One way of averting what I have called the irrepressible conflict is to insist that, in view of the fundamental change of attitude toward the whole problem, the family is doomed. Even if the family were doomed, some time would elapse before its doom would utterly have overtaken the home. In truth, the family is not doomed quite yet, though certain views with respect to the family are,—and long ought to have been,—extinct. Canon Barnett[A] was nearer the truth when he declared: "Family life, it may be said, is not 'going out' any more than nationalities are going out; both are 'going on' to a higher level." To urge that the problem of parental-filial contact need not longer be considered, seeing that the family is on the verge of dissolution, is almost as simple as the proposal of the seven-year-old colored boy in the children's court, in answer to the kindly inquiry of the Judge: "You have heard what your parents have to say about you. Now, what can you say for yourself?" "Mistah Judge, I'se only got dis here to say: I'd be all right if I jes had another set of parents."
For the problem persists and is bound to persist as long as the relationships of the family-home obtain. The social changes which have so markedly affected marriage have no more elided marriage than the vast changes which have come over the home portend its dissolution. It is as true as it ever was that the private home is the public hope. A nation is what its homes are. With these it rises and falls, and it can rise no higher than the level of its home-life. Marriage, said Goethe, is the origin and summit of civilization; and Saleeby[B] offers the wise amendment: "It would be more accurate to say 'the family' rather than marriage." Assuming that the family which is the cellular unit of civilization will, however modified, survive modern conditions, the question to be considered is what burdens can the home be made to assume which properly rest upon it, if it is to remain worth while as well as be saved?
Nothing can be more important than to seek to bring to the home some of the responsibilities with which other agencies such as school and church are today unfitly burdened. False is the charge that school and church fail to co-operate with the home. Truer is the suggestion that church and school have vainly undertaken to do that which the home must largely do. The teacher in church and school may supplement the effort of the parent but cannot and may not be asked to perform the work of parents. The school is overburdened to distraction, the church tinkers at tasks which in the nature of things must fall to parents or be left undone. And the school is attempting to become an agency for the universal relief of the home, which cannot be freed of its particular responsibilities even by the best-intentioned school or church.
Another quite obvious thesis is that conflicts arise between parents and children not during the time of the latter's infancy or early childhood but in the days of adolescence and early adulthood. The real differences—rather than the easily quelled near-rebellions of childhood—come to pass when child and parent meet on terms and conditions which seem to indicate physical and intellectual equality or its approach. I do not say that the processes of parental guidance are to be postponed until the stage of bodily and mental equivalence has been reached but that the conflicts are not begun until what is or is imagined to be the maturity of the child raises the whole problem of self-determination. The latter is a problem not of infants and juveniles but of the mature and maturing.
It may be worth while briefly to indicate the various stages or phases of the relationship of parents and children. In the earliest period, parents are for the most part youngish and children are helpless. This period usually resolves itself into nothing more than a riot of coddling. In the next stage, parents begin to approach such maturity as they are to attain, while children are half-grown reaching ten or twelve years. This is the term of unlessened filial dependence, though punctuated by an ever-increasing number of "don't." In the third stage parents at last attain such maturity as is to be their own,—years and maturity not being interchangeable terms,—for, despite mounting years some parents remain infantile in mind and vision and conduct. Children now touch the outermost fringe or border of maturity in this time of adolescence, and the stage of friction, whether due to refractory children or to undeflectible parents, begins. Coddling has ended, or ought to have ended, though it may persist in slightly disguised and sometimes wholly nauseous forms. Dependence for the most part is ended, save of course for that economic dependence which does not greatly alter the problem.
The conflict now arises between what might roughly be styled the parental demand of dutifulness and the equally vague and amorphous filial demand for justice—justice to the demands of a new self-affirmation, of a crescent self-reliance. And after the storm and fire of clashing, happily there supervenes a still, small period of peace and conciliation unless in the meantime parents have passed, or the conflict have been followed by the disaster of cureless misunderstanding. It may be well, though futile, to remind some children that it is not really the purpose of their parents to thwart their will and to stunt their lives and that the love of parents does not at filial adolescence, despite some Freudian intimations, necessarily transform itself into bitter and implacable hostility. To such as survive, parents aging or aged and children maturing or mature, this ofttimes becomes the period most beauteous of all when children at last have ceased to make demands and are bent chiefly upon crowning the aging brows of parents with the wreath of loving-tenderness.
One further reservation it becomes needful to make. I must need limits myself more or less to parental-filial relations as these develop in homes in which it becomes possible for parents consciously to influence the lives of their children, not such in which the whole problem of life revolves around bread-winning. I do not consider the latter type of home a free home. It is verily one of the severest indictments of the social order that in our land as in all lands bread-winning is almost the sole calling of the vast majority of its homes. I do not maintain that all problems are resolved when this problem is ended, but the fixation respectively of parental and filial responsibilities hardly becomes possible under social-industrial conditions which deny leisure and freedom from grinding material concern to its occupants.
The miracle of high nurture of childhood is enacted in countless homes of poverty and stress, but the miracle may not be exacted. It was hard to resist a bitter smile during the days of war, when the millions were bidden to battle for their homes. Under the stress of war-conditions, some degree of sufficiency, rarely of plenty, fell to the lot of the homes of toil and poverty—the customary juxtaposition is not without interest. But now that the war is ended, the last concern of the masters of industry is to maintain the better and juster order of the war days, and the primary purpose seems to be to penalize "the over-rewarded and greedy toilers" of the war-days, selfishly bent upon extorting all the standards of decent living out of industry.
Cutting short this disgression, the direst poverty seems unable to avert the wonder of parents somehow rearing their children to all the graces of noble and selfless living. But, I repeat, this is a largesse to society on the part of its disinherited, whose high revenge takes the form of giving their best to the highest. We may, however, make certain demands upon the privileged who reward themselves with leisure and all its pleasing tokens and symbols. For these at least have the external materials of home-building. Need I make clear that the homes of too much are as gravely imperilled as the homes of too little?
Many homes survive the lack of things. Many more languish and perish because of the superabundance to stifling of things, things, things. The very rich are ever in peril of losing what once were their homes, a tragedy almost deeper than that of the many poor who have no home to lose. The law takes cognizance in most one-sided fashion of the fact that a home may endure without moral foundations but that it cannot exist without material bases. Despite attempts on the part of the State or States to avert the breaking up of a home solely because of the poverty of the widowed mother, it still is true that many homes are broken up on the ground of poverty and on no other ground. Saddest of all, mothers take it for granted that such break-up is unavoidable.
Only two reasons justify the State's withdrawal of a child from its parental roof,—incurable physical and mental disability in a child, whose parents are unable to give it adequate care, or moral disability on the part of parents. If the latter ground be valid, material circumstances ought no more to hold parent and child together than the absence of them ought to drive parent and child apart. A child resident on Fifth Avenue in New York may be in greater moral peril than a little waif of Five Points. Societies for the prevention of cruelty to children ought to intervene as readily when moral leprosy notoriously pervades the home of the rich as the State intervenes when children's health is neglected or their moral well-being endangered in a home of poverty. I have sometimes thought that an orphan asylum ought to be erected for the benefit of the worse than orphaned children of some notoriously corrupt, even when not multi-divorced, heads of society. Such a protectory for the unorphaned, though not fatherless and motherless, might serve a more useful purpose than do such orphanages as, having captured a child, yield it up reluctantly even to the care of a normal home.