From The Charm of a Well-Mannered Home, 1923. Originally published under the title, Letters to Elder Daughters, Married and Unmarried.
No woman who would retain her true ascendancy in her family can afford to scold. It is the most undignified, belittling, disenchanting, self-disrespecting performance that any one can engage in at any time or under any circumstances; but it is especially so in the case of a mother and housekeeper.
Scolding may be distinguished from the giving of reproof, for which there is often occasion in the best-regulated families, by its being an expression of personal irritability, and by the intended effect of producing irritation and discomfort in those around. Its most frequent form of expression is a sort of generalization which is usually false, from some single difficulty which is irremediable except by specific action. “You children are the most disorderly creatures I have ever seen; you leave your hats in one place and your books in another, and keep me forever picking up after you,” says the petulant mother. “If you don’t pick up your things better, I will —” and here follow the ineffectual threats of the scolding mood. The words are worse than thrown away; they do positive harm. The child who is at fault on the occasion escapes conviction through the general accusation and blame thrown upon all, while the children who are not at fault are irritated and resent the injustice. A moment’s reflection would convince a sensible mother that such petulant, useless complaint would accomplish no good; but this is really not her object. She feels uncomfortable, discommoded, and irritated, and disposed to vent her irritation on those around, and to make them sharers in her discomfort.
The true way to remedy disorder among children is kindly but firmly to compel each one to pick up and put away and take care of his own things. To accomplish this may often require severe reproof and even punishment, but it should be administered individually, and if possible privately, with tone and manner free from personal irritation, and with especial care not to lay the blame for the disorder on those who are not responsible for it.
So of the scores and hundred of occasions in family life which try the temper of the mistress. If the cook is careless and sends the meals to the table improperly prepared, how useless, how disagreeable, for the mistress of the house to utter a general tirade against cooks during the progress of the meal! How worse than useless afterward for her to tell the cook that as a class cooks are worthless, wasteful, and incompetent, that they don’t earn their wages, and to indulge in harsh epithets and threats!
There is no quicker way to lose the respect of servants and to demoralize them than to scold at them in a general way when irritated. All faults charged should be specifically named, and the requirement made positive that such faults must be remedied. This is the only way consistent with the dignity of a mistress, and it is too often rendered nugatory by the fact that mistresses are not in a position to present an alternative. They are more dependent upon servants, in our present condition of household service, than servants are upon them. But at all events scolding only makes matters worse, not better.
Scolding is, in fact, either the weak expedient of a character too weak to remedy or remove evils, or it is the weapon and defense of the inferior.
Here is a husband who has certain habits which irritate and discommode his wife. She revenges herself by scolding and by declaring that he always does such things; that all men are naturally selfish and mean, and more words to the same effect, which cause irritation only. Nothing could be more derogatory to a wife’s influence than such a course. She should decide to force an issue by firmness and determination, and compel a respect for her rights and wishes in family matters, or she should make up her mind to overlook such peculiarities and arrange her life accordingly. Either she must cure the evil or adapt herself to it; but let her not on any account degrade herself to scold about it.
But if a scolding woman is so disgraceful and discordant a factor in a family, what shall be said of a scolding man? The man who, because business has gone wrong, or customers have deceived him, or employees have cheated him, comes home and vents his irritability on his family, is wholly inexcusable.
It is amusing to notice how a scolding man often displays, in an exaggerated form, the very weaknesses and follies that are usually charged more particularly upon women. He, too, will generalize from one fact in a most inconsequent way. If the room is too warm, he will declare that it is always like an oven; if it is too cold, he will assert that his wife never has enough fuel put in the fire; if the table is not up to the standard, he will wonder why he can never get a decent meal at home; if the children are fretful, they are the crossest, worse-trained children ever known. If the servants make a mistake, the whole class of servants is denounced, and the denunciation is usually wound up with the declaration that women are not fit to manage servants anyway, and that their insubordination and failures are all owing to women’s incompetency to train and govern them. A man, by a single evening’s scolding, can disseminate enough discomfort and irritability through a household to make everybody uncomfortable for a week.
Everywhere and under all circumstances, scolding has this distinguishing characteristic: it is intended to wound somebody, to hurt somebody, to make somebody uncomfortable, not with a remedial design, but simply as a relief to an inward personal irritation. Its effect on family life is like throwing sand into a delicate machine; it causes all parts to grate upon each other; it does no good, but only evil, and that continually.