Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom
“Once upon a time, there were four girls, who had enough to eat and drink and wear, a good many comforts and pleasures, kind friends and parents, who loved them dearly, and yet they were not contented.” – From a story Marmee told her daughters about some “girls” she once knew
Last autumn I decided to return for the first time in two decades to a book I once loved: Little Women. I have fond memories of Meg, Beth, Amy, and the sister I identified most with, Jo.
As a teen the hopes and ambitions of these young women captured my imagination. How would life turn out for them? Would they find the men of their dreams? Would Laurie end up with Jo? I had my eye on a certain boy at the time myself (he’s now my husband ) and the girls’ romantic notions fit my own.
Reading the novel as a 36-year-old, however, was a new experience. This time my focus turned toward the awe-inspiring mother, Marmee. After all, I’m in the midst of raising my brood just as she did.
Her four daughters had vastly different opinions in almost every area of life, but they agreed on one thing–their love and near adoration for their mother:
“Glad to find you so merry, my girls,” said a cheery voice at the door, and actors and audience turned to welcome a tall, motherly lady, with a “can-I-help-you” look about her which was truly delightful.”
I aspire to this same level of love and friendship, admiration and respect with my children as they mature. How did Marmee manage to keep her children’s hearts during their adolescence, and how can we adapt her strategies to our 21st century lives?
Here are my takeaways:
1. Nurture by nature.
“Beth was too bashful to go to school; it had been tried, but she suffered so much that it was given up, and she did her lessons at home, with her father.”
Painfully shy Beth was allowed to homeschool because she couldn’t bear to be around so many others. Socialite Amy, on the other hand, adored and enjoyed school until a misunderstanding led to her learning at home as well.
It wasn’t that Marmee didn’t have high hopes for her children–she did. But her goals for them centered mainly on character development.
She knew her daughters could reach those goals and retain their originality at the same time. There wasn’t the fretting over who they weren’t as much as there was the celebrating of who they were.
Can we do the same?
2. Allow the gift of childhood.
“Yes, Jo, your little friend is very welcome, and I hope Meg will remember that children should be children as long as they can.”
Even as teenagers Marmee encouraged their play. There was no shuffling them out to lessons multiple times a week, no hyperscheduling involved.
How can we translate this into our modern lives? We apply it to the boundaries we develop–around screen time, extracurriculars, and our general pace as a family.
Modern life may rush at a certain speed, but we direct the tempo within our home–fast or slow. By embracing a steady rhythm, we provide our kids time for relationships within our walls to deepen and time for imagination to take root.
3. Model the qualities we hope to cultivate.
“I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo; but I have learned not to show it; and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do so.”
Marmee refrained from too much lecturing. She chose her words and her timing well, and she modeled how she wanted her girls to live. Though their own family struggled financially, Marmee served her community and provided opportunities for her daughters to do the same.
She shared her flaws–confiding in impetuous Jo about her own flares of temper that she’d learned to control through discipline, help from her husband, and prayer.
To encourage their love for and study of Scripture, Marmee inspired her girls with the gift of a beautiful Bible on their pillows Christmas morning. Love, not fear, made her daughters want to follow in their mother’s footsteps.
The March household centered around the relationships within it, tight-knit bonds woven by a woman constantly checking the pulse of the atmosphere within her home. She began this culture when they were little, and her girls enjoyed it enough to keep it as they got older.
Marmee reaped exactly what she sowed, and so will we.
The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Are we planting and nurturing the seeds that will lead to the harvest we hope for?
“Touched to the heart, Mrs. March could only stretch out her arms, as if to gather children and grandchildren to herself, and say, with face and voice full of motherly love, gratitude, and humility, – ‘O, my girls, however long you may live, I never can wish you a greater happiness than this!’”
Which March sister do you most identify with: Meg, Jo, Beth, or Amy?