Archive for Importance of Mothers

Deep Roots

We’re living in Iowa for the fall, so of course the kids and I have been out hiking in this wonderful Midwest countryside, learning all about Iowa plants, especially prairie grass. Prairie grass can grow higher than my ten year old’s head, but even more remarkably, its root systems are three times as big as what you see above the ground!

As my kids were sketching away in their nature journals, I reflected on how these deep prairie grass roots are similar to the roots I’m investing in my kids’ lives each day. You usually can’t see the literal blood, sweat, and tears that I put into my children, morning, noon, and night, but that doesn’t mean that the unseen, mundane mothering is not essential for the visible flourishing. When you see my tall, happy, healthy ten year old boy who is helping boost his little sister up to drink out of the drinking fountain or who quickly goes and rounds up everyone’s coats while I’m saying my last goodbyes at church, I see the thousands of hours of reading, playing, and snuggling together that I’ve invested so that our relationship is one of security and deeply felt love. I see the hundreds of times I’ve had to follow through with consequences when he hasn’t immediately obeyed me, training him that we obey “right away, all the way, and with a cheerful heart.” I see all the sibling squabbles when I’ve had to drop everything I was doing and referee, sometimes for hours, and the extra time I’ve invested in making sure that he doesn’t just obey me and share with his sisters, but that I actually reach his heart and help him see how important it is that he see those three little girls as precious gifts, not just inconvenient pests. I see the times that he’s down on himself for failing again and I have to speak words of encouragement and praise for the progress he’s made in other areas. Anyone who has helped their child overcome a sinful tendency knows just how often our attention and assistance are essential to this little person with an immortal soul. Even as I’ve sat and typed out this paragraph, I’ve had to pause about six times for a parenting investment!

We full-time mothers often struggle to articulate what is so wrong about those working mom blog posts that insist they do everything we do—and put in 50 hours a week at the office, too. Such a comparison is ridiculous, of course, because it’s only focusing on the visible things (yes, we all feed our children dinner and drive them to soccer practice) and pretending that a human soul can be adequately tended merely on evenings and weekends. It’s like comparing two plants, both which grow to ten feet tall, without noting that one has roots that will hold it secure in a thunderstorm while the other is rooted so shallowly that anyone can come along and pull it up. If you’re on a nature hike with a two year old who has managed to push her stroller over the side of a hill dropping 30 feet into a ravine, which kind of plant would you want her to encounter on the way down? In our case, catastrophe was averted for both toddler and stroller because the deep roots of the prairie grass held fast and stopped her close enough to the top for us to hoist her back up. Deep roots are important, even though you can’t see them.

If you are a new mom holding a baby who is sleeping or crying most of the time, and you don’t see that producing breastmilk or mixing up a bottle is building any roots, think of the security and nurture that you are giving your child with skin-to-skin contact, gazing into each other’s eyes, knowing each other’s smells and sounds and facial expressions. As a certified foster parent, I can tell you countless stories of kids who don’t have that bond in their early weeks and months and struggle to adapt for the rest of their lives.

If you are a mom in the trenches with two or more little people, plus a baby, wearing spit up on your shirt and reaching into your purse for your wallet and pulling out a sippy cup instead, don’t let the world tell you that you’re wasting your talents or (strangely, often simultaneously) that your company is not enough for your child. The kind of socialization your preschoolers need is not a room full of other three year old narcissists overseen by one or two unrelated childcare professionals (no matter how sweet). Your little people need to know how they fit into a family unit, the basis of community, and they need to be cared for by an adult who loves them and who will never stop loving them or praying for them to grow into men and women of integrity and faith. There are many important jobs out there, but nothing is more important than the tending of a human soul.

