Over the fifteen years that I spoke each spring at state homeschool conventions, I’m not sure a season went by when I wasn’t asked by convention hosts to give the speech I entitled “Tips for Teaching a Houseful.” For years, Lampstand Press has sold audio versions of this popular speech. (You can purchase it here.) But, today, I decided to write an excerpt from its content up as a post for this blog in order to give it a wider circle of influence, since I am no longer speaking at homeschool conventions. This content is also a chapter in my book Love the Journey, which is available on Amazon.com in printed form, or purchase it in printed or digital form here.
I pray that it will help you, whether you are teaching your children full time at home, or overseeing their education at other learning institutions.
Warning: It’s Counter-cultural Advice!
It seems to me that raising children is one of the most challenging careers on the planet. If we are engaged in this endeavor, we should take it seriously and work at it diligently. It has been well said that “it is easier to train children than to repair men.” I would respond that training children is only easier if one is giving one’s full mind to the training and, even so, this work requires huge amounts of grace for both parents and children.
Giving one’s full attention to raising children necessarily mandates that we say “no” to other pursuits. And when our call to train them includes homeschooling, we add to the nurturing tasks common to all parents the added ones involved with giving academic lessons to our children. It is at this point that I believe that the idea of keeping a quiet home becomes almost a necessity. Let me define what I mean by a “quiet home” and then show you some scriptural support for my position as we get into details.
Defining a “Quiet Home”
By a “quiet home,” I mean a home that has a peaceful, orderly environment, in both its spiritual and physical aspects. This is a home where voices are modulated (though not to the exclusion of the occasional noisy romp, dance, or tickle session). Here, time is taken to do things well and in order, and living is consciously done to the glory of God a majority of the time. (Naturally, sinful behavior will exist; a Godward focus, though, means that repentance, forgiveness, and love will transform much sin to glory.) This home is clean and well maintained, because God is a God of order and beauty, and because clean environments are healthier and safer ones for children to grow and learn in than are messy or ill-maintained ones.
A quiet home is not an empty home, where no one really lives because its people are out all day doing other things. Nor is it a place where family members catch fragmented meals or sleep when midway between a myriad of appointments and obligations that scatter family members in a variety of different directions. By definition, a quiet home is a home that is lived in, loved in, and worked in. It is a place of safety for small children, and also an outpost of the Kingdom of God.
All of the chapters in this section [of the Love the Journey book] are meant to fill in a picture of a quiet home. As you read, I encourage you to be asking God what He would have of you in your unique situation, and ask Him where change might be needed. I hope you may find rest in this assurance: if the Spirit nudges you to order your home differently, He will also empower and grace you to do it!
Having painted a word picture of this quiet home, I now want to turn to discussing the commonly experienced temptations that draw us away from occupying such a lovely spot.
Working at Commercial Business Pursuits
Many of us worked outside the home before marriage and liked it. Also, in hard economic times, we wives may need to help earn money. So for many of us, the urge to “do business” is often present, but I’m going to argue that it’s probably not preferable to choose an outside job unless you and your husband feel that you are actively led into commercial enterprises by the Lord—and there are more reasons that I can list why this might be so.
Working on business pursuits will necessarily take time, creativity, and energy away from a focused attention on home management and child rearing. In the beginning, the desire for an outlet for these very things is a common motive for starting a job, especially with home businesses.
As new brides, and even young mothers, we can feel under-challenged at home with an easily-maintained house to tend and one small baby to mind. (This impulse may be strengthened by the transition to married life itself; many of us feel a strong desire to contribute money to the family budget.)
We can minimize what we do at home as “not enough” because we have been accustomed to working a job, or because American society does not recognize (except perhaps in magazines) the real value of a clean, orderly homes and well-regulated schedules for infants. To be honest, too, the daily tasks of caring for the home and infants really can be mind-numbingly boring, and our desires for escape can be a motivator for us to seek relief in some not-so-good places.
1 Timothy 6:6-11 (ESV) offers young women who feel this host of temptations some ageless, wise advice. Paul writes:
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment… But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction… It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you… flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.
Developing a heart for your home and small children can be really challenging in our pleasure-oriented, entertainment-sodden society. My own choices included doing various home-based businesses both as a young mother of babies and later, while homeschooling. As a result, I really had to work hard to keep child rearing a priority. Though I was very organized and had a lot of support from my husband, I well remember consistently feeling like I was walking a tightrope high above ground and without a net.
