Today I’m privileged to host an interview with Sheila Wray Gregoire, the author of To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother as part of her April Blog Tour (I love that idea!)
I got to “chat” with Sheila via email about her new book, motherhood, housekeeping and fulfillment. I really think her responses to my questions are not only spot on, but insightful.
1. Why is it harder to be a mom today than it was fifty years ago?
A lot of us think life was idyllic back in the Leave it to Beaver days. Mom stayed home and looked after the kids; Dad had a good job, and always came home to be the man of the family and discipline the children. One of the chapters I have in my book, though, looks at how family radically changed even before that, and so it’s no wonder we’re often frazzled!
I think the ideal time was really over a century ago, when families tended to work together. They farmed together, or they owned a shop together. The kids participated in the work, and everybody was near each other. It was a family enterprise.
What I try to show in the book, though, is that today we’re scattered. Dad’s at his job. The kids are at school. Mom often works, too, at least part-time. It’s all these separate lives, and it’s Mom’s job to coordinate it. And because so many people work, there’s not the same sense of community anymore. Instead of kids playing on the street, we have to sign them up for soccer or gymnastics to get any sports or interactions with other young ones. And that takes work and even more scheduling! Our lives are, quite simply, more complicated.
Add to that the strangers that keep coming into our house through our screens—the computer, the TV, the video games—which give our kids morals that we don’t approve of, and it’s even worse! We’re fighting an uphill battle, and it’s one that if we don’t fight, kids will definitely lose. If we don’t closely monitor what they watch, they will start to believe things that just aren’t true or just aren’t good for them.
I have a 12-year-old daughter who is in a youth group at church. She feels like she doesn’t fit in, because she doesn’t watch TV. Instead, she reads, plays the piano, plays sports, and plays with her sister. The other girls are really into celebrity magazines and make-up. My little girl is at a loss and doesn’t understand why the other girls are in such a hurry to grow up. But they have entered the media culture. My daughter has not. And she is just who I want her to be—but it’s really, really hard.
Life is more difficult. It’s more complicated. It’s more isolated. And it’s more dangerous. So give yourself a break if you don’t manage to accomplish everything your grandmother did! You’re living in a different world, and we’ve got to make our own paths.
2. Why do we get so guilty and upset about the state of our homes?
Because we’re not eating enough chocolate! Or, to put it another way, we’re letting ourselves get too tense about stuff that ultimately is not the most important thing in life.
I think many women believe that their houses truly reflect on them. And, in churches, we think of it as almost a spiritual issue: if I’m a good Christian, I’d be able to keep my house and my kids and my garden and my dog and my lawn under control. So when things get out of control, what do you think about yourself? You think you’re a failure.
But is anybody’s house ever going to be perfect all at the same time? Of course not. You’ll be vacuuming and turn around to find your 4-year-old has been trailing you eating crackers, leaving crumbs in your wake like Hansel and Gretel. Or you’ll have the laundry almost all done only to have a child suddenly get the flu and throw up on every sheet in the house. Nobody’s house will ever be perfect, and when we aim for perfect, we feel defeated. And who can clean when we feel defeated? I think that’s one reason things get so out of control. Since we can’t get it perfect, we lose hope.
Your home, though, is supposed to be comfortable. That’s all. And comfortable doesn’t mean perfect. It means you shouldn’t have to fear catching a communicable disease in your kitchen, but it’s okay if the kids toys are piled up in a corner, or if your knitting is on a chair. You just want it to be a home where people can relax and you can have people over. And you can never have anybody over if you’re aiming for perfect!
Look at what has happened to our homes in the last thirty years. They’ve doubled in size. Entertainment centers are the rage. We’ve got stenciling and stamping to make everything coordinated. It’s no good to simply paint your whole house beige like people used to. It has to be decorated to perfection. But before you start on that silly road, ask yourself why? Why are you doing all this? And I think that naturally leads into your next question.
3. How would you define ‘fulfillment’? How do you find fulfillment as a mother?
I think fulfillment is when we feel as if we are partnering with God, and that He is working through us. We feel as if we’re aiming for what God would have us aim for. And what is that? It’s quite simple. He wants people to be transformed into Jesus’ likeness. (Romans 8:29). He wants people to look more and more like Him. That’s our job on earth. To make sure that we’re growing more like God, and to lead others in the same direction.
So you’re going to feel fulfilled as a mom when you take time to get to know your kids well. When you’re able to do things with them so they’re not being raised by the television, with all its wrong values. When you make meals so that you can all sit down as a family and start a tradition where people actually talk to each other. When your kids can have friends over without enduring your wrath in case they mess up the house. When you can have neighbors over and share a cup of coffee and chat, just so that you’re connecting with people.
Life is ultimately about relationships, not things. Instead of thinking about our home as a status symbol, think of your home as a tool to use as you get to know others. Let it be a place where you can relax, where your husband can relax, where your kids can have fun. Let it be a place where people want to gather. That doesn’t mean you have to clean all the time. In fact, what I recommend in the book is figuring out what does need to be cleaned on a daily basis (like sweeping the kitchen floor), a weekly basis (like cleaning the bathrooms) and a monthly basis (like cleaning the ceiling fans), and then assign tasks for each day. Once they’re done, you’re done! The other stuff will get done in its time. Your cleaning schedule is organized so that you free up time for yourself to do the things that really do matter to you.
As moms, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. There’s a doctor’s appointment today. I have to get to my part-time job. There’s a meeting at the church. But if we’re not purposeful about putting our relationships with our family members first, they can easily fall by the wayside. So every morning, before you get out of bed, pray and ask God to show you something fun you can do to build your relationship with your kids today. Maybe it’s read them a book, take them to the park, play a board game with them. But do something just for them, and make that your first priority. It’s amazing how much better we start to feel about our lives when we know where we’re heading, and when we know it’s somewhere God wants us to be. And He’s going to help us get there!
Thank you so much, Sheila!
To find more encouragement to get your kids to help at home and make your marriage less stressful, you can pick up To Love, Honor and Vacuum ($13.00) at www.sheilawraygregoire.com or at Amazon.com(aff).
WIN A BUNDLE OF SHEILA’S BOOKS! Sign up for Sheila’s free weekly parenting and family ezine, and you’ll be entered in a draw to win a bunch of Sheila’s books and audio recordings! Sheila’s Reality Check covers everything from flatulence at the dinner table to same sex marriage and the effects of divorce. Sign up here. She’ll make the draw April 30.