If I were like Inez - a young, very bright, athletic go-getter marrying a guy with a trust fund big enough to support us comfortably for life – I know exactly what I would do. I would finish up my law degree from the Top Ten school. Just because. Then I would marry the Trust Fund Guy. Then I would promptly move to the country with TFG, buying a big piece of land with a big old rambling house and some chickens and horses and dogs and maybe a cow or two. And I would grow a huge vegetable garden. And have no TV (but maybe some old thing we could drag out for movie nights) but shelves and shelves and shelves of books. And I would be a part-time country lawyer. And I would have a baby. And then another because it would be neat to have a sibling for the first baby. And then, why not, a third, and then a fourth because four is the new three.
Anyway, I would end up with a whole crop of kids. And my husband and I would have a blast using our love of the outdoors to help them learn to love the outdoors too – riding, sports, shooting, digging in the earth and growing things, milking the dang cow. And they would have rosy cheeks. I would use my mechanical abilities to teach them to fix our bikes and tractors. We would have family dinners every night and my husband would teach the kids to cook using our vegetables and I would teach them to bake using our eggs. And the big kids would help the little kids.
And I would use my good brain to homeschool them, to develop in them a rich intellectual, and a thorough knowledge and love of reading and history and languages (and God), and I would bring them up to be independent thinkers who understand the establishment (liberals) as well as the counterculture (traditionalists) and why the counterculture is right. And we would all play an instrument and make music by the fire and have contra dances in the barn and invite all our friends. Once in a while we would interrupt Dad in his writings to show him what we grew or caught in the stream or learned that was too interesting to wait until dinner. Most of all I would teach them the love of learning and that learning is a lifetime pursuit. And I would be in love with motherhood and my children, and I would ponder the mystery that while I was not the least bit interested in other people’s kids I was absolutely fascinated by my own.
And I would fall into bed at night exhausted but beautifully satisfied because I spent my days inside and outside with my family, looking into my children’s beautiful faces; and they looked back at me and locked their eyes on mine in order to know and understand life and the world; for I am their mother. And so I would answer all their most important questions – not someone else – and pass on to them my beliefs, my deepest held convictions, my legacy as a mother; more simply, my love. And while drifting off to sleep I would look with wonder upon my life and how I was so beautifully and completely satisfied by it and how come nobody told me about this before…and did somebody remember to lock the barn?
Non-profit litigation and policy work? [sigh] What a waste of a good trust fund.
I would only add that one doesn’t need a Trust Fund Guy or a big plot of land or cows or chickens to have the best of what Mary describes.
You could be poor and have it too. You could have a husband who barely supports his family, not one who spends his days comfortably ensconced in his study. You could have an apartment in an ugly suburb or a house that constantly needs fixing –and never the money to fix it. You could have relatives who disapprove of your choices and friends who abandon you just when your children are constantly ill. You could have days when you don’t understand your husband and he doesn’t understand you. You could drive a beat-up car on roads that are jammed with traffic and hardly taste fresh air at all. You could have serious illnesses. You could be bored by housework. You could be frustrated that you never will be the perfect teacher you’d like to be.
But poverty and hardship would make you and your children stronger.
You would teach them that suffering is not to be avoided, but embraced and even treasured; that desires for things we cannot have can become forms of love and homage; that loyalty and virtue have no price — and are among the things most worth having; and that families have never been free of conflict, ever.
You would learn lessons that great legal scholars could not impart. You might have hard days and struggles, but you would live close to the center of existence, which is always far from the places that seem so busy and important. You would never regret the tears.
—- Comments —–
Your reply to Mary was fantastic. I think it is one of the best responses you have posted and I read your blog almost daily. It struck a chord with me. I’m not very articulate nor do I have a lot of formal education but you have eloquently expressed what I feel is the central purpose of life. We most highly glorify God by seeking His will and following his leading towards a life led thoughtfully and purposely in the service of others. The circumstances may indeed at times include suffering, boredom, fatigue, and frustration but the rewards are eternal. Such lessons resound down through the subsequent generations. I work part-time in the medical field and I think only at the very end of life does the reward of a life well lived become apparent. Some die with the fear of the unknown and some die with the knowledge that their life has mattered and that they go to a better place.
