The Tyranny of Family Love

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The Tyranny of Family Love.

By Hugh O. Pentecost.

Love, in its true form the most powerful and beautiful thing in the world, under certain conditions is the most ruinous to happiness and character.

For many years I have been observing with sad amazement the destroying tendency of what is commonly called love. I have seen men's and women's health destroyed, beautiful girls transformed into haggard women, brave young men changed into broken-spirited wretches, by what passes current under the name of love. I have seen parents wear themselves out and children fret themselves away on the altar of love. I have seen husbands and wives miss the joy of life by loving each other, and I have seen people save themselves by merely ceasing to love each other.

The explanation is that, with few exceptions, there are but two classes of people, viz: Masters and slaves, (the same person is often one and the other by turns), and this relation spoils everything.

Most persons are willing to be masters. But it is terrible to be a master; utterly ruinous to the character; worse for oneself than to be a slave. It is possible for a slave to develop a lovable character, but not for a master.

Masters are comparatively few, but they are strong, coarse-natured and strong, and they rule the world—in the state, church, army, business and home. They love power. They like to control the lives of others; generally, as they think, for the good of the controlled. In a sense, they are, themselves, enslaved by their slaves, terribly enslaved, but, in a way, they live their lives, imposing their lives on others.

Slaves are different. They permit others to shape their lives for them. This is the curse of slavery; not toil nor poverty. It is this most awful treason to oneself.

I shall speak only of the master and slave relation in the family. In a family the coarsest personality rules. Sometimes this is the father. Oftener it is the mother. Occasionally it is one of the children. But I am concerned to show this rulership and submission only on account of love, or what is called love.

Consider the mother who loves her children. She thinks they cannot get on without her controlling care. They know they can. They know she is a hindrance to them. But they love her, and so they submit to her. She does not want her boys to leave home, and they submit. Many a boy's career has been ruined because his mother loved him and he loved her too much to rebel and go his own way. If his mother had hated him and he her they could not have done each other so much harm.

The loving mother wants to pick out husbands and wives for her children. There is many an unhappy old maid, and many an unhappy marriage because a loving daughter could not hurt a loving mother's feelings. Had the mother been the daughter's bitterest enemy she could not have plunged her into more profound misery.

This is why there are so many commonplace people in the world. Loving children grow up in the likeness and image of their loving parents, instead of asserting themselves, and so achieving variety, individuality.

All this is true of husbands and wives. They love each other into similarity, and so destroy each other. The two become one; "two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one"; intellectual, moral and spiritual Siamese twins, and so become commonplace and uninteresting to themselves and others. Marriage becomes a compromise, a stupidity, a loving compact of death; the death of two individuals; the finer slave being generally merged in the coarser master or mistress, not without loss to the dominating one, who becomes the slave of the slave.

All this is the reverse of what might be, should ideals of love change. Parents should not want to do so much for their children; should fear, more than anything else, to dominate them. O, parent, one like you is enough! Parents should do nothing for their children except to assist them in the development of themselves in their own way.

Children should not submit to their parents. They belong to a new generation in a new world of different conditions, different ideals,, needing a different sort of inhabitants. If parents truly loved their children they would rejoice in their disobedience, their insubordination, their insistence on themselves, their non-conformity to the parental will. The crowning virtue of Jesus was that he refused to be controlled by his mother. "Woman what have I to do with thee?" A text that no preacher selects. "Wish ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" Better still if, "Wist ye not that I must be about my own business?"

Husbands and wives should neither control nor submit. They should be free comrades. Each the owner of himself, herself; living his life, her life completely, with regard for the other, but not dominated by the other.

Thus would there be a new kind of love. Instead of a love that enslaves, a love that sets free.

  • Hugh O. Pentecost, “The Tyranny of Family Love,” To-Morrow 2, no. 3 (March 1906): 22-23.