New word for the week: Ululate (ul y -lat). To howl, hoot, wail, or lament loudly. Surprise your friends and family by using your new word today. As in, “Quit your ululating. Three bites of broccoli won’t kill you.”
Alternate new word: Whiffle (hwif l). To move or think erratically; waver. As in, “OK, you only have to eat two bites of broccoli. You’re lucky I’m willing to whiffle on this one.”
OK, so let’s get this out of the way right up-front: I am not homemaker of the year. A bag of peeled carrots on the dinner table is often the closest I get to a side dish. I’ve been known to make my children snack outside in the rain after I’ve just done my biyearly kitchen floor mopping. Our house was robbed once, and it took me more than an hour to notice that the disarray was someone else’s handiwork.
My homemaking sins are like scarlet.
So what am I doing writing a book about homemaking?
Actually, my plan A was not to write a book for homemakers but to read one. I was looking for a book that would help me figure out something special to surprise my family with on Valentine’s Day—a book with ideas on when and how to plant bulbs (pointy side up, in case you’re wondering) and some hints on getting my kids to help with chores when I wasn’t even sure I knew how to do chores myself. Seeing as home economics classes went out with the Nixon administration and nearby grandmas with a hankering to teach knitting were in short supply, I needed advice on all kinds of homemaking skills, and I needed it fast. I didn’t have the time or energy to search out a hundred different books to help me get good at my job.
What I found in my quest for that just-right homemaking book was a shelf full of books on becoming the perfect parent. I found books on making my own cleaning products with ingredients found in my very own cupboards. (Oh, joy.) I found books on organizing my piles of paper, baking with my bread machine, and cooking gourmet French dinners from scratch.
What I couldn’t find was a more encompassing, more inclusive book that recognized I am more than just the family dinner wizard. I am more than just the laundry-stain getter-outer, the head muffin maker, the sibling squabble solver. I am more than just seeker of bargain outlet stores, overseer of the family calendar, and consultant for cheesy junior high science projects that promise results in twenty-four hours or less. My job includes zillions of tasks, some creative and some mundane. I wanted a book that recognized all this and would still help me figure out how to get dinner on the table when my fanny’s stuck to the driver’s seat most afternoons between 2 and 7 p.m.
Though I read many good books along my journey—the best of which I’ve quoted here in sidebars—I finally decided that in order to read the book I was looking for, I would have to write it. So here it is. I hope this book encourages you, as writing it has encouraged me, to love your family with your whole heart and serve them with as much joy as you can squeeze forth after the day’s fifth load of laundry. As King Solomon said three thousand years ago, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands” (Proverbs 14:1).
Solomon was right. Let’s be wise women who commit ourselves to building our homes. Then we can watch in wonder as God turns them into the strongest, sturdiest dwellings imaginable.
* * *
When I was in college, I worked as an intern at a magazine. I will never forget the comment of a coworker near my own age as she eyed the engagement ring on my finger. In a voice dripping with condescension, she asked, “Are we supposed to congratulate you?” The clear message, in that I-am-woman, hear-me-roar era, was that graduation and career were laudable, but graduation and marriage were not.
Several years later, as I found myself at home, changing diapers and blotting baby spit-up from my shoulder, I had to swat the nagging invisible voices of disapproval that floated around my brain like unwelcome gnats. Is this all you’re doing with your Stanford degree? What about the profession you trained for?
It took me years to realize that though I was not going to an office every day, I still had a profession. In fact, I had an incredibly demanding profession, one with twenty-four-hour days, no sick leave, and eternal consequences.
“Homemaking is a proud profession,” says a bumper sticker in my collection.1 Homemaking is a proud profession. It’s an honorable profession. It’s an important profession. As homemakers, you and I set the tone for our homes. We have the potential to make them warm and inviting. We can create wonderful environments where friends and family can thrive.
The world sends the message that being home is a foolish waste of a woman’s time and talents. The homemaker’s heart tells her that nurturing her family is one of the most fulfilling, creative endeavors she could imagine.
There have been moments in these at-home years when I’ve been enticed by the thought of escaping to the grown-up world of the workplace—the world of dry-clean-only clothes, complete sentences, and a paycheck that you can trade in for actual money. (You’ve probably had those moments too.) But always after about five seconds, I realize no babysitter could have ever treasured my sons the way I do. And no amount of financial rewards or professional pats on the back could have ever come close to the joy of watching my children grow and making a home for our family. Home, with the family God has blessed me with, is where I want to be. And now as I see my boys becoming young men, with the young motherhood years fading into the background and the empty nest not too far in my future, I thank God once again for these treasures—my husband and two sons—and for the precious, irretrievable joy and privilege of being there to take care of them.
