Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom
“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”
(Mr. Darcy with Elizabeth Bennett; Ch. 11)
This year I’m joining in with hundreds of other mamas in an online book club hosted by my friend Nicole Bennett (and it’s not too late to join!). Our goal?
To reread all of Jane Austen’s novels in 2014–not just for the fun of it (though it is fun), but to study these works through the lens of motherhood, asking ourselves a few questions along the way:
- What does Austen have to say about family relationships?
- What do the mothers in her novels teach us about how to engage with our kids (either by what they do well…or more often, the opposite!)
- What personal themes, messages, and inspiration can I take away for this busy season in my own life?
“If my children are silly, I must hope to be always sensible of it… This is the only point, I flatter myself, on which we do not agree. I had hoped that our sentiments coincided in every particular, but I must so far differ from you as to think our two youngest daughters uncommonly foolish.”
(Mr. Bennett to his wife; Ch. 7)
“Nobody can tell what I suffer! — But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied.”
(Mrs. Bennett; Ch. 20)
Photo by John Lodder
In January and February we tackled Pride and Prejudice–a wide-open goldmine for the study of inappropriate relationships!
As we take a peek at the Bennett parents, for example, the whole nurture and nature debate comes out in full force. Mrs. Bennett is a silly, superficial, childlike mother–so how did her eldest two daughters turn out more emotionally mature than she appears to be?
And Mr. Bennett is almost entirely checked out from the chaos of the home–though instead of retreating in front of a screen as the stereotype of today’s absent father suggests–he shuts the door of his library and spends as much time as possible with his books.
Yes, the study of unmatched, unequally-yoked marriages cuts across much of this novel–including the developing relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. A train wreck waiting to happen, misunderstandings, sweeping criticisms on both sides, and a lack of common courtesy mark their communications from the start.
“From the very beginning— from the first moment, I may almost say— of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”
(Lizzy to Darcy; Ch. 34)
Lizzy judges from day one–based on rumors, first impressions, and her own hurt feelings. Darcy does the same, allowing his ego to overshadow his manners.
Photo by Simon Q
As their relationship progresses these misunderstandings escalate to a ridiculous degree, making me want to throw my Kindle across the room (I restrained myself), grab them both by the shoulders, and say “WOULD YOU GUYS JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER AND SORT THIS OUT?!”
And as I’m feeling this way–before the happy ending arrives–a question rises up inside:
“Is there anyone in my life that I do this to? Anyone that I misunderstand, judge, feel superior to, and ignore when their behavior doesn’t suit me?”
The answer comes immediately and makes me suck in my breath with its reproach:
Without even realizing it at times (on a subconscious level–just like in P&P) I make sweeping judgments about my kids. Like Lizzie does to Darcy, I fail to see their good and their growth–because I put my focus instead on their issues.
On a typical day at home, I write down a list of what the kids accomplish academically that day. Trishna’s cursive lesson, Jonathan’s math on the computer, Elijah’s audio books and everything in between.
But my reprimand from Pride and Prejudice inspired me to keep a different kind of list at least for one day. Instead of writing down academics, I listed each of my kids and what they did right and well. I wrote down the good.
I ended up with a page packed full of scribbled notes, including these highlights:
- Trishna (10) told me she loves hanging out with me
- Jonathan (9) offered to make breakfast when he saw I was busy with something
- Elijah (8) took a heavy bag down to the basement without being asked
There were little challenges in our day too, of course, but my overflowing page of chronicled awesomeness kept them in their proper perspective. By the end of the day, my heart was full and my personal prides and prejudices had been knocked back where they belong.
I remembered a few truths in this experiment:
- We draw out what we bring our attention to.
- My house is full of incredible individuals living and learning together–all of us wildly imperfect–but growing in character each day.
- Keeping my focus on the good stops me from being blinded by my own character weaknesses.
Thank you Jane, Lizzy, and Darcy for the much-needed lesson.
“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit…
Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous.”
(Darcy to Lizzy; Ch. 58)