Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
One of the oldest problems among the many seemingly contradictory "examples" set for the student of human nature has to do with the different positions assigned to mother and mother-in-law.
Painters, poets, divines, sages,--the inspired Word itself,--rank the mother's office as the noblest assigned to creatures of mortal mould. Mother-love and the love of the dear Father of us all are compared, the one with the other. Of all human affections, this, the first that takes root in the infant's heart, is the last to die out under the blighting influence of vice, the deadening blows of time. "My Mother" is spoken by the world-hardened citizen with a gentler inflection,--a reverential cadence, as if the inner man stood with uncovered head before a shrine.
Mother-in-law! The words call a smile that is too often a sneer to lips in which dwells habitually the law of kindness, while lampoon, caricature, jest and song find in them theme and catchword for mockery and insult.
I witnessed, not long ago, the skillful impersonation of a husband who held in his hand a letter just received from his wife. The first page informed him that after his departure from home his wife's mother had arrived; the second, that she intended to remain during the winter; the third, that she had been taken suddenly and violently ill; and the fourth, that she was dead. The reader spoke no word while perusing the epistle, but his facial play attested his emotions better than speech could have done. His countenance was grave on learning of the visit, desperate at the thought of its length, and expressed annoyance at the inconvenience of her illness while under his roof; when the final page was reached, his features became illumined with ecstatic joy. Dropping the letter, he clasped his hands, and, raising his eyes, ejaculated with blissful fervor--
"Thank Heaven! she's dead!"
Of course we laughed. It was expected of us. Nevertheless, this kind of jesting has its effect. It is dangerous playing with edged tools that would be better laid aside and allowed to rust instead of being brought forward where they may do mischief.
The relation of mother-in-law and son-or daughter-in-law ought to be what I am glad to think it sometimes is, one of perfect harmony. The mother who has brought up a daughter to woman's estate, and made her fit to be the wife of a good man and the mother of his children, should be appreciated by the man who profits by the wife's mother's teachings. Had this mother been careless and negligent, allowing the daughter to cultivate traits that make her husband wretched, how quick would he be to lay the blame where it belongs,--upon the mother who trained, or left untrained the daughter. Why should he not give credit to the same source?
There are many women who, to their shame be it said, openly sneer at their mothers-in-law, and ridicule their manners, habits, etc. Yet, in the same breath, the woman of this class will freely state that she has "the best husband in all creation." Whose influence made him the man he is, if not the mother's with whom, for so many years, he was the first and dearest care, until she uncomplainingly saw him leave her home with the girl he married?
Husband and wife do not look into the matter deeply enough to think what underlies this dislike for the other's mother. The man who truly loves his wife will do all in his power and make any self-sacrifice to further her happiness. If she is not an exceptional woman, she will be made happier by his affection for the mother to whom she is devoted, and miserable by a lack of this sentiment. Let us argue the case according to rule. It makes Mary happy if John is fond of her mother, and unhappy if he is not. If John loves Mary he wishes to make her happy. Ergo, when he shows his love for her mother he is likewise giving evidence of his love for Mary.
So, when I hear a so-called devoted wife cast unkind slurs upon her mother-in-law, I wonder how genuine is the affection for her husband which allows her to make him unhappy by awaking in his breast suspicions that his mother is distasteful to his wife. True love would hardly be so cruel. What if John's mother has disagreeable peculiarities? She is none the less his mother, and, as such, he is bound to love and respect her. If the love he bears her blinds him to her deficiencies, is it not the part of a true wife to keep his eyes closed to these foibles, since seeing them will make him uncomfortable? Every man likes to feel that his dear mother and dearer wife are congenial friends. And it is their duty to be friendly, if not congenial.
The mother-in-law, too, has her task. It would be folly to state that she is not often and grossly to blame for the uncomfortable state of this relationship. She is frequently a trifle jealous, sometimes fails to remember how she felt when young, resents her child's love for, and dependence on, another, feels bitterly that she no longer has it in her power to make her darling's happiness, and has such a high ideal of what should be the qualities of the partner her girl has chosen that she puts his faults under a magnifying glass of criticism until the molehills become mountains, and appreciation of the good is swallowed up in recognition of every evil trait. Happily, this is not always the case, and the genuine mother is, as a rule, so grateful to see her child happy that for his or her sake she loves the one who causes this contentment, even if he or she be far from congenial to herself, and "not the man she would have picked out for her daughter to marry."
