Ep. 20 – Little Women: Heartwarming Lessons About Family Life
Little Women beautifully captures both the joy and stress of family life. Learn from this classic how you can experience more “love at home.”
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- Little Women is a classic written by Louisa May Alcott and published in 1868
- A wholesome book with timeless themes like family and friendship, love and forgiveness, growing up and overcoming weaknesses
- If you have Amazon Prime, you can get this ebook/audiobook (and dozens of others) for free at amazon.com/primereading
- Forgiveness between siblings
- Sisters Jo and Amy had a huge fight that probably would’ve estranged them for a long time if it weren’t for tragedy striking
- The fire can symbolize the inevitable bouts of contention that are bound to burn within our homes, and the ice can symbolize those moments when we remember just how much we love and need each other
- Forgiveness between spouses
- Newlyweds Meg and John Brooke learned how to make up after their first major fight
- “Be the first to ask pardon if you both err, and guard against the little piques, misunderstandings, and hasty words that often pave the way for bitter sorrow and regret.”
- Let your kids know how much you love them
- “Children will not remember you for the material things you provided, but for the feeling that you cherished them.”
- The website parentguidance.org is an incredible free resource that helps parents connect with their kids more
- Help your kids understand God through your example
- The more we strive to be like God, the more they will understand Him as their loving Heavenly Father
- “Go to God with all your little cares … as freely as you come to your mother.”
- Be open with your kids about your weaknesses
- When Jo was feeling down about her temper, Mrs. March comforted her by sharing her struggles with her own temper
- “[Jo] felt comforted at once by the sympathy and confidence given her. The knowledge that her mother had a fault like hers, and tried to mend it, made her own easier to bear and strengthened her resolution to cure it.”
- This week, focus on the good that comes from your family life—the little moments of joy and love, the sweet forgiveness that follows contention, or the connection you feel as you give and receive love and affection
Despite being written over 150 years ago, the book Little Women is highly relevant to us right now. In this episode, learn some powerful lessons about forgiveness and parenting as I discuss a few heartwarming scenes from this classic.
I’m Liz Kazandzhy, and you’re listening to the cozy little podcast “Latter-day Saint Book Nook,” where we talk about books from a gospel perspective. Whether fiction or nonfiction, religious or not, great books are like wells of wisdom just waiting to be drawn from, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. So if you love books, and you love the gospel of Jesus Christ, you’re in the right place. Come and learn from the best books to help you live your best life!
Welcome back, everyone! To start off today, I just want to thank another reviewer of the podcast, CNielson30, who posted this on Apple Podcasts: “I love this podcast topic, idea, and host! As an avid reader, I love reading books. And I love combining what we’re reading with what we already know in the gospel. As I listened, my eyes were opened to see more of the Savior all around me.” Thank you for that wonderful review, and I’m so glad that this podcast has helped you see the Lord more in your life.
Little Women: A Classic
Well, today’s episode is about the book Little Women. It’s a classic, written by Louisa May Alcott in 1862, and even though that was a long time ago, it is incredibly relevant even today, which I guess is why it’s called a classic. When I was reading it, I didn’t even know that it was written so long ago, and when I found out, I was so surprised, and I thought, “How did this author capture things in such a perfect way that it feels like life today?” She obviously had such a gift for language, but a lot of it also has to do with the themes of the book—these timeless themes of family and friendship, love and forgiveness, of growing up and overcoming weaknesses.
There’s just so much that this book includes, and it’s also just so wholesome, you know? I feel like a lot of books these days that are kind of dark and sensational, with themes like abuse and life-and-death situations. And I mean, those books have their place, but this book felt like a breath of fresh air—like something that hit a lot closer to home for me. It’s kind of a long book—the audiobook is almost 20 hours long I think—but I think it’s definitely worth the read.
Oh, and that reminds me—did you know that if you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you get a ton of reading benefits? That’s how I listened to this book, and followed along with the ebook, for free. It’s called “Prime Reading,” and it can actually be a pretty tricky page to find. So instead of trying to find it in the app, open up a browser and go to amazon.com/primereading, and you’ll find a ton of ebooks and audiobooks that you have free access to (if you’re a Prime member). And if you go to the tab “Audiobooks,” you’ll find a section called “AmazonClassics with Audible Narration,” which has Little Women and dozens of others. So definitely check that out—amazon.com/primereading.
Alright, so back to Little Women. Today I wanted to focus on just two themes. So in the first half, I’m going to talk about forgiveness in family life, and in the second half, I’ll talk about the parenting lessons I got from this book.
