The Trying Member Of The Family
Sources: Nerves And Common Sense
"TOMMY, don't do that. You know it annoys your grandfather."
"Well, why should he be annoyed? I am doing nothing wrong."
"I know that, and it hurts me to ask you, but you know how he will
feel if he sees you doing it, and you know that troubles me."
Reluctantly and sullenly Tommy stopped. Tommy's mother looked
strained and worried and discontented. Tommy had an expression on
face akin to that of a smouldering volcano.
If any one had taken a good look at the grandfather it would have
been very clear that Tommy was his own grandson, and that the old
man and the child were acting and reacting upon one another in a way
that was harmful to both; although the injury was, of course, worse
to the child, for the grandfather had toughened. The grandfather
thought he loved his little grandson, and the grandson, at times,
would not have acknowledged that he did not love his grandfather. At
other times, with childish frankness, he said he "hated him."
But the worst of this situation was that although the mother loved
her son, and loved her father, and sincerely thought that she was
the family peacemaker, she was all the time fanning the antagonism.
Here is a contrast to this little story An old uncle came into the
family of his nephew to live, late in life, and with a record behind
him of whims and crotchets in the extreme. The father and mother
talked it over. Uncle James must come. He had lost all his money.
There was no one else to look after him and they could not afford to
support him elsewhere where he would be comfortable. They took it
into account, without offence, that it was probably just as much a
cross to Uncle James to come as it was to them to have him. They
took no pose of magnanimity such as: "Of course we must be good and
offer Uncle James a home," and "How good we are to do it!" Uncle
James was to come because it was the only thing for him to do. The
necessity was to be faced and fought and conquered, and they had
three strong, self-willed little children to face it with them. They
had sense enough to see that if faced rightly it would do only good
to the children, but if made a burden to groan over it would make
their home a "hornets' nest." They agreed to say nothing to the
children about Uncle James's peculiarities, but to await
Children are always delighted at a visit from a relative, and they
welcomed their great-uncle with pleasure. It was not three days,
however, before every one of the three was crying with dislike and
hurt feelings and anger. Then was the time to begin the campaign.
The mother, with a happy face, called the three children to her, and
said "Now listen, children. Do you suppose I like Uncle James's
irritability any better than you do?"
"No," came in a chorus; "we don't see how you stand it, Mother."
Then she said: "Now look here, boys, do you suppose that Uncle James
likes his snapping any better than we do?"
"If he does not like it why does he do it?" answered the boys.
"I cannot tell you that; that is his business and not yours or
mine," said the mother; "but I can prove to you that he does not
like it. Bobby, do you remember how you snapped at your brother
yesterday, when he accidentally knocked your house over?"
"Yes!" replied Bobby.
"Did you feel comfortable after it?" "You bet I didn't," was the
"Well," answered the mother, "you boys stop and think just how
disagreeable it is inside of you when you snap, and then think how
it would be if you had to feel like that as much as Uncle James
"By golly, but that would be bad," said the twelve-year-old.
"Now, boys," went on the mother, "you want to relieve Uncle James's
disagreeable feelings all you can, and don't you see that you
increase them when you do things to annoy him? His snappish
feelings are just like a sore that is smarting and aching all the
time, and when you get in their way it hurts as if you rubbed the
sore. Keep out of his way when you can, and when you can't and he
snaps at you, say: 'I beg your pardon, sir,' like gentlemen, and
stop doing what annoys him; or get out of his way as soon as you
Uncle James never became less snappish. But the upright, manly
courtesy of those boys toward him was like fresh air on a mountain,
especially because it had become a habit and was all as a matter of
course. The father and mother realized that Uncle James had,
unconsciously, made men of their boys as nothing else in the world
could have done, and had trained them so that they would grow up
tolerant and courteous toward all human peculiarities.
Many times a gracious courtesy toward the "trying member" will
discover good and helpful qualities that we had not guessed before.
Sometimes after a little honest effort we find that it is ourselves
who have been the trying members, and that the other one has been
the member tried. Often it is from two members of the family that
the trying element comes. Two sisters may clash, and they will
generally clash because they are unlike. Suppose one sister moves
and lives in big swings, and the other in minute details. Of course
when these extreme tendencies are accented in each the selfish
temptation is for the larger mind to lapse into carelessness of
details, and for the smaller mind to shrink into pettiness, and as
this process continues the sisters get more and more intolerant of
each other, and farther and farther apart. But if the sister who
moves in the big swings will learn from the other to be careful in
details, and if the smaller mind will allow itself to be enlarged by
learning from the habitually broader view of the other, each will
grow in proportion, and two women who began life as enemies in
temperament can end it as happy friends.
There are similar cases of brothers who clash, but they are not so
evident, for when men do not agree they leave one another alone.
Women do not seem to be able to do that. It is good to leave one
another alone when there is the clashing tendency, but it is better
to conquer the clashing and learn to agree.
So long as the normal course of my life leads me to live with some
one who rubs me the wrong way I am not free until I have learned to
live with that some one in quiet content. I never gain my freedom by
running away. The bondage is in me always, so long as the other
person's presence can rouse it. The only way is to fight it out
inside of one's self. When we can get the co-operation of the other
so much the better. But no one's co-operation is necessary for us to
find our own freedom, and with it an intelligent, tolerant
"Mother, you take that seat. No, not that one, Mother--the sun comes
in that window. Children, move aside and let your grandmother get to
The young woman was very much in earnest in seeing that her mother
had a comfortable seat, that she had not the discomfort of the hot
sun, that the children made way for her so that she could move into
her seat comfortably. All her words were thoughtful and courteous,
but the spirit and the tone of her words were quite the reverse of
courteous. If some listener with his eyes shut had heard the tone
without understanding the words he might easily have thought that
the woman was talking to a little dog.
