Cerebral Homemaking Part 6 – We Like What We’re Good At: Developing Competency

 Competence drives satisfaction. We like what we are good at, and we shy away from things we think we are not good at. Car mechanics, baking pies, volleyball, spreadsheets, public speaking, settling a fussy baby, higher math – it doesn’t matter what it is – if we have had some experience and success doing it, we are much more likely to rate it as a positive way to spend our time. Homemaking works the same way.
The girls at a camp I helped with this week participated in a Life Skills activity – they circulated around to several stations and learned something about several practical skills. “Meal Planning” involved cutting out pictures from a grocery store sale flyer and pasting them on paper plates to represent their choices for healthy, balanced meals for one day. Eventually they will be doing this for real, so it makes sense to be learning about it before they have the responsibility.
 Competent homemakers used to be highly esteemed but then the biggest lie of feminism, that service was demeaning, helped them fall far out of fashion for a few decades. I have hope, however, that some in our society are waking up to the reality that homemakers contribute more to life satisfaction than just about any other profession. If Pinterest is a social barometer, there are an awful lot of people out there who appreciate handcrafted items, an organized pantry, a homey casserole, and even aprons! Maybe the lousy economy is helping us realize that living in big houses where nobody ever cooks or cleans and everybody runs from one expensive pastime to another may not be a sustainable way to live. Maybe we are just collectively longing for real homes, where people do nice things for each other, where good smells welcome us in from the big, bad world outside, and where we can spend time together in pleasant surroundings instead of chaos.
I am acquainted with more and more young women (and some older ones) who want to make homes instead of building a resume of only paid employment. They see the value in homemaking, but there is often a great big barrier to overcome: they have no idea what they are doing. It is easy to see why – they are the daughters and granddaughters of women who gladly and often thoughtlessly exchanged their rolling pins for Mrs. Smith’s frozen pies and their flexible time, which allowed them great scope for self-direction in meeting others’ needs and personal growth, for a rigid work-week schedule and weekends crammed full of trying to accomplish everything at home that was neglected the other five days, which didn’t work very well, of course, so mostly they just stopped accomplishing it.
An awful lot of knowledge was lost in just a generation or two, and would-be homemakers of today are feeling the effects when they look around their apartments and houses and wonder what they should be doing with themselves. Most have worked fulltime elsewhere for some time before they “come home,” and often a major life-change accompanies their decision – marriage, a new baby, a move to a new location. There is a lot to adjust to and a steep learning curve to navigate. Everything seems so hard – all those appliances to figure out and I-can’t-even-chop-an-onion-without-nearly-amputating-a-finger and the-clean-laundry-smells-funny and how-long-can-I-keep-ground-beef-before-it-goes-bad and why-does-it-take-me so-long-to-clean-the-house and surely-I-should-have-more-to-show-for-my-day.
No wonder some ladies get overwhelmed and run right back to the office as fast as they can arrange daycare. Others stay home but wallow in a kind of half-hearted, dispirited existence of getting through the days wondering why they can’t seem to find any satisfaction in doing what they are doing.
They find no satisfaction in homemaking because they are incompetent. Sounds awful, doesn’t it, but it is the plain truth. (And it is a shame, not for them, but for their mothers and grandmothers who abandoned their homes and did not pass on knowledge their daughters needed and now want.) That is the bad news.
The good news is that becoming a competent homemaker is totally achievable. Here is what you need to do:

  1. Don’t be afraid to be a beginner. We hate to be seen as ignorant, and our fear of that stops so many of us from even trying to learn something new. How dumb is that? Decide that your first efforts probably won’t be as good as you wish, but you’ll get better as you get past the beginner stage. But you have to go through the beginner stage to get to “better!”
  2. Find a teacher. It may be a person, a book, a web site, even a fictional character in a novel or movie. For me, it has been all of these, multiplied over and over. Watch people who are good homemakers. Ask questions. Read about how to do things well. Study it just like any other thing you want to learn.
  3.  Practice. Accept that it takes time and experience to get good at any pursuit, but trust that with good effort and a good attitude you will get there. Because you will.

