My mother and mothers-in-law are all extraordinary women – funny, smart, gifted, hard-working, loving. They are wonderful examples and support to Carl and me, and we are lucky beyond all deserving to have them in our lives.
The older I get, the more grateful I am for specific things my Mom did. Regular things like loving us, caring for us, educating us, of course, but also specific things she did or demanded that were especially difficult for her or for me, but pay big dividends in my adult life. Among many others, here are three things that stick out to me right now as a working woman, spouse, and homeowner (my Dad played a big part in all of these as well, of course, but I’ll save that focus for Father’s Day).
- Hospitality – My Mom keeps a warm and open home. Unexpected dinner guests, out-of-town visitors, and hordes of teenagers arrive and find food, comfort, and welcome. To this day I’m an introvert, and as a kid I was desperately shy. She tried to accommodate that, but she also reinforced that when the Bible says “practice hospitality” it’s a command, not a suggestion. Her example stuck and accompanies me as we welcome guests into our own home today. She also showed me that hospitality is not confined to the four walls of your home. My Mom is a people-lover who could cheerfully chat the ears off a stone donkey. In a social setting, I would much rather watch and listen. But hospitality means making other comfortable and at home wherever you may be, and however you personally feel. It means seeking out the shy person standing awkwardly at the edge of the group, the uncomfortable newcomer alone in the back row, and the lonely social misfit at dinner, no matter how shy, uncomfortable, or socially awkward you feel yourself at the moment. It also means not forcing someone else to carry the burden of the conversation while you sit mute and uninteractive. When I’d rather be silent but have to talk, I channel my mother, and it works. Turns out you don’t have to feel at ease yourself to put on a smile and make others at ease.
- Work – We whined about chores. A lot. Mom ignored us, and I owe almost every raise, bonus, and promotion I’ve earned to the fact that she and Dad stuck to their guns. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how cleverly their system of chores around the home matched up with the working world. I can’t tell you how much easier my transition to self-supporting adult life was compared to most of my friends, mostly thanks to the lessons I learned from my parents in work and responsibility. Often, it would’ve been easier for her to just do the chores herself, but she didn’t take the easy way out. Mom set up a unique chore schedule with a chart written on the wall. The chores split three ways – scheduled daily chores (usually an hour or two a day), extra jobs as asked, and special chores we could do if we wanted to earn money. Just like in an adult job, our daily chores were assigned in advance, there was nobody else to do them for us, and it was extremely obvious to everyone if we hadn’t done that work. If it was our turn to do the dishes, nobody else would do it for us, so there was no avoiding chores. When you’re an adult, your boss isn’t going to follow you around making sure your work gets done, but he’s certainly going to discipline you if it’s not. Knowing how to take charge of your own work and do it with pride rather than waiting on a supervisor to nanny you pays off rapidly in the working world. One-off extra jobs taught flexibility, and the same type of work appears on any job. The resources who can adjust, take on extra work with a smile, and complete it rapidly without complaining will always have a jump on coworkers who refuse to budge beyond their set assignments. And of course, volunteering for extra paid chores outside our normal work taught initiative. As an employee, looking for ways to improve things and go above and beyond makes you a valued resource. Not surprisingly, these principles all apply at home as well. Nobody else is going to step in to clean your house, get the meals done, fix that broken toilet, or change a diaper. No magic fairy will walk through the door, take pride in your home, and look for ways to improve your house, health, or family life. If you and your spouse don’t do it, nobody will.
- Not caving in to pressure – I was a complete tomboy and largely uninterested in cooking and most “feminine arts” like flower arranging, sewing clothes, decorating, or crafts. I know my Mom faced a lot of pressure and subtle disapproval from other mothers – I wasn’t feminine enough and I “didn’t have the proper skills to be a wife and mother”. At parties, I wanted to be out with the Dads, not inside listening to the women compare birth stories and grocery bargains. I had short hair, wore hand-me-down cargo shorts and oversized t-shirts, and didn’t care how one roasted a chicken. However, she never caved to peer pressure and never tried to force me into a mold for the perfect home schooled girl for the approval of her associates. It’s never easy facing the disapproval of others, particularly when it’s directed at the way you’re raising your child. Sometimes I cringe looking at old pictures of myself, so I’m guessing she must have. It’s awkward being the mother of a girl people constantly mistake for a boy, but she never panicked, made dire predictions, or complained. She decided baggy dresses and skirts were not necessarily more feminine than shorts. Short hair was practical for a kid on the go. And my jeans and hand-me-down shirts were often more modest for my standard tree-climbing and sports tumbles than skirts or shorter t-shirts. Please note that I have nothing against those styles – they’re perfect for some girls – but for this high energy outdoors kid they’d have been a constant frustration. At baseline, she cared first about my mind and heart, with outward appearance and social norms a distant second that would come in time. And she was right – as an adult, I discovered my own style. For the first time I found out that there were many beautiful clothes out there that were modest, but also tailored, young, and feminine rather than old-ladyish. Today I fit happily in both worlds – I love putting on a pretty knee-length skirt or sundress and heels and putting up my hair for church, and I also love pulling on cargo shorts and running shoes and heading into the woods for hiking and exploration. Likewise, having my own kitchen after my first two years of college cafeteria slop me a sudden and passionate interest in cooking and making good food. Today I’m completely at home in the kitchen, love good food, and probably spend more time exploring new dishes and being creative in the kitchen than almost any friend I grew up with. So thanks, Mom, for giving me the time I needed to grow into the woman I was meant to be, rather than forcing me into the mold others imagined for me.