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Entries in Marriage/Family (43)

Tuesday
Feb282012

The relief of no career

I have never had a "career."  When my kids' friends were asked what I "did," my kids would say, "She's my mother."  Unlike most women, I don't have an identity to add to the designation of mother, Christian woman, or wife.  

When I had my first child, I was part way through university. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with an education other than soak it all in and love it, and I wanted to have my children when I was young, so my husband and I began talking about having children.  I got a very good job working for an executive in a bank.  He was very good to me, and I was good at my job.  The plan was for me to return to work and my mother would babysit for me.  Things did not work out that way.  My father's company transferred him and he took my babysitter with him.  In addition to that, my boss, whom I loved working for, went back to the U.K. and I was about to be re-assigned.  Being re-assigned in a big corporation such as the one I worked for meant floating, i.e. never being in one place for too long, until I could be matched up with another executive.  I didn't particularly like that prospect, but I went back to work for one month to give it a test run.  I hated it.

I missed my child.  I was away from her from 7:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.  I hated it.  I wanted to be with her, to hold her little body close to me and smell her silky head and cuddle with her.  I quit my job and focused on that.  I left a job, not a career.  I was not plagued with the concerns of many women I know who felt very torn at leaving behind a career, wondering if they would be bored at home, wondering if they had committed professional suicide by leaving their jobs, wondering if they'd ever regret doing it, wondering how they would survive without those pats on the back for a job well done.  I was happy to leave it behind.  I liked my boss and I was good at my job, but it was BO-RING.  It's easier to look ahead when you're not worried about what you're leaving behind.  It was under God's sovereign direction, and I know that it was His wisdom that kept me from continuing to work.

While my kids were young, I worked on my degree part-time.  That was my way of keeping active the other parts of me.  It is not easy to be with small children all day long, and when my kids were young, my evening hours were for reading and learning.  I also threw myself into other things, sewing clothes for my kids, getting to know the other mothers on my street, taking the kids to activities, baking, quilting.  I don't let myself get bored if I can help it.  I just find something else to tackle.

I can honestly say that over the 22 years I have been home with my kids that I have not spent a great deal of time mourning the loss of my "other" life.  God has brought so many things into my life along the way, that I haven't had time to feel cheated or deprived.  One of the greatest blessings of being home with my kids, aside from just being with them, has been the time for bible study.  If I was working, I would have less time for that.  Working full-time would have meant we didn't homeschool, and those years were among the best years for our family.

So, now I sit here with no career to go back to, and my youngest child is off to university in the fall.  Is now the time I feel like I've missed out?  Because I have nothing to "go back to?"  No.  There is still so much to do, so much to learn, so many unread books on my shelf, so many opportunities I can pursue, so many ways to serve.  Every now and then I do feel self-conscious about having no particular career to call my own, because to be honest, there is a certain bias toward those who don't work.  It means I must be wasting my time; it means I am unproductive.  

My dad said something to me once that made me think hard about jobs and careers.  My father was an executive in a bank.  He was often responsible for training and equipping people to work in his department, corporate lending.  He said it often took a couple of years to get them up to speed and able to work with minimal supervision.  Some of those people were women, and he said he found it frustrating when he would spend two years training a woman who would turn around and go on maternity leave for a year and then waffle about whether she wanted to come back to work or not.  That doesn't sound productive to me.  But if you were to point that out to someone, that a woman may do that and decrease productivity, you're treading on hallowed ground, and you'd better be quiet.  It is not politically correct at all.

God is sovereign and He sets in motion those things He knows are for our good.  I believe He knew it was for my good and the good of my children that I be "just" a regular housewife.  I am lucky to have the freedom to be here in this home, doing what I do.  I hope I never take it for granted.   There are just so many things I would never have been able to do if I'd been working full-time, and I would have missed so much of my children's lives.  Society tries to tell women we can have it all.  Don't believe it.  