My 12-year-daughter is participating in a book club this year on the theme of “The Hero’s Journey.” She recently brought home this quote by Joseph Campbell:
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.”
So many women fear to enter the cave of full-time motherhood and homemaking because they think it holds drudgery, self-denial, boredom, and struggle. Truthfully, it does hold these tings but the larger truth is that within the daily mundane struggles a great treasure awaits those who would reject the status quo of the world and seek something better much as Abraham by faith followed God and sought something better even though he could not see the end result.
Well, enough rambling for now. I’m off to dish up dinner: baked beans, dill bread, Kielbasa, and sauerkraut. It’s not sophisticated or expensive but I made it with love and I am grateful to have four children and a husband to share it with.
Thank you. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you have said. You say you’re not articulate. But clearly that’s not true.
Jill Farris writes:
Mary, Laura and Sally, you have all moved me to tears. Your words shared the wonderful wisdom that comes to women who bravely dig in and make the commitment to love and, thus, be hurt; to feel. Your words are beautiful. I think I am gong to memorize them all and share them with women when I speak at church retreats. They are rich with meaning and wisdom. Thank you.
Very well said by Mary, Laura Wood and Sally, all.
She, herself, has managed to translate the brief and seemingly innocuous quote about caves and treasures into a Judeo-Christian message, and to her, one that is relevant to the discussion above (which I don’t mean to hijack)… but I encourage Sally to be most wary of Joseph Campbell and his alluring follow-your-bliss Gnosticism – particularly in the hands of her innocent and impressionable daughter.
Mrs. M. writes:
I loved Mary’s comment and all of the responses. If we were rich or even relatively better off we would pursue the lifestyle she describes immediately. At the moment, we pursue as much of it as we can and count our blessings that we live in the country and own one acre with a large garden. We scrimp, pay down debts (left over from our left-wing days) and save towards the goal of me working as a full-time homemaker. I hope we are blessed with lots of children, whether we are rich or poor. My oldest is two and I read a lot about homeschooling and I hope for the courage to pursue this in the face of “relatives who disapprove of our choices.”
Mary’s comments also reminded of a phrase I have been hearing a lot of lately: “A Millionaire’s Family.” I am currently expecting our second child and had never heard this phrase before informing people that this baby is a boy (we already have a girl). It seems that 99 percent of people who hear this news respond with, “You will have a millionaire’s family- one of each!” They also advise me that we will now have a “perfect family” and that we can “stop now.” It is perplexing, as I would think along the lines of Mary if we were millionaires – all the more reason to have a big family!
I am always offended by these comments. Why does majority opinion seem to think we should stop at two? Why is it so important to have “one of each”? These are unique individual human beings, not little clones of my husband and I that were created to serve our selfish desires. Why do so few realize that from a child’s perspective “one of each” (a sister and brother or more) might be nice? This has become my response to this “millionaire’s family” comment: “Perhaps my son would like to have at least one of each.” Usually this results in uncomfortable silence, but I don’t care anymore. I know these comments are meant partly in jest and not with any bad intention, but they seem to exemplify so much of what is wrong with our culture and the completely messed up priorities that seem so widespread.
Thank you so much for your blog and the intelligent discussion one can find here.
Oh, how I love this blog! The comments by Mary and Sally encouraged me tonight at the end of a long day.