If you are a homeschooling mom like Anna and Bethany and me, don’t measure yourself by your failures (as opposed to the homeschooling supermom you follow on Instagram). And if you haven’t noticed, we can’t do it all, either. Notice that we’re not doing much blogging anymore? Our own housefuls of students are keeping us busy. Repent openly to your children when you lose your temper, ask the same of them, and remember that each new day is a new chance for you and your kids to grow in self control and diligence. Don’t let yourself think that nothing was accomplished because “all” you did today was math, spelling, and reading aloud. Even if your kids need a calculator and spell check when they’re adults, they won’t forget the comfort of snuggling on the couch, reading Farmer Boy or Charlotte’s Web or The Hobbit. You’re the primary influence shaping their tastes and aspirations, and you know better than anyone else when they need a read-aloud day (and when they just need to buckle down and do their Latin and drill their math facts and finish that writing assignment). You are the world’s leading expert on your child.

Go tend those roots!

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Book Review: A Lantern in Her Hand

Have you heard of Bess Streeter Aldrich?  I hadn’t until my book club found out we’re moving to Iowa for the fall semester.  Suddenly I was told about this Iowa native writer and promised to read A Lantern in Her Hand for our next book club.  I’ve been raving about it to every mother I meet.

A Lantern in Her Hand is a pioneer book, not a historical romance, as the current Amazon cover might indicate.  Think Little House, but from Ma’s perspective.  Abbie grows up on a farm in Iowa, dreaming of a life like her elegant, aristocratic Scottish grandmother.  Instead of a life of riches and ease, she marries a good, hardworking man and becomes a Nebraska farmer’s wife.  Her husband Will promises her that as soon as they get some extra money, she’ll get those music and art lessons she’s always wanted, but if you’ve read the Little House books, you know how the 1870’s were for farmers–droughts, grasshopper infestations, years of broken dreams.  And if you’ve read any realistic fiction about pioneer life, you know that women miscarry, children die of snakebites, husbands die before their time.  Abbie and Will face a host of challenges as they raise their young family on the untamed Nebraska prairie.  By the time they have financial stability, their children are grown and need the music and art lessons and college tuition.  Abbie sacrifices for her family again, and again, and again.  Every time it seems life might be getting a bit easier, she’s called to do something hard, and the tragedy is that her children don’t even seem to notice all that she has done for them.

It may sound like a real downer of a book.  But the beauty of this novel is not in the events (although they are so realistic as to make you wonder how much was based on the author’s own family) but rather the way that Abbie responds to them.  Again and again, she has to choose not to be bitter and resentful but to have joy.  And as a young mom who is definitely sacrificing a lot in order to be home with my children, it’s encouraging to see a picture of what a life poured out in love can produce.  Aldrich’s message is that there is purpose in the sacrifice of a mother for her children, building something better for the next generation.  Abbie leads an undistinguished life, yet the influence of her faithful motherhood ripples out through her children, grandchildren, and community. Interestingly, this book does not talk about what could cause the human heart to do something so unnatural as choose to humble oneself for others.  There is very little mention of faith, and Abby’s death scene (this isn’t a spoiler; the book begins with her death and is all a flash-back) owes more to American theistic folk religion than to any explicitly Christian understanding.  But…all in all, A Lantern in Her Hand made me so proud of my Midwestern heritage, so grateful for the women in my family who came before me, and so thankful to be given the opportunity to impact lives as a mother.

I gushed so much about this book to my mom that she went out and read it, and I had to laugh when she texted me back to say she’d finished it.  “Sort of a strange little book, but thought provoking,” she said.  I’d been telling her I was moved almost as much as I was from Lila, which is a true American classic and will be read and studied a hundred years from now, and she was expecting something that profound.  Lest I confuse you as I did my mom, this is a five star book to me because of my emotional response to it, not because of its prose.  Aldrich is no Marilynne Robinson; her writing is a bit old-fashioned, and while I think reading about the early days of Middle-America are fascinating, the life story of a farmer is not what the cool kids are reading these days.  That’s okay.  Abbie herself defends the scope of her lifestyle when her adult daughter accuses her of having lived a narrow life:

