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Family Life as a Vocation

The greatest of all wisdom is that which leads men and women to see the real significance of their lives while they are still living. Life’s values, like the manna in the wilderness, must be gathered daily. If not nourished day by day the power to live atrophies and dies; and no one can live well to-day on the shrunken memories of yesterday. A full and significant life is its own justification; and in a last analysis philosophies and theologies offer us only the life more abundantly which the great Teacher said he came into the world to bring. Buddhism offers us eternal peaceful existence in Nirvana; Epicureanism offers pleasure, which is but an intensification of life; Stoicism offers us life freed from disturbing forces; and the great lure which Christianity has always held before humanity is life eternal. Life is its own justification.

We have maintained throughout this volume that complete self-realization is impossible for the half-units which we call men and women, when either lives alone. On every side of their natures they are complementary; and the unit of human life must be found in the family composed of a man and woman who love each other and the children born of their love. “There are two worlds below, the home and outside of it.” It is in this unit, under the stress of sexual passion and maternal love, that all the finer forces of our civilization have had their origin. Unselfishness, devotion, pity and the higher altruisms all hark back to the home as their source.

But, meantime, evil counsels prevail and one hears everywhere of the antagonistic interests of men and women. There can be no real rivalry between a man’s soul and his body, between science and religion, between man and woman. The trouble all rests back in the failure to realize the incompleteness of man or woman alone for any of the purposes of life. And there is that evil notion which still afflicts economics that when two trade one must lose. The fact is that, in all honest trade, buyer and seller gain alike; and fair exchange makes all who participate in it rich. It is so in all real relations between these half-creatures we call men and women. In agreement, association and cooperation lies strong and significant life for both. In antagonism, separation and competition lie arid, poor, mean lives, egotistic and conceited, vapid and fickle.

In primitive life, the family furnished a full and adequate career for men and women alike. The political life was the family life; each family was a religious group; families mustered for war; and each family maintained within itself a wide range of industrial activity. But, because this unit was so basal, because all later special developments of state, church and industry came from it, it was steadily perverted. Warped from its original purpose, it has served in turn, as we have seen, to define and secure all our later institutions until it has become the servant of state, church, social ambition, property and industrial advance. Marriage and the birthrate are seldom discussed to-day from the point of view of individual needs; but are almost always considered from the point of view of national and industrial efficiencies.

To-day men and women are confronted by two tempters which constantly lure them away from the complete living of the family; one is work, and the other is comfort. With the majority of people in our modern industrial democracies work uses up the hours and the energy of life. We have passed into a time when our habitual material needs are great, and the products of work are shamelessly diverted to the excessive uses of comparatively few individuals and groups. Hence millions of workers march along the narrow dark roads that lead through factories and farms to the grave. Only little patches of their nervous systems are ever used, but all their energy flows through these sections day after day, leaving their lives dull and empty.

Marriage for these workers means decreased earning power for the woman, with increased needs for the family, especially when the children come. As one watches the procession of young factory and shop women, with Sunday finery and some leisure, passing over into draggled factory mothers, with no finery and no leisure, one marvels at the strength of the forces with which nature drives them to their destiny. And yet, even with these hopeless workers, marriage and children mark the heights of life.

With others, who are economically freer, work has become an obsession. A Charles Darwin or a Herbert Spencer turns all of life’s forces to shaping facts into science; our industrial leaders mint their hours into dollars; our reformers give up their lives that social conditions may be changed; our society leaders trade life for triumphs. Meantime we all know, or would know if we stopped to consider, that we are here to live life fully and significantly day by day. But domesticity takes time and effort, and so the hurrying specialist follows the narrow line of success until he or she becomes a machine for manufacturing generalizations, for painting pictures, for performing surgical operations or for merely getting money. The richest woman in America said with approval recently that her son was too busy to fall in love.

As industry drives the mass of workers and specialists away from life’s deepest realizations, so the desire to become comfortable, physically and mentally, through avoiding the deeper experiences of life, robs many of those who have a large measure of economic freedom. In all periods of great wealth this disease of ease has afflicted mankind. Life more abundantly comes only at the price of vigorous living; and love travels always in company with anxiety. It would be well, says Cicero, to have children, were it not for the fear of losing them. Let a man apply this principle to wife, friends, possessions and enthusiasm in general and life sinks into utter worthlessness.

The love of ease among women is in a measure independent of the emancipation movement, but the entry of great numbers of young women into lines of independent livelihood has placed them in a condition where the ideals of a materialistic and commercial civilization appeal to them with great force. Many of them have been liberally educated and are living lives of independence. They lodge in flats or boarding houses where they have no responsibilities for the routine work connected with daily living. They carry their own latch-keys; and no one interferes with their friendships or their pleasures. They read the books they like, attend the theaters that appeal to them, and avoid people who bore them. One can easily understand why these young women hesitate before abandoning their easy conditions for the uncertain economic position of wife and mother, with a man whose career lies in the future. And yet here, as everywhere, one must lose one’s life to gain it.

