What Laura Ingalls Wilder Taught a Modern Mom

If you haven’t read the Little House books and plan to, know that this post includes some spoilers.

“You know how Mary is always so good and just sits there?”

“Yeah because she’s blonde.”

“You remember that time they went to church and Laura wore Mary’s ribbons and Mary wore Laura’s?”

“Yeah because they were running late.”

Two little girls had just had a conversation about a Little House book in my kitchen. Not American Girl dolls they want or a TV show or a video game. A book.

I didn’t talk about books when I was a kid. When I was about nine, I attempted Little House and failed. I just couldn’t get into it. Over the past year and a half, my seven-year-old daughter and I read the series together. When we started Little House in the Big Woods, I honestly didn’t think we’d get through it. I thought my daughter would find it boring. But in the quiet of the evening, my daughter faced me and soaked it in, asking questions.

When we started Little House on the Prairie and the building of their new house is described in so much detail, I thought we wouldn’t go on, but at the end of each book my daughter couldn’t wait for the next. Neither could I. All I could think was that I was so happy I didn’t read these books when I was a girl. Reading them for the first time with my daughter has been a gift revealed page by page. We couldn’t wait to see what each night would bring. Would the wolves get into the house? Would Pa make it home? “Oh, Mom! You always stop at the good parts!”littlehouse

What’s the appeal of stories about a girl’s pioneer life from more than a century ago? Laura’s many chores, danger, and solitude on the quiet prairie with few toys and comforts is more like our childhoods than we think. After all, even then it was hard for a girl to listen and sit still.

And reading the books for the first time as an adult, the books shed some perspective on my modern life.

• The Ingalls family doesn’t have much. They can take everything they own and move from place to place in a covered wagon. My family has tons of stuff. Some of it fills me with joy but I dare guess how many covered wagons it would take to move all of our things. Wagon train, anyone?

• The Ingalls family fixes what is broken. Pa wears his patched boots to walk a hundred miles for work, saving the money for something else. I wouldn’t want Pa to see my closet full of shoes. For shame, Karen.

• Oh, that mean old Nellie Oleson! If there is one thing I learned while reading On the Banks of Plum Creek, it’s that there is always a mean girl.

• We don’t control blizzards, grasshopper weather, the outcome of our crops, or the effects of illness. The Ingalls family pushes through the cold winter, Pa finds work to make money since the grasshoppers ate their crops, and Mary accepts her blindness with dignity. No one falls to the floor in a fit, whines for pity, or sheds a tear when things go wrong. Let me be clear—there is no dignity in this house in the face of misfortune.

I know the books are historical fiction, but I also know Wilder included many facts in her books. I can’t help but think the emotion is part of that.

After reading about Laura’s life, her closeness with her family, it was hard to read about her last night at home before getting married. I remember my own last night at home when the realization sunk in that things would be different and I would take on new roles. It was hard to see Laura move on. I could barely read the words to my daughter. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” Every few words I paused so I wouldn’t burst into sobs. And then my daughter knew, it clicked, and she looked at me. Tears streamed down her cheeks and we wiped our tears and laughed. “I don’t ever want to leave you!” she cried. But I know she will one day. And that’s OK.

I’ll always have memories of this time together while my kids are young, reading to them, spending time with them. In Laura’s family, Pa plays the fiddle each night while everyone gathers round. In ours, we play games together or hang out. I guess family time is something that has stood the test of time.



Filed under About Mom

52 responses to “What Laura Ingalls Wilder Taught a Modern Mom

  1. What a beautiful post. I teared-up along with you two at the end!

    I did read the books when I was a girl… several times, in fact. I have two boys now so we haven’t gone in that direction. How do you think boys would like them? I can’t remember if they are too “girl-centric” – I just remember loving them. (They DO love Anne of Green Gables, but that might be because we vacation in PEI.)

    • My husband recently read through the whole Little House series (the same set I’ve had and loved since I was 8). And we’re reading the Anne of Green Gables series out loud (the same set I’ve had since I was 18, lol). So he recently compared the two from a male perspective for me. Conclusion: Farmer Boy was tons of fun (as are all the pioneering adventures), and he can’t stand all the extensive flower descriptions and starry-eyed-ness in AoGG…

  2. What a lovely thing to share with your daughter. She will grow up and cherish these memories, and hopefully read them to her daughter.

