Monday, October 27, 2008

How Building Cathedrals Saved my Life

A tad drastic? Maybe, but my intention in this post is to explain and then give thanks for a revelation I have experienced over the past 18 months of my life.

It was May 2007 - my, reluctant, four-year active duty Army service was completed and Husband and I had decided that someone needed to be the rock at home. No more two parents at work for insane hours. No more two parents fearing deployments to hostile lands, one is more than enough.

Leaving the work-a-day world to stay home with my children was Earth-shattering at first, and not in all good ways. I was floundering. I did not know how to do this. I was raised as a Navy brat - both of my parents served as naval officers until after I left home for college. I am amazed by my mother's success as a female naval officer who broke so many barriers for subsequent generations. However, her homemaking life was ad hoc at best. It was the best she could manage on evenings and weekends. Some things were out-sourced, we had the occasional cleaning lady and always a gardening crew, but for the most part she probably just slept very little and spent a lot of money on takeout. My most poignant memories are of family trips and vacations, but the day-to-day stuff was run by a series of nannies. So that was my background and there I was at home with (almost) two children. At our new duty station I was invited to a Protestant Bible Study- it was entitled "Creative Companion" and we read a book by the same title that rocked my world.

The book itself wasn't that profound, but what was profound for me was that being a wife and mother, a homemaker and an educator and a catechizer is a serious -- the most serious -- profession there is. The way we approach our jobs as homemakers is 100% mental. In my first months at home I was allowing myself to fall prey to the societal bogus that being a stay-at-home mother was wasting my talents and was all about spit-up and laundry. It is so so much deeper than that. My world has been exploding for the past year thanks to the ladies on this blog and those who have gone before us and written about the work that goes on in a home. I have learned that it is one thing to "keep a home afloat" and another to be continually reading and refining your routines based on what you read and who you meet.

It is inherent in our very created nature to lead our families toward a holier, better existence. If we don't, no one will find the time. Edith Stein writes that we are called to, "serve man, children and all creatures in a reverential loving manner in order to foster their natural formation for the glory of God and thereby further their natural happiness." (and I wouldn't even know that if I wasn't a virtual member of Mary Alice and Right Said Red's monthly Catholic mothers' exchange group!)

God has had such a hand in my life by showing me the way to deliberate living. Not being lost in the laundry and the dishes, but learning to do both better and with a better mindset. Frankly, it is sad that I couldn't realize all this on my own - you know, that one can improve the way she supports her husband and family through "professional" reading? I mean, clearly when we work outside the home we are encouraged to do professional reading. Lawyers read law journals, stock brokers read The Wall Street Journal, as a military officer I read books about the Middle East and military history. Why would I have assumed that that all stopped when I became a stay-at-home-mother? Au contrair! I have embarked on a bold experiment here - to professionalize my role as the homemaker in this household. I read books about how to cook baby food, how laundry is a path to holiness, how to keep a home journal to keep things flowing in a more orderly way. I don't know, it all sounds pretty scholarly to me. And I pray that my family will reap the benefits. I don't think I have learned enough yet, I think I have a long way to go. Furthermore, I sometimes wonder if my lack of a childhood home which I seek to imitate sets me back even further. Nonetheless, I am pleased to embark on this journey of deliberate living and I can't believe that my "to-read" book list is longer now than it was when I was an intellectually curious sophomore at Princeton.

At bat for me: A Mother's Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul.

On deck: Building the Christian Family You Never Had: A Practical Guide For Pioneer Parents


Erin said...

I love this post. It is so applicable to me as I embark on an effort to create the home for my family that did not come easily to my parents.

I love the phrase "deliberate living." sums up SO much of what we are trying to do! Just the other night as I was vacumming I was going through all the pros and cons in my mind about whether to let our son have his pacifier or his thumb.... which will be an easier habit to break in the future? which is better for his little mouth now? can i get him to go without either of them? I had to laugh at myself for putting SO much thought into what might seem to others a very small decision. But then I reminded myself that being "deliberate" about these seemingly small decisions now will help us make big decisions with love in the future.

Great thoughts!

B-Mama said...

I agree that "deliberate" parenting is how I want to approach each decision in raising my children...

Awol, we are humbly learning right alongside you on this journey. God bless you, the builders, and all our wonderful readers.

Juris Mater said...

