Building a Happy Home

Building A Happy Home
By Judy Hammersmark

For a long time, I have been thinking that our society does not fully appreciate the contribution of women at home. In reality, the keeper of the domestic flame is a vital, powerful person. She wears many hats in her complex undertaking as wife and mother. Her job calls for enormous versatility, a wealth of energy, and wisdom–even genius. In one day, a woman of my calling might act as chauffeur, beautician,  gardener, consulting psychologist–even undertaker if the family pet should meet with calamity.

In our hands rests the future of our civilization. In our trust the very lives of infants and children are placed. Within our realm of responsibility falls the task of maintaining family health through nutritional consciousness and intelligent meal planning. While husbands look to us for companionship and comfort, our children seek in our presence the wisdom required to deal with an increasingly complex world.

Our services are offered without recompense, for there is no way to place a monetary value on all that women do and are. Our contributions are an offering of love and, therefore, without price. Yet, many are telling us that we are not doing enough. That we must be out in the business world as well, earning and competing.

Where are women most desperately needed in today’s world? Does society no longer require the services of dutiful mothers and wives, women who give their all to home and family?

It is not my aim to belittle anyone or any group of women. We all have much soul-searching and praying to do regarding this dilemma. I am not denigrating women who must work for reasons financial. And my heart goes out to mothers who are alone for one reason or another and find it necessary to provide both a home and a living. Certainly they deserve all our support, love and prayers. And there are other women, wives and mothers, with special skills and training who make a vital contribution to our society; we are all the richer for it.

My purpose in writing this booklet is to celebrate the traditional roles of wife and mother, and thus, to elevate them beyond what some believe them to be.

Help Wanted: Keeper of the Nest

HELP WANTED: Full-time person; must be good cook, nurse, like kids and animals, be adept at home cleaning and maintenance; have knowledge of basic child and adult psychology; be good with figures,  able to balance checkbook; have skills in gardening and home crafts, furniture refinishing, interior decorating, wallpapering and painting. Those unwilling to put in long hours overtime with little monetary reward need not apply.

So might read a help-wanted ad for my replacement. My job is Homemaker. I look after a three-story house, parent three children between the ages of 7 and 15, oversee a dog, an occasional tomcat, two
hamsters and a thirsty sword fern. I have been happily married to the same man for almost 16 years. Although I like my job as wife, mother and keeper of the house, I have been in the habit of thinking of it as part-time, temporary employment. For years I have been planning to get a paying job uptown whenever all the kids were in school. When I recently announced my plans to my family, my second grader, a bubbly gidget with mischievous, blue-gray eyes and a constellation of freckles across her nose, wanted to know, “But, Mommie, who will take your place?” Her question started my mental wheels turning: Who could qualify as my replacement? I took a wary glance backward into my own childhood. As the daughter of a career mother, I recalled the aching emptiness I had felt upon returning from school to a vacant house. Do I really want that for my children? I asked myself. Some recent studies seem to indicate that certain well-organized mothers of nursery-school children actually spend more time with their youngsters than their stay-at-home counterparts. In other words, some stay-at-home mommies are not really doing all that much mothering. Thus, it is easy to rationalize that quality of time is what really matters–what you do with your children when you are with them is what really counts.

On the other hand, a child’s need for loving support rarely keeps a schedule. Sickness, important events in children’s lives, and emotional upsets do not always occur when working mothers are available to proffer praise, sympathy or advice.

Ideally, the combination is quality and quantity, offering generous portions of both to the children in our care.

Our society does not emphasize enough the importance of a secure home life in children’s lives. According to Dr. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family and best-selling author, the job of mother/homemaker is of the utmost importance to the health and vitality of our nation as a whole.

“I have developed a deep appreciation for the unique skills required of wives and mothers. I regret the lack of respect and status given today’s homemakers,” he said in an interview with a UPI reporter.

As I look at myself and the many women I am acquainted with, it becomes evident that many of us work too hard. Why do we do this? Nobody insists that we be all things to all people. Why can’t we relax?

