written by Julia West | images by Alexandria Smith
I’ve been thinking about this title I gratefully profess: homemaker. It has been deemed a simple, lowly thing by some. Almost an afterthought; a chore list easily delegated out to any willing, able body. And yet the power and influence of a home testifies to the significance of such a title.
The phrase implies intention, but we mothers are making homes whether we intend to or not. There’s some consolation in that and also some accountability. In every home, those who come and go from it leave with the emotions, impressions, weights and endowments of it. If you polled a group about what “home” means to each person, there would likely be a spectrum of emotion surrounding the concept. Before words could form, the mind reels with emotions, smells and memories that can hardly be articulated. Some of us have been blessed with warm, thoughtful homes, either currently or in the past, that serve as a comfort whether we are there or away. Others of us feel remorse at our experience in a home or without one. For some, it is the inspiration for great accomplishments or goals, for others it may be the culprit for failures or insecurities. While I would guess that few would reference specific tasks of housekeeping, I would expect that in every answer, there would be a detectable longing for a good home. And not just comparatively good, but a home full of true goodness.
To know what makes a home good, I think we would be wise to look to the Original Homemaker. In the beginning, He thoughtfully and intentionally made a perfect home- one that provided rest and boundaries, belonging and abundance. At the foundation of it all and in His wisdom, He gave His children a purpose that was served by all other aspects of the home. There was a momentum and anticipation that all the work of the home was building up to something significant.
He invited His children to join Him in the work of making a beautiful, wonderful, peaceful home where their relationships could flourish. A truly good home. That was the goal and His offer to participate in it was an honor.
In our own homes, though flawed and just a glimpse of that perfection of the Lord’s creation, we can mirror the ways He made a home of goodness for our families, one that promotes unity and peace and joy, when we value what He valued.
Let’s talk about the value of work in a home. Even the Lord worked and said it was good. And there was no task too small for Him as He swept the mountains out of the sea and placed every speck of earth in its place. His work was not mindless- it was cultivation. So often while we are busy doing the daily tasks of homemaking, we think of them as if they are there only to fulfill themselves. We do the dishes so we can use them so they will need to be cleaned again. We clean clothes so we can wear them so they will need to be cleaned again. But even these mundane tasks serve a greater purpose. The machine we are oiling is one that doesn’t only produce clean dishes and laundry. It may be difficult to see when we are balancing grocery shopping, weekly checklists, keeping a tidy house that we are building something more substantial. If in our words and attitude we model that each task is actually a building block of a lifelong project of building a good home, every chore holds greater weight. By caring for our home and each other, family members gets to participate in the group project of creating stability and service. What a powerful shift in perspective!
Maybe that seems overwhelming. How can we keep this mindset as we go about our daily routine? As with all concentrated efforts, it is a discipline. But more than a discipline, personally, I find our purpose to be a comforting thought when I’m surrounded by my to do list. The work of chores and meal planning and making schedules- all of it is an opportunity to contribute to our good home. I won’t pretend toI have perfected the processes. In fact I know there is much room for improvement in my methods and mindset. Many days I find myself fumbling through my obligations, focusing on less significant things or feeling like I’m treading water. But even the figuring-it-out days have a purpose.
I have been a tutor in our homeschool co-op for the past couple of years and all the tutors are given the title of “Lead Learner.” There is within that title an admission that our knowledge is imperfect but we are pursuing it. What an appropriate label also for a mother and homemaker. All while we are going about our work, we are learning. Even if we seem stuck in a cycle of monotony, we are moving forward. We are learning what doesn’t work. We can learn to serve more efficiently, more patiently, more willingly, with more joy. And we are teaching as we learn, not just how to perform the responsibilities but how to learn. Those impressions will affect how our children serve, not just in their homes but in all areas of their lives. They see how we respond to challenges, risks we calculate, wisdom we acquire, plans we make, strategies we implement, factors we weigh, ways we sacrifice. Even without leaving home, we can show our children and remind ourselves that work is not dreadful. It is good, it is beneficial, it is vitally important in a healthy home and to do it is honorable.
