Tuesday, July 13, 2010
I can point to many seasons in my life up until now, and probably could slap a label on most of them. One that has been ongoing, and pretty much simultaneous with my childbearing career, could be labeled Stuck At Home. I know this is not a terribly common problem to have, as many people are more concerned with not being home enough, as I once was.... but bear with me here.
Having been a free spirit from the age of about 16 until said childbearing, which began at age 33, it was quite a reality shift when I brought Brendan home and became responsible for him every moment. The days began to stretch on... and on... They ran together and often, I couldn't even come up with the date if you asked me! Going from two incomes to one meant that we also went down to one car for the majority of the time. With mostly 12 hour shifts and frequent overnights, sometimes even weeks at a time, my dear husband (and the car) were noticeably absent. Are noticeably absent! We further limited our social life by keeping an off-beat schedule (call it 2nd shift) and having 3 kids in 6 years - both more or less intentional. And of course, we chose to homeschool. It added up to lots and lots and lots of time at home for the kids and me.
When Jeff began working 7 days a week earlier this year just to keep a roof over our heads, I did expect to stay home even more. But dear friends took pity on us and lent us a spare car indefinitely. My world suddenly seemed wide open! The possibilities were endless! All 3 kids are old enough to take places with relative ease at this point, and I had a nice list of things I hoped to do with them. I had so many plans... and then the wretched heat set in. There is no AC in the van. We do enjoy going to the store any time of day we need to now, but any longer trips are just too hot for me to strap the kids in the back row with windows that won't open. So... for now, stuck at home it is. (Fortunately, it's a good home to be stuck at, all things considered!)
It must be recorded that, at the beginning of these years, I did not accept my situation gracefully. The four walls closed in relentlessly and, although my choices, our choices, were the cause, I still resented everyone with freedom of movement - including my husband, who, ironically, gets to drive all day and see lots of interesting people and places, sometimes even St. Louis! If you can imagine... (This is not the tone in which he describes his job, however. The grass is always greener...)
The demands of several small children coupled with the isolation and monotony were too much at times. I did try to break it up by having friends over to play, especially the last few years, but that in itself was also demanding. The ability to keep the house together when four or more people are constantly in it is, well, a superpower which I do not possess. But the chaos adds to the dejection and the isolation. I well remember when we lived near my in-laws, the relief I felt when they would sometimes bundle both kids (we had 2 at the time) into the stroller and take them for a walk. A precious hour or two meant that I could get ahead of the rising tide of clutter. Once in a while, I would just nap during that time. What a blessing it was for me, one that many mothers would give their right arms for!
Being alone in my own home is as necessary for me as occasionally getting out. This couldn't happen when I had a tiny infant, of course, but having the older kids go out with my sister or my husband for a few hours was a godsend. It used to be rare indeed. Luckily, in the past year, it has become a regular occurrence and is the source of my sanity! Isolation is a genuine concern for many newer moms, and each family will need to hammer out a solution depending on personalities and circumstances. Eight years in, I have figured out some coping mechanisms for myself. At the same time, my thinking has shifted a little regarding this season of staying home.
Recently I followed a discussion among some homeschooling moms who lamented the over-scheduling, scattering and running that is so prevalent in families with growing children. Every single mom who replied to the discussion advised choosing fewer activities and enjoying more togetherness while it was still possible. Most poignant were the words of older moms whose children had already left - the years were too short and the commitments were too many. I began to look at our extreme togetherness as more of a blessing.
Interestingly, even without many outside obligations, the world comes into our home in so many ways anyway. We finally ditched TV service, but the internet is ever-present and a bigger part of my children's lives than I ever expected. People visit us frequently - hardly a week goes by when we don't have guests, usually a houseful of children. We are now able to participate in some homeschool group functions, church activities and frequent family gatherings. These provide an important social outlet, but truth be told, there were times we didn't have many of these. When the children are very young, I think these are less important than many people believe. The home and family provide a familiar and secure environment in which little souls grow and flourish. It is the moms who really crave companionship, and find creative ways to get it.
Since my children are still young, I don't have experience to go by when envisioning our lives with teens. I like to think we will still have the friends they grew up with, and some group activities based on our interests and church involvement. Co-oping some classes at the high school level sounds like something I would have enjoyed as a young adult. Some mobility is a godsend for providing educational experiences for growing kids. But those words of the experienced moms ring in my ears - never sorry for how little their families had taken on, but for how much. We will need to guard against over-committing in those all-important years as well.
I'm well aware that balance is the key to sanity in any season of life. Clearly, I have sometimes been too isolated, and others mothers I know have been too busy. We all need some quiet, some recreation and some diversion. But for those who have made difficult choices for the sake of the family life they aspire to, the focus need not only be on the sacrifices and the deprivation. These long days at home can be a sort of incubator for the young family to put down its roots, undistracted by tightly-packed schedules and outside expectations. It may take the perspective of years to truly understand that it is so, but meanwhile, choosing to love the season for its very challenges can free us from resentment and bring contentment to our hearts.
What I know right now is that "stuck at home" is where I am supposed to be. I feel sure this is increasingly temporary for our family, so I have tried harder to embrace my season of life. The dawn-to-dusk noise of an energetic brood and the inevitable disarray still makes me crazy, but I am trying not to hide so often from my kids behind a computer screen or in a book. It occurred to me that I could view these years as my "novitiate" - traditionally, the time a young woman becoming a nun would take to separate from the world and even from loved ones, in order to focus on her new life of service to God. My novitiate would be my time to attend the school of my children's hearts, to learn how to serve them and love them, how to teach them and reach them in their own unique ways. It should be a time for turning inward and nurturing in the heart of the family. The outside world will claim them soon enough.
Each family will need to decide at some point how much outside activity is beneficial for its particular needs. For some, circumstances will dictate a path they might not originally have chosen. Others choose to be at home, but find it daunting, especially in the early years of parenting. If being home seems more challenging than expected, we can grit our teeth and offer it up. Or we can wrap our arms around this amazing gift and choose to love it and to use it grow both personally and as a family. In a very few years, we will already see that it was a blessing and a particular grace from God, not to be squandered by thoughts of self-pity and resentment. The family tree deeply rooted in this fertile time of grace will surely bear abundant fruit in the future.