I’ve been thinking about homemaking more and more recently. It’s been creeping up on me the past couple of years that this is an area I want to improve in. I want to have established routines so I don’t have to think about housecleaning and laundry and grocery shopping and meal planning but just do them because I’ve got a system that works for me. But I’ve still got a long way to go before I get to where I want to be. If that’s even an attainable goal. Maybe it’s something I’ll always be working towards and never really reach.
Anyway, I’ve found that reading other mom’s blogs about homemaking can be inspiring but it can also be disheartening. The other day I read a wonderful post by Katherine at Evlogia. In a series she calls “Beauty in the Home” was a post about Expectations. Here’s a taste:
I’m not a rigid scheduler. It’s just not my personality. I crave order and a set rhythm, but the cadence to our day is meant to serve a greater good. I can’t be a servant to a wall full of sticky notes dictating my every waking moment. Thus with regards to both a rule of prayer and a rule of home life, I think the important thing to keep in mind is that the English word rule is an unfortunate translation. Rules bring to mind things that are either kept or broken, deserving either reward or punishment. The word rings with a legalistic and obligatory tone. As Elder Sophrony said of prayer rules, they either puff us up with pride if we keep them or cause us to despair when we can’t.
The original word that we translate as rule is the Greek word canon, taken from the Hebrew word qaneh which is a reed. This particular reed grows straight enough to be used as a measuring stick. The context of this word in Christian Tradition is a matter of a standard or norm by which we should measure ourselves. We need this standard in the spiritual life, not so that we will feel prideful in our achievements or despairing in our failings, but so that we aren’t constantly trying to discover or reinvent the path that has been clearly laid out for us by the Fathers.
The same applies to the home. The daily expectations within the life of the home are not a matter of training a child to follow a rule, but a matter of forming habits that teach the art and love that go into keeping a home and living as a family. This is how we serve one another. This is how we live in community. And it is in the context of this community that we labor in the spiritual life so that our hearts may be healed.
I was really moved by Katherine’s gentle and prayerful approach and told her so in the comments. Oh and it is so nice to hear another mom declare that she isn’t a rigid scheduler. I know it’s not in my nature but so many of the homemaking advice blogs and books I read are by women for whom it is in their nature and I end up convincing myself that I need a schedule and then kicking myself when it falls apart. I was especially moved also by her understanding that rigid rules can so easily move us to despair. Oh that is so true for me. At the same time, I must confess that I was a bit envious of her proposed chore system which enlists her four children who are old enough to be capable of completing household tasks. I wrote a comment to that effect:
Reading this I can’t wait until I have a house full of children who are capable of taking on chores. Right now my oldest is three and can do some basic supervised fetch and carry and picking up messes but that’s basically training her for later, not helping me to whittle down the vast pile of things only I can do. I suppose at this stage in our family’s life when I hit those walls you mention of nursing a newborn, nine months pregnant, etc things just have to go undone. It’s frustrating because it seems every time I start to get a rhythm and routine established they fall apart again because of one of those interruptions. Having a new child every year does that. However, your post inspires me to remember that this is a temporary season and it’s worth it to keep working to train those habits so that in the future I will have a house full of little helpers like yours.
Despite the tone of my comment, I was satisfied that I’d already found an answer to my envy in Katherine’s original post where she acknowledged the differences in the seasons of a mother’s life and how pregnancy and childbirth slow us down. And I did realize that this is a stage she is in now that I will reach one day when my children are older. Still, I was even more touched by Katherine’s thoughtful response to my comment, which she made into a separate blog post, To the Mothers of Little Ones. Here’s a bit of what she said:
I think the particular season of mothering, when every aspect of serving others is on your shoulders, is the most intense period of the asceticism of motherhood. I don’t know if I would have the patience to bear the weaknesses of my children as they learn to contribute to our home and serve our family had I not first had the opportunity to die to self and completely serve them. (And I have much more dying to do.) God knows what He is doing and it is beautiful to look back in hindsight and see how He is working to save us.
The frustrations and constant interruptions of our daily rhythm during this season of life serves to break our will. My spiritual father often reminds me that when St. Paul wrote that women will be saved through child-bearing, he was not merely referring to the pangs of labor and the moment of birth, but to the entirety of motherhood. It is through being a mother that a woman learns to love and to live for someone else.
I love the thought about St Paul. Indeed if I do look back even over the past three years it is amazing how motherhood has been a constant process of learning to die to my self and live for my husband and children. Though I fail in that goal daily, still I keep on picking myself back up when I can. And i keep trying to be more loving and more patient. And I also keep trying to re-establish those rhythms and routines that are constantly derailed.
