Monday, February 3, 2014

What Real Encouragement Looks Like

Maybe you've had this happen to you. Maybe it's just me. Well, no, I know it's not just me, because I've had other women share similar stories...

You and a friend decide to meet up for some coffee. For her, maybe this requires setting up a babysitter, maybe it doesn't. Either way, she shows up with the vestiges of her day written on her person. You both do. 

The difference is that she has on her now-crumpled work clothes, or maybe the cute yoga outfit she just wore to the gym. You, on the other hand, are wearing yoga clothes not because you've just been working out but because you're in your first trimester and feel like crap--not to mention none of your regular jeans fit, even though the maternity ones are still too baggy, and wearing them makes you constantly afraid they're about to slip down around your ankles.

Also, you notice as you look down that the toddler has left a jammy mouthprint on the thigh of said yoga pants, which you failed to notice before running out the door. C'est la vie. Such is the life of a stay-at-home mom of littles.

The two of you grab your coffee. You feel a little bit like it's a life raft you're grabbing onto rather than a flimsy paper cup. 

It's been a hard day. Hard week. Hard month.

Your new curriculum isn't working out as planned, and there's been some drama at the local homeschooling co-op. The baby is teething--or weaning--or both. You're hormonal from the new pregnancy, which you're not telling anyone about yet because of that miscarriage you went through two years ago. 

You wonder if everyone thinks you're just getting fat. And lazy. And anti-social, since every time someone calls, you're either in the bathroom or helping someone else learn to use it, and you haven't answered your phone in two weeks. 

Your kids are going stir-crazy because you don't have the energy to walk them to the park (and you are not going to throw up in one of those public restrooms!) and you haven't been to a play date in a month. Also, you're worried about the budget because you didn't get a chance to freeze meals before the morning sickness set in and you've been ordering out a lot. (At least the kids are happy about one thing. "Pass the fries, please, mom!")

So, anyway, you sit down--you, homeschooling pregnant mama, and your dear friend who has (understandably) a rather concerned crease between her eyebrows as she asks you how you're doing.

And then you let it all out.

How hard it is. How awful you feel. How ugly you feel. How much you miss your old career and how easy it seems sometimes to think of shipping all those kids off to the free neighborhood school for someone else to deal with. Your friend smiles knowingly (as if she's actually been precisely in your shoes and she knows just how you're feeling). 

"I'm so sorry," she says, and for one split second, you feel validated. You knew you picked her as your friend for a reason. 

But then she keeps talking, and the moment explodes right in your puffy, bleary-eyed, tear-stained face. 

"You know," she goes on, "lots of women end up feeling that way. Is there any chance you could put the kids in school?"

Bam. Like a big bowl of Christmas candy and a slap to the face all at once.

Because part of you does want it, that ease. To stop reinventing the wheel that everyone else seems so happy to run in all day. And part of you knows that you've just been egregiously (if unintentionally) insulted. Do you see it? Maybe not. 

Let me put it another way. 

Think for a minute about the last time you sat down with a working friend at the end of a long day. Did she beam at you and say, "I love everything about my job! I even love the hard stuff, like the rude clients and my overly demanding boss and having to walk around in heels for eight hours a day! It's amazing! I have absolutely nothing I dislike about what I do all day."

Maybe. We all have those days where it seems like a dream that we get to live our own lives. But, I'd bet most days that working friend just wants to flop down, throw on some sweats and complain about her aching feet and what a headache her latest case load has been. 

If she starts in with these sort of your complaints, what is your response? Do you immediately suggest she quit her job? No, you don't. Because you believe that what she's doing (earning a paycheck for one thing) is important. 

So, you don't tell her to quit. You give her some tea and sympathy, and then you encourage her to keep her chin up, keep talking to you if she has trouble getting through it. You tell her you'll be praying for her.

Why are homemakers/homeschoolers/stay-at-homers/what-have-you so rarely given the same courtesy?

