Side Talks with Girls/Chapter 16
THE MOTHER OF MY GIRL
OMETIMES my girl is seven years old, sometimes she is fifteen, sometimes she is eighteen and again she may be any age and yet feel as though she would like to be mothered a little. And when I read her letters I wonder what the mothers all over the world are doing. I wonder if they remember that when the great commandment was given that respect should be shown to parents by their children, it was meant just as certainly that a respect should be shown to children by their parents, and especially by their mothers? Your girl has come into this world endowed with a brain and a heart, and your first duty is to cultivate both. Then she may be sensitive, she may be quick-tempered, she may be nervous, where you are stolid, calm, and equable. Now, my friend, the obligation you owe that girl is a great one. You have got to think out her character and cater to it. I do not mean that you must give her the privilege of doing what who she pleases. I do not mean that in your desire to be a good mother that you must make her selfish; but you must understand her, and you must be tender and patient with her. One girl may be able to endure what is commonly known as a "good talking to," and be all the better for it; another girl, given the same treatment, may suffer agony and grow to hate her mother. Possibly you think I am exaggerating, but if you will take the trouble to study your own and other girls, you will find that there is truth in what I say.
THE SENSITIVE GIRL
You who lack all romance, have no imagination, who do not mind hearing the plain unvarnished truth, have been given a daughter who finds her greatest happiness in the world of imagination; her feelings are easily hurt; she longs, not only for love, but for the expression of it. The other day when she came up to you, leaned over your shoulder and kissed you gently, you said, "Oh, nonsense!" and gave her a little push. I don't think she will ever try to kiss you again. And yet, in your heart, you were pleased at the kiss, but you had so long thought it foolish to give an outward sign of the inward love that you felt it almost as your duty to act as you did.
Then, when she came in late to dinner, and there was company at the table, you said to her before everybody, "No matter how much you were interested in that book you will have to be on time at this table, or go without your dinner." There was a lamp in her throat, and her heart swelled as if it would burst. She couldn't eat anything and them you called her sulky. Now she ought not to have been late, but then you ought not to have reproved her before others. The reprimand should have taken a different form and been given when you and she were alone. Her love for you should have been appealed to, and she ought to have been told how badly it looked for strangers to see her unpunctual, and how it made her mother appear as if she did not train her properly. This girl will either find an inimate friend who will become her confidante, or else she will live along an unhappy life alone, and at the first opportunity that offers leave her home. And you will wonder at her ingratitude and think that because you have fed, clothed, and sheltered her, you have done all that was necessary.
THE GREAT RESPONIBILITY
When God gave you that little life He gave it to you that you might train it up in the way it should go, but He expected that mother-love would make you study the difference between one girl and another, and make you discover the best way to give happiness to your own girl. Sometimes when she gets to be sixteen, you complain that you had hoped to find so much comfort in her, but that she seeks strangers instead of you and finds her greatest pleasure away from you. Think back during the years.
Remember when the child came to you with the story of her joys and you told her you were too busy to listen. Remember when she came into the parlor where you were entertaining friends, and you told her to go out, that grown-up people wanted to talk about things she mustn't listen to. As you did this, why are you surprised that she should be far away from you now? Why should you wonder that her closest friend is not her mother, but some young girl who lives in the neighborhood?
BE CAREFUL HOW YOU SPEAK
Once, when your girl was very little, she asked to be allowed to choose her own hat. She had the instincts of an artist, and she knew the hat you bought her didn't suit her, but you insisted on her wearing it. Now, why couldn't you have given in to her? If she had chosen something too delicate, or too expensive, you could have explained to her the reason why it was impossible, and then, between you, something could have been selected that would have pleased both. As it was, your girl went home, looked at herself in the glass and made up her mind she was ugly; that it didn't make any difference what she did, that nobody cared for her because she was ugly and that nobody ever would. And she suffered as only a sensitive girl can suffer. And I would like to warn you, my friend, that the sins you commit against your children will certainly, either here or hereafter, rise up very black before you.
I know of two women who were told, when they were children, that they were ugly. One of them brooded over it, was hurt by it, never ceased thinking of it, was awkward and shy, until one day, when she was about sixteen, she met a man who loved her and who married her. He laughed at the idea of her being ugly; he took her to a mirror and showed her a pair of bright eyes, and he told her that her hair was beautiful. She was slender, it is true, and a bit sallow, but a year's travel and a year's love, and a year's constant belief that after all she was not ugly, made her, if not a beautiful, at least an attractive woman, while becoming dresses brought about ease of manner, and the ugly duckling, to everybody's surprise, was counted among the swans. But to this day she has never forgotten and never ceased to dislike the people who told her she was ugly.
And the other girl? That was a tragedy. She bore the comparison between her and her sister until she was seventeen, and then, unhappy, wretched child, she killed herself. Now don't you think you ought to consider your daughters? You will not hurt them by telling them of any charm they may possess. There is a dear girl of my acquaintance whose quick temper was cured by a wise mother telling her of the beauty of her eyes and of how differently they looked when she was angry.
