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THE DUTY OF PARENTS TOWARDS THEIR
EPHESIANS VI. 4.
Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but
bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
The duty of parents towards their children is a duty which concerns so many, and is of such importance to all those whom it does concern, that it deserves
consideration which we can give it : for though it be a duty generally acknowledged, it is not in some parts of it either so well understood, or so properly practised as it ought to be. I shall divide the duty, for method's sake, into three parts.
First; the maintenance of children, and a reasonable provision for their happiness, in point of circumstances and situation in the world.
The obligation upon parents to maintain their children is the first and pleasantest part of their duty; and it is founded upon this reason—the helpless condition of infancy renders it absolutely necessary that one or other take the charge of its maintenance. And it is manifest that the parents have no right, by their act and deed, to burden others with the charge. Nothing, therefore, is left but for the parents to undertake it themselves : so that the maintaining of our offspring is matter of strict debt to the rest of mankind. And this, independent of the affection of parents to their children; which, if it be instinctive, is an instinct implanted for the express purpose of promoting the interests of their children, and so demonstrative of God Almighty's will and intention about it.
This part of a parent's duty, though so plain and natural, and though the impulse to it be commonly so strong, is not always discharged. They are the lowest, indeed, as well as the vilest of the human species, who neglect or break through it : yet there are some such in every neighbourhood. There are those who run away from their families and leave them to perish, by the want of what they should do for them. There are others who stay at home only to consume in drunkenness and idle sports, what should be bread for their families; and perhaps what their families earn.
There are those who are fallen into so slothful and idle a course of life, that they had rather cast their children upon the public than labour for them. And there are those, lastly, who, after having ruined the mother, and been the means of bringing innocent sufferers into the world, abandon both to shame and misery, nor concern themselves as being any farther connected with them, or being under any obligation to provide for the maintenance of either: which is just as abandoned and wicked a line of conduct as any of the others,-for, if you remember the reason why parents are bound to maintain their children, that reason holds equally for natural children as for any other. There is no difference in the obligation, so far as it extends to maintenance, but what custom holds—which is no difference at all. But there is something beyond mere subsistence, which a child is entitled to receive at the hands of its parents, because there is something necessary for it, and which the child cannot procure for itself; and that is, a reasonable provision for the happiness of the child in its circumstances and situation of life. Those who, to make short work of the subject, say that a parent is bound to do all he can for his children, say too 'much; because, at that rate, every thing a person spends, which might have been saved, and every profit omitted which might have been made, would be criminal, as it would be a breach of that rule. Besides, such very general rules, which have no limits, would be of no sort of use.
But a reasonable care of the circumstances and situation of children is certainly a parent's duty,—that is, to put them in such a situation, and leave them, if in our power, in such circumstances, as that they may have a fair chance, and a probable expectation of being happy and useful. Happy and useful are the two words to be remembered : that is what I mean by a reasonable provision.
Now I do not say a child has this chance or expectation, unless he be well placed in a situation suitable to his habits and reasonable expectations, and furnished likewise with a competent provision for the demands of that situation. But here it becomes a very material question, how we are to calculate the demands and expenses of the situation, or what may be deemed a person's reasonable expectation. For these exigencies depend much upon the young man himself, and they can call or think what they please so many exigencies; and thus making the expectations of the child in some degree the measure of the parent's duty, we are laying the parent open to unbounded demands. I answer, that the exigencies of any situation, and the reasonable expectations of children, are so far regulated by custom; that as much indulgence in expense, appearance, and manner of living, and the like, as is customarily allowed to and practised by people of such professions, or in similar situations of life, are to be accounted the exigencies of that situation. Not that custom, in its own proper force, can alter or determine what is right or wrong in any case; but in the present case you cannot suppose that a young person who is denied that which all, or almost all, about him are allowed, or, which is the same thing, is not supplied with the means of procuring them, and exposed on that account to continual mortification, and what he reckons disgrace : you cannot, I say, suppose that he will be tolerably easy or happy under such circumstances
- at least you will not find him so; and a fair chance for his ease and happiness he has a right to look for. You will understand that all vicious and licentious indulgencies are to be excepted out of this rule, which a parent is not to encourage or supply, or even permit, if he can help it, however common they may be in the situation and class of life in which his child is placed ; nor would it alter the case if such
practices were universal.
What we have said of custom regulating the exigencies and situation, is equally true as to the expectation of the child, and the choice of situation. In reality, and in the eyes of reason, all situations which are equally innocent and useful are equally honourable; but it is not exactly so in the opinion of the world. The world has what it calls its distinctions of rank, its liberal professions, and inferior stations; and in laying out a plan or provision for our children, we must be content in some measure to submit to such opinions. A child will naturally expect to preserve the place, rank, and condition in life, in which he has been brought up.
He has had from the first those who accounted him their equal, and he will expect to continue so. And who should say that his expectations are unreasonable ? At least they are natural and unavoidable. It is not