Many of us, I feel, have been unduly influenced by the persuasive propaganda of our day. Much of the rhetoric we hear today over television and radio, and what we read in newspapers and magazines challenges us to find fulfillment outside the home. Keeping family together, we are told, cannot be as creative or as important as work outside the home.

We put pressure on ourselves to be all things to all people. Thus, we have been swayed into making unwise choices concerning family and home.

For a long time, I actually believed with all my heart that in order to qualify as a full-fledged member of the human race, in addition to my home responsibilities, I had to hold down an outside job and be materially compensated for my work. Many of the women I talked with feel this way, too.

It truly takes a strong-minded person to rise above today’s school of thought that calls for sabbatical leave for pregnancy, that defines pregnancy as a temporary disability, thus limiting motherhood to the delivery table. No wonder so many are taking their baby leave only to return immediately to the sorority of working mothers!

Now that I am not working outside the home, I am usually here when my kids trail in after school. As I prepare their after-school snack, we have time to talk. Communication of this kind seems to help them sort out their problems. Perhaps this is the most important aspect of a mother’s job–being there to listen and to counsel, helping her youngsters maintain high self-esteem by talking out problems as they
occur. No matter how impatient I have been at times, I am certain my overall influence has been far superior to the care of the impersonal sitters I paid for while I was working.

Now that I am home, a labor of love is the type of food I prepare. I have time to prepare soups that simmer all afternoon, homemade biscuits, muffins breads instead of the “quickie” frozen meals, expensive convenience foods, dinners out of a can or package, or–even more expensive–the easy-to-prepare steaks that I made frequent use of when I was working. Now that my agenda is less crowded, I usually prepare a hot breakfast, sending my loved ones away nutritionally fortified for the day.

My husband and I found that the extra expenses associated with my working drastically cut into our financial profits, but the most scrimped-on item during my career days was our intimate relationship. It seemed that as we both became over-involved in meaningful work outside the home, time together was  pushed to the bottom of our list of priorities.

It’s sad that so many conscientious homemakers have been lumped together in society’s view with the truly unproductive housewife. She is often caricatured as lazy, an addict of soap operas and game shows. Seldom does she miss her afternoon nap. She is a real parasite, rarely cooking a good meal for her family, never ironing a shirt or picking up needle and thread to mend.

Certainly, there are many women who are like this, yet there are thousands upon thousands of American women who give their all to make home a pleasant place to return to each evening. I think few people truly appreciate the care and concern of the dedicated, creative homemaker. She provides not just the physical necessities for comfortable living; she offers something intangible, a force in the
lives of her family that can only be defined as spiritual. The woman at home supplies characteristics by their nature difficult to define, yet essential for the quality and tone of a happy civilization. Not housewives, but homemakers, women with a calling, persons who strive to maintain an ambiance of peace, love and safety for those in their care.

The Nest: Here And Now

Our society used to insist that home was the place for women, especially mothers of young children, women like myself who have no immediate calling other than keeper of the flame. But in its headlong
pursuit of things material, our modern world has devalued the unique contributions that women make to the home and family, and we are all the poorer for it. It is truly surprising how at times even husbands do not understand and appreciate the value of the woman at home.

We seem to have lost sight of the fact that a woman’s most important accomplishment involves making her family feel truly cherished. As wives and parents, we must demonstrate through love to those in our care that the world is a good place.

From infancy on, children require love, enormous amounts of it. Writing in the Reader’s Digest, Ashley Montagu cites examples, which show that love is probably the most essential ingredient in a newborn’s
life. “We now know from the observations of a number of physicians and investigators that love is an essential part of the nourishment of every baby and that, unless he is loved, he will not develop as a healthy organism-psychologically, spiritually or physically. Even though he is physically well nurtured, he may nevertheless waste away and die.”

This simple fact of life was not understood during the first two decades of this century; consequently many babies perished. In the sterile climate of foundling homes, babies succumbed by the dozens. Doctors realize now that this occurred because they were denied the physical warmth and cuddling that the human infant requires in order to desire living in this world.

