“Let each morning and evening be a new and complete day. In childlike simplicity live as if you were to have no to-morrow so far as worrying as to its possible outcome goes. Make the best of to-day's income. Not one minute of to-morrow belongs to you. It is all God's. Thank him that His hands hold it, and not your feeble, uncertain fingers.”

Marion Harland


An Open Secret,

Chapter I.

Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,

Chapter II.

The Family Purse,

Chapter III.

The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,

Chapter IV.

Little Things that are Trifles,

Chapter V.

A Mistake on John's Part,

Chapter VI.


Chapter VII.

Must-haves and May-bes,

Chapter VIII.

What Good Will It Do?

Chapter IX.

Shall I Pass It On?

Chapter X.

"Only Her Nerves,"

Chapter XI.

The Rule of Two,

Chapter XII.

The Perfect Work of Patience,

Chapter XIII.

According to His Folly,

Chapter XIV.

"Buttered Parsnips,"

Chapter XV.

Is Marriage Reformatory?

Chapter XVI.

"John's" Mother,

Chapter XVII.

And Other Relations-in-Law,

Chapter XVIII.

A Timid Word for the Step-mother,

Chapter XIX.

Children as Helpers,

Chapter XX.

Children as Burden-bearers,

Chapter XXI.

Our Young Person,

Chapter XXII.

Our Boy,

Chapter XXIII.

That Spoiled Child,

Chapter XXIV.

Getting Along in Years,

Chapter XXV.


Chapter XXVI.

The Gospel of Conventionalities,


Familiar, or Intimate?


Our Stomachs,


Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,


The Family Invalid,


A Temperance Talk,


Family Music,


Family Religion,


A Parting Word for Boy,


Homely, But Important,



The Secret of a Happy Home

Author: Marion Harland

Published: 1896



At a luncheon party of a dozen women which I attended last winter, this very topic was introduced. Strangely enough, there were present three women whose mothers had died while the children were still infants, and whose fathers had married again, and two women who were themselves step-mothers. Each of the three who could not remember her own mother agreed that she who took her place had filled it so conscientiously that the child hardly felt the lack. The two step-mothers confessed that they loved their husbands' children as dearly as their own. Said one woman:

"When people speak to me of my step-daughter I have to stop and think which one of the children I did not bring into the world. She is as dear to me as my own flesh and blood."

After we had gleaned all the evidence of truth from the chaff to which we are sometimes treated, a lively member of the company remarked ruefully:

"I declare, all that I have just heard makes me positively ashamed that I did not have a step-mother, or that there is no prospect as far as I can see into the dim future, of my ever becoming one."

There is something to be said on both sides, and we may as well face the facts without prejudice. No woman, however tender, can really take an own mother's place. Her step-children may think that she does, and this is one of the instances where ignorance is such genuine bliss that it would be cruel folly to enlighten it. It would not be natural if actual mother-love could be felt by a woman toward any children save those for whom she has braved the danger of death and the mightiest pain mortal can know. With this suffering comes a love far greater than the anguish, a passionate devotion which, we are certain, must reach beyond the grave itself. That mother who, having young children, still wishes to die, is an anomaly rarely met with. No matter how much she may be forced to endure, she still prays to live for her sons' and daughters' sakes. A poor sufferer once said:

"If I had no child I would beg the good Lord to let me die. But while my baby lives, I beg Him to spare this life which is too valuable to Him to be lost."

It is not possible that an outsider "whose own the sheep are not" should know this heaven-given feeling. Still, every unselfish mother will acknowledge that were she dying, she would be comforted to know that her children would find some conscientious, true foster-mother who would bring them up just as faithfully and tenderly as she knew how to do.

There is no more forlorn being on this wide earth than a widower with little children, and with no woman-relative to help him look after them. Why then this rooted hatred and horror of step-mothers?

