The road to greatness begins at home

Of late, several comments and circumstances concerning “The Use or Benefits of Staying at Home” to care for children have provoked me to think about the choice I made to be available 24/7 for our family.

I made that decision almost 10 years ago.

And? 

I wrote a somewhat emotional piece that was published some years ago and which I read again recently, wondering if I felt the same as before or if it turned out to be a whole load of hogwash. (I’m republishing it below for those who missed it.)

You know? Despite “The Day of Small Things” (and there have been many many many), I can’t say after much serious reflection that I made the wrong choice. 

I can’t see the end of the road. Although I sometimes wish I could.

But I have faith.

The gems and developments in the young lives under my care that serve to encourage me on ordinary days – these things help me know deep within it isn’t a blind faith.

I still believe that Every.Single.Thing we are trying to build, here with our kids are bricks laid one by one to form a foundation of relationships that will stand the test of time and the pains of adolescence and the hardships of life.

That at the end of a long day, every person in this family will always look forward to return and find comfort and strength and peace and acceptance in this place we call “HOME”.

Do I doubt sometimes?

Of course. But by golly, I’ll be sticking to my guns.

 

Here’s the piece entitled “The Road to Greatness Begins at Home”, originally published at Loyarburok on 8 December 2011 and The Selangor Times shortly after.

P.S. You stay-home mums will know what I mean about “The Day of Small Things”. Heads up!

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loyarburokpic2011

When I was invited to share some thoughts and personal experiences on stay-home motherhood in conjunction with International Volunteers Week, I was somewhat perplexed because, to many, stay-home motherhood defies logic, let alone ideas of social responsibility or volunteerism.

For good or bad, the culture in which I live is preoccupied with work, education and achievement.  Not infrequently have I met people who ask, “But what do you do all day?” or “When are you going to start working again?” as if much of the time I have is spent watching my toenails grow, or as though the tasks I do cannot be properly considered work precisely because it is unpaid and home-based.  Worst of all, I have “wasted” my learning, not to mention my parents’ hard earned money.

This kind of pressure can be somewhat daunting.  And in my context, void of domestic help, stay-home motherhood to 3 young children aged 5, 3 and 10 months is intense labour 24 hours 7 days a week without a mint of money in it.

Additionally, stay-home motherhood is a multi-faceted and demanding experience.  In the sentiments of Kate Harris, another stay-home mother, I am now a professional hygiene attendant with “an advanced degree in banana-mashing”, plus a poo-cleaning portfolio guaranteed to impress.  Also, I am the family’s CEO with razor sharp management and multi-tasking skills because cooking, cleaning, baby-carrying and training my children in dining etiquette and alternative dispute resolution techniques must happen all at the same time.  All this – if to be performed with grace and a patient, nurturing spirit – commands every ounce of strength, moral character and skill.

The menial nature of some tasks can appear off-putting, not to mention having to live with the constraints of single-income status.  So, while this quiet, nurturing lifestyle is borne predominantly out of an instinctive sense of responsibility to my children, there are moments in which I question: “Why did I sign up for this gig?”

For me, volunteering for this simple life has been worth it because it affords me and the children the thing we treasure most – time to be with each other.

This time has enabled me to breastfeed my children for as long as possible and give them the best nutritional start in life through healthy, home-cooked meals everyday.  I am able to focus on being a hands-on parent without the distractions of a full-time job.

Being home also enables me to be available for my children during their various stages of growth.  I have the time to learn to understand my children and vice versa.  Stimulating conversations can happen any time of the day, not just within a few restricted hours.  I have peace knowing where they are at – not just physically, but emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

As the main caregiver, my children look to me, not to any domestic helper or babysitter, for love, comfort, security and guidance.  And as our relationship grows, I am able to understand better and deal more holistically and consistently with the attitudinal and behavioural challenges of each child. The greatest challenge is in modeling values to the little ones, because they watch every move.

For various reasons, mostly developmentally and financially, I have been home-educating my 5 year old and 3 year old and so am a kindergarten teacher of sorts.  The beauty of home-education is that learning happens naturally throughout the day and there are plenty of opportunities for field trips.  There are sit-down times for the 3R’s but we also focus on other subjects our family feels as important: music, history, art, social responsibility.

Here is where being home, teaching my children, affords me unique ways to apply my education, interests and previous work experience in creative and intentional ways.  As far as the children are concerned, this has yielded interesting results.