Forgiveness between siblings
Okay, so in case you haven’t read the book, or seen the movie, let me give you some background so that you understand the context a little bit. The book is about 4 sisters, first in their teenage years and then when they’re a few years older than that, and it takes place in Massachusetts in the 19th century, during the Civil War. So this story that I’m going to share has to do with the second-oldest, Jo, who was 15 years old, and the youngest, Amy, who was 12.
So, there’s this one scene in chapter 8 where Jo and her older sister Meg go off to the theater to see a play, and Amy really wants to come but she can’t—she hadn’t been invited and there wasn’t a ticket for her. Well, Jo and Amy have this huge tiff about it, and Amy says that Jo will be sorry for being so rude to her.
Well, the next day, Jo discovers that her manuscript is missing—a book of stories she had been writing for years and hoped to finish before her father came home from the war. And after asking her family if anyone had seen it, she discovered that Amy had done the unthinkable: she had burned the manuscript. And let me tell you—as a writer, reading that almost made me physically sick, imagining what that would be like. Here’s what the book said about it:
Jo’s book was the pride of her heart, and was regarded by her family as a literary sprout of great promise. It was only half a dozen little fairy tales, but Jo had worked over them patiently, putting her whole heart into her work, hoping to make something good enough to print. She had just copied them with great care, and had destroyed the old manuscript, so that Amy’s bonfire had consumed the loving work of several years. It seemed a small loss to others, but to Jo it was a dreadful calamity, and she felt that it never could be made up to her. … Mrs. March looked grave and grieved, and Amy felt that no one would love her till she had asked pardon for the act which she now regretted more than any of them.
When the tea bell rang, Jo appeared, looking so grim and unapproachable that it took all Amy’s courage to say meekly . . .
“Please forgive me, Jo. I’m very, very sorry.”
“I never shall forgive you,” was Jo’s stern answer, and from that moment she ignored Amy entirely.
Man, what a conflict. How do you get past something like that? When a family member says or does something so hurtful, or when you’re the one who says or does something hurtful, what do you do? Because every family is like this—a group of imperfect people that is bound to have conflicts and disagreements and problems. And I think that’s why the Family Proclamation talks about both repentance and forgiveness, saying that “successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”
Well, let’s see what happened next in this story.
The next day, Jo went out ice skating on the river with their neighbor friend, Laurie. Jo noticed that Amy was trying to tag along, but she ignored her because she was still so mad. And this is what happened next:
Jo heard Amy panting after her run, stamping her feet and blowing on her fingers as she tried to put her skates on, but Jo never turned and went slowly zigzagging down the river, taking a bitter, unhappy sort of satisfaction in her sister’s troubles. She had cherished her anger till it grew strong and took possession of her, as evil thoughts and feelings always do unless cast out at once. As Laurie turned the bend, he shouted back . . .
“Keep near the shore. It isn’t safe in the middle.” Jo heard, but Amy was struggling to her feet and did not catch a word. Jo glanced over her shoulder, and the little demon she was harboring said in her ear . . .
“No matter whether she heard or not, let her take care of herself.”
Laurie had vanished round the bend, Jo was just at the turn, and Amy, far behind, striking out toward the smoother ice in the middle of the river. For a minute Jo stood still with a strange feeling in her heart, then she resolved to go on, but something held and turned her round, just in time to see Amy throw up her hands and go down, with a sudden crash of rotten ice, the splash of water, and a cry that made Jo’s heart stand still with fear. She tried to call Laurie, but her voice was gone. She tried to rush forward, but her feet seemed to have no strength in them, and for a second, she could only stand motionless, staring with a terror-stricken face at the little blue hood above the black water.
Well, thanks to Laurie, they were able to get Amy out and get her safely home, and she was alright. But that incident changed everything for Jo. That ice water had put out the fire of simmering rage within her, and that grudge she was holding against Amy was replaced with remorse and genuine worry for her. That night, as Jo sat with her mother, she told her:
“I let her go. Mother, if she should die, it would be my fault.” And Jo dropped down beside the bed in a passion of penitent tears, telling all that had happened, bitterly condemning her hardness of heart.
“It’s my dreadful temper! I try to cure it, I think I have, and then it breaks out worse than ever. Oh, Mother, what shall I do? What shall I do?” cried poor Jo, in despair.
“Watch and pray, dear, never get tired of trying, and never think it is impossible to conquer your fault,” said Mrs. March, drawing the blowzy head to her shoulder and kissing the wet cheek so tenderly that Jo cried even harder.
