Woman is pre-eminently the home maker. It is she who makes the house homelike and, above all, contributes the spirit that makes it a sacred place. Man may provide the material things necessary for its establishment and maintenance, but he is powerless to give it a soul. It is only a woman, as Charles Wagner has said, who knows how to put into a home that indefinable something whose virtue has made the poet say, "The housetop rejoices and is glad."
Unfortunately, however, the wife, as well as the husband, is sometimes responsible for the unhappiness of the family life and the complete wreckage of the home. Many a woman is so over-particular as a housekeeper, so worried about little unimportant details that she drives peace and harmony out of the home. Serenity, tranquillity of mind, freedom from the things which distress and annoy, the sense of liberty, restfulness and poise that a home should give, are ruled out by her everlasting nagging, her constant reminders to one and another of the family that they have dropped an envelope or a piece of paper on the floor, that they have brought in mud or dust on their boots, that they have turned a rug askew, or that somebody's hat or coat has been forgotten on a chair. She not only makes a slave of herself, but in making everybody else toe the mark in accordance with her strained ideas of system and order, so discom forts her husband and children that they fail to get the things the. real home affords.
The woman who makes her husband and children uncomfortable and herself an irritable, nervous wreck, may think she is an efficient housekeeper, but as a homemaker she is an utter failure. More than that, she actually loses, or at least lessens, the. love and respect of the family she tries so hard in her mistaken way to serve. She never succeeds in making her family think home as the dearest and sweetest place in the world. On the contrary, just as soon as the evening meal is over, the father and children are anxious to get out of it. They constantly find some excuse to run away to other people's houses or to some place where the atmosphere is of a different nature.
There can be no real comfort or happiness where there is a constant sense of restraint. The home which does not give its members perfect freedom and ease is never a magnet to the weary heart, a vision of rest and joy to the homesick traveler.
One of the things that causes so much unhappiness in married life and drives love out of the home is the effort of a wife or a hus band, arbitrarily, to change the other in some point, whether it be in regard to a trivial fault or habit, or something of great importance.
I have known wives to make the mistake of trying to make their husbands over by always hammering away at their faults, their deficiencies, always reminding them of their weaknesses, instead of praising their strong points, lauding their good qualities, and appealing to the best in them. Nagging and faultfinding have never yet changed anyone, except for the worse. You cannot sandpaper a husband all the time, scold and criticize him constantly, without arousing a fatal protest.
When a wife is constantly picturing the awful results of her husband's drinking habits, or other greater or minor vices, and telling him what the: result will be if he does not quit, she arouses in him a spirit of antagonism, and completely loses her influence over him. Every man resents this sort of treatment. It is human nature to defend ourselves when attacked, to resist being driven or being compelled to be good. We can only be led to give up that which is bad by the substitution of something better.
There is only one way to correct faults in men or women and that is by always appealing to the best in them. It is a question of the expulsive power of a stronger affection. If you wish to get a knife or other dangerous article away from a child, give him a toy or something that he likes better, and of his own accord he will drop the thing you don't want him to have. But the moment you try to pull it away from him, to force him to give it up, you arouse the natural antagonism in him and he is going to fight you. Men and women are only grown up children.
As a rule, however, men are the chief sinners in bringing discord into the home, in neglecting their part in contributing the things that make for the family's happiness.
Although marriage is supposed to be a partnership, the average man cannot seem to get the idea out of his head that he has the right of proprietorship, that he is really the owner and the boss not only of the house but of every, one in it, and that he is under no obligation to contribute anything to it beyond the material things.
I know a man of this sort, a very able man, who is regarded as a model in his place of business and by his associates generally. He is even - tempered, cool and self - controlled abroad, popular in his club, always generous with assistance for any public cause, his name being usually one of the first on subscription lists of all sorts. In short, he stands very high in his community as a public-spirited citizen, a model man in all respects. But at home there is a very different story. Here he throws off all restraint and plays the hog. He thinks he is under no obligation to practice self-control, to be a gentleman in his home. He evidently says to himself, "Isn't this my home? Didn't my money build it? Doesn't my money maintain it? Don't I pay the bills here? Isn't everybody here dependent upon me? Why should I feel any restraint in my own home? Certainly there ought to be one place in the world where a man can say what he thinks, express his feelings."