Most women do not become homemakers--and I don't know a single one who becomes a homeschooler--simply by "falling into it." You don't just stumble across this way of life. It's way too counter-cultural! It takes vision, effort, prayer, and a lot of hard work to even start making it happen.

So, when we complain about a legitimately hard spell in this life (and who doesn't have those in every line of life and work), we're not looking for you to suggest we quit.

How would you feel if you had to "prove" how much you loved your job lest every person you know and love suggest you give up on it, go back to school, and find another line of work?

Wouldn't you be insulted? Especially if it's something you worked very hard for (being an actress or a lawyer, for example, which both require lots of training and dedication)--something you care about deeply, that is an ingrained part of your identity?

Wouldn't that hurt? And wouldn't it be hard if you felt you had to keep up a false front with everyone you know just so you don't have to be hurt that way?

Maybe it's not your friends who say these things. Maybe it's a sister, mother, father, mother-in-law, or even your husband. To all those well-meaning loved ones, please let me give you a bit of advice: Don't. Just...don't.

When we stay-at-homers open up our hearts to you, we are looking for validation and encouragement, not a brush off. We are venting, just like you do. This is not (at least in the vast majority of cases) a release of pent-up hostility toward our lives as stay-home-mothers. We have not been "faking" it for all those other weeks, storing up anger and bitterness for the "hand we've been dealt" or the "oppression" of our situations. We're just having a hard time right now. Don't try to fix it. Just listen, pray with and for us, tell us to keep our chins up. Like you would for anyone.

Or don't you believe that what we're doing matters as much as a paycheck?

Please understand:

Home-making, home educating, mothering--this is our job. More than that, it's a vocation. A calling. A life goal, choice, purpose, and course all rolled into one. Please respect it as such.

We do not need suggestions on how to make our vocations easier (unless you share our vocation and have some helpful perspective, then we're all ears!). If you were a teacher, would you suggest how a doctor make her job easier? If you were an artist, would you give vocational tips to a construction worker? Please don't assume that because you have done some of the things we do (cook meals, do laundry, birth children) that you know "exactly what it's like." I don't presume to know what a chef's, maid's, mother of triplets, or classroom teacher's life is like. Just saying.

When I'm having a rough day, I don't want someone to tell me to quit my vocation and find a new one. Believe me, I've considered other options. I still chose this one. I don't plan on quitting just because the going gets tough.

What I need is someone who understands that being a homeschooling mother is as demanding and difficult as being a CEO. Who can accept that I have down days and frustrating seasons and who believes in me and my work enough to comfort, encourage, and inspire me to persevere, knowing--believing that the darkness will soon dispel.

Because what I'm doing produces something far more valuable than a paycheck: wholly healthy children. As their mother, I can see to their emotional, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual needs better than anyone else.

Can children be "raised right" in a public school setting? Yes, often. Though not always. For some women, there is no other option, and in those cases, you make do. And you do what you have to put food on the table.

Other women have no qualms about letting their kids spend their days under the guidance of other adults. That's a perfectly legitimate option. One that many make. But that's their choice.

It is not mine.

To address the common stipulation that usually gets raised at this point: Yes, I am blessed that I don't have to work to put food on the table. I recognize that. But that doesn't mean I have infinite resources.

I thrift shop. We live in a much smaller house than we might have. We have old cars and often fix them ourselves. We rarely hire services, have no cable, go on fewer vacations, and do fewer paid recreational activities than most people we know--even people who make less money than we do annually. We prioritize and make sacrifices. If you have different priorities, fine. I won't judge you. Please don't decide that my priorities are a waste of time or effort.

We homeschoolers are not drudges, draining society and their husbands' paychecks while we sit around eating bon-bons and watching soap operas all day. We prioritize, we work hard, and we make sacrifices. They may look different than your priorities, your work, or your sacrifices, but that does not make them "less."

