Books > The American Woman's Home (1869) > XVI. The Preservation of Good Temper in the Housekeeper

The American Woman's Home

XVI. The Preservation of Good Temper in the Housekeeper.

There is nothing which has a more abiding influence on the happiness of a family than the preservation of equable and cheerful temper and tones in the housekeeper. A woman who is habitually gentle, sympathizing, forbearing, and cheerful, carries an atmosphere about her which imparts a soothing and sustaining influence, and renders it easier for all to do right, under her administration, than in any other situation.

The writer has known families where the mother's presence seemed the sunshine of the circle around her; imparting a cheering and vivifying power, scarcely realized till it was withdrawn. Every one, without thinking of it, or knowing why it was so, experienced a peaceful and invigorating influence as soon as he entered the sphere illumined by her smile, and sustained by her cheering kindness and sympathy. On the contrary, many a good housekeeper, (good in every respect but this,) by wearing a countenance of anxiety and dissatisfaction, and by indulging in the frequent use of sharp and reprehensive tones, more than destroys all the comfort which otherwise would result from her system, neatness, and economy.

There is a secret, social sympathy which every mind, to a greater or less degree, experiences with the feelings of those around, as they are manifested by the countenance and voice. A sorrowful, a discontented, or an angry countenance produces a silent, sympathetic influence, imparting a sombre shade to the mind, while tones of anger or complaint still more effectually jar the spirits.

No person can maintain a quiet and cheerful frame of mind while tones of discontent and displeasure are sounding on the ear. We may gradually accustom ourselves to the evil till it is partially diminished; but it always is an evil which greatly interferes with the enjoyment of the family state. There are sometimes cases where the entrance of the mistress of a family seems to awaken a slight apprehension in every mind around, as if each felt in danger of a reproof, for something either perpetrated or neglected. A woman who should go around her house with a small stinging snapper, which she habitually applied to those whom she met, would be encountered with feelings very much like those which are experienced by the inmates of a family where the mistress often uses her countenance and voice to inflict similar penalties for duties neglected.

Yet there are many allowances to be made for housekeepers, who sometimes imperceptibly and unconsciously fall into such habits. A woman who attempts to carry out any plans of system, order, and economy, and who has her feelings and habits conformed to certain rules, is constantly liable to have her plans crossed, and her taste violated, by the inexperience or inattention of those about her. And no housekeeper, whatever may be her habits, can escape the frequent recurrence of negligence or mistake, which interferes with her plans.

It is probable that there is no class of persons in the world who have such incessant trials of temper, and temptations to be fretful, as American housekeepers. For a housekeeper's business is not, like that of the other sex, limited to a particular department, for which previous preparation is made. It consists of ten thousand little disconnected items, which can never be so systematically arranged that there is no daily jostling somewhere. And in the best-regulated families, it is not unfrequently the case that some act of forgetfulness or carelessness, from some member, will disarrange the business of the whole day, so that every hour will bring renewed occasion for annoyance. And the more strongly a woman realizes the value of time, and the importance of system and order, the more will she be tempted to irritability and complaint.

The following considerations may aid in preparing a woman to meet such daily crosses with even a cheerful temper and tones.

In the first place, a woman who has charge of a large household should regard her duties as dignified, important, and difficult. The mind is so made as to be elevated and cheered by a sense of far-reaching influence and usefulness. A woman who feels that she is a cipher, and that it makes little difference how she performs her duties, has far less to sustain and invigorate her, than one who truly estimates the importance of her station. A man who feels that the destinies of a nation are turning on the judgment and skill with which he plans and executes, has a pressure of motive and an elevation of feeling which are great safeguards against all that is low, trivial, and degrading.

So, an American mother and housekeeper who rightly estimates the long train of influence which will pass down to thousands, whose destinies, from generation to generation, will be modified by those decisions of her will which regulate the temper, principles, and habits of her family, must be elevated above petty temptations which would otherwise assail her.

Again, a housekeeper should feel that she really has great difficulties to meet and overcome. A person who wrongly thinks there is little danger, can never maintain so faithful a guard as one who rightly estimates the temptations which beset her. Nor can one who thinks that they are trifling difficulties which she has to encounter, and trivial temptations to which she must yield, so much enjoy the just reward of conscious virtue and self-control as one who takes an opposite view of the subject.

A third method is, for a woman deliberately to calculate on having her best-arranged plans interfered with very often; and to be in such a state of preparation that the evil will not come unawares. So complicated are the pursuits and so diverse the habits of the various members of a family, that it is almost impossible for every one to avoid interfering with the plans and taste of a housekeeper, in some one point or another. It is, therefore, most wise for a woman to keep the loins of her mind ever girt, to meet such collisions with a cheerful and quiet spirit.

Another important rule is, to form all plans and arrangements in consistency with the means at command, and the character of those around. A woman who has a heedless husband, and young children, and incompetent domestics, ought not to make such plans as one may properly form who will not, in so many directions, meet embarrassment. She must aim at just as much as she can probably attain, and no more; and thus she will usually escape much temptation, and much of the irritation of disappointment.

