I have always enjoyed an active life, and for years I spent most of my time away from home. I even lived in Chile for a year as an eighteen-year-old student and later served a mission in Peru. Before Don and I were married, I thrived on a busy schedule of full-time work and university studies. I was also involved in sports and especially enjoyed long-distance bicycling.
The birth of our first baby didn’t change my life-style much. It wasn’t long before I was back at school and then working part-time. I loved the intellectual stimulation, the social contact, and the boost to my self-esteem. I enjoyed the feeling that I was contributing financially to our family’s welfare.
However, I had little time or energy to spend with our son. And when the baby-sitter told me, “Kenny started to crawl today,” I really began to question my decision to work. My job was wonderful, but I didn’t want to sacrifice my relationship with Kenny. He disliked going to the baby-sitter, and it became harder to leave him each day. With frustration running high, Don and I decided that I should quit my job and become a full-time homemaker.
My first week at home was awful—difficult enough to test the commitment of the most dedicated homemaker! While I did the dishes, my industrious baby filled the sewing-machine motor with straight pins. When I tried to catch up on a few minutes of sleep, he opened the refrigerator and dumped the eggs all over the floor. Even worse, I was irritated by his constant crying. I felt frustrated and bored, and I spent much time in tears.
As the weeks passed, my feelings intensified. I missed the intellectual stimulation of my job and felt as if my brain were wasting away. Adult conversation became a lost art. And when our second son, Jason, was born when Kenny was fifteen months old, things only got worse.
To escape the monotony, I planned many outings, neglecting household duties. I quickly learned to make a few errands last all afternoon. When staying at home was unavoidable, I watched TV reruns or used the TV as a baby-sitter while I read a book. The hours dragged interminably.
When Don came home, I handed the babies to him and retreated to the bedroom, leaving him to wonder when—or even if—dinner would be forthcoming. Don usually stayed up late to straighten up while I collapsed into bed.
Gradually, I realized the futility of the course I was pursuing. My husband and I were both exhausted. But I felt that somehow it must be possible to experience joy in being a full-time homemaker. President Ezra Taft Benson had responded to my concerns when he quoted his wife, Flora: “Radiate a spirit of contentment and joy with homemaking. … ‘Homemaking is the highest, most noble profession to which a woman might aspire.’” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, pp. 84–85.)
How could I learn to feel that joy and contentment? First, I felt that I needed to redefine myself in terms of my new roles. I had received much positive reinforcement as a student, an employee, an athlete, and a missionary, and I felt lost without it. It was hard for me to adjust to my new identity as a mother and full-time homemaker. I also had to recognize the importance of my calling as a mother. Dr. James Dobson, a psychologist, stated that “no job can compete with the responsibility of shaping and molding a new human being.” (What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women, Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1975, p. 165.)
I realize that being a mother brings opportunities to develop Godlike qualities that would be difficult to develop in any other manner. As I have cared for my home and family, I have had to call on inner reserves to develop patience, gentleness, and love. The strong love I feel for my children has helped me to better understand the love the Lord has for us. I have become more unselfish and willing to sacrifice. As a new mother, I initially resented the demands made on my time and energies. But as I watch my children grow from helpless babies to capable individuals, I take pride in their development. In a world where many people feel useless and unimportant, I know that I am not only important, but indispensable. My children return to me the love and trust I have shown them. They are eager to please me and try to help me in their own sweet ways.
I have also had to depend on the Lord for guidance with difficult child-rearing problems. Sometimes it is not enough to follow the advice of friends or child-guidance books. Heavenly Father knows each child better than I do, and he can inspire me to know how to reach each one.
I had to accept that, in my current situation, it was not my responsibility to provide financially for my family. Instead, I learned to help my husband by managing our resources more wisely. I sewed, cooked, and developed other homemaking skills. I watched sales closely and learned to budget carefully. Most important, I prayed that I would be satisfied with what we had and not have a yearning for more possessions. I was blessed with a feeling of gratitude for what we had, and our budget always stretched to provide what we truly needed.
One challenge I had was developing new housecleaning skills that enabled me to work more quickly and efficiently. I discovered the rewards of consistent, daily effort; it is much easier to keep a clean house clean than it is to clean a dirty one. I also learned to accept the fact that with small children, my house is always going to be somewhat less than immaculate. I tried to keep in mind that my primary reason for staying home was not to keep the house clean, but to spend time with my children—and my children and I played more, worked more, and learned more together.
We spent one fun afternoon making felt finger puppets for the children to play with quietly during sacrament meeting. We had a wonderful time because of Kenny’s contagious enthusiasm. As I glued on the faces, he thanked me for each part—the lion’s nose, the mouse’s eyes, the alligator’s teeth. When we were finished he burst out excitedly, “You made me puppets because you love me!”
In the winter we built a sledding hill in the front yard and enjoyed many hours playing in the snow and even shoveling the walks. Planting the garden in spring has also been a special time for us. The boys love helping, and it is a good time to teach them about the beautiful world we have been given. They have learned that Heavenly Father gave us flowers to help make us happy and weeds so that we could learn to work.
Small teaching moments occur each day, and I have learned to take advantage of them. On our regular walks, I point out well-groomed yards and teach the children that the prophet has asked us to keep our yards clean and neat. The boys remember this thought and are more helpful in picking up their toys and straightening their room.
I have also discovered that young children quickly learn what they are taught without discerning whether it is true or false. When Kenny was just learning to talk, his dad accidentally told him that the animal in a picture of a tiger was a lion. Several months later, Kenny still can’t tell the difference between a tiger and a lion. The teaching of falsehoods in more weighty matters could have long-lasting implications. At the same time, we must be clear in our teaching and make sure that we understand the messages our children are receiving. One Sunday in Primary, Kenny learned about serving a mission. During lunch he suddenly blurted out, “But Mommy, I’m too little to go on a mission!” He understood the importance of a mission, but not the timing; he might not have been so upset had he realized that he still had many years in which to prepare.
At this time of my life, I can’t let the demands of motherhood, marriage, and housekeeping pull me in six different directions at once. I need to learn patience and be willing to simplify. One way I simplified was to systematically go through each room in my house and give away or store everything that we didn’t ever use. My house now looks less cluttered and is much easier to keep straight. I have also examined my activities to see which ones are enjoyable and which were simply complicating my life. I also wrote down my “project” list, then either finished each one or discarded it. I gave or threw away broken items I was never going to fix. And I found that I could handle those things that are really important to me!
I still struggle with feelings of boredom, loneliness, isolation, and mental stagnation. There are days when the pressure is intense. But I know that I am doing what I should be doing. I know many daily joys: watching my boys share and express love for one another; receiving a soft hug with a whispered “I love you, Mama”; seeing my children express faith in Jesus Christ; sharing their delight in learning; being there to comfort them when they are sick or unhappy.
The Lord has promised that whenever he gives a commandment, he will provide a way for it to be obeyed. Nephi stated that “the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Ne. 3:7.) Mothers who choose to be full-time homemakers truly can find peace and joy in doing the Lord’s will.