To balance the work, there must be rest. This one is a challenge for me. How can we rest when there is much to be done? And yet, rest is to be done. We don’t have to look far to see many adults only know how to work or rest, but few know how to do both well. We are designed for both. As we make space in our homes for being productive and relaxing, we can help keep the idols of overworking and laziness at bay. Recently, I asked my oldest son to complete a simple (but not quick) task in the kitchen while I sat down to read in the living room for a few minutes after a busy morning. He started to bargain with me, asking for me to do part of the job. He said, “You’re just going to be reading, so I thought you weren’t busy.” And it was true- I was not busy. But, as I explained to him, the time I needed to spend reading was important, as was his time working. Time set aside for rest is not wasted time. It is often in these moments that tender hearts draw near, share needs or confess faults, minds open. If they can’t catch us because we are a spinning whirlwind, they may lose interest in asking the questions or just completing a deep thought out loud. We can purposefully create margin in our days, weeks and months that just allow for unhurried, restful moments.
As we are working and resting together, every family member has the opportunity to gain a sense of purpose. In a truly good home, each person knows they belong, they are valued and they can do work that contributes to the family project of making the home. In very clear and simple words we can affirm to every child, no matter the age, that they are important. The next time your toddler carries her shoes to her room, let her know, “You are helping make our home comfortable and enjoyable.” When your 5 year old tags along to the grocery store, let her know, “It is so nice to have your company while I am gathering things we need.” When your son starts to help take out the trash, make sure he knows, “I can see how you are taking on things your dad and I usually do. Thank you for finding needs and filling them.” When you hear your young children playing together, let them hear you say out loud that just the sound of their joy brings you joy. We can call out what each person’s specific strengths contribute to our homes that are unique and necessary and appreciated. With every affirmation, we are telling our families, “Look what is growing here! Come alongside me, let’s keep going!” A sense of purpose and belonging is one thing we can provide in abundance, even if there are seasons where material things may be scarce. What I’ve witnessed is that as that language of purpose and acknowledging contribution becomes fluent and the culture of building each other up is established, the abundance overflows to those outside of the home. One solid home impacts the homes of those who are welcomed into it and also the future homes of those to whom it once belonged. If you’ve witnessed one of these homes, the ones that seem filled to the brim with laughter and intentional conversations and cultivation of skills and delegated tasks and that celebrate the triumphs of each family member as if their individual success belonged to the whole family, you know what I’m talking about. You walk away from it inspired. The home itself becomes a seed that has the potential to yield an increase of purposeful, good homes.
For the first time, my family started a garden this year. There were so many steps to getting it done. We had to plan it out and measure, choose the best spot in the yard, clear some old tree roots and level the ground. My husband, myself and our three older children spent hours outside just preparing a space before we could even buy the lumber to build the raised beds. But we were all invested because we could just imagine the potential. The kids had visions of ripe strawberries and juicy cantaloupes and fresh tomatoes dancing in their heads. That dry patch of dirt was going to be teeming with new life- we just knew it! So we pressed on, adding to the process in little pockets of time. Every person chose seeds and starter plants, and finally, we got to put them in the fresh soil. Three sets of chubby fingers packed the dirt and held the water hose and all of us smiled just knowing we were doing something significant. Not much happened for several days, but we still went out to check for any sign of growth or change several times per day. Finally, we started to see the first fresh sprouts. We were all so excited! Our work was actually producing visible growth! Now, a few weeks since our garden started, we are seeing mature stems and leaves and blossoms and still know, there is more and better and different ahead of us.
When we are new homemakers, it may be hard to even consider the potential as we’re just learning basic skills. But each step is part of a grander picture. Like Ma and Pa Ingalls coming over the wild prairie and envisioning their homestead, it starts with the first cut log, the first seed planted. It’s pushed forward by the daily commitment to add to and pour in. It is sustained by the hope of what fruit may come not just for our own home but the ones that bud from it. Homes where hearts are formed and reassured and mended and humbled and bonded are things of beauty. Press on, homemakers. The work of building such a thing is noble work.