The first post in this series, talked about some of our “handicaps,” the ways modern society is set up to make being happy and successful as a stay at home mother much harder than it really should be. The end of that post, said that in order to overcome these handicaps, “You may also have to put yourself through rehabilitation and physical therapy for your attitudes.” Cristina wrote in and asked, “Please can you post an article about how to change the attitudes and start to rehabilitate?”
Here is my attempt at that post for Cristina. In a lot of ways I am still very much in rehabilitation myself. I still have so much to learn! But over the past several years, my attitudes really have changed. I have gone from feeling utterly worthless, forgotten, and sidelined to feeling excited, hopeful, and privileged. I came to this new outlook along a very circuitous route, so I’ve tried to organize the steps I’ve taken into a more logical order to present them here. I don’t know if any of the things that have helped me will help others, but perhaps it will at least be encouraging to know that it is possible to change your cultural mindset, your value system, and your worldview.
Step 1: Exonerate Yourself and Your Noble Profession
The world has two lies about being a stay-at-home wife and mother: 1. that it’s easy, and 2. that it’s boring, depressing drudgery. So when we come to the realization that being at home isn’t easy, we are often tempted to blame ourselves and think that we’re somehow deficient in raw mothering material or innate womanly talent. And if our experience is one of boring, depressing drudgery, a lot of us never even think to do anything about it because it doesn’t occur to us that we can (short of returning to our previous employment). So the first step in rehabilitation is just to understand that these are lies, and give yourself permission to live like they are. The truth is that being a stay-at-home wife and mother is challenging and rewarding. Some of it does involve repetitive work, but so does being a lawyer, engineer, or organic farmer, and those professions don’t have anywhere near the bad reputations that mothering does. I don’t know you, but I can pretty much guarantee that the reason you’re struggling is NOT that you are too stupid, or too naturally disorganized, or just not enough of a “kid person” to succeed at this job. I can also tell you that you don’t have to be depressed or bored. Decide right now that you are going to turn your back on the world’s vision and do whatever it takes to get one of your own.
Step 2: Renew your mind
You can’t really get rid of a wrong way of thinking unless you have a better way of thinking to replace it. This is perhaps the strongest force for change in my life. There’s a saying, “You are what you think.” And it has certainly been true for me. Five years ago, while bouncing my first baby in her sling I read a book standing up that turned my whole world upside down. I was elated for weeks. I told my husband that finally I understood what I was supposed to be doing. The cloudy feeling of uselessness lifted. I got it. It was one of the biggest “Aha!” moments of my life. The book was Mary Pride’s The Way Home. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Another wonderful book that might have changed my life if it had been published when I was still feeling lost is Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald’s Passionate Housewives Desperate for God. Even though I read it recently, I still found it tremendously encouraging.
Both of these books will help you to glimpse how high your calling is and will shatter the myths of the world about your worth as a woman and your potential in the home. Get yourself some used copies and read them while you nurse the baby after the big kids are asleep.
Step 3: Find Fellowship
Nothing helps so much in any exercise program, whether physical or mental, as having friendly folks to do it with you. Mothers at home can feel isolated, lonely, and downright weird sometimes. It can make all the difference in the world to find other women who are working on the same things you are. If they don’t go to your church or live in your neighborhood, there’s always the community of cyberspace. Finding like-minded women on the Internet has been a tremendous source of strength and grounding for me.
A great place to find friends is through blogs. And for that Ladies Against Feminism is a great resource. Not only will you find lots of helpful articles on all aspects of being a wife, mother, and homemaker, but a great many of their articles are in the form of links to various blogs. Find some blogs that are encouraging to you, and become a regular commenter. Before you know it, you’ll be getting to know other commenters as well as the gal who writes the blog.
You can also visit other blogs and start reading the comments to look for other women you might have things in common with or want to learn from and start reading their blogs. Two great blogs with lots of encouraging content and a high volume of readers are Generation Cedar and Domestic Felicity. And it goes without saying that I’d love to get to know you here on my blog as well!
Step 4: Tackle your personal problem areas
OK, so you get to the point where you no longer feel like a stupid, deficient, worthless freak, but you still feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Now’s the time to get specific about you. Make a list of the things that feel out of control in your life. Realize that they probably bother you because you lack the necessary skill set to deal with them, and then, like any good student, work on your three R’s: research, research, and research. Start with the area that gives you the most trouble, and work until you find some solutions. Talk to people. Search the Internet. Read books. And then, try it! Implement what you’ve learned. But this is the most important part, pay close attention: Give yourself permission to fail. You might have to try something several times before you get it. It is only in failing that you will be able to find the gaps in your knowledge and ability so that you can then go out and find the missing pieces. Don’t give up in despair. Few things ever go right the first time.