Tuesday
Feb212012

A post about sex and marriage

Did that get your attention?  I have found that any time someone has a post using those words, we take notice.  This isn't going to be one of those posts.  I don't do such posts.

I've been reading Derek and Rosemary Thomas's book about marriage.  It is an exposition of The Song of Solomon.  This is a very good book so far.  I first was introduced to Derek Thomas through a series of lectures on aspects of Reformed faith, and I enjoyed them so much.  The summer I listened to them, I would walk every morning and listen to one in its entirety before finishing my walk.  I was also pleased to win, courtesy of Reformation Trust, Thomas's book How the Gospel Leads Us All the Way Home.  I really like his writing and this book is proving to be just as good.  Derek Thomas knows how to be tasteful in how he approaches the topic of marriage and intimacy. 

In the chapter called "Growing Love" when he talks about Song of Solomon 2:8-3:5, he says so many things I found valuable.

He introduces the subject with this caution:

In our openly promiscuous age, there is nothing in the Song of Solomon that most have not seen or heard on television, or radio, or the papers.  The church should address these issues and teach what the Bible has to say about love, sex and marriage.  If the church does not deal with these matters, who will?  Nevertheless, care needs to be taken with mixed audiences and perhaps some of the contents of the Song would be better explored in special settings rather than the Sunday morning service.

Would that more men would share Thomas's view on that.  At the time of writing, Derek and Rosemary were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary.  Sometimes, being married longer just makes a couple a little more discerning.  Old fogeys like me appreciate his exhortation to discretion; younger people read that as not being open enough.  Yes, we need to talk about such issues, but doing in a Speaker's Corner style as some like to do seems tasteless to me.

Here is his comment on taking the long term view of marriage and commitment:

Taking the long-term view of things means viewing the relationship as more than just physical.  The physical will change and only the deeper character - those aspects of our personality that reflect our relationship to Jesus Christ - will endure and form the true basis of what unites and keeps love alive.

Yes, it does sound trite to say that what counts is on the inside, but it's true.  While my husband still pays me compliments about my physical appearance, we both realize that it's changing, as is his.  To make marriage all about the physical aspect is delusional, because that's going to change.  The character ought to become more beautiful as time goes on.  The fact that many men choose to turn their attentions to younger women (and actually, women will often look for a younger man) is a testimony to that fact.  To make marriage all about the physical is foolish.  Just because people don't want to have public forums about their marital intimacy does not make them prudish or stodgy; maybe it just makes them wise.

I am looking forward to finishing this little gem of a book.  Next up after that, I hope to read Joel Beeke's book on the topic.  There are alternative books out there about marriage, books that are edifying and won't make your grandmother blush.

Friday
Feb172012

Fifty years ago

Fifty years ago today, my parents were married.  I love the pictures.  There were only a handful, because my parents did not have a lot of money.  My mother did not wear a massive dress with a big train.  She wore a beautiful dress, but it was only to her knee and she wore a pill-box hat.  On the day of the wedding, my uncle, who was fifteen at the time, passed out during the ceremony because he'd left for the wedding without eating breakfast despite having milked a barn full of cows that morning.

My mother had four children five and under by the time she was 22 years old.  The lack of counseling for family planning is among the many reasons for her antipathy toward the Roman Catholic Church.   But she was a devoted mother, and always told us her house was cleaner and there was always fresh baked food in the cupboards when her kids were small.  I came to understand that when my kids were small.  There is something about having to keep it all running smoothly that makes us more organized.  Now that I have only one at home, I find myself much less attentive to some details that I would never have been negligent toward fifteen years ago.

My parents were broke all the time.  My father started out in the industy of banking as a messenger.  He worked his way to be an executive when he retired.  But it was a long haul.  For two years, my mother worked 6:00 to midnight at a drugstore so that she wouldn't have to hire a babysitter in the day.  My dad was taking courses for his managerial accounting study, and after bedtime, he studied.  I remember feeling very acutely our lack of "things" when I began school.   My mother gave up a lot so we could have what nice things we did have.  My father never had hobbies that I knew of.  He worked all week and came home and kept our yard and home maintained.  I know he liked fishing, and he did get to do that with his brothers a few times, but when I look back now, I wish it had been more.