Love, So basic that if we don’t have it we die. How can we ever lose sight of this fact of life? Yet we have. And basically, I think, this is what is the matter with us, with our American nation. We are in the process of forgetting how to love.

Repeated assurances of parental love are essential to all children. These expressions of love afford the intimacy that babies must have in order to grow into healthy human beings, emotionally and spiritually unscared. As parents, we can express our love in many ways–through diaper changes and nightly prayers, during feeding, chitchat after a nap or warm cuddling before bedtime.

How well I remember my newborn’s first bath. How wobbly his head seemed! How slippery his little body! He felt so fragile that I trembled as I lowered him into the water. What a tremendous responsibility, keeping this tiny human being clean, clothed, loved. Soon he was smiling–although experts claim that he was much too young to do so. While in the water, his newborn face reflected absolute contentment, and he cried only after I removed him from the warmth of his little tub.

Those early beginnings of love, so precious in retrospect, I recognize now as an actual investment-deposits made to my child’s bank of emotional security. But. . . way back then, when my babies were young, there were too many distractions, too many things to be bought, too many glowing opportunities–things to take the place of warm,
loving attachments.

Once again, the grass on the other side of the fence looked greener, and one morning, almost against my will, I turned to the “help wanted” section of the morning paper. I surveyed the job possibilities: legal secretary, teacher’s aid, women’s editor for a small daily….

One year later I quit that job, too. It was one of the hardest things I had had to do in a long time. I quit not because I was unhappy with my work; on the contrary, I quit because I liked it so much–much more in fact than any job I had ever held.

Having a job meant being away from home; it meant having coffee breaks with grown-ups instead of milk and crackers with my chatterbox 4-year-old. It meant interviewing prestigious political personalities and seeing my byline in the paper almost every night.

Yet it also meant frequent TV dinners instead of the home cooked variety. It meant canned soup, instead of the kind that simmers all morning on the stove, lending a special aroma to the kitchen. It meant store-bought bread instead of home-baked. It meant dropping my 4-year-old off at the day care center at 9 a.m. and picking her up again around 4 p.m.

It meant falling asleep in the chair at 8 p.m. and being too tired to trudge up the stairs to tuck the children into bed or to hear their prayers. Having a job spelled death to the intimacy I had previously shared with my husband, and the long, leisurely chats before sleep. The warm physical relationship we had enjoyed together was of the past. I was always much too tired.

I had become very independent, even aggressive, and was growing to expect those luxuries that my extra paycheck afforded. I no longer thought it essential, now that I was a breadwinner too, to discuss major purchases that before had been decided upon by both my husband and myself. We quarreled frequently over money, and the checkbook was much harder to balance than it had been when we had to manage it ever so carefully.

Having a job was an exciting break in the confining routine of raising a family; yet, fortunately, I could see that my job was becoming far too exciting. It was becoming even more important to me than my family. My priorities had become confused.

I needed to remind myself of the temporariness of the moment:

Lord, help me to appreciate the here-and newness of my life. Let me savor the soft falling of snow on the roof, a cup of coffee, my open fire.. Time is so fleeting. Let me enjoy this child on my lap, the sound of my own voice reading a familiar story. Remove my need for worldly goods and accomplishments–plaques, titles, glory. Lord, grant me a heart grateful for the commonplace!

Nest builder: Occupational Hazards

Self-esteem is an essential ingredient to happy, Christlike living. Dr. James Dobson has said, “If I could write a prescription for the women of the world, it would provide each of them with a healthy
dose of self-esteem and personal worth (taken three times a day).”

Truly women, especially of the profession “Nest builder,” need a fully developed inner sense of self worth. The conviction that we are vital, contributing members of society can keep us on the job when the glitter of the world outside tempts us to throw in our aprons and join
the sorority of working mothers and wives.

Children, too, search for that sense of self that makes them feel special. The other evening, after I had tucked my little girl, Kirsten, into bed and listened to her rather lengthy prayers with all her “God blesses” (Grandma, Grandpa, cousins, aunts and uncles), I turned to go back downstairs.