Nowhere was this more true in my life than in the area of cooking. When I got married, I did NOT know how to cook. Meal plans from my first year included things like spaghetti from a jar and pot pies. That gets old pretty fast, so bit by bit I learned to make the things I wanted to be able to eat. Making my own whole wheat bread was something that was always a dream of mine, so once a week, I baked a loaf. It never rose. We ate it hot with lots of butter to accompany our canned soup every Thursday evening. The next week, I would try a different recipe, which would likewise flop. For weeks I did this. For weeks we ate dense, flat bread. I kept trying to find out why my bread wouldn’t rise. I learned all about proper kneading technique, homemade dough enhancer, and vital wheat gluten. And you know what? Today I can make fabulous bread (if I do say so myself)…as long as I use packaged yeast. Sourdough is my next project, and I’ve already had one glorious failure, so I’m well on my way to mastery.
Here are some things that I’ve struggled with over the years along with some resources that helped me grow in each area. You may have already found things that work for you (and if so, I’d love for you to share them in the comments section!), but if you’re looking for ideas, you may find a gem or two here:
Confronting my own sinfulness (anger, feelings of entitlement, etc.): The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace. This is a great book on marriage, but it also has a special emphasis on personal holiness that has been a huge eye-opener for me. If you feel like you’re chafing under some of what the Bible commands (like forgiveness, dying to self, or submitting to your husband), this book will be a treasure! And Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit by Teri Maxwell. This wonderful book isn’t just for moms whose children are old enough to be officially homeschooling! It could just as easily be called, Mothering with a Meek and Quiet Spirit, and it is GREAT if you’re like me, and you struggle with anger and irritation towards your family.
Feeling lonely and frustrated by the long hours my husband’s job demands: Creative Counterpart by Linda Dillow. This is a wonderful resource on marriage, mothering, and homemaking in general, but it has a lot to say to us wives of today who are suffering the effects of modern society on our beloved breadwinners’ career options. It won’t tell you how to fix your husband’s job, but it will help you with your own attitude.
Knowing what to do with a newborn: Breastfeeding Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. (Warning: this book has a not so discreet picture of a baby nursing on the cover. I just taped some paper over it and read it anyway. I was SO glad I did!) Not only is this the best researched book on breastfeeding I have ever seen, with the most up to date information on technicalities like latch positioning, but it also explains newborn behavior more clearly than anything I have ever read. I WISH it had been available before I had my first baby. It would have saved me so much consternation and bewilderment. Even reading it after my second baby was born, I was saying, “Oh! That explains it!” on nearly every page.
Child Training : Raising Godly Tomatoes. This is down to earth, common sense from a mother of ten on how to have the family you want. You can read it for free online or you can buy your own copy to cozy up with in your favorite chair. It’s a great sanity saver and slices cleanly through all the modern psychobabble about parenting so prevalent today. Also Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp, an inspiring blueprint on how to nurture our children’s relationship with God. And Parenting from the Heart by Marilyn Boyer, mother of fourteen. This is a delightful book that covers all stages of childhood from birth to marriage, and is great for those times when you just don’t know what to do with a house full of kids.
Time management: Managers of Their Homes by Teri Maxwell. This is the classic for homeschool moms, but the principles can be a great help for women in general, even if your children are still young, or even if you don’t have any. I do need to offer one caveat, though. While this book is truly wonderful for the most part, it does have a chapter on scheduling babies that is not medically sound. If you are considering it, and you have a baby, please read Breastmilk, Ice Cream, and Infant Feeding Schedules: How Much Space is on YOUR Counter Top? for an explanation of breastfeeding physiology and why scheduling feedings can be dangerous for some babies.
Cooking: The Internet! It is great to be able to just type “recipe for______ (fill in the blank with anything from whole wheat bread to Hungarian goulash)” and instantly find several recipes to choose from, many with reviews, advice, even step by step pictures sometimes. Plus, the Internet will help you decipher cooking terms you may not know, and it’s a great place to be able to actually talk to people who know how to cook via their blogs. (My online friend, Kathy, at Bona Vita has been a delight for me in this way. Just a few weeks ago, I asked her how she cooks her Thanksgiving turkeys, and she wrote a post for me about it!) And of course, we can’t forget all the “real” (offline) people in your life, too. Whenever someone serves you something you like, ask for the recipe and go over it asking questions if you need to. Most people feel very complimented and are glad to share.
Organizing: This is still a big learning area for me, but I have been helped by another online friend’s blog, Organized Everyday, in particular the post, Organizing for the High-Brow Types, and the before and after pictures from various organizing projects around her house. I have also enjoyed the book Clutter Control by Jeff Campbell.
Housekeeping: The absolute must have here is Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson, the definitive encyclopedia for everything from how to properly set the table for every kind of meal to how to get baby spit up off your favorite dress. It is daunting if you try to read it cover to cover, but it’s invaluable when you have a specific question. Put it on your Christmas list. You’ll be delighted. Just remember not to hold yourself to Ms. Mendelson’s standards on frequency of household chores. She only has one child, and he’s not a baby anymore! This book is a fabulous guide for the how of housekeeping, not always the how often. For a more realistic picture of a weekly cleaning routine, check out Speed Cleaning by Jeff Campbell.