  3. darcsunshine

    I too read and watched the shows with my children. We even played “pretend Little House”. The kids and I would shut the lights off and light lanterns in the house while pretending one of the rooms is a barn. Such great memories!

    • I did love the show when I was a kid. Maybe that was my problem. The show seemed much more exciting. I’m looking forward to watching the shows with my daughter too. She hasn’t seen them yet.

  4. I love this Blog! My kids are all up and out but I taught them to make soap,cheese,candles,paper and how to feed herd and shear sheep. They are big deals now and I’m sure their co-workers have no idea that they can grab a sheep and give it an injection, but they can!

    • How fun! When you think of all the stuff people used to have to do, I’m sure it really was a chore. Now we look at it as a hobby. 😉 I’m glad I don’t have to do all of those things all the time.

  5. I am reading these books now to my own daughters. I love when my girls fall asleep before the really heartbreaking stuff happens so my voice doesn’t break as I read it out loud. Love these!

    • I’ve read lots of books to my kids through the years and I’ve managed to push through the tough parts, but that bit about Laura getting married got me. It’s the very first time in ten years that I haven’t been able to keep my emotions back and my kid knew something was up. I could identify with that scene entirely and I was really surprised that even so long ago, someone would be sad to leave her family. It just seemed like it would be natural but I don’t know why I ever thought that.

  6. Such a lovely post. I admit that little house never really appealed to me when I was young. Perhaps I should follow your lead and read it together with my girl 🙂

  7. Rodica Iova

    I didn’t have the book under the Communists, but the government allowed the show to be played for a while. And yes, that brought us together, mom and dad and I marveling at how different life in the show was then ours. We would make comments about it during the film. And mom serving us crepes with plum preserves made at home, and we, watching, eating and talking. As you say, family time will stay with us.
    We were coming down from Yosemite last month, two cars, my married kids, I, and my youngest. The ride was long, for eight hours. We sang, and talked a little bit, my oldest daughter was reading a book…Anyway, the time went away fast. We didn’t need special entertainment. It was enough happiness because we were together.

  8. It is a lot of fun to read with my children. I like it even more as they get older and I can really enjoy the books/messages as much as they can. I even like picking the books out with them.

    • I love to read with my kids. My son is getting to the point where I don’t think it will last a whole lot longer. I think he feels torn. It will be a sad day because it’s a time I look forward to every day. No matter how awful a day we’ve put each other through, reading with my kids at night always brings us back together.

      • That’s awesome – very sweet.
        As an English teacher, the reading is especially cool. My 9-year-old still enjoys reading together. I think he gets a kick out of how much I enjoy the stories.

      • My son is ten. I fear this will be the last year of me reading to him since he’ll start middle school in a year, which is fine. It has to end sometime. But when I think of all the books we’ve read and the conversations we’ve had just before I leave his room, that’s what makes it not fine.

      • Maybe, he could be held back a year. Nah.
        I really do know what you mean.
        Anyway, this is one of those things that I will look back upon and miss. Now, though I will continue to enjoy and savor the moments.

  9. My daughter loves, LOVES these books. She’s read them all several times and talks about them until we get sick of hearing about how the Ingalls would do something. It’s kind of a joke in our house now. My husband will say something like, “I know, I know, Pa wouldn’t have done it that way.”

    I think my daughter would trade our house for a one room cabin in a heartbeat.

    • Oh that’s so sweet! When my daughter found out that you can visit the homestead, she said, “WE ARE GOiNG!” Truthfully, as touristy as it probably is, I’d kind of like to go myself. I hope she reads them again too. I think she’ll love them even more when she’s older.

  10. Oh, I so loved those books when I was a girl. I wanted to BE Laura. When I found out there were these people called Amish who still lived like her, I pleaded with my mother to let us be Amish. (Didn’t work.) I am so happy you’ve found these books and have the privilege of reading them with your daughter who loves them. I’m crossing my fingers that my daughter (now 2) will also love them.

    • I really wanted her to love them and I didn’t even know that I would love them yet. But I’m so glad we did. Now on to more classics that I never read, and there are plenty! I’m thinking maybe The Secret Garden next. I tried that too and never got very far. I gave up easily as a child. 😦

  11. My favorite series from childhood… I loved them. I was named after Laura Ingalls Wilder… And was told over & over again as a young girl how much I looked like Melissa Gilbert when she played Laura on the TV series. I’ve always had a love for that time period. Those books are timeless indeed.
    Now I’m wondering if my son would enjoy the series…. I know my mom still has all of them. 🙂 I read them alone, but I know they hold a place in my mom’s heart too.