I can’t help but send you questions as they come up…I hope that is okay. I have been pondering your posts on the femininity of mothers and especially your comment about your therapist friend who remarked that most of her clients are in need of therapy because of their relationship with their mothers. My concise question tonight is: Is yelling, speaking sharply unfeminine? Will my children experience me as un-feminine if I raise my voice to them? I am home with my three children, ages five and under. Throughout the course of some days, I find myself speaking too sharply to my children – yelling, sometimes speaking nastily to elicit their participation in the end of the day tidying or because my three-year-old son is jumping on the furniture. Would you mind sharing some thoughts on how mothers can discipline while still maintaining their femininity? I think that this is very important because I do not want to repel my sons from females because of the way that they may experience me. I want to be a loving and patient mother but sometimes exhaustion, frustration and high expectations get the best of me. I want to stay away from the modern parenting philosophies. Thank you again for your encouragement and appreciation of housewives in the trenches.
I am sure you are doing a very good job with your children and I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself when are working so hard at this stage. Let me give you one small suggestion for now that might make it easier for you to keep things under control during this busy period.
Every time you have the impulse to snap out, hold it in for a minute or two. You can bear whatever it is that is objectionable for that small amount of time. And then react to whatever they are doing wrong. By giving yourself that pause, you may find that you do not need to yell. You may decide to wait a few minutes more even for them to realize they are making a lot of noise or that they are being disobedient. Also in that pause, you can gather your strength. Continual snapping out dissipates your strength and makes you a less formidable disciplinarian. It is a contest of wills. The most important thing is that inner strength. If you don’t have it, children know it.
I wouldn’t worry about being un-feminine because of these moments of irritation. You have to exert your authority. The important thing is being effective and calm. But even so life is going to be very disorderly with children that young.
Karen I. writes:
Lauren asked about what to do when her children are acting up.
I highly recommend getting a little “time out” chair or two and a timer. Put the chair(s) in a corner and when a child does something like jump on the couch, he goes in the chair and the timer goes on. The time out rule is one minute for every year of age. If he tries to get out of the chair, you can pick him up and put him back in it. If needed, a child can be held gently in the chair to keep him in it. This gives an automatic, predictable response for unacceptable behavior, which is good for mother and child. It also gives the mother a dignified option besides yelling. A child may, at first, spend a good deal of time in the chair, and the mother may need to devote a good part of several days to establishing the system, as children test things, but it works very well. It may also help to have a written list of rules that will result in time out if they are violated, just to clarify expectations. The key is to be consistent.
One of my children had significant speech and language delays in his early years, which resulted in behavior problems because he could not express himself verbally. He also had what the experts called “personal safety issues,” which was a fancy way of saying he was a danger to himself because he did things like jump off the couch or run outside into traffic if I turned my back for a second. We called him “the silent tornado.” It was exhausting to discipline him and I was at a loss about what to do because I could not reason with a child with impaired verbal skills and yelling had no impact, either. Finally, a behavioral expert told me about the time out system. Even with impaired verbal skills, my son understood time out and it worked like a charm. It restored peace in our home. My son is a teenager now and his speech and language problems have been “extinguished” (another word the experts used) for years. He is at the top of his class and his teachers have always told me his behavior is excellent. I think the early use of time out helped us all a lot.
Laura has a way of explaining things so beautifully, as she does here with this statement: “…but you would live close to the center of existence, which is always far from the places that seem so busy and important.”
Living close to the center of existence should be our goal as mothers; that is where we find the true depth of our humanity and where we find God. Mothers, privileged as they are with motherhood, plumb those depths. Today’s prevailing culture goes far to separate us from this essential humanity and can easily become a distraction. That is why we must detach and live “far from the places that seem so busy and important.” Keep the TV’s off and the kettle on.
A wholesome home environment, which children adore, is possible for all of us no matter what our financial status is, and is actually really fun, too. And it will go far to help us live “close to the center of existence.” Life is never perfect, nor are mothers. We have all kinds of faults, every last one of us. Physical closeness, eye contact, hugs and genuine interest in our children, true motherly devotion, go far to balance our weaknesses. Children thrive in the confidence of love.