AWOL, what a wonderful post. I've been thinking about this a TON lately, prompted largely by A Mother's Rule of Life. The drastic change you mention also has occurred in me in the past year--realizing that being a wife and mother and maker of our home does and should take the very best of me--my focus, my study, my interpersonal skills, my self-discipline, on and on. Actually the first time Tex recommended Mother's Rule of Life I read it but actually felt hostile toward the book because I wasn't ready to accept this yet. What a grace for Our Lord to bring us to this point--seriously! I think it makes life so much easier--coming to terms with just how worthy our vocation is and feeling the FREEDOM to pour ourselves into it deliberately, rather than accidentally. Thanks AWOL!

Right Said Red said...

Great Post Awol. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection.

Mary Alice said...

I think that as type-A personalities, we are more fulfilled in our home life when we approach it with a certain degree of professionalism, when we are able to have a plan and to work towards doing better.

One of the most important things I have learned from Opus Dei and the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva is how any work, done well, can be offered to God. I have been most impressed by the members of the work who provide the cleaning, cooking and hospitality at the centers around the world. This was a role originally filled by St. Josemaria's own mother, and by establishing a continuation of this motherly work, St. Josemaria was saying that homes need caretakers.

Opus Dei also truly respects the professional aspect of this work, many of the members who do this work are trained in culinary and hospitality schools, as well as receiving theological training.

I think that we can learn from that, as well, your professional reading can be both about how to be a Woman of God in your home, and many Christian authors do a great job connecting these dots for us, something that is not naturally apparent in the world today. Professional reading can also encompass cookbooks and homemaking "how-to" books.

My mother worked and earned a graduate degree when I was growing up, and I think she did not expect me to be cleaning my own toilets somewhere down the line, so she never taught me how. I have been amazed by the number of very basic homemaking things that I just don't know, and as a reader I am glad to find that I can learn them from books.

I have also decided that I will try to teach them to my children at a young age, for everyone should be able to do at least the basic work of keeping a home.

I think that child development books (both Christian and Secular) can make very important professional reading, as well. Authors like Jim Stenson (Catholic), T. Berry Brazelton (Princeton alum!) and the Gesell Institute Series (your one year old, etc) have really helped me to (hopefully) lead my children.

As I think that every mother is a homemaker, whether she works or not, I would also assert that every parent is a homeschooler, whether or not the children go to school outside the home. Books like The Read Aloud Handbook (Jim Trelease), For the Children's Sake, and Real Learning (Elizabeth Foss) have been instrumental to me. Right now I am reading a great book about why boys are slipping in school, I will hopefully post more about that at another time.

Learning hobbies related to homemaking, such as sewing and cooking, can add a lot of joy and comfort to your family life, and can also save you money as you can entertain at home and decorate your house. I have become a fairly good baker, and I am hoping to learn to use my sewing machine over the next few months so that I can do my own curtains. My neighbor is a semi-professional baker, and she came to a birthday party and taught all the kids to decorate cupcakes using the right tools (pastry bags with tips), how to make flowers, etc. After watching her, I can make really pretty cupcakes, and I think that the kids, overtime, have more respect for a task when they see that it can be done well and carefully using the right tools.

As the one who is in the home all day long, I know that my attitude is crucial to the atmosphere of our home, so I am also starting to understand that not only do I need to be able to get the laundry cleaned and folded, I need to do so joyfully. I want my home to be a place where my children feel the love that I have for them and for the Lord, I don't want them to look back and remember a bitter, overworked, tired mom. I am really happy, most of the time, and I need to make sure that it shows. They say that it takes 5 positive encounters in childhood to balance 1 negative one, so if I am about 50/50 my kids will experience the tone of the house as very negative.

One concern is also that as we read and learn we need to avoid both perfectionism and efficiency for its own sake. If you can get better at your basic household duties, that can free up time for things like family game night, bible study and prayer, etc. Just because you can cook a four course meal doesn't mean that you shoudl do it every night. If your house is in a reasonable state, you can host other mothers for a discussion group. These are good goals. Our general level of order has improved tremendously over the last several years, even as our family and home has grown, but rather than seeing the improvement I find I struggle because I have a hard time accepting that certain things are good enough, and I worry about slipping into chaos. There are nights when I go to bed leaving laundry unfolded in the drier, and I need to learn to be okay with that for now, and to acknowledge that sleep is more important for my family. There are also nights when I need to stay up a little later and finish the laundry so that other stuff will stay under control, and knowing the difference requires a wisdom that is beyond me at the moment, I am stuck on "all or nothing."

I have recently had a priest encourage me to do some "professional reading" for myself as a person, a citizen and a wife, by keeping up with the news. Around the same time, I recieved a free subscription to Newsweek. It is not the ideal news source, but I get alot out of it, and I also listen to NPR in my kitchen when I am cleaning up at night. It is nice for my husband and my social life if I am able to talk about something besides laundry and spit up, just as I expect my husband to be able to carry on a conversation outside of the realm of tax law.