The fifth, and a very important consideration, is, that system, economy, and neatness are valuable, only so far as they tend to promote the comfort and well-being of those affected. Some women seem to act under the impression that these advantages must be secured, at all events, even if the comfort of the family be the sacrifice. True, it is very important that children grow up in habits of system, neatness, and order; and it is very desirable that the mother give them every incentive, both by precept and example; but it is still more important that they grow up with amiable tempers, that they learn to meet the crosses of life with patience and cheerfulness; and nothing has a greater influence to secure this than a mother's example. Whenever, therefore, a woman can not accomplish her plans of neatness and order without injury to her own temper or to the temper of others, she ought to modify and reduce them until she can.

The sixth method relates to the government of the tones of voice. In many cases, when a woman's domestic arrangements are suddenly and seriously crossed, it is impossible not to feel some irritation. But it is always possible to refrain from angry tones. A woman can resolve that, whatever happens, she will not speak till she can do it in a calm and gentle manner. Perfect silence is a safe resort, when such control can not be attained as enables a person to speak calmly; and this determination, persevered in, will eventually be crowned with success.

Many persons seem to imagine that tones of anger are needful, in order to secure prompt obedience. But observation has convinced the writer that they are never necessary; that in all cases, reproof, administered in calm tones, would be better. A case will be given in illustration.

A young girl had been repeatedly charged to avoid a certain arrangement in cooking. On one day, when company was invited to dine, the direction was forgotten, and the consequence was an accident, which disarranged every thing, seriously injured the principal dish, and delayed dinner for an hour. The mistress of the family entered the kitchen just as it occurred, and at a glance, saw the extent of the mischief. For a moment, her eyes flashed, and her cheeks glowed; but she held her peace. After a minute or so, she gave directions in a calm voice, as to the best mode of retrieving the evil, and then left, without a word said to the offender.

After the company left, she sent for the girl, alone, and in a calm and kind manner pointed out the aggravations of the case, and described the trouble which had been caused to her husband, her visitors, and herself. She then portrayed the future evils which would result from such habits of neglect and inattention, and the modes of attempting to overcome them; and then offered a reward for the future, if, in a given time, she succeeded in improving in this respect. Not a tone of anger was uttered; and yet the severest scolding of a practiced Xantippe could not have secured such contrition, and determination to reform, as were gained by this method.

But similar negligence is often visited by a continuous stream of complaint and reproof, which, in most cases, is met either by sullen silence or impertinent retort, while anger prevents any contrition or any resolution of future amendment.

It is very certain, that some ladies do carry forward a most efficient government, both of children and domestics, without employing tones of anger; and therefore they are not indispensable, nor on any account desirable.

Though some ladies of intelligence and refinement do fall unconsciously into such a practice, it is certainly very unlady-like, and in very bad taste, to scold; and the further a woman departs from all approach to it, the more perfectly she sustains her character as a lady.

Another method of securing equanimity, amid the trials of domestic life is, to cultivate a habit of making allowances for the difficulties, ignorance, or temptations of those who violate rule or neglect duty. It is vain, and most unreasonable, to expect the consideration and care of a mature mind in childhood and youth; or that persons of such limited advantages as most domestics have enjoyed should practice proper self-control and possess proper habits and principles.

Every parent and every employer needs daily to cultivate the spirit expressed in the divine prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." The same allowances and forbearance which we supplicate from our Heavenly Father, and desire from our fellow-men in reference to our own deficiencies, we should constantly aim to extend to all who cross our feelings and interfere with our plans.

The last and most important mode of securing a placid and cheerful temper and tones is, by a constant belief in the influence of a superintending Providence. All persons are too much in the habit of regarding the more important events of life exclusively as under the control of Perfect Wisdom. But the fall of a sparrow, or the loss of a hair, they do not feel to be equally the result of his directing agency. In consequence of this, Christian persons who aim at perfect and cheerful submission to heavy afflictions, and who succeed to the edification of all about them, are sometimes sadly deficient under petty crosses. If a beloved child be laid in the grave, even if its death resulted from the carelessness of a domestic or of a physician, the eye is turned from the subordinate agent to the Supreme Guardian of all; and to him they bow, without murmur or complaint. But if a pudding be burnt, or a room badly swept, or an errand forgotten, then vexation and complaint are allowed, just as if these events were not appointed by Perfect Wisdom as much as the sorer chastisement.

A woman, therefore, needs to cultivate the habitual feeling that all the events of her nursery and kitchen are brought about by the permission of our Heavenly Father, and that fretfulness or complaint in regard to these is, in fact, complaining at the appointments of God, and is really as sinful as unsubmissive murmurs amid the sorer chastisements of his hand. And a woman who cultivates this habit of referring all the minor trials of life to the wise and benevolent agency of a heavenly Parent, and daily seeks his sympathy and aid to enable her to meet them with a quiet and cheerful spirit, will soon find it the perennial spring of abiding peace and content.

The power of religion to impart dignity and importance to the ordinary and seemingly petty details of domestic life, greatly depends upon the degree of faith in the reality of a life to come, and of its eternal results. A woman who is training a family simply with reference to this life may find exalted motives as she looks forward to unborn generations whose temporal prosperity and happiness are depending upon her fidelity and skill. But one who truly and firmly believes that this life is but the beginning of an eternal career to every immortal inmate of her home, and that the formation of tastes, habits, and character, under her care, will bring forth fruits of good or ill, not only through earthly generations, but through everlasting ages; such a woman secures a calm and exalted principle of action, which no earthly motives can impart.