He is a hard worker, and usually comes home from business very much used up, often pretty nearly a nervous wreck, and he certainly takes it out on his family. He will often belch forth a volley of scolding just as soon as he enters the house. If he sees anything out of place, anything broken, anything injured, he makes it an excuse for his outburst. The children get frightened when they see a thundercloud on his face, and when he begins ranting like a madman they all run away and get out of sight. This makes him still more furious, and he will often follow them all over the house, and call them to account for insulting him when he is trying to correct them, to set them straight.
This man's wife is a gentle, sensitive woman who dreads a scene and will do almost anything to avoid one. But if a servant happens to break a piece of china, or if the cook burns the food, if anything lacks the proper flavor, or if anything else goes wrong, no matter how trifling, he will break out right in the middle of a meal, and scold and rave like a maniac. In fact he makes a hades of his home, stirs everybody in it up, and creates an atmosphere that makes peace and happiness impossible.
There are a great many of these men who are gentlemen outside their homes, in their places of business, in their clubs, anywhere in public, but hogs in the home. Perhaps they don't realize that they are cowards and bullies. But of course every hog in the home knows that his wife and children do not dare to answer him back or call him to account. He knows they are helpless; that they must let him rave and abuse until his temper has spent itself, and bear it as best they can. Perhaps he doesn't know that he arouses their contempt, and that he cannot hold the affection of his family when he treats them in this way.
The mental attitude of an angry teacher will cause a whole schoolroom to vibrate in unison with her mood. The same is true of the home. One discordant member, by his surly or antagonistic attitude, will destroy its harmony for a whole evening. I have known the peace of an entire household to be broken up for the day because the father grew angry over something in the morning and got everybody so stirred up that harmony was not established even after he left the house.
The very foundation of our national life, of progress, of happiness, of true success is laid in the home. At the bottom of all a man's hopes is his dream of wife and child and home. No matter what hardships he endures, how poor or discouraged he may become, he never loses sight of this vision. He sees his ideal home in imagination, just as the architect sees in his mind's eye, in all its outlines of beauty and dignity, a mental picture of the great building for which he is making plans. The dream of a home of one's own has been the sublime incentive of the ages. Men and women in all times have made great sacrifices for fame and personal power, but what in the whole gamut of suffering have they not endured, and gladly, for the realization of their dream of a home!
What a pity it is that when the material foundation of a home is realized, the dream of happiness is so often shattered by the husband or wife!
One of the chief reasons for this is that so many couples fail to realize that, by its very nature, marriage is a compromise. If it is to endure and to be happy it must always be as a willing compromise by both parties to the contract. No harmony could ever exist in the home on any other basis, for no two people were ever made exactly alike, could ever think and feel as one on every subject.
Unhappily, it is not always questions of importance or grave faults on either side that ruin the happiness of husband and wife and break up the home or fill it with perpetual discord. It is trivial matters, the daily pinpricks, the little worries that continually rub one the wrong way. A nagging, worrying man or woman can destroy the peace of a household and make every one in it miserable. Petty fault-findings, bickerings, misunderstandings about trifles, these are the little foxes which frequently destroy the home vines.
The happiness of the home, the conduct and welfare of the children depend on a happy marriage. And the happiest marriages are those in which husband and wife recognize and accept each other's differences, and try to fit into one another, as it were. This is really the divine plan, for man and woman are the complement of each other.
George Eliot says, "What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life, - to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent, unspeakable memories at the last parting?"
When a man and woman are united in this spirit, when they maintain this attitude in all their trials and difficulties they will have a happy home though it be within the four walls of one room or in a dugout on a Western prairie.