Friday, March 20, 2015

Homemaking when life isn't perfect - part 1 of a series

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 39

I've been thinking about doing a series like this for a good long while now. I think this is mainly because I write what I need to hear and I write to process what is happening in my life (you just get to listen in) and this is where a lot of my thinking has been.

It is so easy to equate good homemaking with calm, peace, and perfection, even if you don't harbor secret ambitions of outdoing Martha Stewart. But how often does life allow us extended periods of calm, peace, and perfection? I don't know about yours, but mine happen extremely infrequently. Does this mean I am not a good homemaker? Because this state happens so infrequently, is 'good homemaking' even a goal we should have? Is it too archaic and outdated? Or what if you are parenting difficult children or medically needy children... is it possible to make a good home under these circumstances?

These are the questions which roil through my head. I keep thinking that I should wait until we get to a calm and balanced place and then I will think about them. Then I will have time to perfect my homemaking skills and have something of value to share. But my realization is that reaching that calm and balanced place just doesn't happen.... probably not for any of us. Waiting for it means missed opportunities and dissatisfaction. It seems like a simple thing to say, but realizing that your life isn't going to be perfect, that the people in your family are never going to be perfect, that waiting for a 'better time' just means you will always be waiting is a pretty big deal. By taking perfection (or whatever state you perceive to be close to your ideal) of the table, you give yourself a whole lot more freedom to enjoy your life.

To let's get back to one of my initial questions, Is good homemaking even a goal we should have? I believe it is a very good goal, we just need to carefully define what 'good' homemaking is. Does it mean your house is never messy, the laundry is always done, the children are always quiet and well-behaved, and you vacuum in hose and heels? Of course not! Who can do that without a staff? Heck, who can do that even with a staff? Even if you read other people's blogs or facebook statuses, no one lives this way. Really. Even if you think you have the bloggy proof to the contrary.

People are messy. Even if they are good at putting things away, everyone comes with their own hang-ups, troubles, fears, and failures. And because people are messy, life is messy as well. Homemaking and messiness don't seem to go hand-in-hand, but they have to. So if making a home is not really about keeping things pristine and orderly, what is it? We need to focus on the home part of it all.

According to Miriam-Webster, there are multiple meanings for the word, home. Simplest, a home is one's place of residence. Going further, it is also a social unit formed by a family living together. It is also a familiar or usual setting; congenial environment. When you add the preposition 'at' in front of it, so it becomes 'at home', the definition starts with relaxed and comfortable; at ease. Clearly, while home is our place of residence, it is also something more. It is a place that is familiar and comfortable. It is a place where we belong.

Comfortable and pristine are not the same thing. We may think we want to live somewhere pristine, but I'm pretty sure none of us would be entirely happy living for an extended period of time in that environment. At least for me, it wouldn't feel comfortable. We each have our own point at which comfortable becomes cluttered or messy, though. And I think it is this line that each of us is constantly fighting with. It is hard to be comfortable when we feel suffocated by our stuff.

The first step in homemaking when life isn't perfect is to really identify that line between comfortable and too messy. It will be different for each person. Actually this is the real first step... just acknowledging that what works for you and your family will be different from someone else. All too often we look around and instead of asking ourselves how something really makes us feel, we think about how someone will see it (with the corresponding tacit judgement.) Stop spending energy working to impress people who don't live in your house and instead focus on the people who do.

And what is comfortable will change. If you have a house full of toddlers, your comfortable is going to look very different from an older couple whose children are all grown. It is a little silly (when we can think about these things rationally) to have one parent wishing, wishing, wishing that they toys weren't strewn across the floor all the time and have the other wishing, wishing, wishing that they still had to step over toys and how much they miss that.

As we go through (and I make up) this series, here's our first lesson:

1. Accept where you are. It's not going to change in the next day or two. Children grow up fast, but not that fast. Illness takes time to heal. Difficult circumstances are often difficult because they tend to linger about. Here is where each of us is. I find it very helpful to tell myself that in five or ten years I won't even really remember much of what I thought was awful and in the long run it won't have mattered that much. Of course, not all troubles will fall into this category, but the majority do.

2. Accept yourself and your own quirks and abilities and weaknesses. This is who you are and while we can always work to change things about ourselves that we are not happy with, those are long-term projects. Other things probably just don't matter. (As a fairly frivolous example) Do you really not enjoy making beds and you're OK with unmade beds? That's fine. Don't do it and don't feel inferior because that's how life works best for your family. But, you have to be willing to accept that and not wish for something else. If you really don't mind certain things that you feel as though other people think are important, then accept it and don't try to make excuses... because you don't need to. Stop living to please other people's imagined expectations.

I think that's enough for now, don't you? This could very well be the most difficult part for all of us to work on. Here's what I see for future installments: Homemaking with Difficult Children; Homemaking when you are Drowning in Stuff; Homemaking in Crisis. Anyone have any other suggestions?

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