“The formative period for building character for eternity is in the nursery. The mother is queen of that realm and sways a scepter more potent than that of kings or priests”—Author Unknown
A Chinese mother watched her son play. The three year old had observed the burial rituals taking place in the graveyard next to his home. The boy happily spent hours building miniature tombs and grave mounds. She whispered to herself, “This is no place to raise my son.” So the widow and her young son moved.
Their new home was next to the village marketplace. The young boy watched the merchants and vendors in action along the boisterous marketplace. Soon he was hawking imaginary wares and haggling with imaginary customers using the same words he had heard in the marketplace. Again the widow muttered, “This is no place for my son.”
This time they moved next to a school house. Here the Chinese classics were studied. Now the lad was imitating the scholars and students he saw studying the words of Confucius and other Chinese sages. His mother smiled and thought, “This is indeed the right place for my son to grow into manhood.”
This mother has been revered in China for more than 24 centuries. She is known as Mother Meng and her son was Mengzi. In the West we known him as Mencius. The choices Mother Meng made to find the right place to raise Mencius would be felt for centuries. For Mencius became one of the greatest Chinese sages. He spent great energy influencing the kings and rulers of his day, but even more time and thought defining for all the qualities of the human heart and a life well lived.
There are many choices parents face in the nurture of their children and the activities of their adolescents. These choices, when purposefully made with the child’s best interest paramount in our minds, may have profound long-term impact on the child.
I started Kindergarten in a public school just a few minutes from my home. Three weeks after school began my mother announced I would be going to a different school, one that was a 15 minute drive from our home. My parents were sure the new school was the “right place” for me. It was a small, semi-private K-12 school and I would graduate 12 years later with almost 40 students who had started in elementary school with me. I don't know that there was anything that wrong with the first school. I just know my mother wanted me to have the best educational experience possible. And, she and my father were willing to pay the tuition and sacrifice their time to drive me to the new school so I could have the best teachers. They knew, like Mother Meng, that the right learning environment could have a profound influence on their child.
Some of the parental choices which have the greatest impact are simple lessons in quiet moments. Let me close by sharing another story from the boyhood of Mencius. Mother Meng worked hard to support herself and her son with weaving. One day Mencius cut out of school and came home early. As he passed his mother weaving at a loom, Mother Meng asked, “How are you doing at school?” Mencius replied “just so-so.” She quickly seized a knife and cut across the threads of the loom, leaving the unfinished tapestry frayed and useless. Shocked that his mother had just destroyed something so vital to their well-being, Mencius blurted, “What have you done?” Quietly she replied, “Neglecting your study is like my cutting the threads on the loom. We are poor. You need a good education to establish yourself. If you stop your study halfway, you’ll accomplish nothing. When you grow up, you’ll either be somebody’s servant or become a robber. What difference is there between half-a-weaving and a boy half-educated?”
Mother Meng’s lesson was both felt and learned. Mencius applied himself diligently thereafter. He became a revered Confucian scholar. By the 12th century his book Mencius had become a classic in Chinese literature, second only to Confucius’ Analects. A mother’s work is never done and she may never know how far her example and lessons will extend.
“I will fight for my children on any level so they can reach their potential as human beings”—Princess Diana