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,
AND OTHER RELATIONS-IN-LAW
The other day I chanced to be a listener to the conversation of two young married women. They were making their plans for the coming week. One of them remarked, drearily:
"Henry's sister and her husband are to spend next Sunday with me."
"Are they!" exclaimed the other. "And my husband's father and mother are to honor me by a visit on the same day."
For a moment there was silence, then No. 1 said in an awed voice:
"My dear, you and I need the prayers of the congregation. We are both objects of pity. Our relations-in-law are upon us!"
Within my secret self I pondered whether or not the visitors dreaded the expected ordeal as much as the visited did.
The phrases, "my husband's relatives," "my wife's family," are seldom pronounced without an accompanying bitter thought. John tolerates Mary's kin, and Mary regards John's father and mother, sisters and brothers with an ill-concealed distrust and enmity. Sometimes there is just cause for this antagonistic feeling; more frequently it is the outcome of custom. It is fashionable to regard connections by marriage as necessary evils. Some families, resolved to make the best of that which is inevitable, put a smiling face upon the whole matter, and hide from the outside world the knowledge of their chagrin. No mother has ever seen the girl she thought quite good enough for her boy whom she considers the model of all that is noble and manly, while that sister is rare who feels that the wife chosen by her favorite brother is what "the dear boy really needs as a life-long companion." Once in a great while, when the chosen bride by some remarkable chance happens to suit the family fancy, the whole world is informed of the fact, and the bride elect inwardly pronounces John's blood relations to be "awfully gushing" or "desperately hypocritical." The happy medium is difficult of attainment.
Of course there are some exceptions to the general rule of antagonism. And I am glad to believe that sometimes, even when this feeling exists, husband and wife are too considerate of one another's comforts to betray any sign of discontent. Said a woman to me:
"My dear, Mrs. S. is John's mother, and it is my duty to conceal from him the fact that she is disagreeable to me. I could be a much happier woman for never seeing my mother-in-law again, but my husband must never suspect it. The dear fellow flatters himself that his wife and mother 'hit it off so well together.' To our credit be it said, that we have never enlightened him as to the true state of affairs."
And for the sake of the man they both loved, these women refrained from outward evidence of the intense dislike each felt for the other.
The trouble begins very far back. When the boy is laughingly warned against "the girl with a family," and the girl is reminded that this or that jolly fellow "has a dragon of a mother," the evil seed is sown. From that time until the pair are forever united at the altar, it grows, and with marriage it begins to bring forth the unpeaceable fruits of endless dissensions. I sometimes wonder if the new life could be begun with a predisposition towards amity, what the result would be.
There is fault on both sides from the beginning. It is an accepted proverb that no house is large enough to hold two families, and certainly no family is large enough to contain two factions. As soon as the son of the household marries, an antagonistic element is introduced. Mother and sisters immediately bring to bear upon the new bride opera-glasses of criticism,--viewing faults through the small end, and virtues through the large.
It would be strange indeed if two women who have never met until the younger one was of a marriageable age, should have the same methods of housekeeping, etc. But the mother-in-law is inclined to believe that John's wife should do things her way, and that any other way is slovenly, new-fangled, or ridiculous. The son's wife--possessing her share of individuality--resents the interference, and shows that resentment. Too often, alas! both make the dreary mistake of retailing their sorrows to John, and then the breach becomes too wide ever to be bridged over. Unless John is an exceptionally independent man he will attempt in his clumsy way to bring both women to the same way of thinking, and the result would be ludicrous were it not also pitiful. The chances are nine hundred and ninety-nine to one thousand that he will succeed in making his mother feel that he is unduly influenced by his silly wife, while said wife thinks indignantly that John is, and always will be, "under his mother's thumb."
I firmly believe that Mary is often to blame for John's dislike for her family. When she marries, she revels in the new and delightful sensation of having some one to "take her part," and sympathize with her in all her petty annoyances and big troubles. Her father, mother, sisters and brothers often vex her, and what more natural than that she should pour her tale of woe into the young husband's ears? He is delightfully indignant and full of pity for her and resentment towards those who have caused her discomfort. At all events he understands her!
