I remember reading Little Women as a teenager and, like most people, enjoying it very much. I wanted my girls to read the book (or to read it aloud to them), so I picked it up again to re-read it.
What’s interesting about re-reading books I loved as a child is that, as a mother, I enjoy them from a completely different perspective.
This go round, instead of identifying with the awkward, when-will-I-fit-in Jo, I found that I related to Marmee. Before, I didn’t think much about her character. As I read the book it struck me that Marmee was a very wise woman, and that moms living in the 21st century can learn a lot from her. A few examples:
Marmee let her children learn without too much lecturing.
When the girls decided to laze about and do nothing for a week during their summer break, Marmee allowed the experiment. Within days, the girls were irritable, nervous and bored – which is exactly what Marmee knew would happen. The linchpin was when she herself took the day off to demonstrate how unattractive selfishness really is. I love what she says here about work:
“…so I thought, as a little lesson, I would show you what happens when everyone thinks only of herself. Don’t you feel that is is pleasanter to help one another, to have daily duties which make leisure sweet when it comes, and to bear and forbear, that home may be comfortable and lovely for us all?”
It would have been easier to just tell the girls to keep doing their chores, but they would never have learned the valuable lesson that….
“Work is wholesome… it keeps us from ennui and mischief, and is good for health and spirits, and gives us a sense of power and independence better than money or fashion.”
Marmee gave her children a wide berth.
Since she had her own interests (her charity work, for example), Marmee didn’t make the mistake of making her children her entire existence. She also encouraged the grown and married Meg “not to forget her duty to her husband out of love for her children”, and kept her own marriage at the forefront.
The girls had a lot of freedom to pursue their own interests and play, even though the two oldest had to work for pay.
Marmee waited for the right time to offer advice.
When the aforementioned Meg complained about her husband leaving her for more interesting company once the twins were born, Marmee had been concerned for some time about the situation. She held her tongue until Meg asked her for help.
I love what she had to say to the harried and stressed new little momma… in a nutshell, it was:
- Get some exercise
- Don’t drink too much caffeine
- Let your husband help with the kids more
- Get help with the babies so you can get out once in awhile
I love this quote:
“She (Meg, after the birth of her twins) was nervous and worn out with watching and worry, and in that unreasonable frame of mind which the best of mothers occasionally experience when domestic cares oppress them. Want of exercise robs them of cheerfulness, and too much devotion to that idol of American women, the teapot, makes them feel as if they are all nerve and no muscle.”
Marmee advises Meg:
… let John (the twin’s father) hve more to do with the management of Demi (the strong-willed boy twin)… let Hannah come and help you; she is a capital nurse, and you may trust the precious babies to her while you do more housework. You need the exercise, Hannah would enjoy the rest, and John would find his wife again.
Go out more, keep cheerful as well as busy, for you are the sunshine-maker of the family, and if you get dismal there is no fair weather…. Don’t shut yourself up in a bandbox because you are woman, but understand what is going on, and educate yourself to take your part in the world’s work, for it affects you and yours.”
Sage advice for avoiding postpartum depression, I’d say.
Did you love Little Women? Have you read it again as an adult? What were your thoughts?
p.s. My kids have caught Little Women fever. After finishing the book, I rented the 1994 movie adaptation (which happens to star several of my favorite actresses). We watched it one evening, and even the boys enjoyed it more than they let on, I believe. The next day the girls watched it again and 11 year old Julien joined them.
“Oh Jo, how could you? Your one beauty”, has become a favorite line around here. The girls are building a town called Concord in the basement, complete with school, bank and nursery, and Zoe picked up my well-worn copy of the book and began reading it herself.
p.p.s. The Kindle version of Little Women is free at the moment!