This is an excerpt from the introduction to my new book, Simplified Organization: Learn to Love What Must Be Done, now available on Amazon!
I am living the life I always wanted.
I grew up the oldest of seven, homeschooled, reading Anne of Green Gables and heaps of sappy Christian romance novels. I grew up with my mom in the home, always, even though it meant some extremely lean times. I saw and understood that my parents believed raising children was more important than growing bank accounts. My siblings and I were more desirable than money.
It was obvious to me as a child that having my mom at home was better than driving a nice car or eating at restaurants. In my simplistic, childish worldview, it seemed like a dichotomy. You choose mom at home, or you choose stuff. I was glad my parents chose kids at home, and I preferred to be home with my mom and siblings even when it meant powdered milk. As a child, it seemed clear to me that home and children was the best way to spend time and resources. When I grew up, I knew I’d make the same choice myself. Who would rather work a job than make and grow people? Who would prefer a paycheck over being in charge of a household? I never planned on doing anything else.
I married at nineteen and, after finishing college, moving back to our hometown, and getting health insurance through my husband’s first full-time job, we happily began our family. I knew how to cook. I knew how to load the dishwasher. I could do laundry. So, homemaking was going to be a piece of cake, right? There isn’t much to it, really, and you get the perks of being in charge!
Expecting homemaking to be comprised mostly of menial tasks, I put my energy not into doing those menial tasks with skill, but in figuring out the best way to set up systems that would minimize the amount of time I spent on them instead. Even after a childhood with a stay-at-home mom, many household chores, and practice cooking, I still actually disdained housework. Even with my conservative family priorities, I thought managing a household required a minimum of effort.
Modern society conditions us to assume a homemaker’s work is mundane, outsourceable, unfulfilling work. Even if we choose it, even if we value it, we still underestimate homemaking. We wake up one day, surprised to find that it is a lot of work——turns out we’re wholly unprepared for all it demands of us.
In America, you go to college so you can get a better job. But homemaking is one of those jobs—like barista or retail clerk, not like teacher or engineer—anyone can learn by doing, no degree required. On the one hand, we believe homemaking is meaningful work, yet on the other hand, we don’t think it takes any real training, education, or skill.
Past societies didn’t rely on colleges to train for occupations. They used apprenticeships and relational training. Children learned how to work from their parents. Tradesmen learned their craft from an experienced master. Knowledge and skills were passed along via relationships over time.
But today’s homemaker-mom is generally alone with her small children, no one there helping her see the next thing she ought to do. Who will help her sort out the details and make it all fit into a manageable whole? We can blame our mothers, but our mothers likely didn’t have mothers who taught them, either.
Homemakers might not be professionals, but we still need training, skills, growth, and encouragement in our valuable work. I grew up in a home with a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom; I am the oldest of seven children. I did at least know how to change diapers, how to direct toddlers, and how to cook a few meals for a crowd.
I helped with chores. I knew what family life was like. I expected to be able to walk into my own role as mom, ready to nail it. Despite my early systems, despite my best laid plans and good intentions, I did not nail it.
A couple of years ago, someone left a comment on a blog post I had written about teaching kids to do chores. “It doesn’t take years,” he wrote, “to train kids how to do something any adult can learn in five minutes.” Here is one problem we discover as homemakers: we have no idea what it even looks like to respect our own occupation because our culture does not respect it.
In that blog comment, I recognized my own trouble as a young wife and mother. I had accepted the belief that homemaking was just a collection of menial tasks—the kind of thing that, yes, anyone could learn in five minutes.
So why was I having such a hard time? Simply because homemaking is not something anyone can learn to do in five minutes. Our unseen disrespect for homemaking as a vocation affects even those of us who choose it. We see it when we hanker after titles like Domestic Engineer or Chief Operations Officer.
Such titles imply that homemaking is inferior and needs some beefing up for the resumé. We see it when we discuss how much a mom would earn if she were paid for her various tasks. Such calculations defend homemaking while falling prey to the assumption that everything ought to have a monetary value attached to it.
Before economies or politics can even exist, there must be people. People made in the image of God need no additional decoration to make them respectable. People made in the image of God do need homes and families—and that’s exactly what we provide as wives and mothers. Our work is good, valuable work, no matter the time period, governmental structure, economic type, class, or culture we are in.
The work of homemaking is of utmost value to culture and society, whether or not that culture and society values it. Even if a woman has another job—one that earns her money—her most significant contribution to her family and to the good of the nation and world is her homemaking.
Homes, after all, shape people. Those people, in turn, shape the culture, society, nation, and world into the next generations.
Let’s not be surprised when that level of influence demands difficult, time-consuming work.
I believe God is calling women out of the feminist lie that we are not fulfilled by homemaking and into the glorious truth that we can love the work and dance within the rhythms of life. We have a lot of baggage to drop on our way out of postmodernity. The good news is that scrubbing toilets, making grocery lists, and washing sheets all work for our rehabilitation into the glories of confident womanhood.
Our effectiveness in the world at large as women begins when we are effective in our homes, because homes are where people start, land, and connect. There is no greater privilege than to be given a home to run. We can and should glory in our duty as we learn the ropes of doing it faithfully.