Poor "Mother" trotted into her seat with the air of a little dog who
was so well trained that he did at once what his mistress ordered.
It was very evident that "Mother's" will had been squeezed out of
her and trampled upon for years by her dutiful daughter, who looked
out always that "Mother" had the best, without the first scrap of
respect for "Mother's" free, human soul.
The grandchildren took the spirit of their mother's words rather
than the words themselves, and treated their grandmother as if she
were a sort of traveling idiot tagged on to them, to whom they had
to be decently respectful whenever their mother's eye was upon them,
and whom they ignored entirely when their mother looked the other
It so happened that I was sitting next to this particular mother who
had been poked into a comfortable seat by her careful daughter. And,
after a number of other suggestions had been poked at her with a
view to adding to her comfort, she turned to me and in a quaint,
confidential way, with the gentle voice of a habitual martyr, and at
the same time a twinkle of humor in her eye, she said "They think,
you know, I don't know anything."
And after that we had a little talk about matters of the day which
proved to me that "Mother" had a mind broader and certainly more
quiet than her daughter. I studied the daughter with interest after
knowing "Mother" better, and her habitual strain of voice and manner
were pathetic. By making a care of her mother instead of a
companion, she was not only guilty of disrespect to a soul which,
however weak it may have been in allowing itself to be directed in
all minor matters, had its own firm principles which were not
overridden nor even disturbed by the daughter's dominance. If the
daughter had only dropped her strain of care and her habit of
"bossing" she would have found a true companion in her mother, and
would have been a healthier and happier woman herself.
In pleasant contrast to this is the story of a family which had an
old father who had lost his mind entirely, and had grown decrepit
and childish in the extreme. The sons and daughters tended him like
a baby and loved him with gentle, tender respect. There was no
embarrassment for his loss of mind, no thought of being distressed
or pained by it, and because his children took their father's state
so quietly and without shame, every guest who came took it in the
same way, and there was no thought of keeping the father out of
sight. He sat in the living-room in his comfortable chair, and
always one child or another was sitting right beside him with a
smiling face. Instead of being a trying member of the family, as
happens in so many cases, this old father seemed to bring content
and rest to his children through their loving care for him.
Very often--I might almost say always--the trying member of the
family is trying only because we make her so by our attitude toward
her, let her be grandmother, mother, or maiden aunt. Even the
proverbial mother-in-law grows less difficult as our attitude toward
her is relieved of the strain of detesting everything she does, and
expecting to detest everything that she is going to do. With every
trying friend we have, if we yield to him in all minor matters we
find the settling of essential questions wonderfully less difficult.
A son had a temper and the girl he married had a temper. The mother
loved her son with the selfish love with which so many mothers
burden their children, and thought that he alone of all men had a
right to lose his temper. Consequently she excused her son and
blamed her daughter-in-law. If there were a mild cyclone roused
between the two married people the son would turn to his mother to
hear what a martyr he was and what misfortune he had to bear in
having been so easily mistaken in the woman he married. Thus the
mother-in-law, who felt that she was protecting her poor son, was
really breeding dissension between two people who could have been
the best possible friends all their lives.
The young wife very soon became ashamed of her temper and worked
until she conquered it, but it was not until her mother-in-law had
been out of this world for years that her husband discovered what he
had lost in turning away from his wife's friendship, and it was only
by the happy accident of severe illness that he ever discovered his
mistake at all, and gained freedom from the bondage of his own
temper enough to appreciate his wife.
If, however, the wife had yielded in the beginning not only to her
husband's bad temper but also to the antagonism of her
mother-in-law, which was, of course, annoying in many petty ways,
she might have gained her husband's friendship, and it is possible
that she might, moreover, have gained the friendship of her
The best rule with regard to all trying members of the family is to
yield to them always in non-essentials; and when you disagree in
essentials stick to the principle which you believe to be right, but
stick to it without resistance. Believe your way, but make yourself
willing that the trying member should believe her way. Make an
opportunity of what appears to be a limitation, and, believe me,
your trying member can become a blessing to you.
I go further than that--I truly believe that to make the best of
life every family should have a trying member. When we have no
trying member of our family, and life goes along smoothly, as a
matter of course, the harmony is very liable to be spurious, and a
sudden test will all at once knock such a family into discord, much
to the surprise of every member. When we go through discord to
harmony, and once get into step, we are very likely to keep in step:
Be willing, then, make yourself willing, that the trying member
should be in the way. Hope that she will stay in your family until
you have succeeded in dropping not only all resistance to her being
there, but every resistance to her various ways in detail. Bring her
annoying ways up to your mind voluntarily when you are away from
her. If you do that you will find all the resistances come with them
and you can relax out of the strain then and there. You will find
that when you get home or come down to breakfast in the morning (for
many resistances are voluntarily thrown off in the night) you will
have a pleasanter feeling toward the trying member, and it comes so
spontaneously that you will be surprised yourself at the absence of
the strain of resistance in you.
Believe me when I say this: the yielding in the non-essentials,
singularly enough, gives one strength to refuse to yield in
principles. But we must always remember that if we want to find real
peace, while we refuse to yield in our own principles so long as we
believe them to be true, we must be entirely willing that others
should differ from us in belief.