She called after me, “Wait, Mommie. I forgot to bless someone.”

“Who is that?” I wondered.

“Me,” she said with a grin.

When I go about my housework, sometimes I sneeze. Nobody is around usually, so I have gotten into the habit of saying, “God bless me!”

Peculiar? Perhaps–yet I think my motives for so doing are psychologically sound and in accordance with God’s will. I am, after all, a child of God. Doesn’t it then logically follow that I deserve my own support, loyalty and friendship? For our mental health’s sake, our own loving concern becomes essential.

1. Learn to Accept Yourself

During my coffee break at home, more often than not, I am a coffee klatch of one. Without self-communication, without a long-lasting friendship with myself, I would truly be a lonely person, overly dependent on my family for feelings of support and fulfillment.

Self-love is not sin. Think about it: Christ commanded that we love our neighbors as ourselves-not more than, but “as.” If we do not believe in our own inherent worth, we cannot accept and love others as Christ meant for us to love them. I cannot shower someone with more love than is mine to give. I can only give as much as I have. For example, If I love myself, say half the time, how can I love my family all the time? I haven’t got that much love to give.

Unfortunately, many of us have a hard time loving the person that is me. We have the feeling that love for self represents a form of sin. Lest we become self-centered, self-seeking and selfish, many of us try to steer clear of self-love altogether. Christ did warn against a certain kind of self-love. Self-indulgence, which leads to greediness, self-centeredness and glorification of self at another’s expense He
soundly denounced.

Yet, there is a wholesome, creative, self-liberating kind of love for self that proclaims, “I am worthy of my own friendship.” As a child of the Heavenly Father, I need no justification for my existence other than that God has made me. My worldly accomplish meets will not buy my time here on earth. My good works, the money I make, the children I have, the books I write–while all these are worthwhile and make life meaningful–do not justify my existence. God has already done that for me through Jesus Christ.

Since I have become my own best friend, I am the understanding parent to the troubled child that exists within me. All the kind, loving attention I formerly reserved for others–children, spouse and friends–I now shower on myself, too. I have learned when to make demands of myself, when to let up, when to comfort. As I get to know myself better, I am more aware of my full God-given potential as a human being. I know when I can safely push my internal gas pedal all the way to the floor.

My friendship with self is an enormous boon in my life. I am my own cheerleader, so to speak. I have learned that becoming one’s own best friend involves dwelling on the positive aspects of one’s life. Successes, good behavior, triumphs of a personal nature–think on these! Stay your mind against past mistakes, failures and humiliations.

Try new things! You will find that with your own loving support almost anything is possible. For example, I had convinced myself that I could not talk before a large audience. When the program chairman of a local club asked me to give a talk, I almost refused. Then I realized my fear stemmed from an unrealistic desire to give them a perfect performance. Ultimately I decided to do it. I would do the thing I feared practically more than anything else!

I practiced and prayed, prayed and practiced. And when I stood before that group of perhaps 40 men, a wonderful assurance came over me. I delivered my speech without faltering, holding their rapt attention for 20 minutes. When I had finished, they gave me a hearty round of applause! No sound ever held such sweetness for me.

2. Be Content With Who You Are

Self-hate is sin. Many Christians unwittingly engage in self-hating devices because we are traditionally idealistic, particularly in the realm of our own conduct. It seems the more we elevate goals for self, the more prone we become to self-hate should we not live up to these exalted ideals. When choosing a destination for self, we must learn to ask: Is this a realistic possibility for me? With my God-given abilities can I possibly achieve this? Or am I merely hoping to be something that I am not?

A man barely five feet tall should not aspire to become a pro basketball player. Certainly he can play on his own court, challenge his son or daughter in games of rough and tumble. But aspiring to stardom in this realm would be foolish. We must rid ourselves of illusions, carry-overs from childhood, dreams out of line with the role God has in mind for us in His world, without refusing to set viable goals that we can achieve.