About 5 months ago, my daughter and I finished a riveting book as part of our school curriculum. Set in the context of World War II, Claire Huchet Bishop’s Twenty and Ten is based on a true story that occurred during the German occupation of France.  Twenty French children are sent to a refuge in the mountains.  They take in, and hide, 10 Jewish refugee children.  It’s a book you can’t put down, especially from the part when Nazi soldiers arrive.

There is a touching scene at the beginning, when a Jewish boy gives his one-and-only treasured piece of chocolate to a French boy in gratitude to the latter for having given to him the remainder of his meal.

My daughter and I poured over our world map and looked for all the locations mentioned in the book.  We had an interesting time discussing the story.  I learned that 5 year olds are capable of understanding a great deal of things.

On the very same day we read that chapter, our family had lunch with several young friends. One of them, a refugee girl, was reluctant to join in as she didn’t have money to pay for her meal.  We wanted her company, so we told her not to think of money.  As we left the restaurant, she slipped something into my daughter’s hand.

Guess what it was?  A piece of chocolate.

I looked at my daughter and said, “Remember that story?”  Her face was shining.

Some time later, my mother came visiting.  As I washed the breakfast dishes, I overheard my girl said to her, “Do you know the Nazis?”

There was a short silence.  Then my mother said, “What?”

“The Nazis,” my daughter said. “They killed Jews. And they wanted to kill the Jewish children.”

It was then I thought about the things my daughter and I had talked about – human rights, racism, equality and courage.  I thought about our refugee friend and about how I, as a parent, am privileged to invest in the life of my children throughout the day.

Thus, although I receive no financial remuneration for my job and find it exhausting, I have found stay-home motherhood to be a meaningful part of society as a whole.  It offers real value for families and the world at large.  I do my work with the conviction that I am fulfilling a social responsibility, that I am promoting and improving a particular quality of life, that I am teaching the importance of Truth lived out in human relationship.

So, while I hesitate to define stay-home motherhood in terms of its market value, it is important to place stay-home mothers on the same playing field as other nation builders and culture-shapers.  Lest anyone persists in thinking that stay-home motherhood is not as important as the work of lawyers, doctors or accountants, I echo with Kate Harris, in her observation of G. K. Chesterton who, in his book What is Wrong With The World, asks, “How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the rule of three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No. A woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

Volunteerism carries with it the notion of rendering aid or performing a service beyond one’s basic obligations.  Many of the aspects of stay-home mothering are really, I think, fundamentally elementary and lie within the reasonable expectations of being a normal family member and responsible citizen. And so, stay-home motherhood for me is not quite the same as volunteerism although it encompasses many aspects of the definition.  At its heart, stay-home motherhood is a vocation.

When I am faced with the Day of Small Things, wherein I am smeared with spit-up for the 10th time and inundated with requests for tooth-picking services and butt-wipes simultaneously, I remember that throughout human history, millions of women have given themselves to – or volunteered for, if you will – this timeless vocation that is stay-home motherhood. They have done so willingly, without financial reward, and their nobility lies precisely in acting out of a sense of duty towards the little people entrusted to their care, not because they have the extra time, energy or money on their hands.

The simple, yet multi-faceted and busy life that is stay-home motherhood is a challenging one, and there are many valid factors for which some mothers desire to, or are compelled to, work outside the home.  For all of the above, however, my passion is to see women – who want to stay home with their little ones – empowered to embark on this journey with their children, and find intentional and creative ways to apply their education, work experience and skills alongside and within their role as mothers.

The road to greatness begins at home ~ Chinese proverb.

 

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9 ways to pray creatively with your child

Our family is beginning a 40-day prayer focus for our country, Malaysia. This is a special prayer time that is happening nationwide.

I’m looking forward to this opportunity and thought I would share some of the things we can do, in order to pray creatively and meaningfully.

1) Use our bodies.

Day 1 of the Prayer Focus: Abide in the Vine: Jesus is the True Vine.

We read what “Abide in Me” means:

“When branches are disconnected from the vine, they lose their source of nutrients. They are unable to bear fruit, and will wither up and die. We have the same relationship with God, as the branches have with the vine. Jesus said that He is the True Vine, and we are the branches. When we are cut off from God, or don’t take the time to make sure that we are always connected to Him in prayer and worship, our spiritual health is affected – just as the physical health of the branches is affected when it is cut off from its source of food, that is, the vine.” (Prayer Guide

I love this image of the True Vine and the branches. It reminds me of how important my own walk with God is, if I am to grow personally and have a successful impact in all the areas of my life – as an individual, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a member of society, a citizen of my country.

