- Home Duties
“And say to mothers what a holy charge
Is theirs; with what a kingly power their love
Might rule the fountains of the new-born mind;
Warn them to wake at early dawn and sow
Good seed before the world has sown its tares.”
— Mrs. Sigourney.
Duty embraces man’s whole existence. It begins in the home, where there is the duty which children owe to their parents on the one hand, and the duty which parents owe their children on the other. There surely can be no more important duties to ponder over long and earnestly than those relating to the home, the duty of patience, of courtesy one to the other, the interest in each other’s welfare, the duty of self-control, of learning to bear and forbear.
One danger of home life springs from its familiarity. Kindred hearts at a common fireside are far too apt to relax from the proprieties of social life. Careless language and careless attire are too apt to be indulged in when the eye of the world is shut off, the ear of the world can not hear. There should be no stiffness of family etiquette, no sternness of family discipline, like that which prevailed in olden times—the day for that is passed. But the day for thorough civility and courtesy among the members of a home, the day for careful propriety of dress and address, will never pass away. It is here that the truest and most faultless social life is to be lived; it is here that such a life is to be learned. A home in which true courtesy and politeness reigns is a home from which polite men and women go forth, and they go out directly from no other. It should be remembered that it is at home, in the family, and among kindred, that an every-day politeness of manner is really most to be prized; there it confers substantial benefits and brings the sweetest returns. The little attentions which members of the same household may show towards one another, day by day, belong to what is styled “good manners.” There can not be any ingrained gentility which does not exhibit itself first at home.
Children should be trained to behave at home as you would have them behave abroad. It is the home life which they act out when away. If this is rude, gruff, and lacking in civility, they will be lacking in all that constitutes true refinement, and thus most painfully reflect on the home training when in the presence of strangers. In the actions of children strangers can read a history of the home life. It tells of duty undone, of turmoil and strife, of fretful women and impatient men; or, it speaks of a home of love and peace, where patience sits enthroned in the hearts of all its members, and each is mindful of his or her duty towards the other.
Let the wives and daughters of business men think of the toils, the anxieties, the mortification and wear that fathers undergo to secure for them comfortable homes. Is it not their duty to compensate them for these trials by making them happy at their own fireside? Happy is he who can find solace and comfort at home. And husbands, too, do not think enough of the thousand trials and petty, vexatious incidents of the daily home life to which wives are subject. True, they themselves feel the harassing incidents of business, which may be of more immediate importance than the cares of home. But one large worry is preferable to many small ones. Thus it is the duty of each to remember these facts, and strive to make the home life happy by mutual self-sacrifice.
Something is wrong in those homes where the little courtesies of speech are ignored in the everyday home life. When the family gather alone around the breakfast or dinner table the same courtesy should prevail as if guests were present. Reproof, complaint, unpleasant discussion, and sarcasm, no less than moody silence, should be banished. Let the conversation be genial and suited to the little folks as far as possible. Interesting incidents of the day’s experience may be mentioned at the evening meal, thus arousing the social element. If, resources fail sometimes little extracts read from evening or morning papers will kindle the conversation. Scolding is never allowable; reproof and criticism from parents must have their time and place, but should never intrude so far upon the social life of the family as to render the home uncomfortable. A serious word in private will generally cure a fault more easily than many public criticisms. In some families a spirit of contradiction and discussion mars the harmony; every statement is, as it were, dissected, and the absolute correctness of every word calculated. It interferes seriously with social freedom where unimportant social inaccuracies are watched for and exposed for the sake of exposure.
Never think any thing which affects the happiness of your children too small a matter to claim your attention. Use every means in your power to win and retain their confidence. Do not rest satisfied without some account of each day’s joys or sorrows. It is a source of great comfort to the innocent child to tell all its troubles to mother, and the mother should haste to lend a willing ear. Soothe and quiet its little heart after the experience of the day. It has had its disappointments and trials, as well as its plays and pleasures; it is ready to throw its arms around the mother’s neck, and forgetting the one live again the other. Always send the little child to bed happy. Whatever cares may trouble your mind give the little one a good-night kiss as it goes to its pillow. The memory of this in the stormy years which may be in store for it will be like Bethlehem’s star to the bewildered shepherd, and the heart will receive a fresh inspiration of courage at the thrill of youthful memories.
