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The Trying Member Of The Family

Categories: Uncategorized
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

quick reply.

"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

her seat."

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.