As we reflected on this together, I said, “Imagine my arm is the Jesus, True Vine.” (I held up my left arm.) “What if Mama, the branch, is connected to Jesus (I put my right arm to my left arm) but you (children) are not? Will you be able to grow?”

“Each of us must be connected to Jesus, in order to grow. It doesn’t help me if someone else is connected to Jesus, but I am not.”

So here we are, each one, connecting ourselves, our branches to Jesus.

branches

2) Use silence and personal reflection.

“If we want to stay connected to Jesus the True Vine, we must obey Him, no matter what the cost. What are some areas of your life in which you know you are not obedient to God?” (Prayer Guide)

I encouraged the children. “Let’s spend one minute in silence. Think about one part of your life you haven’t been obedient with.”

We did that.

3) Share openly. Begin with yourself.

After our one minute of silence, I encouraged everyone to share, beginning with myself.

“Today, I was upset at Papa over something I felt he should have done, but didn’t do. It doesn’t matter whether I was right, or if he was right. The point is, that in my anger I said harsh and rude things to him. That was wrong of me.”

One of the children said, “I need to stop glaring and showing a bad face at the others when I’m angry.”

It was good to confess our wrongs before each other. Children need to hear us parents admit where we’ve gone wrong, not just once but as often as is necessary, so that they too can learn how to deal with strong emotions and become willing to acknowledge their own faults.

4) Discuss a plan of action, so you can move practically beyond prayer.

Then we talked about the plans we had, to try avoiding making the same mistake again.

I said, “When I’m angry at Papa, I think I should keep my mouth shut for an hour to give myself time to cool down.”

Puppy interjected. “You need AN HOUR to cool down??”

(Urrghhhhhh.)

“Yes, sometimes it takes that long! Or longer, I’m afraid. But we should not brood in anger for too long. We need to deal with it before it gets worse.”

“I’ll speak to Papa after I’ve cooled down a bit. Because if I speak when I’m angry, I’m sure to say hurtful things. If you hear me starting to speak when I’m angry, you can remind me of my plan to keep quiet and cool down first.”

I think encouraging accountability is important.

The child who had the issue of glaring said, “Next time I feel like glaring, I’ll look away. So the person won’t be hurt by my looks.”

We agreed we would remind each other of our plans in our necessary moments.

5) Use maps and flags.

We were going to pray for Malaysia, beginning with the state of Selangor.

I had printed out and laminated (for durability) a map of Malaysia that I found online. I chose a map that wasn’t too cluttered with details, which showed the names of the various states and their capitals.

map of malaysia

I had also printed out and laminated the flags of the various states. I used ring holders to hold them in place, so we could flip them easily.

flag of selangor

I asked the children to look for the state of Selangor on the map of Malaysia. We also looked at the neighbouring states and I asked them to check in which state their grandmother and other relatives lived in, and where their favourite holiday spots (Cameron Highlands, Port Dickson) were.

6) Use the Internet.

We were also going to pray for the Menteri Besar of Selangor. I got out my phone and we looked online for his name and his photo.

There is nothing like putting a name and face to someone’s title.

Puppy wrote his name down, and we prayed for him, by name.

7) Encourage questions. Be prepared to elaborate on facts so everyone can pray more intelligently.

One of the prayer items was that the Orang Asli children would have equal opportunity to receive education. Puppy asked what that meant, “because I need to know what’s happening otherwise I wouldn’t know what to ask God for.”

I’m glad that girl was thinking.

I explained about the various reasons why Orang Asli children find it difficult to get education. Later I searched for some news reports and research articles online and bookmarked them, so Puppy could read them next day.

8) Take prayer items in turns.

I prayed over one issue, and another child prayed for another issue. This encouraged everyone to pray aloud and the others to listen and express agreement.

9) Play a game.

I asked the children to spend one minute looking at the flag of Selangor, after which I would take it away and they would have to draw and colour it from memory.

It was a nice hands-on activity.

flag Collage

Someone got it right, someone got mixed up, but everyone enjoyed the challenge!

 

How do you pray with your child(ren)? If you have any ideas to share on how to develop a meaningful prayer time, I’d love to read all about it in the comments!

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