The choice of positions and pursuits in life is one important and responsible mission of home. Children look up to their parents to aid them in this. They are to have them prepared for a useful citizenship in the state. Life demands that each of us, in obedience to the law of self-preservation and of our relations to human society, prepare for some useful occupation, not only for a livelihood, but also for the benefit of the state. The duty and the interest of the parent are to bring up the child to such a pursuit as is best adapted to his circumstances and abilities. Our character, success and happiness in life, depend upon our obedience to this law of adaptation.
As such pursuits are chosen and prepared for, while under the guardian care of our parents, it is evident they should take an active part both in the choice and the preparation. They are responsible for these as far as their influence extends. It is their duty to afford their children aid in choosing and preparing for a useful and appropriate occupation, to fit them for the circumstances in which the Providence of God may place them, and to educate them for an efficient citizenship in the state.
This is but developing the principle of self-preservation in the child, and fitting him for a proper adherence to it in after life. The home prepares the individual for his legitimate position in the state as well as in the church; and this implies not only his education in the principles and practice of virtue and religion, but also in some useful and appropriate pursuit, by which he may meet the wants and prepare for the exigencies of life. To rear up your children therefore, in idleness and ignorance of any useful occupation, is not only doing great injustice to the child, but also to human society, subjecting her to expenditure and corruption in the support and influence of paupers and criminals. Every child should learn some trade or profession in order to self-subsistence and to the prosperity and well-being of the state.
Hence it is a breach of moral obligation for parents, whether rich or poor, to permit their children to grow up in idleness and vagrancy. If they do so, and as a consequence, drag out an impoverished and miserable existence, struggling between the importunities of want and those precarious contingencies upon which its satisfaction is suspended; and in the hour of despair and urgent necessity, they resort to crime in order to meet their wants, or to dissipation in order to avert their wretchedness for a time, is it not plain that their parents are responsible to God for all their crime and misery?
Nothing will, therefore, justify them in their omission of this duty. No amount of inherited wealth; no dependence upon wealthy relatives; no honorable station in society, will excuse them from training up their children to some useful employment by which, if circumstances demand, they may secure a subsistence. And even if their legacy render it unnecessary to be followed in order to subsistence, it is a duty which is due to the state. No man can with impunity live in the state without some employment. This would be an infringement upon her rights and an abuse of her privileges. The individual, with all his wealth and talents, belongs to the state, and should, therefore, make such an appropriation of these as will be most conducive to its welfare.
And besides, we know not what disastrous changes may take place in life. The parental legacy may soon be squandered by the child, and he be left without funds or friends; the emergencies of the future may increase beyond all anticipation; sickness and manifold adversities may soon sweep away all his inheritance. And then what will become of your child if he is ignorant of any pursuit in which to engage for a subsistence? Besides, it is a matter of very common observation, that those who receive a large legacy and have been brought up in idleness, become prodigal in their expenditure, and squander their fortune by dissipation more rapidly than their parents amassed it by industry and frugality; and then, ignorant and helpless and profligate, they eke out a wretched existence in abject poverty, resorting to illegitimate means for a living, until the last fruits of their improper training may be seen in the state's prison or upon the gibbet.
History will afford ample illustration of this. From it we may easily infer the duty of parental interposition. The Athenians expressed their sense of this duty in the enactment of a law that, if parents did not qualify their children for securing a livelihood by having them learn some occupation, the child was not bound to make provision for the parent when old and necessitous.
In the selection of an occupation for his children, the parent should consult their taste and talents and circumstances, and choose for them a pursuit adapted to these. If his child is better suited for a mechanical pursuit, he should direct his attention to it, and educate him for it. And thus in all respects he should obey the great law of correspondence between the taste and capacity of the child, and the occupation to be chosen for him.
The violation of this law does great injury to the child and to society, inasmuch as it prevents his success and contentment, and floods the state with quacks and humbuggery. The parent should never compel the child to learn a trade or profession which he dislikes, and for which he shows no talents. Many parents, through a false pride, force their children into a profession for which they have neither inclination nor capacity. While the parent has a right to interfere in the choice of a pursuit, his interference should not be arbitrary, neither should it run counter to the will of the child unless for special moral and religious reasons, or on account of inability to gratify him. However, this is often done. Even though they acknowledge their unfitness for a profession, yet their misguided pride prompts them to drag their children into a calling which in after life they disgrace.