You may wonder sometimes if patching one more pair of worn-out knees or making one more peanut-butter-and-jelly brown bag lunch really matters. Let me tell you: it matters. If you are home raising your family, you are doing important work. By loving the family God has given you, you are making an impact not only on this generation but also on the one after and the one after that. As a homemaker, your work has eternal consequences.
That’s something no paid position can touch.
* * *
The thing that is so important for us to keep before us is that if we choose not to do this very special job, it will simply not get done. The mothering, the nurturing, the comforting and caring that fills the committed homemaker’s day will simply be lost, and society will be impoverished. . . .
Women can give up their jobs as clerks, engineers, salespeople, doctors—other people will step in and the world will go on as smoothly as before. . . . The groceries will still be sold, trucks loaded with merchandise will still roll across our highways, and Wall Street will carry on. Not so with homemaking. We are the special people into whose hands the homes of the country and the world have been entrusted. When we leave this job the world does not go on as before. It falters and begins to lose its way. We homemakers are indispensable.
Homemaking is much more than a job—it is a profession: a profession which is venerable, honorable, and of the highest benefit to mankind. We must not forget this.2
—Mary LaGrand Bouma, The Creative Homemaker
* * *
I love the sound of the word homemaker. To me, it resonates warmth, nurturing, and the ability to take an impersonal dwelling and, with diligence and love, transform it into a home.
In a magazine article I wrote once, I identified myself as a homemaker. To my dismay, the editor changed the word to “housekeeper.” I am the last person who deserves the title of housekeeper, as anyone who’s gotten past my front door can attest. I give new meaning to the phrase “You could eat off my kitchen floor.” Cobwebs flourish, dust bunnies spawn more dust bunnies, and a closed door at my house should be treated the same as a friend’s hatchet-job haircut—discreetly ignored. The job title “housekeeper” implies I clean house all day. (I don’t.) It implies the structure itself is what I’m tending, in a janitorial capacity.
Though as homemakers we can’t completely escape the occasional run-in with Mr. Clean—even if it’s just to slam the cupboard door before he escapes from his little bottle—our job involves far more than keeping house.
Homemaking involves people. It encompasses loving our children, nurturing their creativity, and helping them recognize their unique gifts. Homemaking is encouraging our husbands, admiring their finer qualities, and praying for them when they’re going through a rough time. Homemaking is being a people tender, a “family manager,”™ as author Kathy Peel calls it. It’s caring about the people who enter our world and nourishing them with kind words, food perhaps, and a listening ear. You and I change the lives we touch. We have the capacity to bring love and laughter and encouragement to those who enter our homes. It’s a huge job.
In truth, every woman is a homemaker, whether she wants to be or not. Young or old, single or married, childless or with a house full of kids, if she has a home, be it three thousand luxurious square feet or a single-room apartment, she is most likely the one in charge of keeping it running.
My hope is that even if you’ve never owned a peppy little apron and wouldn’t dream of donning yellow rubber gloves, you will come to embrace homemaking as the vital, life-changing work that it is. As author Linda Weltner says in her book No Place Like Home: Rooms and Reflections from One Family’s Life, “In a world filled with peril, what greater gift than to have the power to make a home out of what would otherwise have been merely living quarters.”3
Let’s cherish that very great gift.
* * *
Running a home takes “knowledge and intelligence . . . the kind that is complex, not simple, and combines intellect, intuition, and feelings. You need a memory good enough to remember how things are done, where things are, what the daily routine requires, what everyone in the home is up to as it affects housekeeping, the state of supplies, budgets, and bills. You have to be able to decipher insurance policies, contracts, and warranties, manage a budget, and master the technical language of instruction manuals for appliances and computers. The ability to split your attention in several ways and stay calm is essential.”4
—Cheryl Mendelson, Home Comforts
* * *
“Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7–8)
Lord, please encourage me in my work at home. Help me to look past my less-than-spotless house and see my many daily tasks as opportunities to love my family and to honor You. Help our home to become the strong, healthy place You want it to be. Thank You for the opportunities You give me here.