Homemaking is a profession with a vast skill set, but you will gain competence gradually and steadily if you apply yourself. In a short time, you will have successes to build on – you’ll cook something that turns out great (so you make it again and then you make something kind of like it but different and that will be good, too), you figure out how to clean the bathroom efficiently, you study how to treat laundry stains and stop ruining nice clothes, you learn how to use the grocery store sale flyer to save some money. Remember that competence does not equal perfection. Competence is being able to handle your tasks with some effort but without strain. It is having things turn out well most of the time. It means knowing how, and it is a great comfort and satisfaction to know how.
Putting My Thinking Into Practice: Choose a job you need to do often. Start doing it mindfully, trying to figure out the best way to do it efficiently and well, but not necessarily perfectly. It could be chopping onions, folding laundry, paying bills, planning menus, or, yes, cleaning the toilet. Can you discover a better way? Practice!

What will you work on this week?
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8 Comments

  1. Posted August 17, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    My mother worked two full time jobs to help provide for my family when I was young. I never learned homemaking skills from her and my grandma wasn’t much of a homemaker either, more of a hoarder. So I had to learn these skills on my own. This made being a beginner last longer than it really should. So when it was my time to take over and manage my home, I knew some basic things, but not how to do it well. Over the years I’ve tried different things. I’ve picked up knew skills along the way and learned how to make it work for me. Am I the best homemaker in the world? No, but then again I’ve never considered myself incompetent. I always believed the skills I needed were there, I just had to learn how to use them. It was in my desire to learn, to watch, to try new things that made me feel that I could do it. If I looked at the definition literally then I have been incompetent in just about everything all my life. It is part of the reason my children are learning the life skills of home management now. What I do know is this, no matter how few skills you have when you start, if you have a desire to learn, it will make up for just about anything. I’ve come a long way, and there is so much more to learn. But like any good worker it is the journey of learning, the heart to serve, and the humility to say I didn’t know that, that will make your employer glad to have hired you. So my question is this, do those things I mentioned not only make up for what I wasn’t taught, but give me a chance to expand myself to being even better than if I was just set in a certain way never being more than that?

    • Posted August 18, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Samantha, “competent” and “incompetent” are a couple of emotionally-loaded terms, which gave me pause in using them in this article. In the end, though, competence is what I am talking about so that is what I used. That said, we have to be careful to not read it and get caught up in an analysis of our skills that becomes so critical that we despair. I am incompetent at many things — nuclear physics, survival fitness, growing prize roses, and much, much more. Most of them are areas in which I will never develop competency because I won’t even attempt it — nobody can do everything — and a few are areas I truly NEED to improve in and I will continue to develop in those. I do think, and this is the impetus behind this whole Cerebral Homemaking series, that if I call myself a homemaker, then I need to develop into a competent homemaker. Just as my husband shouldn’t expect to be praised or even allowed to continue in his profession if he is incompetent, I shouldn’t expect different treatment if I am incompetent in mine. I want to inspire all of us to take our homemaking professions seriously and to look honestly at where we are now, where we want to be, and to think together about how adjusting our thinking can adjust our behavior.

      I totally think that any person who is open to change, desires to learn and improve, and has a heart to serve is miles ahead of the person who says “this is how I am and I’m not changing.”

      May He bless us all as we stretch and grow in the work He has given us to do!

  2. Posted August 17, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    A lot of what you’ve been writing resonates with me because I go through periods of keeping up with everything well and then not at all. We are renovating our house, so sometimes cleaning a particular room takes a backseat to painting a room instead, and then that throws off my schedule. I am lucky that my mother and my grandmother were excellent homemakers and though I learned a lot and know how to keep clean, I’m still not as good as either of them, but being home now is helping me learn and I pull a lot of what I remember as I work on my own home now. I am pretty good at sewing (though that did take practice, like you said) and I enjoy cooking (my son at 3 can already proficiently crack an egg). I would like to learn some of the “older” techniques, like canning and preserving and darning socks. I figure I will get better as I go.

    • Posted August 18, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Kristin, just the other day some of us were talking about how having a project-oriented mentality is both a good and bad thing for a homemaker. I may write about that soon, because I really struggled with just the all-or-nothing state you describe. I still do, sometimes. :) I’m glad the essays are resonating with you — that’s just about the best compliment a writer can hear!