You--my step-mother reader--are sadly unfortunate if anyone has been so cruel to you and your charges as to instil into their minds an aversion for you with whom they must live for years, perhaps all their lives. But, perhaps, after all, the case is not so bad as you fear. You may have a morbid sensitiveness on the subject which makes it look very dark to you. Even if matters are as you think, if you try conscientiously to overcome the children's prejudice, and your husband aids you in your efforts, you are bound to live down their dislike. Children are tender-hearted and clear-sighted. They will soon judge for themselves, and the one rule against which they will not rebel is that of love. The first thing for you to do is to begin with your own feelings. Make yourself love the little ones. Unless they are unusually unattractive the task will not be a difficult one. Perhaps you love them already. If so, half the battle is won. In driving a restless horse, it is absolutely essential that you should not be at all nervous yourself. Every horseman will tell you that the animal knows instinctively the character of the person managing him. If a thrill of fear touches him who holds the reins, the horse responds to it as to an electric shock, and becomes almost beside himself with nervousness. If a firm, steady, yet gentle grasp is on the lines, the creature obeys in spite of himself. This same principle applies to children. If you cannot control yourself the children know it, and you may as well give up all idea of curbing them. The nervous twitching at the bit and the attempt to govern them by reason of your superior age or knowledge aggravates the evil. It is a mistake to forget that children are human beings, with sensitive feelings like our own, only not as hardened and used to the ways of this unsympathetic world as we are. Their government must have love at its beginning, continuing and ending if it would be successful.

You may as well recognize the fact first as last that you are laboring under a disadvantage in that the hyphenized "step" must precede your name of mother. This being the case, you have need to add to your love patience, and to that tact, and to that pity. If the children exasperate you, do not let them guess it. Keep a rigid guard upon the harsh tongue. If the demon of Impatience tempts you to utter the quick "Stop that noise!" or "Do be quiet!"--seal your lips as surely as if life and death depended upon your silence. Your most severe critics will not be slow in discovering that you love them too much to "scold" or be cross. You make tremendous strides towards their love when they cannot point to a single unjust act that you commit against them.

It may be well in passing to remind you that boys and girls remember an injustice for many years. They themselves are often fair enough to acknowledge after the first flush of anger is over, that they merited a punishment which they have received. As a rule, until they are old men and women, they do not forget the undeserved blow, the unprovoked sarcasm. We many times receive patiently, as grown men and women, reminders that we are doing wrong, but we find it hard to pardon the person who accuses us falsely.

The most powerful auxiliary love can have in accomplishing its end is tact. Some people have more than others, but at all times it may be cultivated. Perhaps the best rule by which to learn it is the old one of "Put yourself in his place." Reverse the positions as in Anstey's "Vice Versā," and imagine yourself a hot-headed, sore-hearted, prejudiced child, with a step-mother against whom your mind has been poisoned by those older and presumably wiser than yourself. How would you receive this or that correction? Acquire the habit of thus putting the matter before your mind's eye, and you will soon find that tactful patience becomes second nature.

If you can possibly avoid it, do not correct the children in the presence of other people, or complain to their father of them. If he once reproves them with the prefix, "Your mother tells me that you have done so-and-so," he has laid the foundations of a distrust difficult to remove. Rather let them domineer over you than try to manage them by appealing to their father, and, thus making them feel sure that you are attempting to prejudice him against them. They are naturally suspicious, and it will take very little to make them positively certain that you are their natural enemy.

Never fail to remember the great and irreparable loss which these children have suffered in the death of the only person in the wide world who could thoroughly understand them. If you had a mother to help you in your childhood, you will know what they miss, or, if you, too, were a lonely little being, let the memory of that loneliness make you lovingly pitiful towards the children who suffer in the same way. Such pity soon leads to an unconquerable love.

Bear in mind in justification of what may seem like unreasonable prejudice, that all children have heard many stories, some of which are true, of the cruelties of step-parents. Doubtless, you in your own life, have known of more than one second wife who was jealous of her husband's love for the first wife's children. When women are heartless they are desperately cruel, and do not hesitate to vent their hatred upon the little ones whose look, Mrs. Browning tells us,--

"is dread to see, For they mind you of their angels in high places, With eyes turned on Deity."

She also reminds those whose consciences are so hardened by selfishness that they dare be cruel to the mere babies in their care that--

"The child's sob in the darkness curses deeper Than the strong man in his wrath."

We have not to do in this Talk with this type of woman, but with beings of the mother-sex who would, if they were allowed, make life brighter for the bereaved little ones.

One way to keep step-children's affection is to talk to them often and reverently of their own mother. This is due to them and to her who bare them. Do not allow them to forget her, and guard against the entrance of any jealous feeling into this sacred duty of keeping her memory fresh. The children were hers, and in the eternal home will be hers again. They are only lent to you as a sacred trust. It is not sacrilegious to believe that their mother knows of your efforts to make them good men and women, and that she, as their guardian angel, will not forget to bless her who gives her life to the children who were once "the sweetest flowers" her own "bosom ever bore."

2011 © Church Growth Associates, Inc.