The family is a little kingdom in miniature. The father and mother are king and queen; and children, and others residing in the family, are the subjects. I have treated at large, in the last chapter, on your duties to your parents; but I must not pass over your behavior towards the other members of the family. And here, I wish you to keep in mind all I have said about the formation of character. Remember, that the character you form in the family will, in all probability, follow you through life. As you are regarded by your own brothers and sisters at home, so, in a great measure, will you be regarded by others, when you leave your father's house. If you are manly, amiable, kind, and courteous, at home—so you will continue to be; and these traits of character will always make you beloved. But if you are peevish, ill-natured, harsh, uncourteous, or overbearing, at home, among your own brothers and sisters—so will you be abroad; and, instead of being beloved, you will be disliked and shunned.
The best general direction that I can give is, that you carry out the golden rule in your behavior toward your brothers and sisters, and all other people who reside in the family. If you do to them as you would wish them to do to you, all will be well. But I must be a little more particular. Boys are often disposed to assume a dictatorial, domineering air toward their sisters, as though they thought themselves born to rule, and were determined to exercise their dominion over their sisters, because they have not strength to resist their tyranny. But I can hardly think of anything more unmanly. It shows a very base spirit, destitute of noble and generous feelings, to take advantage of the weakness of others to tyrannize over them. But to do this to those who, by the relation they bear to you, are entitled to your love and protection, is base beyond description. The same is true, though perhaps in a less degree, in regard to the conduct of an older brother toward a younger brother.
A brother should be kind, tender, courteous, and delicate, in his behavior toward his sisters, never treating them with rudeness or neglect, and standing ready always to protect them from the rudeness of other boys. He should never speak gruffly to them, nor in a lordly, domineering, or contemptuous manner. Such conduct toward other misses or young ladies would be esteemed very unkind and ungentlemanly; and why should it not be so esteemed at home? Are your own sisters entitled to less respect than strangers?
Accustom yourself to make confidants of your sisters. Let them understand your feelings, and know your designs; and pay a suitable regard to their advice. By this means you may be saved from many a snare, and you will secure their affection and sympathy. Never form any design, or engage in any enterprise, which you are ashamed to divulge to them. If you do, you may be sure it will not end well.
One rule, well observed at home, among brothers and sisters, would go far towards making them accomplished gentlemen and ladies, in their manners—BE COURTEOUS TO EACH OTHER. Never allow yourself to treat your brothers or sisters in a manner that would be considered rude or ungentlemanly, if done to other young people visiting in the family. Especially, never allow yourself to play tricks upon them, to tease them, or, in a coarse, rough manner, to criticize or ridicule their conduct, especially in the presence of others. But if you see anything that you think needs reforming, kindly remind them of it in private. This will have a much better effect than if you mortify them, by exposing their faults before company. Be careful of their feelings, and never needlessly injure them.
Boys sometimes take delight in crossing the feelings of their brothers and sisters, interfering with their plans, and vexing them, out of sheer mischief. Such conduct is especially unamiable, and it will tend to promote ill-will and contention in the family. Be not fond of 'tattling' against them. If they do anything very much amiss, it will be your duty to acquaint your parents with it. But in little things, of small consequence, it is better for you kindly to remonstrate with them, but not to appeal to your parents. In some families, when the children are at home, your ears are continually ringing with the unwelcome sounds, "Mother, John"—"Father, Susan"—"Mother, George," etc.—a perpetual string of complaints, which makes the place more like a bedlam than a quiet, sweet home. There is no sight more unlovely than a quarrelsome family—no place on earth more undesirable than a family of brothers and sisters who are perpetually contending with each other. But I know of no place, this side heaven, so sweet and attractive as the home of a family of brothers and sisters, always smiling and happy, full of kindness and love, delighting in each other's happiness, and striving how much each can oblige the other. If you would have your home such a place, you must not be selfish; you must not be too particular about maintaining your own rights; but be ready always to yield rather than to contend. This will generally have the effect to produce the same disposition in your brothers and sisters. And then the strife will be—which can be most generous.
Young men and boys should cultivate a love of home as a defense against the temptations to frequent bad company and places of resort dangerous to their morals. A boy or a young man, who is deeply and warmly attached to his mother and sisters, will prefer their company—to that of the depraved and worthless; and he will not be tempted to go abroad in search of pleasure, when he finds so much at home. It is a delusive idea, that any greater pleasure can be found abroad than is to be enjoyed at home; and that boy or young man is in a dangerous way, to whom the society of his mother and sisters has become insipid and uninteresting. When you feel any inclination to go abroad in search of forbidden pleasure, I advise you to sit down with your sisters, and sing, "Home, sweet home." And here I may say that the cultivation of music will add much to the attractions of home. It is a delightful recreation. It soothes the feelings, sweetens the temper, and refines the taste. In addition to the cultivation of the voice, and the practice of vocal music, you will find great satisfaction in learning to play on some instrument of music, to be able to carry your part on the flute or violin. This will greatly diminish the temptation to go abroad for amusement; and in proportion as you find your pleasure at home, will you be safe from those evil influences which have proved the destruction of so many boys.
But perhaps you are an only child. Then you will enjoy the exclusive affections and attention of your parents, without a rival. But you will lose the advantage of the society of brothers and sisters. The former will be no benefit; for parents do not abate their love to their firstborn, when others are added to their number. But the exclusive love to an only child often degenerates into excessive indulgence. The society of brothers and sisters, though it often tries the temper, yet contributes greatly to the happiness of a child. It provides a wholesome discipline, and affords the means of learning how to behave among equals; which an only child cannot learn at home. You will be likely to think too much of yourself, because you will receive the exclusive attentions of your parents, and will not have before you the daily example of your equals. These things you must guard against; and endeavor to make up the deficiency, by carrying out the hints I have given, in the society of other children, wherever you meet them.
In conclusion, I will give you one little family rule. You may think it a very little one; but it is able to do wonders. If you will try it one week, and never deviate from it, I will promise you the happiest week you ever enjoyed. And, more than this, you will diffuse such a sunshine about you as to make others happy also. My little rule is this—never be moody or grouchy.