Sorry for such long comments, but I also want to say how glad and moved I am that our conversations have helped you come to a better understanding of your vocation as wife, mother, daughter of God. I am moved almost to tears by it, because when this email list started I was fairly desperate, and I now know that I was not alone in feeling lonely and confused about my vocation. We are all learning as we go, and I am glad that we can support one another and help each other along the way, even though we live so far apart.

Uniform Dating said...

A very brave decison to make and one that seems to have paid off.

kathleenob said...

Good for you! I think you made the right decision getting out of the army. I honestly think there are some professions that are more compatible with motherhood and being a soldier is not one of them. I live on a large post and know a
lot of soldier moms and I see how much they struggle. With PT in the morning, they often have their children in day care from 6 am till 6 pm. Not to mention deployments and the fact that most of them are dual military. As the wife of a soldier who has to leave for training and deployments, I have to be the consistent source of care to my kids. ANyway, I have strong opinions about this and always encourage my soldier mom friends to GET OUT ASAP. I think most of them in their hearts want to get out, but are also pleasers who don't want to disappoint you name it.. their commander, their parents, society. But your husband and children are more important.

As a tangent, deployments would also be easier on us wives if we knew our husbands were only with other males to be brutally honest. In Iraq and Afghanistan, they have salsa and tango lessons as well as pool parties as down time for soldiers. Its ridiculous, yet people act shocked when they hear about unfaithfulness and other shenanigans that happen down range. My husband is JAG so this is some of the things he has to deal with.

Anyway, I just want to encourage you in your decision to stay home. I am also trying to embrace my role at home and have found this blog very encouraging and I plan on getting the book you mention.

Juris Mater said...

I was thinking about the women in our mothers' generation, most of whom did not teach us how to keep a home... and AWOL and MaryAlice, I think you hit it on the head. Whether our moms worked or stayed home, and regardless of how attentive they were as mothers, it seems like they were the first generation to believe that homemakers were a dying breed. As a result, I think most of us really do start at ground zero and we have to apply ourselves to learn things from scratch. And I don't know about you, but wow, the learning curve has been STEEP! Shockingly. My first year of marriage, our house was always trashed, I thought the bathroom somehow would eventually clean itself, and we ate "Frito Pie" (canned chili and cheddar cheese layered with Fritos) and no fresh vegetables a couple nights a week, and the rest of the week was probably even worse. I have learned almost everything "on the job". I have initially been pretty shocked to realize how much care and effort go into it.

I wonder if this is part of the reason some moms seem so completely overwhelmed/defeated by one or two kids, swear that they're "so done" having children, and run as fast as they can back to work. Maybe they feel unprepared and don't even know where to start because they were never taught, so they try to get out and return to what is familiar--professional life.

Elena said...

Mary Alice's comment about reading and talking outside of our vocational sphere got me thinking. I think that, as ambassadors of our vocation, this is especially important so that we don't appear to have let our intellect atrophy. So, if I can shamelessly plug an incredible news service that, perhaps, you have all heard of: I think that some of you already do read the site as I have seen a few links to the site on this blog. But, lifesitenews is an incredible balance to the left-leaning media to which we are over-exposed. Plus, it is a humble service hatched in rural Ontario (Canada) staffed by faithful, orthodox Catholics who are truly led by the Holy Spirit when it comes to interpreting what's going on in our world. Check it out and subscribe - it's free. (Yes, I'm Canadian...)

Alex said...

Thank you for this honest and inspiring post, AWOL, and for all of the engaging discussion that has followed. I find your thoughts just as pertinent for someone who, for any number of reasons, will not be able to be a stay-at-homemaker but is committed to creating a healthy, holy, beautiful home for her/his children, and will likely have to be especially deliberate in doing so. I am excited to appropriate your book list into mine, Builders, and edify my and my husband's formation as parents.

Kat said...

My mother always did all of the housework and cooking herself, and she did both extremely well - she showed me what it meant to grow up in a well-ordered, warm, and inviting home. Our house was always the one that people hung out at, we loved having friends over, etc. However, my mom didn't include us in the household work because she said that we were busy enough already and that we would have plenty of time to do housework when we were older. True, but I wish that I had learned firsthand how to do household chores from a master! Now I'm trying to learn everything myself, as JM pointed out, and while I've come along way since my marriage, I still have a lot to learn.