Some parents, on the other hand, through a penurious spirit, refuse to aid their sons in their preparation for a profession for which their talents eminently qualify them. They refuse to educate their sons for the ministry because it is not a lucrative calling, though they give evidence of both mental and moral adaptation for that holy office. Others, through a blind zeal and a false pride, force their sons into this sacred calling. Mistaken parents! rather let your children break stone upon the road, or dig in the earth, yea, rather let them beg their bread, than thrust them into an occupation to which God has not called them, and for which they have neither inclination nor talents, and in which they would, perhaps, not only ruin their own souls, but contribute to the damnation of others. "There are diversities of gifts and of operations." All are not called nor fitted for the ministry. Children soon give indications of specific talents and suitableness for a calling in life. We should critically observe their early propensities. These will indicate their peculiar talents. Unfit for and disliking an occupation, they will become unsettled, and dissatisfied, and at best will be but mimics and quacks. Their business will make them sullen slaves. It is because of parental disobedience to this law of adaptation that we have so much humbuggery in the world at the present day. Study, therefore, the infantile predilections of your children to particular employments. These will be an index to their providential calling, and should govern your choice for them.
The social position of the child should also be considered. If possible, the character of his pursuits should not conflict with those social elements in which he has been reared up. It should not detract from his standing in society, nor disrupt his associations in life. Many parents, for the sake of money, will refuse to educate and fit their children for sustaining the position they hold in society. They bring them up in ignorance, and devote them exclusively to Mammon; and then when thrown upon their own resources they are qualified neither in manners nor in pursuit for a continuance in those peculiar relations to society which they at first sustained.
The exigencies of the child should also be considered. If his home can afford him no patrimony, it is then more important to consider the lucrative character of the pursuit chosen, and also the demands of that social position he is to maintain in life. Its profits should then be fully adequate to these demands, and suited to the emergencies which are peculiar to his circumstances. The capital required to engage in it, and its bearing upon the health of body and mind, should also be regarded. This is an important consideration, and not sufficiently attended to by parents. How many children are forced into employments which they have not the means of carrying on, and for which their state of health altogether unfits them! A pursuit involving sedentary habits does not suit a child whose state of health demands exercise.
You should make choice of but one pursuit for your child, and discourage in him the American tendency to be "jack of all trades." One occupation, whatever it may be, whether trade or profession, if properly pursued, will demand all his energies, and give him no time to follow another; and besides, it will afford him an ample subsistence. There is much truth in the two old and quaint adages, "jack of all trades, and master of none;" "he has too many irons in the fire, -- some of them must burn!" Show your children the truth and application of these.
But while this is one extreme, and detrimental to the interests of the child, its opposite extreme, viz., that of bringing up the child to no pursuit whatever, is still more injurious. We had better have too many irons in the fire than none at all. It is a base and cowardly desertion of duty to shrink from the task of human occupation. Constituted as human society is, the members of it being mutually dependent upon each other for support, it is evident that our happiness materially depends upon the active concurrence of each individual in the general system of social well-being. He who withholds, therefore, his cooperation and stands aloof from all employment, destroys a link in that chain of things by which the fabric of society is kept together and preserved. He is unfaithful to those sacred obligations which arise out of our relations to the state and the church, and he abuses those inalienable rights with which God has invested the social compact. Besides, he fails to meet those conditions upon which the vigorous development of individual life and character depends. Indolence is no friend either to physical, mental or moral development. The body becomes imbecile, the spirit supine and sentimental, the morals vitiated, and the mind sinks into complete puerility. Activity is a law of all life, and the condition of its healthy development and maturity. Without it we resort to jejune amusement, and from amusement we are hurried on to dissipation, to the card table and dram shop; and from dissipation we sink to degradation, infamy and wretchedness. Idleness is thus the fruitful mother of vice and misery. Our lives cannot exist in a state of neutrality between active good and active evil. It is, therefore, the duty of the Christian home to prepare her young members for some useful calling in life, not only as a means of subsistence, but also as a safeguard against the evils of idleness.