By the time the story is told and she is duly consoled she has forgotten her injuries. She loves her family, and while they are sometimes very trying, who could expect her to bear a grudge against the dear ones? The little burst of anger over, she feels towards them as she has always felt and banishes from her mind all thought of the little occurrence.
Not so, John! His wife (and the possessive pronoun casts about her an atmosphere of importance) has been made uncomfortable, and he is up in arms. His and no one's else is the right to criticise Mary. What business have these people to interfere? He immediately becomes his wife's most ardent champion, and while he muses the fire burns, until he is ready to take the poor little woman away from all her inconsiderate relatives. What is his chagrin on discovering that the woman who, but a few hours ago sobbed out to him her wrongs, has seemingly overlooked all injuries, and is just as fond of sister and brother, and quite as dependent upon "Papa and Mamma" as she ever was. In vain he protests and calls to her mind their injustice. Yes, she remembers it, now that he speaks of it, but the dear people meant nothing unkind, they love her dearly at heart. For her part she could not take to heart a little thing like that. And John remarks that if she is mean-spirited enough to pass by such an occurrence, he has nothing to say. It is her family, thank goodness, not his! After this, he is more quick than ever before to detect a fancied slight and to resent it. Mary laments secretly that "John does not love her family." It is a genuine grief to her, and she does not appreciate the fact that she herself began the work that has now gone too far to check.
Were I to give a piece of advice to a bride, it would be--Never complain to your husband of the actions of a single member of your family, and never find fault with his nearest of kin. Your liege lord may disapprove of the members of his own family, or perhaps of some of his mother's characteristics, and he may talk to you of them. But he will hotly resent your mention of them, and will exercise all his masculine ingenuity to prove that his relatives always mean to act for the best,--exactly what you would have him believe of your nearest and dearest. A woman who has never had a suspicion of difference with her relations-in-law, confides to me of the course she has pursued throughout her married life. She says:
"I have never told Charlie that I notice the faults of his family, nor have I ever called his attention to any of their foibles. In that way I have prevented him from feeling that he must side with them against me. He comes to me often with the story of some difference he has had with his mother, and he talks freely of his sister's failings and his brother's inconsistencies. He even sometimes gets righteously indignant, and fairly sputters. Inwardly, I chuckle with amusement, and outwardly I appear sympathetic, but never a word do I say to commit myself. It is his family, and if there is a row, I, to quote Young America, 'am not in it.'"
I happen to know that this woman's husband's family think that "Charlie has a none-such of a wife," and that they are all fond of her.
If tact and diplomacy are ever exercised, it must be in the management of relations-in-law. The thought that so often the state is one of hatred, or, at best, tolerance, makes the position of all concerned strained and delicate. To many a mother the term "mother-in-law" is a much-dreaded appellation. A woman upon whom this doubtful honor has recently been laid, said to me:
"I hope my boy will never set his wife against me by asking her to 'do things as his mother did.' I shudder to think of it. I want him to tell her that the mince and pumpkin pies, biscuits, muffins, and even gingerbread, made by his wife are vastly superior to any ever produced by his mother. I would rather take the second place in my son's affections than have my new daughter for one moment think of me as her 'mother-in-law.'"
I believe that this is the sincere sentiment of more than one fond mother, as I am also sure that many a fond wife would rather have her husband loved by her own family than to receive so much affection herself. She is sure of her position, but John is a dreadful "relation-in-law," and it is hard to love such. It is sad to think such a mother or wife makes a fatal mistake from the very start, and herself brings about the state of affairs she dreads.
The recognition of a fact often seems to make it doubly true. The knowledge that relations-in-law are frequently relations-at-war, predisposes both parties to unjust judgment. Did each determine to see all the good possible in the other, connections-by-marriage might become kin-at-heart.