I have serious doubts as to whether the existing antagonism would have been half so prevalent had not such a multitude of coarse jokes been perpetrated on the subject. The best way to perpetuate an evil is to take it for granted and to speak of it as a matter of course. I am glad to be able to name among my friends more than one man who is large-souled enough to tenderly love and respect his wife's mother, and several women who frankly acknowledge that their own special mothers-in-law are all goodness and kindness.
It is natural that people brought up differently, and living separately for a long term of years, should, when thrown into close relationship, differ on many subjects, and clash in various opinions, and that occasional misunderstandings should arise. Even with husband and wife this is true. But if man and woman can, for the affection they bear each other, forgive and forget these little differences, why may not each, for the same sweet love's sake, and in the thought of what maternal devotion is, pardon and overlook the foibles of the other's mother?
One evil effect of pasquinade and sneer is to put the prospective daughter-in-law on the defensive, and prepare her mind, unconsciously to herself, to regard her future husband's mother as her natural enemy. Many a girl marries with the preconceived notion that, to preserve her individual rights, and to rule in her own small household, she must carefully guard against the machinations of the much-decried mother-in-law. Nine times out of ten, had not this thought become slowly but securely rooted in past years, the intercourse between the two women might be all peace and harmony. The young wife's mind is, insensibly to her, poisoned before she enters the dreaded relation (in law). She is on the alert, defensive, ready to impute motives to the mother-in-law she would never dream of attributing to her own parent, in like circumstances.
Yet, many a girl has never known what maternal love means until at her marriage she was welcomed by the open arms and large heart of her husband's mother. It is not only orphan girls who have this experience, for some parents never bestow upon their children the peculiar brooding tenderness which all young people need, even when they have almost attained man's and woman's estate. Said one youthful matron to me--"My own mother has been an invalid for so many years that I have not felt that I could go to her with all my worries and perplexities, for my annoyances only added to her troubles. Therefore, never until I was married did I know what real "mothering" meant. Then my husband's mother seemed as much mine as his. I was her "daughter." When my first baby was coming, all the dainty little garments were furnished by this grandmamma, and her care and tenderness for me were such that the remembrance of them fills my heart to overflowing with gratitude." Another woman told me with a moved smile that she was "so fortunate a woman as to have two mothers," while a man I know openly declares that his mother-in-law is "the best mother in the world,--next to his own mother."
One elderly woman, who has been a mother-in-law five times, informed me the other day that in her heart she knew little difference between her own daughters and sons and their respective husbands and wives. "You see," she said, "they are all my dear children."
I cite these instances merely to prove how happily harmonious this oft-abused state may be, and what a pity it is that it should ever be otherwise.
If you, my reader, do not enjoy the relationship, allow me to suggest a cure for the trouble. Put your own mother--or daughter--in the place of the offender, and act according to the light thrown upon the subject by this shifting of positions. Say to yourself--"This woman means well, but she does not know me yet well enough to understand just how to put things in the way to which I have been accustomed. She loves John so well that she seems unjust or inconsiderate to me. She could not, in the eyes of John's wife, have a better excuse for hasty speech or harsh action."
The love you both bear this same oft-perplexed John should be at once solvent and cement, melting hardness, and uniting seemingly antagonistic elements.
Above all things, as John's wife, never criticise his mother to him. If he sympathizes with you, he is disloyal to his mother; if not, you consider him unfeeling, and immediately accuse him of "taking sides" against you. Think for one moment of your own boy, perhaps still a mere baby. Does it not, even now, grieve you to the heart to think that the day will come when he will discuss and acknowledge your faults to anyone, albeit his listener is only his wife? If John is the man he should be, he fancies that his mother is "a creature all too bright and good" to be criticised, and, as you want your son to have the same opinion of his mother, uphold John in his fealty, and scorn to destroy such blessed love and faith. Make the effort to see John's mother with his eyes, and by so doing make him love you better, and prove yourself worthy to be the wife of a true man and the mother of a son who will be as leal and steadfast as his father.