3. Don’t Self-Destruct!

Before I became my own best friend, I engaged in a lot of self-destructive habits. If I felt that I had said or done something wrong, I would literally make myself ill worrying about it. If I though I might have hurt another’s feelings, my regret and remorse would become so overpowering that I would torture myself with recriminations totally out of proportion to my misdeed, real or imagined. “I can’t stand myself,” I would say. I had set myself up as God, serving as my own judge and jury.

An ancient philosopher said, “If one is cruel to himself, how can we expect him to be compassionate with others?” I now realize that Christ’s forgiving love begins through the administration of compassion to the person that is myself. Self-hate often rears its ugly head in the form of comments such as, “I’m no good” or “I’m stupid. ” Remarks such as, “I can’t ever do anything right” usually surface just before we are about to accomplish something truly constructive and worthwhile. Fearing our own failure, we rush to condemn self, even before we perform (in order to beat possible critics to the punch!). Sometimes these negative thoughts can be traced back to childhood. Often they represent verbal playbacks, sometimes word for word, spoken by unfeeling parents.

Self-hate shows itself, too, in the form of self-derisive fantasies–picturing oneself naked before the world, so to speak. We might visualize ourselves alone and forsaken, without a friend. At other times, we might engage in vindictive self-criticism for the ostensible purpose of self-improvement. The real goal, masochistic self-flagellation, however, is not so healthy.

Enormous energy is wasted in the service of self-hate. Denigrating oneself can be paralyzing; it severely reduces our Christian potential. Self-hate wipes out creativity and eliminates accomplishment.

Without self-liberating love, sometimes a person will engage in an ongoing conspiracy against self. Many times such a person will hide behind a facade of dependency, a front designed to hide true self and frequently enormous human potential. I know a woman who seemed unable to do anything. The simplest decision was impossible for her. Sewing, cooking, dealing with her children seemed beyond her ken.

She was addicted to her psychiatrist, who kept her sedated much of the time. One day, she discovered her own power potential through Jesus Christ. After flushing her array of pink and orange tranquilizers down the toilet, she went to work. Utilizing hidden, God-given talents, she far surpasses all of us who, in the past, waited on her!

4. Find Strength in the Lord

As my own best friend, the offspring of the Divine Architect, I am much more than the psychiatrists say I am. Not an instinct-manipulated puppet or a stimulus-response machine, I am the child of God.

My heritage grants my existence special value. I am a free, willing entity. It is my sacred responsibility to discern right from wrong, good from evil. The New and Old Testaments provide my life’s guidelines. To the best of my ability, I try to live up to the commands therein. This makes me a unique being in a secular age. And, as a child of God, I have more power potential than my sisters divorced from His wisdom and loving vitality.

We must come to terms with the forces that war within. Self-depreciation can be combated only through the loving power of Jesus Christ. We must be reborn in Him. Then enlist the Holy Spirit. In this battle we need the full armor of God. Perfection is not a human achievement. We can become good, great even, but perfection is Christ’s exclusively. Self-castigating behavior goes contrary to Christ’s example. So, develop a compassionate regard for self. Learn to view yourself in God’s perspective. Try to get outside of your own self-condemnation; be objective, if you can.

Christ possessed self-integrating respect for the Being He was. He did not condemn or condone; Christ has compassion. A compassion so all encompassing that it included those who nailed His hands to the cross and left Him to die. Never did He minimize His mission on this earth by self-effacement. Instead, Christ displayed a healthy self-esteem in all dealings with Himself as well as with the world. His character was not a passive abstraction, but a living, practical reality. Christ’s total Person includes love for others as well as self. Jesus had to be His own best friend in order to endure the agony He suffered on the cross for you and me.

Christ’s life on earth provides our example. If God considers me worthy of justification, how can I possibly accept an alternative contrary to the self-love concept Christ has ordained?

My self-love, if genuine, will be evident to those around me. My inner security will wrap itself around my family, cloaking those in my care in love and acceptance.

Children absorb attitudes by osmosis. If I, as a parent, transmit my belief of self-worth, they will absorb this attitude toward me and toward themselves as well. My healthy self-appreciation will teach them respect–for me as a person and for themselves.