Recently, I was watching Father Knows Best, a 1950s sitcom. The backdrop is a suburban family with a mother who is a full-time homemaker, three children who are mostly obedient, and a sometimes-bumbling but ultimately wise father who is at the center of the household offering sage advice and guiding the family through situations that arise. (You can imagine that no TV show produced today would portray this type of family.)
One episode really caught my attention. The mother was busy clearing the table after their family breakfast when her teenage daughter brought her a dress to be hemmed. Then her teen son wanted his corduroy pants washed and pressed for an event that evening. Before leaving, her husband asked that his suitcoat button be sewed on and the suit taken to the cleaners. Finally, her youngest child asked her to catch some flies or other insects and feed them to her frog. And there was still a sink full of dishes from a homemade pancake breakfast! Needless to say, the mother was overwhelmed, so she decided instead to go shopping and buy herself a new hat. I could totally identify with this character!
I believe that most women, at some point in their lives, have found themselves feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated. It can sometimes make us feel despondent and want to fight back in ways that are counterproductive to healthy and happy families and relationships. In these situations, we can become moody and non-responsive—which does not help the situation, but instead complicates the matter. It is at these times that I am reminded of Proverbs 14:1: “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.” How a woman responds when she feels unappreciated makes the difference between building her house and tearing it down. In this article, we will focus on some helpful things we can do to build our families in these circumstances.
Clear Communication: A Foundation of Family Function
In that episode of Father Knows Best, the mother had failed to communicate her feelings to the family, so they were shocked to find dirty breakfast dishes still in the sink and no dinner cooked when they returned home. Believe it or not, your family may be unaware that you feel overwhelmed or unappreciated. We have a responsibility to let our families know what we are feeling, but we must do so in a positive way. Negative communications such as yelling, nagging, complaining, going “on strike,” or sulking will not solve the underlying problems. The Bible advises women against such contentious behavior (Proverbs 21:9). The truth is, when negative communications become the default mode, those around us will most likely not listen to what we say. We will become more frustrated, and our family will not be the happy one we desire. What we say, how we say it, and when we say it are very important.
The time for discussion is not when we are already upset. Plan a time with your family to sit down together and discuss the matter. Think about what it is you want to say and have a few examples to support your position. Be sure to express how these concerns have affected you. Ask for ideas to remedy the problems, and suggest a possible plan of action, such as a household chore schedule. Communicating with the family and getting them involved in a solution will lead to more cohesion as a unit and to strengthening family ties—building your house.
Many chores must be done in a home, but you do not have to be the one to do them all. I can recall so well the time I freed myself from trying to be “superwoman.” I had to admit that I could not do everything by myself: No one can do everything. Having such expectations is unrealistic and can lead to resentment and, perhaps, even ill health. When Moses was overwhelmed by his responsibilities, his father-in-law advised him to delegate (Exodus 18:17–23). Women can learn from this wise advice. All members of the family should have household responsibilities that are commensurate with their age. Even young children can be taught to put away their toys and place their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper. Certainly, a 16-year-old should be able to hem her own dress, which is exactly what the sitcom father instructed her to do once he realized there was a problem.
I found that making a list of chores and assigning responsibilities worked well and settled family disputes about who was to do what. There may be a little resistance, as some would rather do anything else—so would we all. However, there is much value in our children practicing life skills that will be needed when they have a home of their own. Delegating chores is a sound way of easing your burden while giving family members an opportunity to learn responsibility and accountability—building your house.
Preparing a Household
Before chores can be delegated, we must be sure that our children know how to perform them. The Bible puts a great deal of importance on rearing and teaching our children (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). While spiritual training and good manners are most important, we cannot neglect to teach them practical, everyday things such as how to sweep, mop, vacuum, cook, make the bed, mow the lawn—you get the point.
The teenage daughter in the episode had already been taught how to hem her skirt and cook dinner for her siblings, so when she was told to do so, she was able. I know from experience that it is often easier just to do the chore yourself. Teaching takes time and patience, but having children who can handle responsibilities is well worth it in the end. Take advantage of your children’s curiosity and desire to learn. Let them help you as you instruct them in the proper way to carry out the task. Try to teach them in a positive and encouraging way so that they will want to do it again. Consider the age of each child when you look at the finished product, and commend or correct accordingly. Help your children to practice the biblical principle of doing their best at whatever they attempt (Ecclesiastes 9:10). When you teach your children to do even the simple things well, you are instilling in them lifelong habits that will serve them well (Proverbs 22:6)—building your house.
The Value of a Routine—and a Break
There is an adage that states, “A man can work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” There are disputes as to who said it originally, and I’m not sure about a man’s work, but there does seem to be no end to the work that needs to be done around the home. I had to learn that there will always be more to do than I can get done if I want to live a normal life. The key here is to prioritize: I make a list, even if it is a mental one, of things that need to be accomplished that day. Certainly, catching flies to feed a frog would never have made the list.
Try not to be too rigid, as household priorities may change when different scenarios come along—life happens. Be sure not to neglect Bible study and prayer; they should be top priorities on your list (Matthew 6:33)! Your personal relationship with God is the most important one you have. You have the privilege of rearing future members of God’s family, and you cannot do so without His help. When you prioritize the events in your life, you can choose to emphasize the most important ones, including maintaining a close, personal relationship with God—building your house.
Sometimes, when we perform the same tasks over and over or when we feel overwhelmed by those tasks, we can feel like we are stuck in a rut. Everyone needs a diversion, a “release valve,” from time to time. The mother in the story went shopping, but I do not recommend shopping as a diversion; that could create new problems. However, a rest from the normal routine is a good idea. You can learn a new skill, read a book, or develop a hobby. I can relate to those who feel they don’t have time for that, but the key is to schedule your time. Put your diversion time on your list of things to do—and do it.
When I worked outside the home, I had a lunch break and two 15-minute breaks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Industry discovered long ago that taking a break from work is a good thing. Doing something different from the normal routine can recharge your batteries. Your new activities can help with your relationships in that you will have different and more interesting things to share. Taking a break from your normal activities and developing new interests can help you be a better wife and mother—building your house.
Making All Things Work Together
Christian women are not immune to feeling overwhelmed or underappreciated. What we do when this happens is key to overcoming these feelings: If you find yourself in this situation, you can talk things over with your family and make plans to share the responsibilities as you teach your children how to perform household tasks. Accept that not everything can be done immediately, and prioritize what needs to be done—always making prayer and Bible study a top priority. And don’t forget to take a break from your normal activities from time to time to cultivate your interests.
Communicating, delegating, teaching, prioritizing, and developing new interests—these are a few ways a wise woman can build her house.