A surprise comment from some women who read my family memoir is, “Margaret! We had the same mother!” What we seem to have in common is not the same DNA, but the same British tradition. They wonder why their mother never talked about herself, and never talked to them about their selves. “What were our mothers thinking?” they ask.
Susanna Annesley was so conscientious (a trait of the mothers we’re talking about) she set down her ideas about child raising so she could be a good example for all women.
This excerpt from A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void flashes back to 1955:
“In my senior year, I was elected president of Annesley Hall, the girls’ residence a.k.a. the Bastion of Virginity. This home to sixty Vic
co-eds was named after John Wesley’s mother, Susanna Annesley, who set the Methodist pattern for raising children. She considered obedience the basis for all other virtues, since children must learn from their parents until old enough to form their own judgments. They must clean up their plates, speak softly to the servants and be honest, knowing that forgiveness was at hand. She taught her eight children the alphabet on their fifth birthdays, although two of the girls took one-and-one-half days to master it. They learned to pray and read the Bible, and each evening she spent an hour with one child alone. She paid particular attention to John, God’s special child who had been saved from a fire in the rectory at the age of six. He grew up to be called ‘the most influential Englishman since Shakespeare.’”
It was not a warm relationship between the egos of mother and child but a strict training in obedience, humility, appreciation, honesty, redemption, literacy, Biblical mythology and worth. My mother lived from 1900 to 1990 and was still dedicated enough to the Methodist pattern to try to instill these virtues in my sisters and me. Deeply affected by the trauma of world war one, she particularly emphasized security, passing on a sense of complete trust in God.
I had to spend six years doing research before I could understand her, celebrate our love and take real joy in having had her as my mother.
What do you think? Is this child-raising pattern horrendous or sound? Too cold, strict and harsh?
John Wesley wrote, “My mother was the source from which I derived the guiding principles of my life”. Yet perhaps he might envy his contemporary, Benjamin West, who said, “A kiss from my mother made me a painter”.
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