Quote for the Day: Montaigne on the difficulty of waking young children

Since my wife started a new job, neither she nor our daughter can enjoy the luxury of sleeping in as often as before. And because Wendy leaves for work before I do, the responsibility for making sure Sylvie is up, out, and dropped at the sitter’s falls to me. Like her mother, Sylvie is not a morning person – poor thing. So by the time I arrive at my office – hopefully by 8:00 A.M if all goes well – the toughest part of my day is already over.

So that must be why I noticed this passage from Montaigne’s essay, “Of the Education of Children:”

It troubles the tender brains of children to wake them in the morning with a start, and to snatch them suddenly and violently from their sleep, in which they are plunged much more deeply than we are… [My father] had me awakened by the sound of some instrument; and I was never without a man to do this for me.

I’ve previously noted Montaigne’s unorthodox-for-his-time views on parenting. “Of the Education of Children” offers several more examples of those views. His expectations and standards are extremely high. For example: “Even in dissipation I want him to outdo his comrades in vigor and endurance; and I want him to refrain from doing evil, not for lack of power or knowledge, but for lack of will.” But his parental emphasis is on how to foster the enjoyment of education and moral development. And in case one would get the idea Montaigne was any kind of a pushover, I offer this passage:

If this pupil happens to be of such odd disposition that he would rather listen to some idle story than to the account of a fine voyage or a wise conversation when he hears one; if at the sound of the drum that calls the youthful ardor of his companions to arms, he turns aside to another that invites him to the tricks of jugglers; if by his own preference, he does not find it more pleasant and sweet to return dusty and victorious from a combat than from tennis or a ball with the prize for that exercise, I see no other remedy than for his tutor to strangle him early, if there are no witnesses, or apprentice him to a pastry cook in some good town.

I’m getting to know Montaigne well enough that I can be fairly certain he was joking about the strangling; but on the pastry cook apprenticeship, methinks he was joking not at all.

In a related vein: I’m late to reading this, but a few months ago The Atlantic published an article titled, “How to Land Your Kids in Therapy: Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods. A therapist and mother reports.” I recommend the article for two reasons. (1) It contains much practical advice on helping children develop life-long “psychological immunity” by not constantly shielding them from suffering, letting them occasionally sort out some of their own problems and learn to get over themselves. And (2) it reads in places like it might have been lifted from the Stoic philosophers, or, indeed, from Montaigne. One researcher is quoted as saying, “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing, but happiness as a goal is recipe for disaster.” And it is precisely this goal, the author postulates, that “many modern parents focus on obsessively – only to see it backfire.”

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