Katherine is right, of course, that it is all part of a process of purification. And on one level I know that. Yet it is so hard to remember when you’re in the trenches and everything seems to be falling apart. Especially when early pregnancy hormones plus exhaustion and nausea tend to cloud one’s thinking. And attempting to establish routines and habits for myself when they get completely derailed by pregnancy, new babies etc is an exercise in frustration and humility.
I think I struggle with this issue of homemaking particularly because one vice I struggle with the most often is sloth. (Yeah, that and lack of patience. Oh I am learning to be patient so very, very slowly. Isn’t that the only way the impatient can grow in patience? Still, I’m not very patient with my lack of progress.) It is so hard to assess for myself what I am realistically able to accomplish. So I tend to vacillate between the extremes of doing too little and doing too much and then start to question my own motivations. Especially when I read other mother’s schedules and plans, which should encourage me but often do the opposite. Am I neglecting things I think should get done because of physical exhaustion or because I’m only human and can only do so much or am I giving in to discouragement or am I just plain lazy? (The correct answer is all of the above. Each of those is true at one time or another.) And when at times I have bursts of energy and get a lot done I tend to think that those days should be the norm. I set my goals too high.
Which brings me back to some things Katherine wrote about her routines in this post. I especially appreciated this thought:
It seems to me that it is also important to keep in mind that a detailed homemaking schedule will only be successful in a home that has been de-cluttered. Every homemaking book and resource that I have read recommends beginning with the process of de-cluttering the home before beginning maintenance routines.
I’ve been thinking about decluttering for some time. Oh I’ve got a very long mega-post on my struggles with that that I’ve been writing (instead of actually decluttering.) I need to finish the final edits and get it up here.
And there was this gem of a thought as well:
One last thought is a matter of habit formation. It seems that the quickest road to burnout is to either take on too much at one time or to make too many changes at once. My favorite educator, Charlotte Mason, wrote that one-third of a child’s education is a matter of habit formation; however, she counseled that the parent train the child by working on only one habit at a time. St. Basil the Great counseled the development of one virtue at a time as well. Habit formation is a process and it requires patience.
I love the focus on the little increments, working on one habit at a time. I can do that! I am doing that, now that I think about it. I just have this bad habit of focusing on all the things I wish I was doing that I’m not doing. Patience. Again it comes down to patience. Not only with Bella and Sophie but with myself. So for encouragement, I need to remind myself of what we are doing and have done.
Right now I’m working on having Bella help to clear her dishes from the table after a meal. However, I do need to work harder at being consistent. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes, though, she reminds me even when I do forget and does it on her own. I suppose when she remembers every time that’s the signal to start working on a new habit?
We’ve also been working on the habit of putting her dirty clothes into the hamper when she’s taken them off at the end of the day. I have to remind her sometimes but she generally remembers—and often even helpfully takes Sophia’s clothes—without my asking. Ok, I know this isn’t exactly working on only one habit at a time. But I feel better realizing that only focusing on two habits isn’t slacking, it’s actually perhaps doing more than I need to. Perhaps realizing that will make it easier for me to really focus on being consistent with those two habits.
I tend to minimize and discount the very real progress we have made and are making. For example, potty training is going so well now. I can hardly believe I ever stressed about it. Sure we have occasional accidents. But she understands the concept and is getting pretty good at physical control and self awareness. She runs to the bathroom on her own several times a day most days.
And as for my own routines… I’ve got some habits pretty much down for myself. I make our bed every morning when I get dressed. I’m much better at sweeping the floor every day, at staying on top of the laundry and the dishes, at straightening the living room at the end of the day, at vacuuming the carpets at least once a week. And I’ve become much better at reviewing what I’ve accomplished at the end of the day and at planning out tasks for the next day so I’m not awash in a sea of things that must be done.
I’ve still got a ways to go and I know that over the next weeks I’ll be slowing down again and things probably won’t pick up again until the fall when baby Benedict has been incorporated into our routine and I’ve recovered from the c-section and all that. Still, I have to remember that the progress I’ve made thus far won’t really go away. I’ve found after Bella’s and Sophie’s births that it was much easier picking up dropped habits than it was forming them in the first place. I dropped my daily making the bed when I was in that post-op newborn nursing all day and night. But once my parents were gone and I was on my own I stepped back into my homemaking routines much more smoothly than I thought would be possible. Incorporating Sophie wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. There were adjustments, of course, but I think having a routine to go back to made it all so much easier. Hopefully things will play out the same way with Benedict.
The bottom line is baby steps. I’m working to change the habits of a lifetime. To become the mother and homemaker I want to be won’t happen overnight. I can so often be patient with my children as I see them struggling to learn new skills, I must have the same patience with myself as I also inch my way forward… one foot in front of the other.