I was about 14 years old when my mother told me that sometimes, when things were really rough, and she thought about just packing it all in, she would say to herself, "Where would I go with four children?"  At the time, I resented her words.  It seemed disloyal to ever think of leaving our family.  Of course, I was fourteen, and I didn't know anything about how hard marriage is and how hard it was for her at times.  My mother had a very nasty mother of her own, and when I look back, I see how difficult it must have been for her to mother when her own mother was so stingy with her love and approval.  I always tell my kids I was lucky my mother wasn't Mommie Dearest in the end.

My parents do not know the Lord, and that has been a burden for me since I was converted at the age of twenty.  After having tried to become Mormon at the age of 17 and then changing my mind, I think my mother considers this another "religious phase."  Despite their lack of biblical faith, they loved us, and they sacrificed for us, and they did the best they could.  One of the greatest gifts my parents have given is the longevity of their marriage.  I have three older brothers.  None of us has been separated or divorced.  That's pretty significant when one looks at divorce statistics.  Even in my local church, there are folks who are separating.

There are a lot of weddings coming up at my church this summer.  I think there are five; all of them are kids I taught Sunday school when they were teens.  I'm sure they're getting lots of advice.  I don't like to give out advice, but if I am ever asked, I do have a few things I'd say.  First,  the wedding lasts a few hours, but the marriage lasts a life time.  Worry less about the details and more about the marriage.  A few summers ago, another former student of mine was getting married, and my daughter happened to run into the sister of the bride and asked how the wedding plans were going.  The sister of the bride said, "Ever heard of Bridezilla?"  Weddings are stressful and can become a huge headache for all, and yet they last such a short time.  Last winter, yet another former student got married and he and his bride didn't tell anyone but immediate family.  I think there was under twenty people present.  They didn't have the money, and they didn't want the hassle.  My daughter informs me that is what she is going to do some day.  I told the mother of the groom this recently, and she liked that her son was making such a trend appealing.

Another piece of advice I might choose to give is this:  seek the counsel of people who have been married a lot longer than you have.    The struggles we find all consuming as young married couples pale in comparison to what could happen.  I look back and I think about my pet peeves as a newly married woman and I laugh because once we had teenagers, we had struggles and issues I never knew we could have, and those little things seemed rather ridiculous now.  Draw on the wisdom of those who have stuck it out for 30 years, 40 years, 50 years.  

I would also encourage young couple to give each other time; lots of it.  Sacrifice if necessary.  My dearest friend, with whom I had breakfast yesterday, has been married 27 years, so not that much longer than I.  But I have always been blessed by what she did as a young bride.  As the wife of a busy vet, and working a job of her own, she found that their time together was not what she wanted.  Even though she did not have small children at home yet, she quit her job to make her home and husband a priority.  Now that her children are all away from home, she still does that, always reserving her husband's day off for time with him.  She is a blessed example to me.  Practically speaking, I think I'd be so bold as to counsel a couple preparing for marriage to try to avoid getting dependent on two big incomes.  Children come along when you don't expect it, and the drop in finances when a woman has a child may make it seem so much more pressing to get back to work if she chooses to do so.  Sometimes, young couples have a perception of what they "need" to be happily married, and sometimes, those things are fleeting and don't actually contribute to the health of the marriage in the long run.

As I think about my parents and their struggles, some even very recent because of health issues, and I see their commitment, I know that it is a commitment that flourished in a time when instant gratification and easy exits were not popular.  They are now.  I often fear for what environment my children will marry in.  A friend of mine recently became a grandmother, but the mother and father have no plans for marriage.  That seems to be a growing trend.  I will continue to be thankful for the examples of those who have stayed the course.

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