The domestic fireside is a seminary of infinite importance. It is important because it is universal, and because the education it bestows, woven with the woof of childhood, gives color to the whole texture of life. Early impressions are not easily erased; the virgin wax is faithful to the signet, and subsequent impressions serve rather to indent the former one. There are but few who can receive the honors of a college education, but all are graduates of the heart. The learning of the university may fade from recollection, its classic lore may be lost from the halls of memory; but the simple lessons of home, enameled upon the heart of childhood, defy the rust of years, and outlive the more mature but less vivid pictures of after days. So deep, so lasting are the impressions of early life that you often see a man in the imbecility of age holding fresh in his recollection the events of childhood, while all the wide space between that and the present hour is a forgotten waste.
Those parents act most wisely who have forethought enough to provide not only for the youth, but for the age of their offspring; who teach them usefulness, and not to expect too much from the world; to become early familiarized with the stern and actual realities of life, and never to be apes of fashion nor parasites of greatness. Parents, then, should educate their children not merely in scholastic acquirements, but in a knowledge of the respective positions they are to occupy when they become men and women. Educate them to the duties that the world will require of them when they arrive at that long looked for period when they will have reached maturity, and enter into the game that every person must play during his existence in the world. Educate the girl to the intricate duties that will be required of her as a wife and mother, and to the position she is to occupy in society, and that it rests with herself whether it shall be exalted or whether it shall be debased and lowly. Educate the boy to a knowledge of what the busy world will require of him; teach him self-reliance and all manly attributes.
A knowledge of the world is more than necessary to enable us to live in it wisely, and this knowledge should commence in the nursery. It must be remembered that the largest, and most important part of the education of children, whether for good or evil, is carried on at home, often unconsciously in their amusements, and under the daily influence of what they see and hear about them. It is there that subtle brains and lissome fingers find scope and learn to promote the well-being of the community. One can not tell what duties their children may be called to perform in after life. They must teach them to cultivate their faculties, and to exercise all their senses to choose the good and refuse the evil.
Above all things, teach children what life is. It is not simply breathing and moving. Life is a battle, and all thoughtful people see it so,—a battle between good and evil from childhood. Good influence drawing us up toward the divine, bad influence drawing us down to the brute. Teach children that they lead two lives, the life without and the life within; that the inside must be pure in the sight of God, as well as the outside in the sight of man. Educate them, then, to love the good and true, and remember that every word spoken within the hearing of little children tends toward the formation of character. Teach little children to love the beautiful. If you are able, give them a corner in the garden for flowers, allow them to have their favorite trees. Teach them to wander in the prettiest woodlets, show them where they best can view the sunset. Buy them pictures, and encourage them to deck their rooms in their childish way. Thus may the mother weave into the life of her children thoughts and feelings, rich, beautiful, grand, and noble, which will make all after life brighter and better.
The duties of children to parents are far too little considered. As the children grow up the parents lean on them much earlier than either imagine. In the passage of years the children gain experience and strength. But with the parents! The cares of a long life bow the form, and the strong are again made weak. It is now that the duties of children assume their grandest forms. It is not sufficient to simply give them a home to make their declining years comfortable. While supplying their physical wants, their hearts may be famishing for some expression of love from you. If you think they have outgrown these desires, you are mistaken. Every little attention you can show your mother—your escort to Church or concert, or for a quiet walk—brings back the youth of her heart; her cheeks glow with pleasure, and she feels happy for such a dutiful son. The father, occupied and absorbed as he may be, is not wholly indifferent to the filial expressions of devoted love. He may pretend to care but very little for them; but, having faith in their sincerity, it would give him pain were they entirely withheld. Fathers need their sons quite as much as the sons need the fathers; but in how many deplorable instances do they fail to find in them a staff for their declining years!
You may disappoint the ambition of your parents, you may be unable to distinguish yourself as you fondly hoped; but let this not swerve you from a determination to be a son of whose moral character they need never be ashamed. Begin early to cultivate a habit of thoughtfulness and consideration for others, especially for those you are commanded to honor. Can you begrudge a few extra steps for the mother who never stopped to number those you demanded during your helpless infancy? Have you the heart to slight her requests or treat her remarks with indifference, when you can not begin to measure the patient devotion with which she bore your peculiarities? Anticipate her wants, invite her confidence, be prompt to offer assistance, express your affections as heartily as you did when a child, that the mother may never have occasion to grieve in secret for the child she has lost.
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