“You don’t know, you can’t guess how bad it is! It seems as if I could do anything when I’m in a passion. I get so savage, I could hurt anyone and enjoy it. I’m afraid I shall do something dreadful some day, and spoil my life, and make everybody hate me. Oh, Mother, help me, do help me!”
“I will, my child, I will. Don’t cry so bitterly, but remember this day, and resolve with all your soul that you will never know another like it. Jo, dear, we all have our temptations, some far greater than yours, and it often takes us all our lives to conquer them.”
In this story, Amy did something horrible, and Jo did something horrible. And it’s because they’re human, with faults and weaknesses and tempers and trials. And it’s the same way with us.
And I honestly think that this is the hardest part of family life for me—being in a place where people see me at my worst and yet still, in some miraculous way, love me. It makes me feel so ashamed to have these weaknesses—for example, my temper, like Jo’s—and to have them be so visible to the people I love, who are also often the victims of those faults. And yet there’s no other way—this is family life. And instead of feeling ashamed about being seen so fully, warts and all, I should be grateful that they do accept me—that my family does get through conflicts, that we forgive each other, and that we always find a way back to each other.
Elder Holland once said this about forgiveness:
Is there someone in your life who perhaps needs forgiveness? Is there someone in your home, someone in your family, someone in your neighborhood who has done an unjust or an unkind or an unchristian thing? All of us are guilty of such transgressions, so there surely must be someone who yet needs your forgiveness.
And please don’t ask if it is fair that the injured should have to bear the burden of forgiveness for the offender. … When it comes to our own sins, we don’t ask for justice. What we plead for is mercy—and that is what we must be willing to give.
I love that. We should extend the same mercy and grace to others when they’re at fault as we wish they will extend to us when we’re at fault.
And in the case of Jo and Amy, I just love the symbolism there of fire and ice—fire symbolizing the inevitable bouts of contention that are bound to burn within our homes, and ice symbolizing those moments when we remember just how much we love and need each other. My hope is that we don’t let the fire rage—and that we certainly don’t continue to stoke it ourselves—but rather that we put it out as soon as possible by extending healing forgiveness to those we love.
Forgiveness between spouses
Alright, now I’m going to share one more quick scene, this time not between siblings but between spouses—newlyweds actually—after their first major fight. It was Meg and her husband John Brooke, and it was after a very stressful incident when John brought home company when Meg wasn’t expecting it, and the house was in a complete state of disarray, with jelly having exploded everywhere. (This story is in chapter 28 by the way, and it’s absolutely hilarious—I was literally laughing out loud while listening to it.)
Anyway, after the supper incident was over, they were both in their room in a state of tension that is probably familiar to any couple who has ever had a conflict. And this is what the book says happened next:
John went to one window, unfolded his paper, and wrapped himself in it, figuratively speaking. Meg went to the other window, and sewed as if new rosettes for slippers were among the necessaries of life. Neither spoke. Both looked quite “calm and firm,” and both felt desperately uncomfortable.
“Oh, dear,” thought Meg, “married life is very trying, and does need infinite patience as well as love, as Mother says.” The word “mother” suggested other maternal counsels given long ago, and received with unbelieving protests.
“John is a good man, but he has his faults, and you must learn to see and bear with them, remembering your own. … Never deceive him by look or word, Meg, and he will give you the confidence you deserve, the support you need. … Watch yourself, be the first to ask pardon if you both err, and guard against the little piques, misunderstandings, and hasty words that often pave the way for bitter sorrow and regret.”
These words came back to Meg, as she sat sewing in the sunset, especially the last. This was the first serious disagreement, her own hasty speeches sounded both silly and unkind, as she recalled them, her own anger looked childish now, and thoughts of poor John coming home to such a scene quite melted her heart. She glanced at him with tears in her eyes, but he did not see them. She put down her work and got up, thinking, “I will be the first to say, ‘Forgive me,’” but he did not seem to hear her. She went very slowly across the room, for pride was hard to swallow, and stood by him, but he did not turn his head. For a minute she felt as if she really couldn’t do it, then came the thought, “This is the beginning. I’ll do my part, and have nothing to reproach myself with,” and stooping down, she softly kissed her husband on the forehead. Of course that settled it. The penitent kiss was better than a world of words, and John had her on his knee in a minute, saying tenderly . . .
“It was too bad to laugh at the poor little jelly pots. Forgive me, dear. I never will again!”
But he did, oh bless you, yes, hundreds of times, and so did Meg, both declaring that it was the sweetest jelly they ever made, for family peace was preserved in that little family jar.
