April is Child Abuse Month in the Bahamas. It is a time to
reflect on ways we cause pain and suffering to or little darlings, and a time to
remind ourselves of the value and joy of childhood. The theme for this month is
"When parents nurture, children blossom?" I love this theme because it
speaks to the heart of the child abuse problem in our country-–the lack of
parents who nurture their children.
What is the meaning of nurture? The Random House Webster’s
College Dictionary defines nurture as "to feed and protect or support and
encourage." It also defines it as "something that nourishes."
These definitions clearly illustrate that parents are to create an environment
for their children to grow physically, emotionally, intellectually, and
spiritually, to the point where the children themselves can begin nurturing
others. We can understand this when we observe a plant that is being
"nurtured." First there is the seedling that receives the right amount
of sunlight, water, and fresh air to allow it to grow. The "nurturing"
must continue through the life of the plant. However, the plant dose not remain
a seedling, it becomes an "adult plant" that bears delicious fruits.
The quality of the fruit depends on the health of the "mother tree."
This is an illustration of effective parenting.
- THEY DID NOT ALWAYS LOVE
- Unfortunately, too many Bahamian parents do not nurture
their children. They treat them like ground-scratching chickens to whom they
throw crumbs for food but really prefer that they scratch for their own food.
Other parents treat their children like they do the wild Bahamian potcake dogs–keep
them chained, and if they bark too much, they throw hot water on them to quiet
them. When they are hungry, they feed them the junk of the kitchen. If they
survive, then they are valuable to invest in. I am sorry if my illustrations
are too graphic and seemingly unrealistic to some readers. This is because I
really want you to get the reality of what is happening to our "little
darling." If you think these illustrations are unrealistic, read on as I
examine history to see how children were treated centuries and decades ago.
- FEAR OF CHILDREN
- Before 1760 children were at best unimportant and at worst
aroused fear in mothers and fathers. Nurture was in fact a foreign word to
parents. It was not until 1762 when the French educator Jean Jacques Rousseau,
with the publication "Emile" who crystallized the idea of the modern
family–the family founded on mother love.
As late as the seventeenth century philosophers and
theologians showed a real fear of childhood. St Augustine words on the value of
children are frightening to read. French author, Elizabeth Badinter, in her book
Mother Love, Myth & Reality, describes St. Augustine’s philosophy
about children this way:
"As soon as the child is born, he is the symbol of the
power of evil, an imperfect being crushed by the weight of original sin . . .
. . The infant is ignorant, capricious, and driven by passion. If left to do
what he wants, there is no crime he will not plunge into . . . . A child could
be accused of the foulest sins and condemned according to adult standards. For
Augustine the sin of a child was no way different from the father’s neither
in kind nor in degree. . . . Not only is childhood without value or unique
characteristics, it is the sign of our fallen condition, that which places us
under the sentence of damnation from which we must free ourselves. Redemption
is taken to be the struggle against childhood; that is the setting aside of a
negative and fallen state."
What a poor concept of childhood. Believe it or not we took
centuries to shake off this concept, and it seems as if we are still shaking.
Literature makes it clear that two hundred years ago the child was considered a
nuisance. In addition, a child was considered no more valuable than a "poupart"
or talented doll. Eighteen century writer, Jean-Pierre de Crousaz, described
parents’ behavior this way:
"You treat your children as they themselves treat their
dolls. You amuse yourself with them as long as they are entertaining and naive
and say cute things. But as soon as they grow older and become more serious,
they no longer interest you. You cast them aside like a doll."
It is a fact that centuries ago children had to survive early
childhood. It was truly the survival of the fittest. Thousands of children died
of childhood diseases because it was not important to learn about these
diseases. When a child reached the age of eleven, he or she was thrust into
adulthood with serious adult responsibilities. No one understood the meaning of
childhood. Not even the word adolescence was in the vocabulary. There were only
two developmental stages-–childhood, and if you’re lucky to survive,
adulthood. Do you realize that it was not until 1872 that the term
"pediatrics" was coined. Before that, doctors were not interested in
- WET NURSES
- One of the most painful ways in which parents of centuries
ago treated their children was by sending them away to "wet nurses"
when they were born. Wet nurses were women (not mothers) who breast-fed
infants. There were many wet nurse centers all over Europe. In 1780 there were
21,000 children born in Paris France. Fewer than 1000 were nursed by their
mothers. The remaining 19,000 were sent to wet nurses up to 125 miles away.
Many times these children did not return to their mothers until long after
they were able to walk. So much for nurture and a mother’s love.
Are we any different today? How many Bahamian parents send
their children to grand parents to live in the family island simply because they
are "a little too much to handle?" "Can a mother forget her child
at the breast . . .? She has been doing that for centuries.
It taught that children got in the way of personal pleasure
and peace. They were considered pests. Two centuries ago a Father Dainville
wrote "Everything concerned with the education of children, with natural
feelings, seems something low to the common people . . . Our customs are that a
father and a mother do not raise their children, do not see them anymore, do not
nourish them. We have not reached the point of being moved at the sight of them;
they are objects that one conceals from the eyes of all, and a woman would not
be keeping up appearances if she seemed to concern herself with them." This
poem by the author Coulanges speaks to this:
- "Was there ever anything less charming
- Than a heap of wailing babies?
- One says papa, the other mama,
- And the other cries for his darling.
- And if you take this one
- You’re treated like a dog."
Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist.
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