I was overwhelmingly frustrated: Why in the world can't I handle one tiny baby and a 1,200 square foot house?
I'm not sure when it hit me.
Maybe it was the morning I sat watching my 3-month-old daughter sleep next to me on the living room floor as I folded what seemed like the third laundry load of burp cloths that day. There was a lot about the moment that I had expected — love in my eyes, wonder in my heart. But there was also a lot I hadn't expected — a house that had once been orderly and clean that was now stacked high with piles of laundry, dirty dishes, baby paraphernalia and one exhausted, not very attractive looking mommy.
I remember thinking, This is so hard. I'm not sure I can do this.
And I remember being overwhelmingly frustrated. For crying out loud (which, I think I was at that moment), I have a graduate degree. I've taught trigonometry. I've met deadlines, edited copy and run conferences. Why in the world can't I handle one tiny baby and a 1,200 square foot house?
In her article, "Homemaking Internship," Carolyn Mahaney nailed my arrogant attitude:
Young women tend to assume that homemaking doesn't require any advanced skills or preparation. It's similar to what a sixth grader might think about a test covering first-grade material: What's there to study?
That was me: the sixth grader, thinking that being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) would be first-grade work. But that morning, sniffling amidst the burp clothes, was my wake-up call. This was no first-grade work.
I suddenly realized, too, that I had spent six years in college preparing for a career in which I spent five years. But I had spent no time preparing myself for the career that I was about to embark on for the next decade.
It's not that I thought my education was wasted. Rather, I realized I was so concentrated on preparing for one aspect of my future life and so blind to the fact that I should be preparing for all aspects of my future life.
Just about any way you look at it, I was foolish.
Carolyn Mahaney wrote, "Many girls enter marriage and motherhood without a clue as to what's required, and they quickly fall into despair."
That's how a lot of my first months as a SAHM were — despair. A lot of failing; a lot of "I don't know what in the world I'm doing." There were certainly wonderful times, but it could have been a lot easier (on all three of us) if I had prepared more.
So, here's a list of "coulda, shoulda, woulda's. Things that I would have sat 26-year-old Heather down and told her. Some of them I did, and they literally breathed life into that first mommy year. Some I didn't, but realize now would have helped tremendously. I pray that they help you in your journey to homemaker and motherhood, as well.
Pursued God's heart more
Looking back, I think my choice to be a SAHM was, in many ways, a pragmatic one. From my own experience in day care and as a teacher, I thought that having a SAHM would be "better" for my kids and that their childhood would be "happier."
To a certain extent, I still think that. It is better for them. They are happier. But there came a time, like three months into mommyhood sitting on the living room floor, when I was falling apart and, suddenly, pragmatism fell apart. That's when thoughts like, "Well, I'm just no good at this, so this can't be good for her" or (on days I wanted to sound more spiritual) "I'm just not gifted at this" or "Certainly, my daughter would be happier if I were a happier mommy, and this staying at home thing is not making me happy" started to creep in.
At that time, I needed to concentrate on God's truth — not how I felt or what I thought. I should have prepared myself by scouring God's Word for wisdom on mommyhood, marriage and family. In the past few years, as I've wrestled with passages like Ephesians 5, Titus 2, Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 2 and 5, 1 Peter 3, I've learned that my home and family should not be my priority because my own logic says they should, but because God created me, knows me and has set those priorities for me.
I needed to know that, without a doubt, my work for my family was kingdom work.
Created a Community
Here's one of the biggest things I've learned about being a SAHM: You need other women. You need them for fellowship, for counsel and to share the joys of family.
When I first quit work to stay at home, I found myself isolated from my former work friends (I had commuted about an hour to my job) and without any real network of moms to turn to. That made for some very lonely days.
Eventually, as I got my feet under me, I joined a local MOPS group, and began to reach out to other women in my church and neighborhood. If I were to do it over again, though, I definitely would have reached out to other women before having children. I might have worked more in the church nursery to get to know the other moms, or sacrificed some work hours to join a Bible study, or attended some SAHM functions. If I had a few Christian SAHM acquaintances, I would have been intentional about developing those friendships and taking an active interest in what they could teach me about how to be busy at home and love my family.
Trained in Homemaking
I can still remember surreptitiously rolling my eyes when I would hear other women talk about how to get a marker stain out of clothing, or a new recipe they tried, or how they organized their closets. To me, a 20-something young woman, it just seemed like useless information.