What then does daily association of a man and woman who belong together do for them? It gives gladness and peace, and these are fundamental conditions for all good and healthful living. It gives incentive to effort, for a man or woman dares not fail before the one he or she loves; but, in case of failure, it gives comfort and support, for love understands and credits intent and effort as highly as achievement. It complements the powers, for it gives four eyes, four hands and two minds with but one aim. And in this it does not simply multiply by two, but the blended powers are far more than two times one. It calls into activity all the gracious, artistic and altruistic powers of the soul. Surely these are gifts for which we may well forego some material comforts, may well work, and even face anxieties unafraid.

Each part of the human unit must educate the other to a realization of the fulness of life. This education is not entirely dependent on physical intimacy. It is the development of soul and spirit. It polishes the manners, cultivates the voice, broadens the judgments, sharpens the wit. It makes conversation an art and discussion significant. A woman-hating man or a man-hating woman is an unpolished and half-alive creature, whether he be a mediaeval saint, or she a militant suffragette, or they both be simply commonplace egoists.

Because married life is so perfect when it finds its highest levels, it is capable of sinking to any form of vulgarity, base betrayal and cynicism when realization fails. The God to whom noblest souls aspire in hours of deepest exaltation, is the God invoked by the ribald drunkard when he curses his comrade. The family life we are discussing is the subject of most of the vulgar and indecent jokes of the disappointed and the unfit. The earth which nourishes the nations, merely soils the boots of the boor who unthinkingly lives on her bounty.

On the working side the life of the family has an evil record for pettiness and monotony, but much of this is due to wrong comparisons. A woman who does her own housework would presumably have to work in any case. Is the work of the family more petty or monotonous than the work of the factory, shop or office? Surely the woman who spends her days looking after the details of furnishing a house and keeping it clean, of providing and serving meals, of looking after clothing and caring for children, has a world of self-expression compared with which factory and shop work is infinitely petty and mean. In the social life of friends, neighborhood, school and church she is at least as well placed as the factory worker. If the woman has the preparation required for teaching or independent business, she will find ways to use her powers that will relieve the routine of housework. And if the family has means to hire help, the wife has a position from which she can exercise social and political power superior to that of the foot-loose celibate.

Meantime, the housework grows steadily simpler and less exacting, even with the growing complexity of our modern life. Most of the primitive industries have left the home, and products come from the factory ready to use. Furnace heating, hot and cold water, improved cooking conditions and many domestic inventions of our day are keeping housework well abreast of other unspecialized work in attractiveness.

The fact that domestic servants are scarce and unwilling to do general housework, in no way disproves the soundness of these conclusions. The wife, if she is a real wife, and we are discussing no others, is working for those she loves, under conditions of free initiative. The general servant is working for those who will not even admit her right to participate in their social life, and instead of freedom in her industrial life, she must generally adjust her efforts to the caprices of an untrained mistress. Well-trained mistresses, who know how to work themselves and who have a democratic sense of human values, seldom have trouble in securing able servants, even in this transition time when the shops and factories are calling so loudly to working girls.

No intelligence which a woman may possess needs remain unused in the handling of a family. Women spend most of the household money to-day, at least in lower and middle-class homes. To use wisely the family pay-envelope requires knowledge and judgment of a high order. Problems in economics, sanitation, food-values and aesthetics confront the housewife at every turn of the day’s work. “Even a slave need not work as a slave;” and a woman living with the man she loves is the freest woman on earth, so far as mind and spirit are concerned.

But the factory girl, or the teacher, or the professional woman who seeks the fulfilment of all of life in the factory, the school or the consulting-room, will soon tire and clamor for relief. The housewife, or the mistress of a home, must likewise seek life away from her work if she is to love it and wake each morning with a desire to continue it. Luckily we have reached a place where working women in the home are seeking supplementary life outside, and they seem to be quite as successful in their search as are factory girls or teachers.

To the man, family life, of the kind we are considering, brings a vital connection with the past and the future. Reputation, possessions, friends, all become deeply significant when a man becomes a link in the generations of men. In establishing his material home, and modifying it to the changing conditions of the family; in building up a social setting for the group; in projecting his work and his service into the future, he is held to highest standards by the fact that he is working with the partner of his choice, and for interests that are in harmony with the constitution of the universe.

Of the greater physical health of married people there can be no doubt. Statistics all show the greater longevity of married people, and insurance companies recognize it. The celibate type of physical degeneration is so well differentiated that it can generally be recognized even among strangers, at least after forty. On the moral side, too, very few criminals are found among married people.

If children come to bless these homes of men and women, then even intellectual life may shift to a higher level than was before possible. With advancing years intellectual interests tend to become specialized. The man or woman gives up singing, ceases to be interested in plant life, stops reading poetry. One activity after another is cut off and interests concentrate in some comparatively small field of work or pleasure. But when a child comes, the parents are forced to start over the round of human interests and thought once more. Before, they lived it as children; now, they live the cycle as grown men and women.