ABOUT HER RELIGION
There comes a time in every girl's life when the question of right and wrong presents itself to her very positively. She has heard prayers and sermons all her life long, but she has not thought. Suddenly, sometimes from a physical, sometimes from a mental state, she is overcome with the thought of religion, and a desire to do what is right. Just at this time she needs her mother to guide her; she wants that mother to teach her that religion is for every-day use; that it is something in life which has a close relation with the rest of the world, and that it is not merely the going off, either to church or to her room, and throwing herself into a state of ecstasy. Her mother must teach her that religion is worth nothing unless it makes her more patient, more charitable, more willing to do the work which is at that time her task, and more eager to let faith exemplify itself in beautiful acts. Make your girl understand the beauty of belief, and, if she should cite to you some of the miserable clap-trap that is said against it, tell her of the wise men and women who have been believers and lived noble lives. Don't attempt to argue with her, but give her facts to think over, and try to teach her the advantage of thinking out things for herself. Tell her to seek the privacy of her own room, say a little prayer there, and ask God to make her see life as it is, and to make her live her own as she should. Go with her sometimes and share this quiet little prayer, but always do your best to make her realize that what her life shall be rests with her; that God and her mother will help, but that she is the one who will have to live through the long years, and that it is she who must decide to live them well. She wants your encouragement; she wants her faith to be strengthened by yours, and surely you will not deny this to her, but putting your arm about her, you two, mother and daughter, will walk together, helping each other as long as God is pleased that it shall be. It is the mother's place to bear with her patiently, and show this girl, to whom religion has just come as the great motive of life, what it means in life, and, my dear mother, this can be easily done by setting a good example, and by encouraging your daughter's faith.
ABOUT HER SWEETHEART
Some day your girl blushes and stammers and looks extremely conscious, and if you are her confidante she tells you about the young man who walked home from church with her. The wise mother will take that purely as a matter of course, say that it is very polite in him and ignore the blushes and the shyness. But she will find out about that young man; and then, when she thinks it proper, she will invite him herself to come into the home. There he will be seen as he is, and time will prove whether he is the real sweetheart, or whether he merely turns out to be one of the pleasant friends which it is always a girl's right to have in her mother's home. Many girls have made bad marriages and foolish ones simply because they never saw the man whom they eventually married except in the house of strangers, at entertainments, or when these two were entirely alone. And no girl ever became thoroughly acquainted with a man in this way. The wise mother will sympathize with her girl in the story of her sweetheart; will have him around very much with all of them, will make him one of them, so that the girl sees his virtues and his faults, and has an opportunity to decide whether she loves him well enough to, not only admire the first, but bear with the second. She is a bad mother who makes her girl's small vanity at the admiration shown her by a young man, a subject of ridicule, for at once the girl's heart will close up, and never again will she confide in her mother. I wish, oh so much, that mothers would think of this. Surely, then, more girls would be saved from unhappy marriages and fewer lives would be made wretched forever.
THE GIRL'S VIRTUES
Can you expect your girl to be charitable when in her presence you do not hesitate to talk of your neighbors maliciously? Can you expect your girl to be free from envy when, in a fault-finding way, you compare what you have with that which is possessed by your richer neighbor? Can you expect your girl to be modest when you show no respect for her and think that she need not mind saying or doing anything before her mother? Can you expect your girl to tell the truth, when, to save yourself a little trouble, or because it would involve a long explanation, or for some equally silly reason, you do not hesitate to tell a falsehood? Can you expect your girl to give to you the respect that is due when she hears you laugh and make a jest of your own mother's peculiarities? Can you expect your girl's religion to be one to live by when she sees that it has no part in your daily life? Can you expect your girl to be a good and noble woman when you are petty and selfish and trifling?
Every day in your life you must remember that you are the living example that your daughter is to follow. Every morning you ought to pray for help to live so well during the day that your daughters will find in you their ideal of the perfect woman. The girl who is happy enough to have her mother represent all that is good, is the girl who cannot but be good herself. So much of it rests with you. I tell you the cry of the children all over the land is for mothers, for thoughtful mothers, loving mothers, and sympathetic mothers. So many girls are hungry for a little love and a little sympathy, and you, who should be so generous with them—you, from whom they have a right to ask so much—you let them starve. Certainly your reward will come to you; there would be no justice if it did not, and knowing this, I beg of you to think of your children, and be mothers, not strangers to them.
IN YOUR OLD AGE
Then it will all come up before you—the mistakes that you have made. And you will realize that not only have you failed in your duty toward God in not caring for the soul that He trusted to you, but that your sins have come back to you and you are suffering for them. Your daughter cares nothing for you. You lacked interest in her when she was young, and now she is not interested in you. If you live with her she finds you a burden; she is as far from you as if she were not flesh of your flesh, and you are alone and old, and the consolations of love and gratitude do not come to you. Do you want an old age like that? Do think of it while there is time. Think of it and be to your girl all that you should be, not because of what you look for in the future, but because it is right, and because you want to make your girl happy. Your sons may love, honor, and revere you; but as the years go on it is your daughter who is closest to you—your woman child. Make her girlhood a happy one, and be sure that when she is a mother she will make other girls happy, and so the good seed will be planted, and from generation to generation the good that you have done will grow like a beautiful green vine until it covers all of the house of life. Your girl can be so much to you even now, and she stretches out her hands so eagerly, asking for affection and sympathy. Surely you cannot refuse to give her the gospel measure, pressed down and running over.