When Husband first finished pat leave, I was both excited and nervous about adjusting to this new, longed-for life as a mum at home. As a teacher, I’d worked to objectives and deadlines; now that I was queen of my own time and resources, however, I was surprisingly daunted by the open road ahead. (Though let’s be honest, given my previously described domestic ineptitude, the nerves weren’t exactly uncalled for!)
Every evening, when Husband got home, I’d recount our daily activity; and he would judge by my tone whether I was proud or disappointed with the offering. After a while, it became apparent that if I had cleaned, cooked, made or fixed something, then I felt worthy of my role. However, if I had simply cuddled up with our baby, played or prayed, then I spoke apologetically; like I hadn’t done anything worthwhile. Eventually, Husband challenged me on it; these priorities did not reflect our shared beliefs about faith or family. I was placing much higher value on practical, mundane activities than I was on my relationship with God and the beautiful blessing He had given us. And this was no way to live.
Now, don’t get me wrong; keeping a clean, hygienic home is essential to bringing up children; but it’s not all there is. Entertaining and interacting with said children is essential to healthy development; but it’s not the only thing. Seeking God in prayer is essential to Christian family life; but faith without deeds is dead. What we need is a healthy balance that appropriately values all three.
I found wisdom on this in the story of two sisters. Jesus visits their home and, while Martha is run off her feet serving everyone, Mary sits by Him and listens. When asked to encourage her to help, Jesus tells Martha that “Mary has chosen what is better” (Luke 10). Now, on the surface, this seems a little unfair; those jobs needed doing. However, if we dig a bit deeper, I don’t actually believe that Jesus is promoting a life of indulgent inactivity. On the contrary, I think He is advocating a healthier grip on life; an abundant life with higher priorities. You see, Jesus was with them for such a short time; and Martha was missing it. Our children are small for such a short time; and if we’re distracted, we’ll miss it. The Christian life is full of ebbs and flows; if we allow no time to go with the flow, we’ll run on a perpetual ebb; a Spiritual half life. God will speak and we will miss it. Jesus offers “life in all its fullness”, but we need to be intentional about living it.
So let me share what works for me…
After Husband’s challenge, I realised that I needed a shift in perspective. So, I began to review my week in three categories: Mary, Martha and Mother Days. Obviously, everyday is a Mother day, to some extent; I don’t exactly drop those duties when the mood takes me! However, I’m talking about how I choose to use the time available outside of basic duty. Currently, this means nap-times, after-bed times, out-in-the-pram times or the rare distracted-long-enough-to-get-stuff-done times. (Obviously, if you are at a different stage of life, your busy and your free will look very different to mine, but I hope there’s still something which could be useful to anyone- including my future self!)
So, I count Mother days as those in which I’ve chosen to indulge in my children, when I could have done something else; be it simply cuddling up, playing or preparing things to do together … Just stopping to enjoy their existence. Martha days involve jobs that do more than just keep the ship afloat; thorough housework (you know, more than a baby wipe), admin (gotta love those spreadsheets!), proofreading (essays, not blogs) or studying (massage therapy- for future use!). While finally, Mary days involve more than just a quick shopping list to the God who sustains my soul; meditation, Bible study, worship or prayer. The balance will change from week to week, depending on what’s going on around us, but balance is the operative word. As such, I don’t usually plan this ahead; I get to about Thursday and survey the land. Normally, it’s pretty obvious by this point what is lacking, and means that the next time I get a few minutes to myself, I can prioritise that side of life without feeling guilty for doing so.
All of this said, we’re not total freaks; sometimes the wheels do just fall off and there’s no choice in that! Some weeks, if we do have deadlines, or the kids need extra TLC, or friends need extra prayer support; then overriding priority comes into play and balance temporarily goes out of the window. Does this stress me out? Only if I let it. Because I’ll tell you something; in all of the time I’ve spent ‘being available’ and praying for friends over the last 2 years, (whether privately, in person or over the phone); there’s not once I’ve looked back and wished I’d hoovered that carpet we no longer walk on. And for all the times I’ve crawled around the floor with my daughter, or cuddled my son long after he’s fallen asleep; there’s not once I’ve wished I’d ironed those clothes that we no longer wear.
After all, life is for living; and whether we are naturally inclined to be a Martha, a Mary or a Mother, we have to choose to live it well.
I understand that I am writing from a very privileged position; and believe me I’m grateful for it every single day. I just hope that in adopting these strategies now, I’ll be more equipped to adapt when life gets more difficult. So I’ll let you know how that goes, you know, if I have time… 😉