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In the Light of the Home Birches

January, 2018

 

Äiti! Mother!

Motherhood and the acceptance of children as God’s gift are under attack in our time. Believing mothers feel the pressure from society in general and health care professionals to limit the size of their families. Moms have trials and doubts related to their role.

A Finnish book entitled Äiti! (in English, Mother!) published by the SRK in 2016, is in the process of being translated. In it several believing mothers relate their experiences. One essay per month will appear in the Home and Family feature from January–June 2018. The entire book which contains over thirty essays will be published in the latter half of this year, or early 2019.

The examples of believing mothers are powerful. The open expression of doubts, fears, and joys related to motherhood will be a source of comfort and strength for the moms of North American Zion.

In the Light of the Home Birches

I am in a rush. I’m hurrying to get one child dressed, making a sandwich for another, and a third one asks me to listen to him review his multiplication tables. “Where are my socks?” someone asks. And as though following the script of “Virtanen’s Morning,” one of the little boys spills his milk. The youngest still only has a diaper on when others are in their snowsuits.

The car is covered in snow. While I put the younger children in their car seats, the older ones brush snow off the car. I can’t be late because I promised the youth worker from the Lutheran Church* that my little ones and I would join her for morning devotion at the school. We all pile into the car.

As I drive along the snowy streets, I start laughing. In all its bustle, the morning was so comical. Or, at least the way I felt was comical! I doubt I’d be laughing if every morning were like this. Maybe routine would make it easier. Now we had the chance to test what it would be like if mom went to work every morning. As I drive toward the school, I reflect with respect on all parents who get the whole crew, from oldest down to the youngest, out the door every morning. I also think of the children who have to crawl out of their cozy beds to rush out the door. Today I am just visiting the school, and after that I can go back home with the little kids and we can start our morning all over again.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I were working. I would belong to a group of colleagues. Perhaps I would be respected for what I can do. Would I be more valuable to society? I once attended a lecture in which a leading researcher told how he had interviewed stay-at-home mothers and how he was surprised to find that they have thoughts. They had profound, meaningful thoughts. He had thought that all homemakers talk about are diapers and breastfeeding. The researcher was honest in telling his presumptions and said that he had been positively surprised.

“Home” is a beautiful, warm word. “Mother,” another good and dear word. But when the two words are joined, they are “stay-at-home mom.” It surely is not fashionable. Is it just an uninteresting gray area? Sometimes I think that as a housewife I never get anything done that is concrete. Do I have it in me to do the same thing, year after year? The work I do is so invisible: laundry, cooking, washing, cleaning, mediating disputes, receiving emotional outbursts, taking care of a baby, responding to the needs of children of different ages, and allowing my own needs to be interrupted. Is this enough for me?

Soon it will be fifteen years for me as a stay-at-home mom. That many years not working! What if I have lost the skills I learned and it’s too hard to go back to work again? In our society, who I am and what I am measures my value. I have tried to learn that if what I do is valuable to me, it doesn’t matter what others say or think. Once someone asked me, “Do you have a job?” The question was posed quite nicely. I answered that I don’t have a job, and I sit at home with nothing to do. I laughed, as did the person who asked the question.

When I’m feeling a bit down, I wonder how working mothers and fathers have the time and energy after work to do everything I do at home during the day. It calls for a lot of organization. Getting children to and from school would have to be figured out, as well as daycare. Other issues would have to be planned, such as who looks after the children if they are not feeling well. Some people are successful with it. Would my husband and I be able to do this all so well that it wouldn’t be too big a burden or stress for our family? Then I think that the time I have for my children and a degree of relaxation are treasures that I wouldn’t want to give up.

I am self-employed. I can plan my activities in order of importance. On some days, I’m tired after a rough night and perhaps things weighing on my mind slow me down. Then I take it more leisurely. I only do what is necessary and when I get a chance, I rest. On other days, I am well-rested and energetic. On those days I have the washing machine spinning already early in the morning. I air the rugs out and have dough for rolls rising in the bowl. My colleagues are other stay-at-home parents. I can go sledding or berry-picking with other moms and children in the neighborhood, and sometimes just visit over a cup of tea or exchange text messages asking, “How is your day going?”

Sometimes I worry about having enough money to support a family when I am “just” a housewife. We are now satisfied with a lower income level and a fairly modest life. Society places pressure on us, and material well-being plays an important role. Do our children experience inequalities in what our family can get or what we spend our money on? These questions aren’t very easy to answer.

You cannot put a price on everything. Not for the moment when a child gets into your lap in the morning, presses her head against you, and says, “My mom.” And there is no price for me being at home when a schoolboy slams his backpack down and comes to tell me what happened at school. There is someone at home who listens. And if the child doesn’t say anything, I can see that something is bothering him. I can pat him on the shoulder and say, “You are important.” These things are not found in labor market talk, and they are not given credit ratings. But they are deposited into a bank account with a short name: The Future.

Do our children get by with having too little responsibility because I am at home? There surely is enough housework and responsibility, and it’s a matter of me knowing how to delegate it. What about the smaller children? We do not have the stimulus and social environment at home that a day care has to offer. Is home monotonous and boring? Only mom and siblings to play with. There is often a lot of work that mom wants to and must do during the day. What do I say when a child asks to read a book? “Not now, the potatoes are not peeled. Maybe after I’m finished vacuuming.”

Other times it’s different. It is easy to pause and sit on the couch to read with one child on my lap and the other beside me. Or to pack some juice boxes into a backpack and go on a field trip to the back steps, to marvel over light and life in the home birches, and watch the slow flow of the river.

For small children, small things suffice. Paper and crayons on the table, a pile of books swaying on the edge of the couch, a pile of magazines stacked in the magazine rack, soon to be cut up by the little ones. Sometimes we get inspired to paint or sing, and sometimes a neighbor boy comes to play outside with us. The children are always excited for Day Circle day. On a baking day, each child gets little balls of dough and little hands form their own delicious rolls. And what a joy when a child gets to cut sausage for soup or cucumber for salad. Yes, these children at home will get along in society when the time comes. Today they can still sleep in in the morning and wake up to climb into mother’s lap.

Perhaps it is not what I give, but what I get. What possibilities open up for me in my children! I do not always see what it is I have to learn from them. They are more than a thousand books on education or human rights slogans; their philosophy comes straight from life. And what humor! They are the future. I can learn from this every day, close to the faith of a child. I am a stay-at-home mother, and it is my free choice. It is a wonderful privilege. This is not an idyll as I am not able to create such. Not me, with messy hair, lacking and insufficient. Still, I am dear to my children and to my husband.

The support and appreciation of my husband are important for me to be able to work for the good of my home and family. Encouraging comments at services or from a friend I see are also important. I appreciate conversations with other moms, both working and moms who stay at home. I have cherished the comment of an elderly person: “You will never regret holding a child on your lap.” Motherhood has been given to me, and it is a duty that fits me. If it is meant to be, I can one day work outside the home. And already now I can participate in things that refresh me, things that I experience to be my own.

Every family has its own kind of life. Everyone listens to the voice of her own family. When we think of going to work or staying at home, we can make decisions based on what is important to our family and on what is possible. The Heavenly Father takes care of us and leads us in these matters.

Anna Virtanen

Translated from Äiti!, SRK 2016

*In Finland, the Conservative Laestadian believers are members of the Finnish Lutheran Church as well as a local Association of Peace (RY), which North Americans would term a congregation or church.

 

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