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The Inhumanities of Parents–Rudeness
by [?]




–The disposition to give unnecessary pain.”–

Webster’s Dict


I had intended to put third on the list of inhumanities of parents “needless requisitions;” but my last summer’s observations changed my estimate, and convinced me that children suffer more pain from the rudeness with which they are treated than from being forced to do needless things which they dislike. Indeed, a positively and graciously courteous manner toward children is a thing so rarely seen in average daily life, the rudenesses which they receive are so innumerable, that it is hard to tell where to begin in setting forth the evil. Children themselves often bring their sharp and unexpected logic to bear on some incident illustrating the difference in this matter of behavior between what is required from them and what is shown to them: as did a little boy I knew, whose father said crossly to him one morning, as he came into the breakfast-room, “Will you ever learn to shut that door after you?” and a few seconds later, as the child was rather sulkily sitting down in his chair, “And do you mean to bid anybody ‘good-morning,’ or not?” “I don’t think you gave me a very nice ‘good-morning,’ anyhow,” replied satirical justice, aged seven. Then, of course, he was reproved for speaking disrespectfully; and so in the space of three minutes the beautiful opening of the new day, for both parents and children, was jarred and robbed of its fresh harmony by the father’s thoughtless rudeness.

Was the breakfast-room door much more likely to be shut the next morning? No. The lesson was pushed aside by the pain, the motive to resolve was dulled by the antagonism. If that father had called his son, and, putting his arm round him, (oh! the blessed and magic virtue of putting your arm round a child’s neck!) had said, “Good-morning, my little man;” and then, in a confidential whisper in his ear, “What shall we do to make this forgetful little boy remember not to leave that door open, through which the cold wind blows in on all of us?”–can any words measure the difference between the first treatment and the second? between the success of the one and the failure of the other?

Scores of times in a day, a child is told, in a short, authoritative way, to do or not to do such little things as we ask at the hands of older people, as favors, graciously, and with deference to their choice. “Would you be so very kind as to close that window?” “May I trouble you for that cricket?” “If you would be as comfortable in this chair as in that, I would like to change places with you.” “Oh, excuse me, but your head is between me and the light: could you see as well if you moved a little?” “Would it hinder you too long to stop at the store for me? I would be very much obliged to you, if you would.” “Pray, do not let me crowd you,” etc. In most people’s speech to children, we find, as synonyms for these polite phrases: “Shut that window down, this minute.” “Bring me that cricket.” “I want that chair; get up. You can sit in this.” “Don’t you see that you are right in my light? Move along.” “I want you to leave off playing, and go right down to the store for me.” “Don’t crowd so. Can’t you see that there is not room enough for two people here?” and so on. As I write, I feel an instinctive consciousness that these sentences will come like home-thrusts to some surprised people. I hope so. That is what I want. I am sure that in more than half the cases where family life is marred in peace, and almost stripped of beauty, by just these little rudenesses, the parents are utterly unconscious of them. The truth is, it has become like an established custom, this different and less courteous way of speaking to children on small occasions and minor matters. People who are generally civil and of fair kindliness do it habitually, not only to their own children, but to all children. We see it in the cars, in the stages, in stores, in Sunday schools, everywhere.