I sacrificed my career for heaven's sake! And, yes, that was hard. Sometimes I even throw myself a pity party. But when I do, please don't imply that all my effort and sacrifice have been for nothing by suggesting I throw in the towel.

Unless, of course, you do believe that earning minimum wage to perform Shakespeare for strangers is, in fact, more valuable than give my all to attend to my children's best interests and well being. Then, suggest away. I'll gather up my battered ego on the way out the door.

Just don't expect me to invite you to coffee again.

won't, however, turn the tables and suggest when you have a hard day that you quit your job and come home like me.

But if, instead of a "quick fix," you can offer me some true friendship and real sisterly encouragement, then thank you.

I'll be sure to return the favor the next time we grab lattes.


  1. I hear you Bethany... I too have felt the same frustrations of looking around asking, "is anyone else making these same hard choices/sacrifices, or is it just me?" We too thrift shop, drive [one] old car,which sticks me and children at home when hubby is at work, unless we want to walk..., and struggle with $ sometimes when the pipes freeze or some other catastrophe happens... And there are times when my life doesn't feel like MY life... I think it can be easy to think about Christ's command to die to self as some sort of self-fulfilling, self-actualized state, that when you actually DO die to self, you feel glad and fulfilled by it... and are happy that you chose to do so... perhaps that is a misguided expectation on our parts of what dying to self truly looks and feels like--and that Christ knew all along what it would require of us... There are times when I too am either tempted or just fall into self-pity, and the limitations of our lives stifle and frustrate me... and I waver between times of absoute crazy-chaos-busy, and I-can't-tell-you-how-BORED I am. I too live three hours from family, and am preggo with baby #5... I too have a hubby that sometimes works long hours, leaving me to deal with all the household, all the kids and all the stress of the family life... And while our church is good, it's 11 miles away, and most of the other mothers (except for one or two) work at least part time outside the home... and none homeschool... I understand your frustrations right where you are... I live many of those same frustrations... And all I can say is that the Scriptures are right on, when it tells us not to worry about tomorrow... that's too stressful... focus on today. right now. this minute. Die to self now... in five minutes, continue... do it again... I know human nature doesn't change, so I'm sure there have been other women at other times when they have felt the same ways, but our modern culture of focusing on "happiness" and how much we "deserve" and the disgust with daily self-sacrifice and dying to self creeps in so stealthily... Mostly because it appeals to our flesh... It is different when you look back in history and see women of different times all dealing with the same pressures to manage the home, to scrimp and be frugal, with no homeschool guidelines to follow or state standards to adhere to... to be a woman 100 years ago meant that there were lots of other women who dealt with the same frustrations and limitations and such (like during the Depression, when most people had to patch their clothes or figure out how to feed a family of 7 on three potatoes and an onion--and mothers who COULD were respected and valued for their economy). I don't know if it helps just to know that 3,000 miles away, another mother echoes the same sentiments and struggles with the same temptations at times. But also, that they are worth it, and that no amount of money or ease (or even choice or options) can replace the bonds of mother and child--and when they look back on their own childhoods, the snuggles, the closeness, even the "sameness" that drives us nuts is what gives them security and comfort they need to grow into stable adults in a world of uncertainty. Also, we are teaching them (by our attitudes), about the nature of dying to self... and what they see in us will impact them--as far as whether we die to self willingly or whether we are embittered and resentful of it... We must throw ourselves on Christ's mercy and ask Him to give us what we lack day by day... And realize that giving God glory comes when we are able to joyfully die to self, because it is not a state that the flesh comes to by our own nature or effort, but only through the power of Almighty God alone. Blessings, Laura

  2. Yep, from what little I've experienced, parenting is a long, tough, rewarding gig. And homeschooling is a rewarding challenge that sometimes brings us to the end of our rope (although, I found it mostly related to parenting than the homeschooling, but that's my experience). What you are doing, and the sacrifices you are making, are so worth it! Hang in there.

    I'm so sorry you had someone discourage you. That's not what any of us need. Keep you the great work you are doing. God's mercies are new every morning... for all of us. May you find rest in Him and His provision.

