“…give only the excess after you have lived your own life…”

2mitchell_youngTo tie together last week’s thoughts on hand-written letters to my daughter and this week’s thoughts on parenting, here’s a gem of a letter from a mother to a daughter…

In January of 1919, Margaret Mitchell was away at Smith College when her mother fell ill with the deadly Spanish Influenza that was sweeping the globe. Margaret rushed home to Atlanta from New York. Her brother met her at the train station with the sad news–their mother had died the day before. As they made their way home, he gave Margaret the following letter that their mother had left for her. ¬†

January 23, 1919

Dear Margaret,

I have been thinking of you all day long. Yesterday you received a letter saying I am sick. I expect your father drew the situation with a strong hand and dark colors and I hope I am not as sick as he thought. I have pneumonia in one lung and were it not for flu complications, I would have had more than a fair chance of recovery. But Mrs. Riley had pneumonia in both lungs and is now well and strong. We shall hope for the best but remember, dear, that if I go now it is the best time for me to go.

I should have liked a few more years of life, but if I had had those it may have been that I should have lived too long. Waste no sympathy on me. However little it seems to you I got out of life, I have held in my hands all that the world can give. I have had a happy childhood and married the man I wanted. I had children who loved me, as I have loved them. I have been able to give what will put them on the high road to mental, moral, and perhaps financial success, were I going to give them nothing else.

I expect to see you again, but if I do not I must warn you of one mistake a woman of your temperament might fall into. Give of yourself with both hands and overflowing heart, but give only the excess after you have lived your own life. This is badly put. What I mean is that your life and energies belong first to yourself, your husband and your children. Anything left over after you have served these, give and give generously, but be sure there is no stinting of attention at home. Your father loves you dearly, but do not let the thought of being with him keep you from marrying if you wish to do so. He has lived his life; live yours as best you can. Both of my children have loved me so much that there is no need to dwell on it. You have done all you can for me and have given me the greatest love that children can give to parents. Care for your father when he is old, as I cared for my mother. But never let his or anyone else’s life interfere with your real life. Goodbye, darling, and if you see me no more then it may be best that you remember me as I was in New York.

Your Loving Mother

6 thoughts on ““…give only the excess after you have lived your own life…”

  1. Beth Holmes

    This is a wonderful letter and one that really speaks to me right now. I am always spreading myself too thin and my family suffers. I’ve already started to wind down some outside obligations at church for just that reason. Emma is only with us living in our house for 5 more years and I want to be present for her and to have enough time to do the things I love that make me feel alive and that’s not being on committees at church. Thanks for sharing Ashley.


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