It is a good rule, in reference to this point, to forewarn instead of finding fault. Thus, when a thing has been done wrong, let it pass unnoticed till it is to be done again; and then a simple request to have it done in the right way will secure quite as much, and probably more, willing effort, than a reproof administered for neglect. Some persons seem to take it for granted that young and inexperienced minds are bound to have all the forethought and discretion of mature persons, and freely express wonder and disgust when mishaps occur for want of these traits. But it would be far better to save from mistake or forgetfulness by previous caution and care on the part of those who have gained experience and forethought; and thus many occasions of complaint and ill-humor will be avoided.
Those who fill the places of heads of families are not very apt to think how painful it is to be chided for neglect of duty, or for faults of character. If they would sometimes imagine themselves in the place of those whom they control, with some person daily administering reproof to them in the same tone and style as they employ to those who are under them, it might serve as a useful check to their chidings. It is often the case that persons who are most strict and exacting, and least able to make allowances and receive palliations, are themselves peculiarly sensitive to any thing which implies that they are in fault. By such, the spirit implied in the Divine petition, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," needs especially to be cherished.
One other consideration is very important. There is no duty more binding on Christians than that of patience and meekness under provocations and disappointment. Now the tendency of every sensitive mind, when thwarted in its wishes, is to complain and find fault, and that often in tones of fretfulness or anger. But there are few servants who have not heard enough of the Bible to know that angry or fretful fault-finding from the mistress of a family, when her work is not done to suit her, is not in agreement with the precepts of Christ. They notice and feel the inconsistency; and every woman, when she gives way to feelings of anger and impatience at the faults of those around her, lowers herself in their respect; while her own conscience, unless very much blinded, can not but suffer a wound.
"We can not in this country maintain to any great extent large retinues of servants. Even with ample fortunes, they are forbidden by the general character of society here, which makes them cumbrous and difficult to manage. Every mistress of a family knows that her cares increase with every additional servant. Trained housekeepers, such as regulate the complicated establishments of the Old World, form a class that are not, and from the nature of the case never will be, found in any great numbers in this country. All such women, as a general thing, are keeping, and prefer to keep, houses of their own.
"A moderate style of housekeeping, small, compact, and simple domestic establishments, must necessarily be the general order of life in America. So many openings of profit are to be found in this country, that domestic service necessarily wants the permanence which forms so agreeable a feature of it in the Old World.
"Again, American women must not try with three servants to carry on life in the style which in the Old World requires sixteen. They must thoroughly understand, and be prepared to teach, every branch of housekeeping; they must study to make domestic service desirable, by treating their servants in a way to lead them to respect themselves, and to feel themselves respected; and there will gradually be evolved from the present confusion a solution of the domestic problem which shall be adapted to the life of a new and growing world."
It is sometimes the case that the constant change of domestics, and the liability thus to have dishonest ones, makes it needful to keep stores under lock and key. This measure is often very offensive to those who are hired, as it is regarded by them as an evidence both of closeness and of suspicion of their honesty.
In such cases it is a good plan, when first making an agreement with a domestic, to state the case in this way: that you have had dishonest persons in the family, and that when theft is committed, it is always a cause of disquiet to honest persons, because it exposes them to suspicion. You can then state your reasons as twofold: one to protect yourself from pilfering when you take entire strangers, and the other is to protect honest persons from being suspected. When the matter is thus presented at first hiring a person, no offense will be taken afterward.
There is one rule which every housekeeper will find of incalculable value, not only in the case of domestics, but in the management of children, and that is, never to find fault at the time that a wrong thing is done. Wait until you are unexcited yourself, and until the vexation of the offender is also past, and then, when there is danger of a similar offense, forewarn, and point out the evils already done for want of proper care in this respect.
Success in the management of domestics very much depends upon the manners of a housekeeper toward them. And here two extremes are to be avoided. One is a severe and imperious mode of giving orders and finding fault, which is inconsistent both with lady-like good breeding and with a truly amiable character. Few domestics, especially American domestics, will long submit to it, and many a good one has been lost, simply by the influence of this unfortunate manner. The other extreme is apt to result from the great difficulty of retaining good domestics. In cases where this is experienced, there is a liability of becoming so fearful of displeasing one who is found to be good, that, imperceptibly, the relation is changed, and the domestic becomes the mistress. A housekeeper thus described this change in one whom she hired: "The first year she was an excellent servant; the second year she was a kind mistress; the third year she was an intolerable tyrant!"