    Praying for you.


  3. First- I am encouraged by you and I love your blog.
    Second- There have been times when I have been jealous of you and had to stop reading your blog. You are living a dream of mine: you have published a novel, you get to stay home with your kids, you have a loving and supportive husband, and you have the discipline to home school. AND you expect to be happy all of the time? LOL! As a friend of mine once chided me: what you are mad because God didn't give you all the gifts?
    I was a stay at home mom, now I am a recent widow, I have to go back to
    work soon, but I still feel for you. If I didn't live on the other side of the country I would gladly come over, share a cup of ginger tea (the only thing that seemed to work for morning sickness) and give you a great big hug. As it is, consider your self hugged. Being a good stay at home mom is very hard and there are no breaks or days off. Most days you can't even go to the bathroom by yourself! BUT you are raising people and Nothing is more important than the example you set for your kids. Nothing. You are doing what is right and necessary. Good Job! Keep at it.
    Much Love,

    1. Kim, first let me offer my sincere condolences for the loss of your husband. I'm so sorry, and your family is in my prayers. Second, let me set your mind ay ease about a couple of things you mention. 1) although I have written 8 novels and had some articles published, I don't have a published novel. So you and I can both continue to dream about that one :) 2) also, please don't think that I expect to be happy all the time! Actually, what I hoped to express in this post is that I resent the pressure I have sometimes felt from friends and family to act like I am happy all the time. Having struggled with post partum depression, I know very well what it is to not be happy and to find gratitude for my abundant gifts in the midst of that darkness. Thank you so much for your support. I just wanted to set the record straight on those two points :)

    2. Thank You. Again you are a dear sweet person. I also remember the abyss of post partum depression. I just wanted to encourage you, I did not mean to judge or sound harsh.
      Blessings, Prayers and Love,

    3. Not at all! I just didn't want you to feel discouraged thinking I'd done or expected more than was true :) God bless.

  4. Mama, you are loved. So very loved. I know all about yoga pants and french fries, jammy little fingers and feeling frumpy. I know how hard it can be to get up in the morning after only minutes of sleep the night before. I know that barfy feelng that lasts for months (for me, all 9 months) and what it is like trying to pick up the house with two little people dangling off of me and trailing behind me. What I don't yet know, is how you homeschool your older ones while you take care of your babies. (Mine are too little still.) But I admire it so much. I have hungrily read your posts on your reading baskets, admired your lovely school room, and hope that some day I will get it together (I don't have it together) enough to homeschool my precious little ones too. When you posted that you had put Sophia in public school, I was surprised to be sure, but more, somehow I found even that encouraging. I saw a genuine humility that you were able to state to the world that you needed help when things were tough. I didn't judge you, sweet Mama. I admired you then too. As time went on, and you blogged about how much you regretted that decision, I continued to admire you. Wow, I thought. She is so honest. She made a decision, she changed her mind, and her sweet little girl is only the better for it. SHE LOVES YOU. She loves you enough to go to school without complaint, in the middle of the year. To sit in a classroom she didn't know. To learn beside classmates she didn't know. To listen and obey a teacher she didn't know. She did it out of love for you. And when you decided to bring her home, she was overjoyed. Not because she hated her time at school, but because she loves being home with YOU more.

    You are dearly loved, Bethany. That friend, whoever she is, was unsure what to say. She misadvised you, hurt you, and left you feeling alone and judged. My guess is that she loves you too. She maybe didn't say the right thing, and if she knew how hurt you were, I am sure she would desperately want to make things right. I wish I could share a yummy latte with you and learn from you. I wish I could simply share stories and swap funnies of life in the Mama trenches. I wish I could hug you and encourage you and bring back a little sparkle on the hard days. The trouble is, I live here and you live there. But know that across the miles, I am praying for you and my heart is aching with you on the hard days and rejoicing with you in your blessings.


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