair if he is severely reprimanded when he fights back. Naturally such altercations should be limited. No bites, sticks, or stones, please!

Our eldest is sometimes a too vigorous protector of her rights while the younger ones often let others take advantage of them. Some day they will have to learn to take their place in life without being pushed aside. Again, as they grown older, they will all learn, I hope, that good humor and common sense are better defenders than fists.

    “Never Let Your Child Feel Insecure.”

Unfortunately this chestnut has led many innocent parents (myself included) into a maze of trouble. We are drawn into overindulgence of the grossest kind. We are so afraid that our children might undergo a moment’s insecurity that we are constantly at their beck and call, give them expensive gifts, pre-plan too much of their time, fight their fights, and in the process erroneously teach them that life is one great featherbed of togetherness. What a shock when they get out into world and discover they aren’t the only pepples on the beach!

I believe that if we truly love our children and demonstrate our love verbally or with a pat on the head, that coupled with the providing of the basic necessities and a disciplined, decent home atmosphere is all that should be expected of us parents. From such an encouraging climate there could emerge a sensible brand of “security;” a security which allows for some individual independence.

    “Never Break a Promise to Your Child.”

This, of course, goes hand in hand with the “security” problem. The idea seems to be that if enough promises are broken the child is bound to be insecure. Theoretically this is probably true.

However, in practice, it is sometimes impossible to keep every promise. Conditions change. The bicycle promised in September may be an economic impossibility by Christmas. If such an unhappy occasion arises, a reasonable explanation is in order.

Perhaps the best way to get around the “promising” block is to try to keep promises at a minimum and, most of all, to keep them. We are having better luck with the “We’ll see” tactic which does offer some hope of fulfillment without the ensnarement of a real promise. [[Note from Laurie in 2016: I agree with an awful lot of what my mother wrote in this essay, but I hated “we’ll see” because they did use it quite a lot in childhood, especially my father. From an early age, I thought of this as the “parental indefinite.” When we had Leslie, I avoided it as much as possible, though I tended to do many of the things Mom recommended here – read childrearing books to a point then did what seemed sensible.]]

Actually if things do not always turn out as expected by our children, it may be all to the good. It teaches them at an early age that life is unpredictable and that they will have to accept the bitter with the sweet.

Enough of books and experts! They are fine for occasional reference but often misleading and unnerving as a daily diet.

We parents must lear to fend for ourselves and use the system that works best in raising our particular families. Most of all, we should remember that we are…[[[Note from Laurie in 2016: Page 5 lost]]

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[[Almost anyone who knows me know would agree with the observations Mom made about me back in 1962. I am a trifle mellower at least. My mother died on July 26, 2016.]]

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