You know Grace, it’s queer, but I don’t feel narrow.  I feel broad.  How can I explain it to you, so you would understand?  I’ve seen everything…and I’ve hardly been away from this yard.  I’ve seen cathedrals in the snow on the Lombardy poplars.  I’ve seen the sun set behind the Alps over there when the clouds have been piled up on the edge of the prairie.  I’ve seen the ocean billows in the rise and the fall of the prairie grass.  I’ve seen history in the making…three ugly wars flare up and die down.  I’ve sent a lover and two brothers to one, a son and son-in-law to another, and two grandsons to the other.  I’ve seen the feeble beginnings of a raw state and the civilization that developed there, and I’ve been part of the beginning and part of the growth.  I’ve married…and borne children and looked into the face of death.  Is childbirth narrow, Grace?  Or marriage?  Or death?  When you’ve experienced all those things, Grace, the spirit has traveled although the body has been confined.  I think travel is a rare privilege and I’m glad you can have it.  But not everyone who stays at home is narrow and not everyone who travels is broad.  I think if you can understand humanity…can sympathize with every creature…can put yourself into the personality of every one…you’re not narrow…you’re broad.

Sounds a bit like G.K. Chesterton on mothers being everything to someone, right?  Near the end of Abbie’s life, a granddaughter asks her about her happiest memories.  Her answer hit me hard as I read it:

There are many memories. but I’ll tell you the one I like to think of best of all. It’s just a homely everyday thing, but to me it is the happiest of them all. It is evening time here in the old house and the supper is cooking and the table is set for the whole family. It hurts a mother, Laura, when the plates begin to be taken away one by one. First there are seven and then six and then five…and on down to a single plate. So I like to think of the table set for the whole family at supper time. The robins are singing in the cottonwoods and the late afternoon sun is shining across the floor, Will, your grandfather, is coming in to supper… and the children are playing out in the yard. I can hear their voices and happy laughter. There isn’t much to that memory is there? Out of a lifetime of experiences you would hardly expect that to be the one I would choose as the happiest, would you? But it is.

You totally should pick this little forgotten gem up this summer and read it while your kids are running through the sprinkler.  But even if you don’t, can you join me in aspiring to find joy in the little, homely, everyday things of motherhood?  Like Abbie, can we savor the moment when our husband comes in from a hard day of work, the little people are playing, and we’re putting dinner on the table?  I’ll be the first to admit that the dinner prep hour is usually my least favorite time of day, but this book has challenged me to look at the mundane moments of my life as a mother with new eyes.

 

Note: The links in this post are amazon affiliate links.  If you decide to buy this book and order it (or anything else from amazon) through our link, we’ll get a tiny percentage back, which we’ll use to pay the hosting fees for this blog.

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Is motherhood “an awkward disqualification from being a respectable human?”

I’m reading a fascinating new book about being a woman– Rebekah Merkle’s Eve in Exile and the Restoration of Femininity, and this page seemed so applicable to our discussions here on the blog.  Stay tuned for a full book review soon…

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Society Needs Stay-at-Home Moms!

This blog usually focuses on how important a stay-at-home mother is to her own family, but today I want to talk about how necessary we stay-at-home moms are to our communities. Fairly often, when the topic of my vocation comes up with other professional women, they’ll tell me that they believe stay-at-home moms are important and necessary.  I always felt like this came with a bit of condescension, because it’s obviously not important enough for them to do it themselves.  This past month, however, a car accident and its aftermath made me realize anew the importance of having stay-at-home mom friends in times of crisis.

On Thanksgiving weekend, my husband and I were driving home from a date when we were side swiped by a reckless driver and knocked across the median into oncoming traffic, where we had a head-on collision with two cars.  The culprit fled the scene, but there were no fatalities, thank the Lord.  One of the other drivers and both of us had to be airlifted to the nearest hospital with a trauma ER as a precaution because crashes as bad as ours usually produce concussions and other internal injuries.  I spent over five hours in a neck brace on a back board, getting x-rays, a CT-scan of my neck and brain, an ultrasound of my abdomen and heart to check for internal bleeding, and extensive bloodwork.  Amazingly, my husband and I were released that night with no major injuries save the whiplash and extensive bruising, and we saw the other woman sitting up in her room as we left, looking pretty good, considering.  It was one of the most terrifying evenings of my life, and we are so, so grateful to be alive.