At that time, I had a home and was maintaining it without much real effort. There were only two of us. We were both gone about 10 hours a day. He slammed a protein drink for breakfast, I slammed some oatmeal. We would take turns cooking dinner and then do some laundry and dusting over the weekend.
Flash forward a few years and, all of a sudden, I had two precious creatures who needed me to feed them, clothe them, educate them and 24-hour-a-day-them. The house now actually got dirty, really dirty. Clothes actually did get marker (and sweet potatoes and grass) on them. Meals started to get bigger, needed to be prepared more often and needed (I figured) something green on the plate at least once a day.
But for me and for many of my friends, we were lost. We didn't have the first clue how to really run a household effectively. If the laundry got caught up, the house was a mess. If we got to the park, we realized later we had an empty fridge. We couldn't figure out how to schedule our day: How much cleaning or reading or cooking or shopping or puzzles are we supposed to do?
Ideally, Carolyn Mahaney writes, "As with all other aspects of biblical womanhood, it is the mother's job to teach and the daughter's job to learn." So, the first place to start looking for homemaking wisdom is our own moms. But there are other sources of wisdom for us to tap, as well.
Elizabeth George in A Wife After God's Own Heart advises:
Expertise in taking care of your home can also be learned.... Here's where godly, older women come in. According to Titus 2:3-5, these ladies are to be available and actively teaching the in's and out's of being a wife after God's own heart to their younger sisters-in-Christ. And the curriculum includes the area of homemaking skills (verse 5). So see if you can latch on to one of these dear saints! Pray, ask for help, and then try doing what you are taught.
Think about the skills of homemaking: child rearing, cooking, clothing, cleaning, organizing, time management, decorating, etc. Now, break them down — what specific skills do you lack? Or, if you don't even know enough to know what you don't know, ask. What can you do to get some training? Pick up some books. Check out some Christian Web sites. Tail a mom for a day, or two, or three. Take a class. Volunteer in the nursery. Practice.
Prepared More Financially
I've written in the past about how important it is to live exclusively on the husband's income from day one of the marriage (here and here). So, if you just do one thing, do that. But I also wish that I had prepared to stay at home financially in one other way: practicing frugality.
The reason, I've learned, that there are so many TV specials, articles and books on how to feed a family on five dollars a day is because finances are a (if not the) real stress for a family. When my husband became the sole provider for our family, I realized that instead of feeling guilty about not adding income to our family, I should concentrate on what I could do for my family financially — keep our costs down.
Over the years, I've discovered where to find cheaper diapers and formula; where the best consignment sales and stores are; how to plan meals to keep our eating out costs low and how to buy next year's coats at end-of-the-season sales.
I'm not a big grocery coupon clipper but, boy, can I work the 40-percent-off-of-the-clearance-price-marked-sale.
If I'd have had those tricks of the trade from day one, we could have saved a whole stinkin' lot of money over the years. So, ask some moms. How did they decorate a nursery on a budget? What can you get on online resale sites and what should you always buy new? What are their best money saving tips?
Keep your eye on the prize
I'm not sure what 26-year-old Heather would have thought if I had told her all this. It's quite possible that she might have turned her nose up at the thought of actually training in homemaking. She might have thought, though not wanted to say, that she was surely destined for more important and worthwhile things.
Why would God gift her with abilities and talents, she might silently wonder, only to stick her in a home with small children?
I think I would try to explain to her that I understand she wants to do great things — and she will. But that I've come to realize what things really qualify as important and the truth of author Dorothy Patterson's words:
Homemaking — being a full-time wife and mother — is not a destructive drought of uselessness but an overflowing oasis of opportunity; it is not a dreary cell to contain your talents and skills but a brilliant catalyst to channel creativity and energies into meaningful work ... it is neither limitation of gifts available nor stinginess in distributing the benefits of those gifts, but rather the multiplication of a mother's legacy to the generations to come and the generous bestowal of all God meant a mother to give to those He entrusted to her care.
I would tell her that I know that the transition from work to stay-at-home mom is not easy. I know she'll face days when she can't see the eternal in one more jar of pureed peas and that the laundry doesn't look noble, it just looks filthy.
But I'd also tell her, from experience, that those little souls are the most precious job she'll ever have. That Carolyn Mahaney is right when she talks about the "unsurpassed rewards" that homemaking offers. I'd tell her that it will be so worth it. So, so worth it. That it's a job deserving of preparation.
And I'd tell you the same thing.
Copyright 2009 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.