‘I promise to be a good mother,’ Isla declared with a seriousness she had never felt before.
‘And what defines a good mother?’ Savaric asked curiously.
He caught her by surprise, and she had to think about it for a while. What did define a good mother? Isla thought of her mother and how she was. ‘In my eyes, a good mother loves her children, spends time with them, listens to their complaints and worries, soothes them when they need it…’ she eventually answered, ticking off her fingers with the listing.
‘But what about punishments? Should a mother not punish her children when they behave badly?’
This was another question where Isla had to think a while longer before she found an answer. ‘I always thought that this is the task of the father…’
A chuckle from the armchair near the window let her look over to her brother Phineas. ‘A punishment – if deserved – is part of being raised, Isla,’ he lectured and turned a page in the book he was reading. ‘Punishments help shape a person’s character, and since the mother has a great part of the children’s education, it is her task to punish them, too.’
Isla looked at Savaric, confusion clearly written all over her face. ‘Is it true?’ He nodded and she asked, ‘How? How does punishing someone help shape a character?’
‘If the child has stolen something,’ Phin started to explain, his voice patient, ‘it needs being punished, because?’ His grey eyes bore into his sister’s, prompting her to answer his question.
‘Because stealing is wrong. Everyone knows that.’
Phin nodded approvingly. ‘That is correct, but even though children are taught not to steal, some do so to find out what will happen if their parents find out.’
‘This is stupid,’ Isla exclaimed, feeling proud to never have stolen anything.
‘I agree,’ Sybil, Savaric’s older sister, said, ‘but there are children that behave improperly to test their parents. And this behaviour needs punishment to show them what is right and just.’
‘So, Isla,’ Phin said, gaining the younger girl’s attention, ‘it is the duty of a good mother to punish such improper behaviour. A mother has an important role in the family.’
Isla nodded, then turned back to Savaric. ‘I promise to be an ever better mother now that I know what needs to be done.’
‘What about being a good wife?’
‘Um…’ Isla stared at Savaric for a while, then scrambled up from the spot she was occupying on the study’s floor and went over to her brother. ‘Phin,’ she whispered into his ear, ‘what is a wife?’
He chuckled quietly and turned another page; Isla wondered how he could read and still follow the conversation. ‘A wife is a woman that is married to a man. Mother is Father’s wife.’
‘Oh.’ Isla pondered. ‘And what defines being a good wife?’ she asked, forgetting to whisper. Isla did not notice it, though, not before Sybil answered.
‘A good wife means to fulfil your duties to your husband, be a good mother to his children, show him the respect he deserves. In general, if you devote to your husband utterly and without contradiction, you are a good wife.’ She sounded proud to know this.
Isla needed a moment to process what she had said, but then she went back to Savaric, said down and promised in a celebratory tone, ‘I promise to be a good mother and wife.’ When Savaric smiled at Isla, she beamed back at him.