I found this old book while looking up some Depression era books on Amazon. I ordered if from the library after reading a few reviews, even though it looked quite old and out of date.
I LOVE this book. I am ordering a copy of my own. I am sending one to my parents.
It is chock full of wisdom and common sense, things I sometimes feel haven’t seen the light of day now. (Funny though, this book was published in the 1950’s, and he writes about how then, wisdom and common sense seem long gone, compared to when he was being raised.)
A little background-Sam Levenson grew up in a cramped NY tenement, a poor boy, the youngest of ten (two boys died very young so he grew up with seven siblings). He spent many years teaching, and became a radio show personality. He has a great wit about him, and a wonderful way of mixing that wit with profound truths, and tales from his childhood.
I couldn’t help but thinking, “This is the BEST parenting book I’ve ever read” throughout the whole book. And it is NOT a parenting book at all, but it should be today. It is that full of wisdom. It should be number one on the best seller list, and forget all the rest of the advice.
“I was a most fortunate child. Ours was a home rich enough in family harmony and love to immunize eight kids against the potentially toxic effects of the environment beyond our door. Since the social scientists do not, as far as I know, have a clinical name for the fortunate possessors of this kind of emotional security, I might suggest they label them “the privileged poor”. Poverty never succeeded in degrading our family. We were independently poor.”
(I listened to this late one night after I finished reading the book-it is a little background about him.)
Here are my favorite quotes (it is difficult to pick my favorites, I’d be writing all day if I didn’t-this book is so worth reading all the way through.)
“Our parents set the moral tone of the family. Each of us was responsible not only to himself but to his brother, and all were responsible to our parents, who were prepared to answer to the world for all of us.”
“Honor brought to parents by their children was the acceppted standard for measuring success. It also became the incentive for us. Our personal success was to a great extent predicated up on the happiness we could bring to our parents. It would not be long before this idea would completely reverse. TO make our children happy was to become the ‘summum bonum’ of family life.”
“They (his immigrant parents) defined freedom as the opportunity to change the circumstances of your life through your own effort, to force the hand of history rather than to remain forever enslaved by it.”
On his mother’s quest to teach him the importance of cleanliness and her ability to doctor them herself:
“Mama practiced medicine without a license but not without a philosophy. The preservation of life was a religious commandment based up on the doctrine of the sanctity of the human body as the dwelling place of the spirit. If the body housed the spirit, that house (the the apartment we lived in) had to be kept in decent repair or the spirit might become ill.”
On the father as the leader of the household and someone to be honored and revered:
“Friday night’s dinner was a testimonial banquet to Papa. For that hour, at least, he was no longer the oppressed victim of the sweatshops, the harassed, frightened and unsuccessful breadwinner, but the master to whom all heads bowed and upon whom all honor was bestowed. He was our father, our teacher, our wise man, our elder statement, our tribal leader.”
The neighborhood of like-minded families with the same values:
“The woman minded everything and anything, without charge “Please mind my fish, my soup, my husband, my purse.”: For me there was an emotional affinity between being minded and being loved. While I did not like to be watched, I felt that I was being protected one hundred times over by one hundred watchful mothers.”
“Although there were eight of us children, we were out numbered by two parents. Ours was a decidedly parent-centered home. Since respect for age was a cornerstone of our tradition, it followed that Mama and Papa had a right to lead, and we the right to be led by them. We had very few other rights. We had lots of wrongs which were going to be corrected by any methods our parents saw fit. The last thought that would have entered my parents’ minds was to ask their children what was good or bad for the children. We were not their contemporaries, not their equals, and they were not concerned without ideas on how to raise a family. “When I need your opinion I’ll give it to you.”
“One thing was sure. In our home we knew the House Rules. They were:
1. Respect was to be shown all elders.
2. There was not such things as petty crime. Little offenses can lead to big ones Practice makes perfect.
3. The management reserved the right to screen your friends.
4. When the sun set you came home.
5. You had to earn good marks in school or money, or both. Loafing was out and unearned money was suspect.
6. You could be a hero in your own home. Try it. (Papa was, Mama was, and so was any one who brought honor to the family.)”
As a middle-class parent reflecting on his childhood and the changes he saw in the culture:
(Remember this was published in 1949!)
“There are about four hundred books on child care published each year. Unfortunately the latest book very often contradicts the next to the latest by the same author who is in the interim has also read a book. The bewildered mother loses faith in her maternal instincts. She becomes “out-directed.” The fear of doctrinal error paralyzes her. She has gone from economic insecurity in her mother’s home to emotional insecurity in her own. “Am I adequate?” “Am I giving too much, expecting too much, to little?” Am I mothering or smothering, overprotecting or underprotecting, over-concerned or under concerned, obsessive, repressive?” The natural joy of caring her babies is destroyed by the dread of making the wrong decision. Love must be sterilized and defined before it can be used.”
“Many young mothers, driven by fear of not doing enough for their children, are imposing upon them the kind of frenetic care that converts the home into a hospital and childhood into a critical condition.”
On the quest to give children the material goods we didn’t have, or to abide by expert philosophy:
“One of the side effects of “Operation More” is often “Separation More”.
On quality and quantity time:
“I was raised in an atmosphere of unscheduled love. Like punishment, it appeared wherever and whenever the situation called for it-during, between, after, or before. It was woven into the favorite of our daily life. It was never announced; it was felt. It was certainly not the amount of time our fathers spent with us that made us feel loved. Most of them worked so hard and long we did not get to see very much of them. We regarded their hard work in the sweatshops, however as ample proof of their devotion.”
“Now we are the era of love by appointment.”
On too much:
“The fear of “depriving” our children has produced the most “gifted” generation of children in our history. We shower them with gifts to prove our love, with the inevitable results that the gift to love has degenerated into the love of gifts.”
“Are we giving things because we are reluctant to give time, or self, or heart? Are we offering presents in place of presence?”
“The more toys he has the less he plays. He spends more time choosing than playing. He is suffering from the boredom of opulence. For the mother this abundance ultimately creates a housing problem.”
“We wondered, along with many other middle-class parents, whether we were doing the right thing in removing tall the discomforts we had experienced, whether making it unnecessary for the middle-class child to walk, wait, worry, work, perspire, or cry was good for him.
A disadvantage may turn out to have been an advantage, a denial an incentive, a deprivation an inspiration. Running interference for the child so that he will never get hurt may main him for life. Unearned satisfaction of one’s needs may leave a young person with a feeling of great emptiness. Discontenment is a springboard for achievement.”
“Minding one’s own business has become a virtue. If you see a kid behaving like a hoodlum you say to yourself, “It’s not my kid, so it’s not my problme.” Personally, I’m for snitching. Delinquency is OUR problem. When it is for the common good snitching is good. My mother was a snitcher, as were all the other mothers in our neighborhood. If I ever did anything wrong, by the time I got home my mother knew it via the maternal grapevine.”
“Snitching should be reinstated as a form of collective discipline. We might also revive Mama’s type of Mother’s Club, who platform was :Parents of America, unite. Join, the UPA-Unafraid Parents of America.”
“My parents weren’t always right, but they were clear. They figured that if they didn’t teach us someone else would. In a moment of choice between right and wrong, I could hear the echoes of their oft-repeated admonitions in my inner ear-nagging is what they would call it today.”
These are only little tidbits throughout the book!!! It is an absolute gem.