The First Years: We Must Love Children Enough for 3 Things ~ Christ in the Home


Painting by Jesse Wilcox Smith

by Fr. Raoul Plus, S.J., Christ in the Home

In his book “Something of Myself for My Friends Known and Unknown,” Rudyard Kipling uses as the keynote for the first chapter, the following quotation: “Give me the first six years of a child’s life; you can have the rest.”
How parents ought to meditate on those words!

Why did Rudyard Kipling speak in this vein?

Before these first six years there is of course the question of heredity. Every man is an heir and every man is an ancestor. Children do resemble their parents. We have considered this before.

There is a second kind of hereditary influence–the formation that is given even before marriage by the father and the mother. “When does the education of the child begin?” Napoleon was asked. He replied, “Twenty years before its birth in the education of its mother.”

From its mother? From its father too. But the mother is unquestionably a prime influence since until the child is at least six the principal care of the child is in the hands of the mother.
What a mistake to let a child give in to all its whims!

“But he doesn’t understand,” people say. “You can’t reason with a baby in the cradle.”
No, of course not, but from the cradle on, the child can be taught many things well. Not by reasoning but by habit- formation.

In everything she should be guided by the same principle–the true good of the child. Then at six years it will know how to obey. And if the mother follows through progressively with the development of the child, helping it to use properly its young liberty, she has the game in her own hands.

All is not finished. It might be more correct to say that all is beginning; nevertheless the mother has successfully come through a vital stage. Up to this point it is properly called training, a most necessary period indeed.

This training will develop into real education. If the early training has been lacking, the succeeding education becomes almost impossible; for how can one erect a stable structure on a volcano; how build a firm will on a nature perpetually wavering and swayed by caprice?

Kipling was right. In the light of the truth he expressed let me correct, if necessary and if there is still time, my method of acting.


It is essential to love children enough:

1. To be willing to have them

2. To be able to endure their demands

3. To be able to supernaturalize one’s love for them.

1. To be willing to have them: I meditated on this point when I considered the law of fecundity and charity in marriage.

2. To be able to endure their demands: Very little children have no defense and no power. Someone must always come to their assistance. Happy those who can guess these needs of theirs. Mothers generally know the secret of that. But just the same the baby will cry, become restless and set up a howl. Every baby in the cradle is a revolutionary in the bud; the best established customs ought to give way to its caprice, or so it thinks, and if its desires are not obeyed, it storms and puts the house in an uproar.

Furthermore the child is born cunning. It finds out very quickly the best ways to get what it wants, not through reasoning but by intuition. Such an action, such an attitude produces the desired result; the opposite way of acting does not work. There is no more limpid logic to be found anywhere.

Nor any more transparent pride. It knows itself to be the center of the household and is not ashamed to act the part. It is a monarch. Papa and mamma, brothers, sisters, and all the other members of the household make up its court, each one dancing attendance to its thirty-six wills. Furthermore, it distributes as rewards the favor of its broad smiles.

Later it will have to play, jump about and run; to break things will be a delight; so too will it be fun just to sit still and listen to a story. The little girl will be taken up with the care of her doll and if her elders have bought her a doll that says papa, mamma, they need expect to hear nothing else all day! The little boy will play soldier or train or if he has received a drum or whistle for Christmas, the household will be well aware of it!

Parents should take serenely and as a matter of course the baby’s pranks and outbursts, working at the same time toward a wise training, the prelude of a wise education. They should expect their growing children to make noise, to be curious, to want to touch everything; furthermore, they need not feel obliged constantly, to put a damper on their romping and their noise; whenever and wherever it is necessary they ought to explain to the children what they may do and what they ought to avoid.

3. To be able to supernaturalize one’s love for them: Parents should strive to love their children not only because of their natural charm but for higher and truly divine reasons. “I love my children so much,” parents say as if they were vying with one another; mothers especially are likely to talk like that. It makes one want to warn them, “If only you could love them a little less but love them a little better.” Or rather, since we never love too much but badly, “Love them as much as you wish but for their sakes, not for your own.”

For their sakes: Therefore do not give in to all their caprices; do not try to spare them every effort; do not treat them as little idols; do not teach them pride and vanity even from their earliest years.

For their sakes: Therefore be alert to know what might harm them not only in what concerns their body but also in what might even remotely concern their soul.

For their sakes: Therefore, try to discover behind the human silhouette of each of these baptized souls the Holy Trinity dwelling within them and the likeness of Christ; do not rest satisfied until all your training and education is directed to make of them truly holy tabernacles of the Most High and authentic continuations of Christ.

A holy house is one in which God is truly King; in which He reigns supreme over the minds and hearts of the inmates; in which every word and act honors His name. One feels on entering such a house, nay, even on approaching it, that the very atmosphere within and without is laden with holy and heavenly influences.

-True Womanhood, Rev. Bernard O’Reilly, 1894

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