In my heart, I felt certain that one fine day, something important was going to come crashing down. I felt that I lived in constant triage, always asking myself, “Okay: who will die if I don’t get to them next?” So I’m speaking from real-life experiences when I talk on the subject of motherhood and working a job.
On the other hand, I can also honestly say that God worked in me through the stretching I’m describing. There was some good fruit in my life that God graciously brought from this tension. Looking back, I can see that it produced humility as I clung to Christ and struggled with condemnation. I often enlisted my children to help with mundane tasks like stuffing envelopes, and as they grew older, I made it a special thing to take one of them to my home party presentations as a special helper. I taught them to cook and clean and gave them practice in these areas partly because I needed time to do other things.
God often showed me how to use these things in their lives for good. We had many great times stuffing envelopes, many special one-on-one times traveling to and from home parties, and my daughters particularly are grateful for their training in home management, now that they find themselves a little ahead of the curve in that area.
My children also learned that they were not the center of the universe, and to value serving others before themselves. But, as with most rough roads, it wasn’t easy, and there were costs, as well as opportunities for sin. Though they were all “on board” with my role outside our home, some of my children were at times tempted with selfishness, bitterness, and self-pity. They had to learn how to deal with these sins. There was also for all of us the legitimate hurt of sacrifice, of losing one thing to gain another.
God met and taught and grew each of us through these things, and I do believe it was His plan for our family uniquely (remember, each family is uniquely called by God to glorify Him in the ways He has chosen for them), but still, I would not recommend that you seek to run a business, raise young children, and homeschool unless clearly led of the Lord (which can, of course, include acceding to your husband’s requests that you work).
So, you might wonder, “Why is she going to argue for an at-home focus so earnestly if this was not her own example?” Or “Why should I forego the rewards of working a job and raising children and homeschooling if she saw so much good fruit from it?”
In John 15:2, we read these words of the Lord Jesus: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Look closely at this passage. Jesus says that He prunes what is good in favor of what is best—or, most fruitful.
My life was what God intended it to be. I see the good fruit that God brought out of my sincere efforts to please Him and serve my family. But I am aware of ways that my choices did affect my children adversely, and made my home less quiet than it could have been. There were times when I was “too busy” to nurture well. There were moments missed and there were lessons untaught and there was damage to relationships that would not have occurred if my attention had been more focused on my home.
Again, I’m content with my life. God has shaped it; I believe that by faith. I believe that part of why it worked out well for us was that we were aware of the choices we were making. One can’t do everything, and my work with writing Tapestry of Grace, for instance, cost my children some, but benefited them more.
I think my goal in writing this chapter is simply to alert younger moms to the fact that choices do involve opportunity costs, as economists call them. Saying “yes” to a job means saying “no” to other things. It is a myth of our culture that we can successfully “do it all” in a sustainable way.
If pruning is a practice that Jesus follows, should we not, with our husbands, seek Him for wisdom concerning the choices that we make for our days? If we see that our pursuit of a job is from unwholesome or self-centered motives, should we not seek to cut away unfruitful avenues, and even to prune back (or limit) good ones, so that we can produce the greatest possible crop of godliness? We can tend to settle for “good” when God wants the best for us.
This idea of pruning the good in order to obtain the best also takes us to a second major area of distraction from keeping a quiet home: paying undue attention to the many and varied opinions of others. From friends, to neighbors, to parents, to our own consciences, women hear many voices. The Bible is clear that, as a sex, we are susceptible to undue influencing from them. I’ve talked about this at length in Chapter 11, but let me give a fresh example in this context, and then let’s talk about pruning.
As was commonly known, when I was a young mother, “they say” that anyone who wants to be at all good at the violin needs to start lessons with a bona fide Suzuki instructor at the age of four. Your son, Chris, has decided that he’d like to play the violin, and you are eager to encourage this, since playing a musical instrument is high on your list of good skills for him to have. Chris is almost seven—way late! You live in rural New Hampshire, so violin teachers aren’t plentiful. Indeed, the only good one you’ve heard of lives about half an hour away. When you call him, you find that his teaching slate is full except for one slot: the 11:30 AM lesson on Tuesdays, for a half an hour. So, you commit to a year’s worth of lessons.
As the fall progresses and cold weather sets in, your family settles nicely into its homeschooling routines. Tuesdays are the only days that aren’t working for you. It’s because of the violin lesson, and you’ve come to dread it. Why?
