Tom and I have been talking a lot lately about why families struggle so much today to have time for each other and why life is so hurried, rushed and filled with stress. Men feel it as well as women, but several news articles recently have pointed to the true state of American womanhood these days. It can be summed up in the word “exhaustion”. This article today from Sky News makes my point. The dirty little secret among many women with families is that having it all is a terrible myth. Women in their 30’s and 40’s are facing meltdown physically and emotionally as the jobs of being an employee, conscientious mother, spouse and sometimes caregiver for an elder are burning them out.
I have discussed with others what is at the root of the hard reality that lurks just below the superficial prosperity in this country. One factor seems to be expectations going into marriage. Newlyweds of my parents’ generation had very modest expectations financially. My parents started out in a basement apartment in Des Moines, Iowa that didn’t have much in the way of amenities. They graduated to a studio apartment later and then to a three bedroom flat where my brother, sister and I spent our early childhood years. From there it was a very simple, three-bedroom Milwaukee bungalow. No family room, one bathroom, old, basic kitchen and bath. The carpet when we moved in was the original and that goes for the linoleum as well. Mom made it all comfortable and homey, and we kids didn’t know that we lacked a thing. That’s where my parents lived until I was married.
Today, few newlyweds start out this way. Home ownership is seen as essential for many, even if it requires both husband and wife to work outside the home. It’s a dangerous way to begin because once the couple starts relying on two incomes to live, it is very hard to stop when a baby comes. Then the couple begins the stressed out years of trying to find and pay for exorbitant childcare, while strangers get the privilege of caring for their baby. Add a couple more children to the picture, and you have a lot of outgo for that same two-income couple and the race to meet all the demands begins. Many couples believe that a bigger family necessitates a bigger house. One couple down the street from us is selling their 2200 square foot home because they claim they need more room. They have two preschool little girls!
My mother-in-law was raised in a three bedroom home with six children in Milwaukee. The boys slept in the attic, the girls had their own bedroom and the parents the other. No, expectations today are not anything like those of earlier generations. These expectations coupled with a lack of strategic planning can profoundly affect the life of the family and particularly, that of the mother.
A couple we know is in their mid-30’s. When they got married, they sat down and made up a plan. They knew they wanted the mother to be able to raise their children at home and so they figured out a plan that to the best of their ability and, barring unforeseen factors, they would carry out. After their wedding, they moved into a modest apartment. The wife worked for two years. During that time they saved every penny of her income and lived on the husband’s. At the end of that period, they had a good amount for a down payment on a modest, three-bedroom home for their future family. The down payment gave them a manageable house payment each month that the husband was able to easily make out of his income alone. The Lord blessed them with several babies in quick succession and the wife has had the pleasure of staying home to raise her little ones. A little planning went a long way. Early on, they decided not to try to get a fancy home in the newer suburbs. Early on, they committed to avoid the debt trap and live as inexpensively as possible with older cars. They now reap the rich benefits of that planning.
Rather than come home to a frazzled, exhausted wife and mother who is seeing her babies for the first time all day, he comes home to meals on the table and a wife who knows her home life is under control. Regardless of what lies feminists tell, a home life under control is a very important factor in the overall happiness of a wife and mother, whether or not she works outside the home. That is just a plain fact.
Many of us never thought about planning ahead. Life just sort of happened and we played it by ear. Times have changed today, and those who want to have a rich family life need to plan for it and ask God’s help in achieving it. I tell my young adult sons frequently that in today’s economy, with the cost of living, education, medical care, etc. that they need to get the training and education to be able to provide for their wives and families. They need to prayerfully plan. If they do not do this, they will fall into the trap of so many couples today that are living uneasily above their means, with the family paying the price for it. Stressed out, unhealthy and emotionally drained parents, kids scheduled out of their minds to keep up with the neighbors’ kids, (one boy in our neighborhood takes karate, soccer, cub scouts, swimming, little league, piano lessons and golf lessons in one week!) and all in all, the evaporation of family life and meaningful personal time.
From a Christian standpoint, the loss is not just personal peace, balance and quality family life; children today are not being properly taught and discipled in today’s high stress, hurried climate. Try to have quality family worship time with children when you’re so burned out as parents that the only thing you can think about is bed when you stagger in the door. Discipleship is work, but who will do the work when parents are emotionally unavailable? This is why having a family vision early in young adulthood is so critical. If we aim at nothing we will hit it every time. T
here is much more material and teaching about these issues today than there once was, and I think it’s a very good thing. The antidote to a life of chaos and stress is to have humble expectations at the start, the wisdom to reject the world’s values, and a commitment to letting the Lord build a godly home based on a sound plan for marriage and family. The choices we make as parents have a direct impact on the spiritual lives of our children. It really is that serious.