I loved that story so much—so realistic, and such an important lesson: “Be the first to ask pardon if you both err, and guard against the little piques, misunderstandings, and hasty words that often pave the way for bitter sorrow and regret.” And along these lines, I also wanted to share the counsel of President Dallin H. Oaks:
There can be times when one spouse falls short and the other is wounded and feels pain. When that happens, the one who is wronged should balance current disappointments against the good of the past and the brighter prospects of the future.
Don’t treasure up past wrongs, reprocessing them again and again. In a marriage relationship, festering is destructive; forgiving is divine. Plead for the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord to forgive wrongs …, to overcome faults, and to strengthen relationships.
I love that idea—that instead of focusing on the “current disappointments,” we can choose to focus on “the good of the past and the brighter prospects of the future.” Like I tell my daughter when she’s having an emotional meltdown, our feelings are like the spokes on a wheel—we may think that the way we feel right now (anger and hurt) is the only feeling there is, but it’s actually just one spoke on a huge wheel. And with some effort, you can focus on another spoke—in this case, happy memories of the past and hopeful thoughts of the future.
Well, that brings us to about the halfway point. We’ll take a quick break, and I’ll come back right after this.
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Alright, so like I mentioned before, for this second half, I’m going to focus on a few parenting lessons I learned from this book. This was one of my favorite parts of Little Women because Mrs. March and Mr. March, the parents of these four daughters, were such incredible examples of loving parents. And as a mother of three little girls, I found myself gravitating toward the character of Mrs. March and just desperately wanting to learn everything I could from her—and wanting to be that kind of mother to my own daughters.
Let your kids know how much you love them
So the first thing I’ll mention is how she was really there for her children, and her children felt like they could talk with her about anything. At one point, she told Jo, “My Jo, you may say anything to your mother, for it is my greatest happiness and pride to feel that my girls confide in me and know how much I love them.” And I for one feel the same way. I’m not always the best at expressing my love for them, and I may not be the greatest confidant, but I’m trying.
And let me go on a tangent here real quick and tell you about a really great parenting resource I found recently that has really helped me connect with my kids more. It’s a website called parentguidance.org, and it’s got these incredible parenting courses that are totally free. And I keep trying to see if it’s going to turn into something I have to pay for, like a lot of websites, but everything on this website seems legitimately free. (There’s this phrase in Russian that says, “The only thing that’s free is cheese in a mouse trap,” so I’m always wary of free resources.)
Anyway, I started watching this video course, “Connect With Your Child by Parenting with Purpose,” and it’s been super helpful. It talks about the most basic needs of children, and I’ve actually started saying these five things every morning as a reminder of how I need to interact with my kids. They’re (1) meaningful eye contact, (2) a warm tone of voice, (3) healthy touch, (4) kind facial expressions, and (5) emotional and physical nourishment. And just in the few days that I’ve been working on doing those five things, it’s made a world of difference in my relationship with my kids.
So, getting back to Little Women, I just loved seeing that close connection between Mrs. March and her daughters, and it made me want to cherish my own children more. Because as Elder Richard L. Evans once taught, “Children will not remember you for the material things you provided, but for the feeling that you cherished them.”
Help your kids understand God through your example
Alright, so the next thing I learned from the book was that if we strive to parent in a godly way, our kids will be able to better understand their Heavenly Parents. And I know that’s a ridiculously tall order, and it’s a good thing God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but the point is—the more we strive to be like God, and treat our children the way He treats us, the more they will understand Him as their loving Heavenly Father.
For example, listen to this paragraph from Mrs. March, talking with Jo:
My child, the troubles and temptations of your life are beginning and may be many, but you can overcome and outlive them all if you learn to feel the strength and tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one. The more you love and trust Him, the nearer you will feel to Him, and the less you will depend on human power and wisdom. His love and care never tire or change, can never be taken from you, but may become the source of lifelong peace, happiness, and strength. Believe this heartily, and go to God with all your little cares, and hopes, and sins, and sorrows, as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother.
Did you catch those connections between earthly and heavenly parents? “Learn to feel the tenderness of your Heavenly Father as you do that of your earthly one” and “go to God with all your little cares … as freely and confidingly as you come to your mother.” Those lessons are so much more easily learned when you do have loving, tender earthly parents. And that to me is such a motivator to treat my children with love and kindness—because I hope that through my example, they’ll catch even just a glimpse of how their Heavenly Parents feel about them.