I find that I avoid the tasks that I feel the least equipped to do, and it's a downward spiral because these are the tasks that most obviously need to get done...Every week I dread cleaning the shower stall in our bathroom because it's so yucky, and I just have no idea how to make it better. I try and fail, and every week it gets a little bit grimier - totally discouraging! But I have no idea how to make it better...So JM, I think that you're right, a lot of women probably feel unequipped to be stay-at-home moms, and they probably don't have the same support network that we are so blessed to have...Very good points!

Courtney said...

Wonderful conversation and comments. MA, I liked how you mentioned that you read books on things you did not know how to do. I think it is too easy for me personally to think,I don't know how to do this (i.e. - clean something well, get some good, new, nutritios recipes, etc), so I don't even try sometimes. But, we have so many resources from books to the internet. Also, I appreciated MA's comment about perfectionism. As someone who has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (not the cleaning type though) I tend to have very all-or-nothing thinking, which is not healthy or good for me. So, I think it is a good perspective to try to stay organized in our homes, in order to ultimately free up more time for fun activitis with our families, instead of cleaning obsessively just for the sake of creating the perfectly clean house.

Molly said...

JM and Kat, how did you learn these things? I know this sounds like a silly question, but JM, your first year of marriage sounds very familiar--we've just hit the year mark and my saintly husband would never say it, but I'm no award-winning domestic goddess. I grew up in a house with a working mom, so I'm still trying to figure out how to make a schedule so that I clean everything on a regular basis (rather than, say, freaking out when the bathroom is disgusting, or going on a rampage when we might have guests). Any suggestions?

Thanks so much for this post, AWOL.

AWOL Mommy said...

I love all of this discussion, you have, once again, exceeded my wildest expectations.
Kathleenob -- I am planning another post on women in traditionally male fields sometime soon, please get in on that one.
Molly, one word -- ICalendar. Or whatever your digital equivalent. I have literally set up my computer to sending me e-mails that say "Mop today" or "wash cloth diapers today". Then it is right in your face and you feel guilty blogging if you haven't taken care of the daily responsibilities in your physical surroundings. Maybe it will work for you?

Mary Alice said...

Molly, there is a great book called Home Comforts that I found really helpful. It has way too much detail on most subjects, so it becomes a reference text, but the introductory chapters explain how to set up a homemaking schedule. The author is an NYU professor, she calls herself a "closet" homemaker! It points to the fact that everyone needs these skills, whether they work or not.

Also, I find really helpful. Even if you do not have a "clutter" problem per-se, I have adopted her method of "crisis cleaning" -- fifteen minutes in each room rather than hours on just one room and nothing else done, and I also really like the idea of zones -- extra attention to the bathrooms this week, kitchen the next, etc, though I admit that I do not have it in place at the moment.

Juris Mater said...

Domestic Goddess Molly, you're VERY humble and dear to ask for help. I couldn't admit that I was way behind the curve during our first year of marriage, so nothing really improved. I think it took being home with kids all day and having to live in the pig-sty I had created to make me serious about cleanliness, tidiness and order. A 9 month old eating dust bunnies under tables is pretty unacceptable : )

In general, I can't say enough in praise of instituting some sort of routine to maintain an orderly and tidy home. It's amazingly freeing to know that someone could stop by any time without being horrified--like MA said, not perfection, but basic cleanliness. It's also amazingly freeing to know that you can think about things other than the bathroom today because that will be done on Friday, for example. All these routines are not to trap us but to free us, and WOW they make SUCH a difference.

The thing I like about Mother's Rule of Life is that it elevates this routine to a fundamental responsibility of our vocation that we have committed to obey whether we "feel" like it or not. And that's SO freeing--not to give into my impulses or laziness but to plod steadily and devotedly in the way I have committed to do. So when I wake up Monday morning and feel like taking the kids out for bagels, this is not really what I've committed to do that morning. It's laundry, kitchen and bathroom morning, and we have to do that first and foremost, then bagels if we complete that or in the afternoon. Tuesday morning is "preschool", and that's what we do. The end goal of this is that we don't have to waste time stewing about getting x and y chores done, because we know they'll be done in the time we've alloted for them. That frees our attention for our family members and our minds for contemplation.

Mary Alice said...

I agree with the spirit behind A Mother's Rule of Life, and I think that the book is well worth reading, but I did find it totally overwhelming on first read.

Kimberly Hahn's Graced and Gifted is her reflections on The Mother's Rule, it does not give you the nuts and bolts, but is a support in making all of these things Christ-centered.

Molly said...

Ladies, thank you so much for this advice. I plan to check out those books and feel optimistic for the first time in a while that I can get this under control. I really appreciate it!