Letter from my Grandmother

Here is a letter written around 1943 by my Grandmother which I think is worth passing along. My Grandmother died at age 85 in 1990 and my Mother found this draft of a letter to a magazine editor when she was sorting estate papers. My Mother is the 12-year-old mentioned in the letter. Within a year of this letter being written, my Grandmother had her fourth and last child, a girl. My Grandmother was a homemaker and a poet (sometimes published in local newspapers and little magazines). The four children turned out to be an artist and Professor at California College of Arts & Crafts, an executive Vice President at American Express, a lawyer, and a grade school teacher. There were nine grandchildren and (so far) six great-grandchildren. So, her child rearing ideas worked well.

Dear Dr. Wood-Comstock,

In the August issue of “Life and Health” a letter was published about a four year old girl, and I am writing hoping that you will forward this letter to the parents, for I believe I can understand something of the problem. I have a little boy, now four, and a boy and girl, now eleven and twelve. The girl is a year older and we went through that three and four year old stage (and five and six) when friction between the two was of course irritating to the family, but never-the-less only natural. After all, children of three and four are little more than babies and should not be expected to act like grown ups. Certainly whipping is not the way to meet the problem for any temporary “making them behave for half a day” is far outweighed by the permanent harm it will do in warping a child’s nature – making her feel unloved, resentful toward parents and brother, creating a nervous tension in the home which will mose certainly react upon a child’s nervous system.

Naturally children cannot be allowed to make a habit of kicking and hair pulling but there are ways to end this – and I do not mean “mental cruelty”. With a great deal of love, patience, and understanding of the children’s points of view, a parent can usually iron out the difficulties. Often little children who are together constantly grow very tired of each other, and having them play in separate rooms for a while each day helps matters. Sometimes quarrels arise when both are tired, or hungry, or hot. I found that in such a case a warm bath with time to play in the water
with a toy or two would sooth both their tempers. Lack of something to do may cause quarreling and parents are well rewarded for helping their children plan their play. Busy with making a block city, or an indian wigwam out of an old quilt and a chair, or a doll tea party, or a parade of toys, children can be happy and well behaved for hours. Of course they are going to both want the same toy at times and of course they will argue sometimes – but that is human nature. Even adults are not always perfectly cheerful and pleasant at all times. I do not think that these small quarrels should be taken too seriously – every parent with two or more children can expect them. Parents can “talk things over” even with small children, explaining that they must try to get along well with each other, that they
must not fight and fuss and they will respond much better than to a whipping. To tell a child that she is “born that way” with a bad disposition is to firmly fix the idea in her mind and she will probably live up to it. To realize that when little brother was born she felt (as all children) that her place was taken by another – and to give her an extra show of affection is to win her love and cooperation now and in later years as well.

When my children were small my husband said he did not ever want his children to associate him with punishment when he came home at night. He had to be away from them at work all day and the time that he saw the children at night he wanted to be a pleasant time for them and for him. His own father had been one who punished him severely and often and even now, as a grown man he feels resentful toward his father. My children love their father, they respect him and will do anything he tells them to do, but he has never once whipped or even slapped any one of them. It seems rather hard to imagine a father who realy has the welfare of the children at heart severely whipping a little child of three or four unless he himself has a pretty ungovernable temper.

We have tried to have the children understand that there are certain things which are right and certain things wrong, and that the rules laid down for not doing some things are made for their benefit. They cannot play in the street, they must respect other people’s property and rights, they must go to bed at a certain time, etc. There are not too many of these hard and fast rules but the children know they are important. For the rest we do not give too many orders and are not too strict about every small matter. A parent can make an issue of things a dozen times a day and the constant friction wears on the nerves of both child and parent. Perfect behavior is too much to expect.

As children grow older new problems arise, and it seems to me that if parents are to have their children’s love and confidence and cooperation in the trying adolescent years they must win that love and confidence in the years of early childhood. Children need to feel they are loved, that their parents are wholeheartedly interested in each of them. They will, I believe, respond with good behavior.

All three of our children are high spirited with wills of their own and pretty dictatorial natures. I would not want them to be otherwise for these qualities, properly controlled by the individual person, make for leadership in adult life. In learning to get along with each other, and to conform to the family group, they are learning self control and how to get along with other people.

Letter by Evelyn Van Gilder Creekmore, Knoxville, Tennessee USA, 1943

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