There are some exceptions to the general truth contained in the last paragraph. Many a mother has—unconsciously at the time, but with no less certainty than if she had done it intentionally—given a direction to the whole current of her son’s life; and this, too, at a very early period. The mother of Benjamin West, the painter, if she did not give the first tendency to his favorite pursuit, while he was yet a mere child, at the least greatly confirmed him in it, by the manner of expressing her surprise at one of his early performances. “My mother’s kiss,” on that occasion, said he, “made me a painter.” Nor are facts of the same general character by any means uncommon.
I know a poor mother who, in the absence of her husband at his weekly or monthly labors, used to detain her eldest boy, then almost an infant, from going to bed in the evening till her day’s work was finished—because, in her loneliness, she wanted his company—by telling stories of eminent men, and especially of distinguished philanthropists, until she had unconsciously kindled in him a philanthropic spirit, which will not cease to burn till his death.
But it is in forming the predilections of daughters for their destined employments, that mothers are especially influential. Not so much by their set lessons or lectures, however, as by the force of continued example. No mother who sends her child away to be nursed, and subsequently to her return seizes on every possible opportunity to keep her out of the way and out of her sight, will be likely to give her any choice of employment, or indeed any fondness for employment at all.
Nor is it sufficient that she keep her daughter constantly under her eye, with a view to qualify her for the duties of a housewife, if the daughter see as plainly as in the light of mid-day, that the mother dislikes the employment herself. She must love what she would have her daughter love, and even what she would have her understand. Nor is it sufficient that she affect a fondness for the employment; her love for it must be real. Little girls have keener eyes and better judgments than some mothers seem willing to believe or to admit.
Many persons seem greatly surprised that the young ladies of modern days have so little fondness for domestic life and domestic duties. How few, it is often said, will do their own housework, if they can possibly get a train of domestics around them; even though the care and oversight of the domestics themselves gear them out more rapidly than bodily labor would.
But there is a reason for this hostility to domestic employments. It is because mothers, almost universally, consider their occupations as mere drudgery, and bring up their children in the same spirit. And what else could be expected as the result? It would be an anomaly in the history, of human nature, if the female members of families were to grow up in love with ordinary domestic avocations, when they have been accustomed to see their mothers, and nurses, and elder sisters complaining and fretting while engaged in them; and showing by their actions, no less than by their words, that they regarded themselves as miserable and wretched.