A Role Model for All Mothers

“Margaret! We had the same mother!” a voice from behind declared recently when I was out shopping. It was the president of the local heritage association who had just finished reading my book. She was referring to a woman who lived almost three centuries ago — Susanna Annesley Wesley, the mother of John Wesley.

suwesleyShe did not have an easy life. Due to her husband’s absence and two house fires she was forced to place their eight (out of 19) surviving children in different homes for two years. She was dismayed at the poor care they got and the way they were neglected but managed to bring them back and do the job herself. Her huge sense of duty to God also led her to create a list of child-raising rules for all women to follow.

How Many of Annesley’s Common-sense Tips Ring a Bell with You?

  • Don’t allow eating between meals
  • Have the children in bed by 8 p.m.
  • Have them take medicine without complaining.
  • Teach a child to pray as soon as he can speak.
  • Give them nothing they cry for or don’t ask for politely.
  • Prevent lying by not punishing a fault which is first confessed and repented
  • Always punish a sinful act
  • Never punish a child twice for a single offence
  • Comment on and reward good behavior.
  • Commend any attempt to please, even if poorly performed
  • Preserve property rights, even in smallest matters.
  • Strictly keep all promises.
  • Require no daughter to work before she can read well

Maybe Annesley’s way binds millions of us from successive generations together even today;

Annesley Student Executive, Victoria College, UofT 1955

Annesley Student Executive, Victoria College, U of T 1955

I found out about her legacy at Victoria College in the fifties when she was just a ghost of the past. We students were only dimly (if at all) aware of who she was. Here’s what I wrote a few years ago in my family history book about my last year at college:

“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.’

Vic’s atmosphere espoused the Christian motto, ‘The Truth Shall Make You Free’, the liberal values strengthened by victories in two world wars and science. Our job was to open our minds, broaden our intellects and reassess our world view on the basis of well established facts, learned views and experience. Times were good and we were forward-looking.


“All You Have to Do Is Love Them”

When I was expecting my first child, I had no idea what I was in for but I was lucky to get the best and simplest advice imaginable. It came from my boss at the Toronto YMCA, Ed Wybourn. He had kids and I thought he should know how to raise them, so I asked him.

  • All you have to do is love them,” he said reassuringly.

Phew! That sounded good to me because I knew I could do that! I would go all out with gifts of time and attention, putting my children first by being there, listening to them so they would see themselves as worthy human beings and talking to them so they could learn how to express themselves and think.

Is Annesley’s Subduing of Will ‘Smotherhood’?

What my friendly reader/heritage association president meant was that both of our mothers had a huge sense of duty which put distance instead of hugs between us. Because of religion, souls were nurtured at the price of egos. Finding one’s identity was terribly difficult. Mother and child did not share any joy in life, laughter or playfulness. Maybe this repression is the down side of Annesley’s severe, although perhaps correct, theory.

She says, “When the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies may be passed by. I insist on the conquering of the will of children betimes, because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education. When this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by reason and piety.”

What Did Her Son Think?

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.”

Two different views of how to raise children bring about success by two very different ways.

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This and many other colorful incidents from Canada’s past are recounted in Margaret’s family histories, A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and its abridged e-book version Kathleen’s Cariole Ride.

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