The modern woman is rather given to self-analysis. She is introspective, imaginative, even exacting, to a degree that would have been considered "unwomanly" a generation or two ago. There seems to be a current of revolt at present against anything in the shape of drudgery, monotony, or sacrifice in married life. Women have a wider outlook to-day, but the mistake so many of them make is in imagining that married life curtails their mental development at all.
The "Narrow" Woman
"It is impossible to keep up one's intellectual interests," a woman said to me the other day, " after a dozen years of kitchen work and making beds. One gets into the habit of drudging along and loses touch with life outside." Now this is the attitude of so many middle-aged women who could have a full, interesting life if they liked. They have allowed themselves gradually to become narrow and home-centred to a quite unnecessary degree. But there is no need even for domesticated women, whose marriage entails constant housework and domestic effort, to lose hold of the romance and interest of life.
It depends first of all upon a woman's point of view with regard to her domestic responsibilities and her relationship to her family. Fortunately for us all, the domestic sphere is coming to occupy a more important plane than was the case even a dozen years ago. The old idea that domestic work was labour of an inferior order which could be left to servants-which, at any rate, was not suited to women of education, refinement, and intellectual ability-has given way to a healthier point of view.
The domestic science schools all over the country are providing educated girls with a thorough teaching in housewifery. Home-making has become one of the most important sciences from the woman's point of view, and this is a splendid thing for the country. The women trained in housewifery will do all housework better and with far less toil and drudgery. Thus they will have time for self-development as well. Further, the wife who knows the business of home management will make a happier home sphere for the husband and children.
Fifty per cent. of unhappy marriages might be traced to the wife's ignorance and lack of method in the domestic sphere. One of the first essentials of a happy marriage is good management in the home. Careless wives make irritable husbands and undisciplined children, and some unhappy marriages, at least, can be traced to the fact that, after the first enthusiasm for home-making is over, the wife in middle life becomes slipshod, indifferent, tired of what she calls the monotony of everyday life.
Now, there is something despicable about a woman who takes up the management of a house and does it badly. Many women deserve credit and admiration because they manage well on small means and insufficient domestic help for the size of house and family. But many others do not regard house-management as a work requiring attention and study, method and regularity, like any other business or profession. They do not put "brains" into their house-management. They muddle along, get into a groove, lose interest in their work, and deteriorate consequently in character.
In many instances the husband suffers. The bright, capable girl, who took an interest in music and literature, who was always neat and well turned out, gradually becomes machine-like. How many girls drop their music or other accomplishments after they marry, and stand still intellectually at twenty-five. "They have no time." That is the invariable excuse. The real truth in most cases is that they do not apply method and thought to the management of the household as a man would to his business, or the professional or business woman is compelled to do with her daily work.
The result is that the housewife's time is always occupied; she loses interest, and her work deteriorates still further. Work that is not well done never gives pleasure. One secret of married happiness in middle life is to take an interest, to find enjoyment, in the routine of every day. It would make an enormous difference in most households if the wife first studied in detail how her housework could be done well with the minimum effort, and applied method and routine to every section of it.
In the second place, it is the greatest mistake for the married woman to abandon her interests and hobbies with the idea that she must devote herself entirely to her household. A woman must be a good wife and mother first of all, but she is an individual also, with duties to herself, with a mind and brain that she ought to develop year by year. There is not the slightest need that the home sphere need be neglected because a woman does a certain amount of public service according to the time she can devote to it. It does not necessitate spending half one's day at committee meetings, or neglecting one's own family with the idea of improving the conditions of poorer children. The clever woman makes time for both, and is healthier and happier as a result. The great mass of women would be happier in married life if they cultivated more outside interests. And the result would probably be a happier condition of things between husband and wife.
Some wives allow the petty trials of domestic worries to absorb them, and get into a habit of worrying unnecessarily over the inevitable little jars and discords that arise in nearly every home. Many a serious disagreement between husband and wife begins as a result of some little misunderstanding which the wife broods over and cultivates, simply because she has not enough to occupy her mind and fill her interests. The woman who takes life too seriously requires a healthy, interesting hobby, as much as possible removed from everyday work. It is a good thing to give thought and energy to home work, but it is a bad thing to concentrate one's whole mind and soul on making puddings or turning out the bedrooms.
Take the case of a woman who has given up everything in order to devote herself entirely to her husband and children in the early years of married life. She has dropped her friends, her music, her reading, her little social pleasures and games. After perhaps fifteen years of domestic concentration her children grow up and go to school and no longer require her complete devotion. The husband has all the time been facing the world, mixing with men who are probably cleverer and more cultured than himself, learning and assimilating all the time. If he has got on in the world, the wife may not require to do anything except superintend the household, which takes up a couple of hours of her time every day. The danger is that they grow away from each other, because the husband has been developing intellectually, and the wife has not progressed in the least since her marriage.
It is a pathetic situation from the wife's point of view. She feels intensely the fact that she is no longer necessary to either husband or children, as was the case during the early years of marriage. Sometimes real tragedy results. As a rule, the wife is vaguely unhappy and disappointed, but does not seem to realise that it is not too late to renew her interests in life again. Of course, she has herself to blame. Her mistake was in letting her friends and interests slip, in not making time for the recreation and outside interests that are absolutely necessary if a woman is to keep herself well balanced. Let the married woman determine from the first to do her work well and thoroughly as a wife and mother, but at the same time not to let it absorb her entirely
The woman who cultivates her mind, who develops in character and brain, will be a more interesting wife, a better mother, other things being equal, than the merely housekeeping wife. A woman must make interests for herself if she is not to stand still, to deteriorate, particularly if she has reached the middle-aged period and her children are growing up and making their own way in the world. She must have definite hours for study, she must read the newspapers and follow the great questions of the day. If every woman devoted some time to public service work, it would be a splendid thing for the country as well as for women themselves.
Do not allow yourself to get dull, become unhappy, misunderstood, to brood over "the emptiness of life." It is the dull women who find life dull and uninteresting. The type of woman who counts in this world is she who makes the best of her environment, and raises it by the mere force of her presence. This is the right attitude. It will do much to make husband and wife better friends, comrades, and companions. It is during the middle-aged period that many wives and husbands drift apart, who might find life so much more pleasurable and happy if they cultivated mutual interests, mutual friends and hobbies. Life is fuller and more worth living if we do not narrow it down to home interests or a very small circle. The danger is that as people get older they cease to care to make friends, to go out, to take up new interests. When that happens it means that you are growing old, even if you. are only forty years of age. The woman who can study a new language at fifty, who enjoys meeting new people, and is always interested in any new movement which makes for good is young in her mind and ideas, and probably younger far in her appearance, than her contemporary whose interest is devoted to croquet, the delinquencies of the cook, and the reading of the ladies' column in the local paper. The great lack in the lives of middle-aged people is enthusiasm. They have ceased to feel keenly, to care about things. They find it almost impossible to take an interest in anything. So cultivate enthusiasm. Take up new interests, get out of your groove. Thus, whatever your age, you will find life delightful, satisfying, worth living. So much so that you will no longer magnify the petty discords and jars of married life. You will be happier, sunnier in temper and disposition, more companionable. It is the wife who finds life interesting, who is attractive and interesting herself, who makes the continuance of married life the happiest time of all.