We have wonderful neighbors (who all work outside the home), and they truly were helpful over the weekend, especially my friends who drove all the way into LA at midnight to pick us up from the hospital and my next-door neighbor who came over when our babysitter had to leave and stayed the night with my kids until we got home.  Another neighbor called me from the grocery store the next day and brought me milk and eggs, and all of them told me to let them know ANYTHING I needed help with.  I felt so cared for throughout the weekend.  Then the work week started, my husband had to go back to work (in much pain, but without children), and I was home alone with four children and whiplash so bad I couldn’t turn my head or bend over, but no one around here was home to help me.  Thankfully, my sahm friend Sarah drove 30 minutes over from our old town with her boys to spend the day taking care of my kids, made us tacos for lunch, baked up my overripe bananas into muffins, washed my dishes, ran my dishwasher, and generally kept me sane, all on her little guy’s birthday!  My working friends here wanted to help me, but Sarah was the one who actually had the flexibility to do so when I needed it. Later that week, I really needed to get to the DMV (30 minutes away) to get a new driver’s license (mine having disappeared somewhere between the accident and the ER), but even after texting everyone around here, I couldn’t piece together someone to drive me over to the DMV, sit with me for 1-2 hours, and drive back, PLUS friends/babysitters to watch my kids while I did all that.  Eventually, after two days of trying to make something work, my husband had to take the day off, we dropped the kids off at our Community Bible Study, and he took me to the DMV, I waited over an hour, and we got back just in the knick of time to pick the kids up at the end of CBS, and headed home, totally exhausted.  What an ordeal it was, and how simple it would have been if I’d just had two SAHM friends around here–one to watch all the kids, and the other to run me to the DMV.  Just two available friends would have made a world of difference to me.

In the past two weeks of recovery, many friends have offered their help, and one of the blessings in suffering like this is finding out how many good friends we have here.  But it has struck me just how much the need for help doesn’t fit conveniently into after-work hours.  When I need groceries, I need them before 5 pm, because I have little people who can’t wait until 7 to eat.  If I need help running errands such as DMV and doctor’s appointments, those are all in the 8-5 window.  It’s not that my working friends wouldn’t want to help me; they simply are limited in when and how they can.  Just like kids’ needs not being limited to evenings and weekends, emergencies–a car accident, a preschooler sticking a bead in her ear, a baby falling out of her crib, a miscarriage, a husband getting appendicitis when the baby is 10 days old, me slipping in the shower and re-breaking my foot while my husband is out of town–happen at the most inconvenient times.  And homemakers are the ones who can most easily be there as back-up.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never minded being the go-to emergency contact for my friends’ kids.  I’ve never had to pick up a friend’s sick child from school myself, but I know other homeschool moms who have. One friend told me years ago that her middle schooler hated after-school care so much that she was praying to find a friend with a stay-at-home mom so that she could go home with her instead of staying to be teased until her own parents could pick her up, and if I’d lived in the same town, I would have volunteered my own home.  Homemakers are the core volunteers in schools (room moms, field trip chaperones), in churches (Bible study leaders, the children’s program volunteers who care for my kids while I go to Bible study, the ladies who decorate for Christmas and organize church functions), and in the community (monitoring elections, doing mercy ministry, staffing crisis pregnancy centers, delivering Meals on Wheels, beautifying the city properties, mentoring foster youth).  And think about the safety that comes when an adult is at home during the day in a neighborhood (remember those Neighborhood Watch signs from childhood?), and even the blessing of homemade food at a right-after-work potluck (this is my special gift to all the other members of our community group this year).  The list could go on and on.  If nurturing the next generation wasn’t enough to make you feel significant, what about living a lifestyle that enables you to be there for your community when no one else can be?  Society needs us, fellow stay-at-home moms!

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