Thursday, September 13, 2012

Happy Housewife Post 1950's Style

When Kort and I got married, one of the cute gag gifts we got (got) was a book on the Happy Housewife with pictures, 1950's style, of a woman vacuuming the house with a huge smile, etc. Well, even though I'd like to laugh and pretend I am above the conflict about being a stay at home mother and "housewife," I am quite sensitive and frankly, struggling to find some meaning and purpose in my stage of life.  In fact, the reason I haven't posted anything for weeks is because I started a blog in response to articles in Slate and The Wall Street Journal about feminism and women's liberation. There is so much to say and I have so few concrete conclusions on the matter that I am temporarily hanging that one on a hook in the back of my mind to set. 

Whatever my opinions about the value of womanhood, work, and motherhood, I do need some talking-to as a stay at home mother. I need a regular doozy of a pep talk. Or I'm going to just sit in the doldrums of early motherhood, squalid in self-pity, making my poor husband miserable not to mention, myself. This is all probably sounding melodramatic. I'm sure one could say, "What does she have to be miserable about? She has a beautiful, healthy, sweet baby, a lovely marriage and home!" True, true. How thankful I am for this when I dwell on it! But I'm a sinner who struggles with contentment. Also, being at home with a baby is difficult because care giving is difficult and draining as anyone who has been a caregiver knows (need I explain? Loss of sleep, lack of freedom, etc.). On top of the normal associations with caregiving, our society does not value people who stay at home with children, thus it can be demoralizing.  I am assuming others must struggle in the same situation. Let's encourage one another as Paul says, "Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Ephesians 5:19-20.  

These are challenges to myself that are practical applications (ok, some of them just survival tricks) of my desire to refocus on God. May they help you. Customize them! And give me feedback and your tips, too!

The pep talk: 
  • PRAY: Even if you have to start with "Lord, I don't want to have a good attitude. I want to feel sorry for myself. I want to complain. Help me even want to act like your child!" it will be worth talking to your Creator who has a purpose for you and who is working all things for your good.
  • READ SCRIPTURE! Get at least one verse in your head each day. Because you are tired, for emphasis and repetition, write it down in your pretty little bird-y notebook you spent too much money on in Chattanooga all those years ago and which you have been saving for who knows what. 
  • Play music. Use Pandora. Dance! Take your baby's little hands and find a good oldie song. Go to it! 
  • Write a thank you note to someone. (There are probably plenty of people who might read this and say, "Why yes, I never did get a thank you note from that ungrateful Dorothy Peterson to whom I gave such a nice gift.") This will take your mind off yourself, aside from the guilt trip.
  • Quit self-denigrating as in the above bullet point. You are neither as worthless nor as wonderful as you would like to think. When the tape in your head begins to play "Dumb Dorothy," have a Bible verse ready. (Again, see above bullet point.) Only God has a right perspective of you so have that perspective handy. As your African Proverb calendar said, "You are what you think."
  • Do Something. When the blues hit, get up, walk outside, clean the kitchen, make the bed, etc. 
  • As you are doing the "Something" and are tempted to be discouraged about that "Something" being the task you have to do, a.k.a. mopping the floor, vacuuming, doing laundry, and you begin to say to yourself, "Did I get a degree for this? Did I really think I wanted to keep house for at least a decade while I have young children?" direct your thoughts two ways:
    • One: think like Christ who was the ultimate servant with no earthly benefits or recognition. For a fallible example, turn to Brother Lawrence. This requires that you read his book called Practicing the Presence of God. He was a cook in a monastery, I believe, and didn't think he was very important. But he came to some powerful conclusions about servanthood. This will also exercise your mind so you can say, "Yes, it is important to get a degree, because honed cognitive ability will come to my aid even in this time of life." 
    • Two: put yourself in your family members' shoes. Think of your dear husband. Would you want to work all day to come home to a wife who is grumpy and self-pitying and feeling worthless? Would you want to be the baby of a mother who thinks taking care of you feels unimportant?
  • When you feel a fit of cabin fever coming on, do NOT turn inward on yourself!! Get in the car and go SOMEWHERE. 
  • When all else fails and you feel inner combustion coming on, go to the "Back Up," "Trick Up The Sleeve," Last Resort. Go to a store that sells ritzy food. Get one of those really nice chocolate bars and a bottle of your favorite drink (Sweet Leaf Tea anyone?- note I am NOT advocating booze in the middle of the day with your infant in arms). :) Go home. Sit in a sunny, comfy spot. If necessary, ignore your crying child temporarily. Open the chocolate package, eat. Drink. While you read the back of the chocolate box with the maker's bio, you can even give a sarcastic sass-wag head shake and say, "I went to Vanderbilt, too. I could have travelled the world experiencing culinary delights and start a chocolate company selling the delights of Himalayan pink salt and caramel. I could have my hair perfectly coifed for the box picture-when was the last time I fixed my hair properly and put on makeup?" And then remember God has a plan for your life that is perfectly tailored for you! 
  • Plan something to anticipate. If you're feeling unloved by your husband who loves you, write a little letter saying, "Dear one, would you help me out of the doldrums by surprising me with ____________ fill in the blank."  Don't expect him to understand what you need without communication. 
  • As you started the pep-talk with prayer, end with prayer. Each night, with your husband, pray. Each day, think of several things for which to thank God. 
If my life now were printed as a "Happy Housewife" book, it wouldn't look like the false smiling pictures that are the stereotypical focus of denouncement in the 60's and 70's and beyond, fodder for the gag gift I received. But it would look like some smiles and a lot of genuine struggle. Praise God he is sanctifying us every day and that He promises us not necessarily happiness but ultimate fulfillment in Christ, which is even better. 


  1. Dorothy, reading your thoughts and insights reminded me of a rough day I had this past summer. The kids were stir crazy, Erick was traveling all the time, it was too hot to play outside, and I was in some pretty bad pain from a broken rib and couldn't take nearly the amount of pain medicine that I had been prescribed, because I had to be alert and functioning since I was with the kids all the time. One day, it all just got to me. I went upstairs, closed myself in my closet, and cried. Then I screamed, partly in frustration, but also to God, and said, "I'm just not this strong. I'm not strong enough to do this!!"

    Immediately, the words of a verse I haven't thought of in a long time came to me. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. I'm not SUPPOSED to be this strong. I'm supposed to have to lean on God's strength for everything I do. It was a very real reminder that I tend to pray and ask God to be in control, but then I just pick myself up and go right along on my own steam until I hit a wall and realize how much I really do need help. I need to accept that my weakness is perfect, because it's only in my weakness that I get out of my own way and start to rely on God's strength, which really is perfect.

    And for a more concrete suggestion, now that the temperatures are getting a little cooler, maybe you and Rosemary would like to come over and we'll put a big blanket out on the lawn and sit and visit and let the kids just enjoy the fresh air. What do you say???