Lessons on raising children from Mencius’ mother

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Friday September 5, 2014

Every Chinese schoolchild who has recited the classics will be familiar with the story of Mencius and his mother. Mencius was a sage who lived a hundred years after Confucius and was an ardent advocate of the teachings of Confucius. He lost his father at a young age and was raised by his mother who placed great importance to his education. Mencius’ mother is immortalized in the idiom孟母三迁the three moves of Mencius’ mother. Mencius and his mother first lived near a graveyard where she found her young son mimicking the cries of the bereaved and the priests conducting burial rites. So she moved their home to live near a marketplace where to her dismay found Mencius imitating the cries of the hawkers. She moved again and finally settled near a school where her son learnt to copy the behavior of teachers and scholars. Even though Mencius’ mother stayed home to care for him, she was aware of the influence the external environment had on her growing child and hence the three relocations to find an appropriate neighborhood for his upbringing. To quote the bible "Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." (1 Cor 15:33) Had Mencius lived today, his mother will not be contending with just a physical neighborhood but also a borderless virtual environment which is impossible to patrol.

Children mimic their parents at home and adopt behavior of the external environment to which they are exposed. One’s awareness of this virtual environment is important to understand its influence on the development of a child’s behavior and character. Parents have to be cautioned of the danger of social media replacing parenting time, thus losing precious teachable moments. Hence, lavishing children with gadgets and computers will only add to the problem.

The young Mencius was like any other recalcitrant child who resented learning and schooling. His mother’s method in disciplining him was noteworthy and Mencius turned out to be a great scholar and sage. Mencius’ mother eked out a living weaving. When she learnt about his truancy, she took a pair of scissors and cut the threads on the loom in the presence of a shocked Mencius. She explained that education is like a piece of cloth which takes many painstaking hours to weave. Giving up was not an option. Nor was her toiling to put bread on the table. If he were to quit school, her efforts to support the home came to naught and they may as well starve. Her severing the thread meant the hours of painstaking work was wasted and they had lost their source of income. Mencius was thereafter changed.

It is recorded in Proverbs 13:24“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.  It is noteworthy that in disciplining Mencius, his mother did not resort to harsh language or vitriol, nor did she bring up his past mistakes. This is in line with the teachings of Confucius who said that one should let bygones be bygones and never bring up the past especially in admonishment or arguments, as that will cause more resentment. She instead dealt with the problem at hand and the effectiveness of her action was evident in the reformed Mencius.

Social media today has bred a Y generation whose entitled actions are based on what they like, which are represented by the “I Like” icon. Parents know only too well that what narcissistic and egocentric children like, may not be good for them. Instead they should be taught values and responsibility. Children on their part have to understand that their parents have to do many things for them driven by their sense of responsibility and not by what they like.

If our hope is for a better world, it is time to stop and ask if we are part of the problem or are we part of the solution?