    • What a neat story. I bet you aren’t the only girl named after Laura.

      My son overheard us reading one night and he was really into it, but he just can’t get into books with girls as the main characters a lot of times. I know he’d love them if he could ignore that. There’s so much more to them than that.

  12. My childhood bedtime was marked by when Little House the TV show was over…My Mom and I watched together. Thanks for reminding me that this time is all too fleeting and precious and I absolutely need to stop and share the simplicity of this wonderful series with my daughters once again.

  13. deweydecimalsbutler

    Some of my absolute favorite memories are reading these books with my mom. We read the whole series together except for These Happy Golden Years. I read that one by myself. I do remember trying to grow a milk pumpkin for a science fair project after reading Farm Boy. (It didn’t go very well.) So glad someone else is also sharing in how wonderful they are in their simplicity.

  14. What a wonderful post. I remember quite fondly reading this series as a girl and I’m looking forward to sharing it with my daughter in a few years. I think we all need reminders about the importance of love, the wisdom of stoicism and the meaninglessness of stuff. Thanks for sharing.

  15. man!! i hate that even laura ingalls had to grow up! this made me want to burst into tears as well. (if it’s under 600 words…. you can YW it… 😉 )

  16. Beautiful. Just perfect. Books give us a window into our hearts and souls, into places we never realized were there.

    And reading children’s literature as an adult is one of the best parts of parenthood.

  17. Awww…. that last part reminded me of when my then 3 year old daughter suddenly realized that she would one day grow up and leave home. She immediately burst into tears. I reassured her that she could stay at home with me and her dad as long as she wanted to, even forever. She felt worlds better, but my husband gave me a dirty look. 😀

  18. With two girls who both feel a bit of Laura-Nellie-Mary each at times, we enjoy the series together too. Only I loved it and read it as a girl as well. So much enjoyment to escape to the simple times of the House on the Prairie! Even I long to go back to that sometimes. (Like we did during our vacation.)

  19. Beautifully written post, Karen. I love those books for the window into the past that they provide. I’ve heard people remark about those being simpler, less stressful times; but honestly, while I’m on board with simpler, I can’t imagine anything much more stressful than being barricaded into a house by a neverending blizzard. But that may just be the Florida in me talking 🙂

    • Yes, I don’t see much in them that is less stressful, always worrying about the next crop. And that winter! I did check and the family did go through a winter like that with blizzard after blizzard, though probably not quite as many as in the book. And the train really did get stuck and couldn’t bring supplies and food in to the town. People nearly starved. Almonzo and Cap walked 12 miles, not 20. Still, stress much? It’s hard not to love being spoiled.

  20. Lisa

    Loved the Little House series. My sister had the whole set. Can’t wait to introduce my girls to it.

  21. Karen what a beautiful post. I loved this series as a little girl, but weirdly I don’t remember the details of it other than the general idea that this family was traveling together. I couldn’t wait to read the next book too. I’m hoping once my kiddos are older that I could share it with them too.

  22. LOVED THOSE BOOKS! Dimples and I had the great fortune to see Melissa Gilbert play Ma in the musical in Minnesota. Those books are part of the reason I became a teacher.

    • I don’t know of many people who read them who didn’t love them. I guess I was the odd girl out, but I made up for it. Isn’t that a great story, that the books inspired you that much? Very cool.

  23. Reading together is so much fun. Cheerz

  24. Loved this post!!!
    I just recently started collecting the Little House books. I know that one day, all too soon, when I am old(er) grey(er) and house bound without t.v. I will be “forced” to read. When that time comes, I want to read something fun young, and timeless!
    Loved the series as a child, and I still watch it when I find it on tv! I find myself crying quite abit more now though!

    • I always watched the show as a kid but never read the books. I just couldn’t get into reading any classics. I have to say this series may actually be my favorite of all time. If I had read it as a kid, I’m not sure I would have felt the same way, but reading it as a mother and someone with perspective, it just touched a lot of heartstrings.

      I still have a lot of classics to read and I may be “forced” to read those on my own. 😉

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