Be open with your kids about your weaknesses
Well, the last parenting lesson I wanted to share is how we should be vulnerable and open with our kids about our weaknesses and struggles. And as an example of this, remember that scene I shared earlier about after Amy fell through the ice, and Jo was feeling so bad about having such a temper? Well, that wasn’t the end of the conversation, because Mrs. March shared this:
“Jo, dear, we all have our temptations … and it often takes us all our lives to conquer them. You think your temper is the worst in the world, but mine used to be just like it.”
“Yours, Mother? Why, you are never angry!”
“I’ve been trying to cure it for forty years, and have only succeeded in controlling it. I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo, but I have learned not to show it, and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do so.”
The patience and the humility of the face she loved so well was a better lesson to Jo than the wisest lecture, the sharpest reproof. She felt comforted at once by the sympathy and confidence given her. The knowledge that her mother had a fault like hers, and tried to mend it, made her own easier to bear and strengthened her resolution to cure it, though forty years seemed rather a long time to watch and pray to a girl of fifteen.
“How did you learn to keep still? That is what troubles me, for the sharp words fly out before I know what I’m about, and the more I say the worse I get… Tell me how you do it, Marmee dear.”
“My good mother used to help me . . . But I lost her when I was a little older than you are, and for years had to struggle on alone, for I was too proud to confess my weakness to anyone else. I had a hard time, Jo, and shed a good many bitter tears over my failures, for in spite of my efforts I never seemed to get on. Then your father came, and I was so happy that I found it easy to be good. But by-and-by, when I had four little daughters round me and we were poor, then the old trouble began again, for I am not patient by nature …”
“Poor Mother! What helped you then?”
“Your father, Jo. He never loses patience, never doubts or complains, but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully that one is ashamed to do otherwise before him. He helped and comforted me, and showed me that I must try to practice all the virtues I would have my little girls possess, for I was their example. It was easier to try for your sakes than for my own. A startled or surprised look from one of you when I spoke sharply rebuked me more than any words could have done, and the love, respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them copy.”
“Oh, Mother, if I’m ever half as good as you, I shall be satisfied,” cried Jo, much touched.
“I hope you will be a great deal better, dear, but you must keep watch over your ‘bosom enemy,’ as Father calls it, or it may sadden, if not spoil your life. You have had a warning. Remember it, and try with heart and soul to master this quick temper, before it brings you greater sorrow and regret than you have known today.”
Isn’t that such a beautiful exchange? Those are the kinds of conversations we can have with our kids (no matter how old they are), if we just let ourselves be open—if we’re real and authentic with each other, trusting one another with the tender parts of our souls.
I just loved these heartwarming moments in this book that reminded me of what family life can be. And I know this is a touchy subject because family life is also the source of so much stress, but this week, all I want you to do—my one takeaway invitation for you—is to focus on the good that comes from your family life. Take stock of those little moments of joy and love, the sweet forgiveness that follows contention, the connection you feel with your family members as you give and receive love and affection. Because family life can be absolutely beautiful—that’s why God gave us families, and why He is always there to help us in our families.
I wanted to end by sharing the words of the hymn, “Love at Home.” And if you’re like me, this song always seems to be sung in church on those horrible days when your home life seems like complete chaos and you just that morning you completely lost your temper with the kids, and now you can hardly even read the lyrics—let alone sing them—without feeling both shame and despair. But I’m here to tell you that even though this song portrays an ideal family atmosphere that’s really hard to obtain and maintain, it’s still worth singing. Because with God’s help, this is possible. It’s beautiful, and it’s worth believing in and striving for. So here are those lyrics:
1. There is beauty all around
When there’s love at home;
There is joy in ev’ry sound
When there’s love at home.
Peace and plenty here abide,
Smiling sweet on ev’ry side.
Time doth softly, sweetly glide
When there’s love at home.
2. In the cottage there is joy
When there’s love at home;
Hate and envy ne’er annoy
When there’s love at home.
Roses bloom beneath our feet;
All the earth’s a garden sweet,
Making life a bliss complete
When there’s love at home.
3. Kindly heaven smiles above
When there’s love at home;
All the world is filled with love
When there’s love at home.
Sweeter sings the brooklet by;
Brighter beams the azure sky.
Oh, there’s One who smiles on high
When there’s love at home.
No matter what your family situation is right now, I hope this episode has helped you move even one step closer to achieving “love at home.” And may God continue to bless you as your strive to keep the Savior at the center of your family life.
Thanks for listening to Latter-day Saint Book Nook, hosted by Liz Kazandzhy! If you enjoyed this episode and you’d like to support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. You can also visit ldsbooknook.com to stay up to date with me and the podcast. Thanks again, and I’ll talk to you next time!