Well, because you have four kids who need to all be bundled up in their winter coats, boots, and mittens and loaded into the car. You have to strap the babies into their car seats and, of course, it is a given that one of them will fall asleep as you drive the half-hour to the lesson. Naturally, you’re not going to then drive home during the lesson. You’ve decided to pick up a few perishables from the nearby grocery store.
When you get home, everyone’s hungry and cranky. You all pile into the kitchen, where all your kids drop their wet winter boots and coats, and (since they’ve been out in the cold) they start clamoring for hot chocolate. You dump the groceries next to the clothing. You manage to barely keep your temper while slapping together peanut butter sandwiches for a quick lunch for them, putting away the groceries and their clothing, and serving the hot chocolate. The toddler and the baby are both out of sorts from interrupted sleep cycles, and everyone is headed for a sugar crash.
Discouraged at the prospect of a long, unpleasant afternoon ahead, you give up on doing any more lessons for the day and announce that this is a video day. You guiltily park them all in front of a Disney movie while you escape to Facebook and your favorite home decor magazine for the bulk of the rest of the afternoon.
* * * * *
Now, let’s go back. Why did you schedule this violin lesson when you did?
“Well,” you respond, “they say that Chris is late getting started… he’s six! And they say that you really need a Suzuki instructor, and this was the only Suzuki teacher’s only slot… and I thought I could manage it because, as moms, we have to be able to do it all or our kids will suffer, and… um… that’s why.”
This kind of thing happens so often to homeschooling moms! You will encounter so many who have strong opinions, and who will insist that their way is best for you, too. Some will be well-meaning. They sincerely want you to be happier, or do a better job, and if you participate in their play group or Bible study group, or if your child has this or that instructor or opportunity, they are convinced you will be happier. But you can’t do them all, and you will need to prune some good things so that you leave time—and plenty of it—for the important things, which are the things you and your husband agree that you’ve been called to do.
Sometimes, you will need to prune out the opinions of those who voice negative sentiments. Well-meaning friends and relations may question your motives or abilities in choosing to homeschool. They may project fearful future scenarios on the screen of your mind. They may seek to undermine your resolve to follow your husband and the Lord on this journey by predicting horrific ends.
Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” We covered this in the previous chapter, but it bears repeating: one reason we women listen to the voices of others—either urging us to do more or trying to have us do less, to the point where we lose peace and joy in our God-given roles—is that we want so desperately to succeed. This is a natural desire, for sure, but as with the violin lesson, our motive can be more about winning the approval of others than the glory of God or the best for our kids. Pruning out the noisy voices in our heads and quieting our proud hearts take work!
Examining our ability to homeschool when others disagree with our choices can be both humble and wise. We know that we are not strong enough to succeed in homeschooling on our own, and at times we do need to adjust our course. But a right response to doubts and worries brought on by the voices of others would be to prune the weight you give them, if after prayer and discussion with your husband you find that you are not actually called to make changes based on what those voices advise.
By limiting your primary counselors to God’s Word, your husband and then (with him) to a few well-chosen mentors, you access real helps. God provides us with only a few voices to whom we must really listen intently. We are to obey God’s Word and His Spirit, and our husband. Those are, in essence, the only voices we need to really listen to when making decisions about homeschooling and parenting.
There is wisdom in consulting a variety of counselors when big decisions or serious adjustments are needed. The advice of friends, family, pastors, and homeschooling leaders can be valuable! But at the end of the day, Scripture only commands women to submit to the leadership of God and our husbands. This ancient way of pruning enables us to travel light on the journey. Pruning frees us from many heartaches if we take it seriously, and it enables us to give value and attention to the less obvious (or glamorous) requirements of a quiet home.
Self-Reliance and Self-Focus
Finally, there are the restless emotions of our own hearts and minds—those discouraging, escapist, or condemning thoughts that we speak to ourselves. These come from bumping up against our own sinful humanity, from being forced to face the very real limits that God has placed in our life, and from our Enemy whispering in our ears in an effort to destroy us. These, too, can keep us from joyful service in a quiet home.
In fact, one of the largest distractions from keeping a quiet home comes from too much reliance on our own thoughts, feelings, priorities, and plans. Like Eve, we so often choose to do what seems best to us, without stopping to ask God and our husbands for guidance. Again, this can be especially true for us if we’ve been used to a lot of social or ministry interactions before we were married, or have lots of ideas for going and doing outside the home once we have children. Self-reliance can lead us into heartache. Here’s one of the scariest Scripture passages I know. It helps me to remember to not lean on my own understanding!
Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.
Isaiah 50:11 (ESV)
From curriculum purchases to participation in learning groups to whether or not to take violin lessons to deciding to work an outside job—all of our choices affect our ability to keep a quiet home. If we rely on ourselves and our own understanding, we take on a tremendous burden—one that God never meant for His daughters to shoulder! In Genesis 3, we read that Eve sinned because she chose to follow her own inclinations, rather than submit herself to either the Word of God or her husband.
Bad results from bad choices
When we bow to the tyranny of others’ voices or our own feelings and thoughts, we so often end up taking on more than we can handle in a quiet and orderly way. We find ourselves rushing, which makes it easy to give in to temptations to be rude and unkind to our children and husbands. In rushing them out the door, we go yelling through the house to hurry them up. While busy with other tasks, we rebuke with a sharp word or sudden swat, or because we are among outsiders, we grit our teeth and try to pretend that the two-year-old kicking and screaming on the department store floor isn’t our baby! Because we are on a conference call from home for our job, we find that we can’t take the time to correct our children’s misbehaviors with grace and gospel.
In this bustle and sin, we open ourselves up to feelings of self-pity, condemnation, and discouragement that tempt us to either quit or escape. As we wobble off-center, we find ourselves failing to undertake things that would be straightforward if our pace was slower, or our life simpler. In pursuit of great opportunities that we’ve not previously planned for (or prayed about) we find that we are changing plans often, then skipping many of the daily disciplines associated with keeping a clean, orderly home. The mess piles up and becomes so daunting that we can’t face it: we do more activities outside the home, and avoid (or justify) tasks at home left undone.
Because we are not sitting at home, we skip daily lessons that are essential to productive homeschooling. Our children begin to learn that our plans are not reliable, that they don’t know what they can expect from us, that the deadlines we set aren’t real ones, and that it’s okay to blow off the mundane in search of the exciting or new things of life. If we’re busy with other things, they tend to react by attention-gaining behaviors, such as tantrums, whining, sulking, or rebellion.
Better fruit from better choices
Quiet homes that result from wise choices to prune and submit as God and our husbands lead, by contrast, provide maximum opportunity for us and our children to flourish. The balance of work, rest, and nutrition conducted in a clean and well-ordered environment gives both the best possible foundation for the central goals of a homeschooling family: providing Christian discipleship through an authentic model (in you and your husband) and regular progress towards academic excellence.
It is much easier to train children using the gospel-centered teaching and correction with gracious tones when parents are well rested, well fed, prayed up, and not rushed. Discipleship involves not only setting our children examples of faithfulness in little things, and of Godward choices during many small moments in life, but of repentance (admitting our own faults) when needed. Discipleship also involves listening carefully to the questions and problems that our children have when they are perplexed or in trial. It is just hard—in general, though again there is grace for those of us who are called to undertake a full schedule—to do these things well while also doing life in a high-speed, high-pressured way.
Likewise, academic progress results from many small lessons faithfully completed. If you are well rested, unhurried, and at peace, you will find it easier to plan, teach, correct, and re-teach those lessons. If your children wake up each morning to a stable, predictable rhythm of life which includes rest, good nutrition, and periods of recreation and work, and where deadlines and expectations are clear and consistent, they will have the best possible platform for success in academics.
Giving your heart fully to the care of your home and your children is not commonly valued very highly in today’s American society. You won’t get many accolades for choosing the ancient paths of loving and serving your own husband and children with kindness and faithfulness, or for choosing to live at a lower income level rather than take on commercial pursuits. However, you are living your life for an audience of One, not for the audience of many. If this is the task He has given you to do, you can rest in that.
Also, if you believe the Bible, believe that the promises of heavenly crowns are true! In addition to our motivation of love and gratitude for Jesus (we love because He first loved us) God does not seem to consider it inappropriate to motivate us by rewards. Therefore, we run this race in part to hear Him say “well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” While others may feel that you’re bearing an unnecessary burden by adding academic teaching to parenting responsibilities, and missing “the good life” in the process, if keeping a quiet home is God’s leading, you can rest assured that the pruning that goes with it—even of good things—will not fail to yield sweet and abundant fruit, as well as rich rewards, for God is faithful to His promises.