No matter how completely a woman has given up music, she will some day find herself singing when she holds her baby in her arms. As she recites Mother Goose and the fairy and folk-lore tales, she moves through the path of man’s upward progress, led by a child, but with the life and understanding of adult years. As she walks with her child in the garden and in the fields, she is driven to a new interpretation of the world of nature. Few things can so broaden, quicken and enrich the intellectual life as growing up with one’s children.

On the social side, a parent who has children is forced to live in all the social world around him. The water-supply, the sewage, pure foods, vacant lots, paving, fast driving in the streets, police protection, undesirable residents, saloons and churches, schools and libraries everything that touches the social well-being touches him vitally and imperatively. The foot-loose celibate can always go away. The parent finds it difficult to leave the place where he has planted his roof-tree. Of course, there are many unmarried people, and people who are childless, who live this domestic life vicariously through friends or other people’s children. One cannot but be grateful that life is so organized that no woman can be entirely shut off, unless she wills it, from the fructifying life that knits together the generations of the old and the young.

Ideals are very powerful in determining conduct, and the ideals of extreme individualism, now so constantly presented by certain leaders among emancipated women, must bear bitter fruit for an army of women in the future. While the women are young, ambition and the charm of freedom bear them gaily along. Generally better educated than the men of their own class, habituated to a personal expenditure which would correspond with a large family expenditure, their intelligence prevents their falling desperately in love with the men whom they might marry. But in the thirties they have visions of the future which are deeply disturbing; and in the forties they face the tragedy of a lonely old age. Some men and women there must always be whose lives lack the fulfilment of family life because of ill health or the accidents of personal relations. But most women, if they are willing to pay the same price for a significant family life that they so gladly pay for professional success, will find the way open to live all of life. Why is it that women count it an honor to work and starve for an art, but dishonor to undergo privations for their children? All that is here said of women may be said of men, but the man’s period of family life is longer than woman’s, and the tragedy of lonely old age with him seems less overwhelming.

The old plea that we must have an army of celibate women because in civilized countries there is a preponderance of females does not hold at present in the United States. The census of 1910 shows an excess of 2,691,678 males in this country. Nor is this entirely due to immigration. More boys than girls are always born in civilized lands; and of native white people born of native parents in the United States there were, in 1910, 25,229,294 males and 24,259,147 females, a difference obviously due to natural causes. New England alone in America has a preponderance of females; and the excess there, as also in England and Germany, is needed all along the frontiers of civilization. With the industrial and social freeing of women now going on, we may reasonably hope that the communities of old maids left behind, through the emigration of young men, will be broken up.

Of course, it will be pointed out that many men and women who do marry fail to realize the ideal presented in these pages. Every form of living is dangerous and not every one can hope to be a successful husband and father or wife and mother. Even devotion to religion furnishes many inmates for insane asylums; athletic contests leave a line of cripples behind them; and railroad disasters fill thousands of graves annually. The institution of marriage has had no such intelligence applied to its improvement during the past years as has been given to perfecting railroads; and since founding a family is a more difficult undertaking than making a journey, one need not be astonished at the number of fatalities. Even if the institution of marriage were as intelligently and carefully brought up to date as railroad systems are, it would still remain dangerous to live either in or out of marriage.

And yet the danger could be greatly reduced by proper education of youth. At present we are educating 10,000,000 girls in the state schools of America, and as many boys. They are spending eight to twelve years, under the direction of celibate women teachers, sharpening their intelligence. Their most important work in life is to be the making of homes, but they are supposed to master this art through imitating the homes in which they grow up. Many of these are unworthy of imitation, and they are all in process of transition.

Every girl should be thoroughly trained in handling an income and in spending money wisely. She should have a general knowledge of household sanitation, of water-supply and sewage, of foods and their preparation. She should know about clothes, their cost, wearing qualities and decorative values. She should have a sense of the family and its significance in life; of at least the social relations that husband and wife must maintain toward each other if their partnership is to be happy and effective. She should have the beginnings of a eugenic conscience established in her, and she should know something of the care of infancy. All this should be given in the school, if it is not definitely given in the home, and no girl who goes through the eighth grade should escape it. Before the girl is married, she should have wise counsel from mature women who have lived and learned the art of living. Boys should, of course, also be trained in comparable directions for this great part of their lives.

Something is already being done in this direction through the establishing of special courses in domestic science, and allied branches in our schools. The fact that educational leaders are awake to the need was shown by the applause that followed Superintendent Harvey’s plea for this training in his paper on the education of girls at the Superintendents’ Association in St. Louis in February, 1912. The leading educators of the country greeted his plea with an enthusiasm called out by no other paper of the session.

Every woman, then, and every man, not debarred by disease or accident and not specially dedicated to a work which precludes marriage, should spend his life in a family group, not that the state may have more soldiers, or factory employees, but that he may realize the deepest significance of his life. In this life the woman should be as free as the man, an equal financial partner, and should share in all the social and political opportunities of the community. When she bears children, she should have special protection, support and reverence; and support should come from the father of her children. If he fails her, then the group, in its capacity as a state, should care for her honorably. But to justify this protection and reverence, she should bring to her special functions as mother of the generations a strong body, an intelligent mind, a eugenic conscience and an absolute devotion to the children born of her love.