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Children are not pests

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; they 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 darlings”. If you think these illustrations are unrealistic, read on as I examine history to see how children were treated centuries and decades ago.

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”, crystallized the idea of the modern family – the family founded on mother love.

As late as the 17th century, philosophers and theologians showed a real fear of childhood. St. Augustine’s words on the value of children are frightening to read. French author, Elisabeth 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 200 years ago, the child was considered a nuisance. In addition, a child was considered no more valuable than a “Poupart” or talented doll. Eighteenth 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 11, 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 children.

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 1,000 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 grandparents to live on 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 Brennen is a counseling psychologist and marriage and family therapist. Send your questions to question@soencouragement.org or call 242-327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org.

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