  3. Posted August 20, 2012 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    You said, “Homemaking is a profession with a vast skill set…” YES! And I think it can make a huge difference when we look upon it as a profession. In the class I did at the girls’ camp, I mentioned that I look at homemaking as my career and I could see jolted expressions from nearly everyone in the room. Some in surprise and wonder, and some with a look that said, “I never thought of it that way!” I could tell this was a new concept for most and I think it was a helpful one.

    And as far as that vast skill set, in my years as a new wife, I used to bring home piles of books and cookbooks from the library. I learned so much about my new “career” that way. I thought it was fun and exciting to learn and I know that the time I invested in studying how to do my job better really did pay off in making me a more competent and confidant homemaker. I think sometimes people look at me and other even more experienced homemakers and think we’ve always known what we do now, but it took me about 8 years to master biscuits from scratch, a few years for pies, and 10 years to figure out how to keep the dishes under control. And I still have so much more to learn. I still need to master fried okra the way my grandma made it. :)

    • Posted August 20, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      Church Mouse, thank you SOOO much for sharing about how those girls reacted when you said homemaking is your career. That is exactly why I am blogging, really. Sometimes we need that jolt that helps us look at things in a new way, and this particular perspective is dear to my heart. I was a reader/studier, too — still am, I suppose. I’ve got fried okra down, but my pie crust is never gonna be as good as my mom’s. :)

  4. Posted August 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    First – Thank you for this blog. It it always reassuring to know you are not alone!

    I was blessed to be taught at a very young age to to keep a home and to sew, but my parents also provided me with the opportunity to obtain a 4 yr degree. When I married, my husband valued my homemaking skills and made it possible for me to be a full time homemaker while our children were young. To my amazement and puzzlement, this choice created a wedge between his parents and our family, but over time (15+ yrs)they came to accept our choice and perhaps even appreciate it.

    Unfortunately, due to a multitude of events, I eventually had to take a job outside our home. (Notice, I did NOT say career.) This was a choice of last resort, but was a necessary one and I am very grateful that I was able to be at home while the children were young.

    I have to admit that I don’t seem to be able to keep my home to the same level as when I was a full time homemaker, but at least I still possess the skill set when I have time and energy. I am constantly amazed by the number of women who do not know where to start or make any effort at all. I find it embarrassing how appreciative my coworkers are when we have a potluck at work and I contribute something that is homemade. Most of them do not have the slightest idea how to cook. On Mondays, the usual question at my office is “what did you do this weekend?” When I tell them I worked on a gown for one of my daughters, they are shocked and say they would love to know how to sew. They find it difficult to believe that my mother taught me the very basic skills when I was only 8 and I have learned the rest over time through books and trial and error.

    Even after 30 years of keeping my own home, my non-fiction reading choices are usually cookbooks, knitting books, sewing books and even house keeping books. My favorite is “Home Comforts” and it is my favorite gift to give to brides. It covers so many topics and in such depth, that my own copy is always within reach. It saved me several hundred dollars when my new cherry furniture suddenly started developing mysterious holes. I had just read about beetles that destroy new cherry and the furniture company agreed and replaced all the furniture. That book paid for itself!

    During a lunchtime discussion,I once said I would love to be able to quit my job to stay at home again. My coworkers could not believe that someone “with my intelligence” would be content to be home all day with “nothing to do” and “waste my education”! Just give me the chance! When done right, keeping a home uses every bit of my intelligence and education (business administration and economics)! Who knew geometry, algebra and trig would make it possible for me to draft and sew my daughters’ dresses? Or that my business degree would help me obtain the best mortgage terms and keep a budget?

    There is not a day goes by that I don’t regret the time I spend at my job. I know I could be doing something more important and more productive in my home and for my Lord. Our goal is for me to be able to return to our home full time in the not too distant future. I know that our family was much happier and more relaxed when I was at home full time and that my children and husband value my skills, because they frequently me so and the greatest compliment my girls pay me is when they have the confidence to try something new and expand their own set of skills.

    • Posted August 20, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      Sheila, thank you so much for sharing your experience here! I was just nodding the entire time I read your words. Keep talking to those co-workers, especially the young ones. Somebody may take it to heart someday. It amazes me that more women don’t “get” the great blessing that being at home can be. To me, the biggest perk is the ability to control my time. I LOVE that I can arrange things to accommodate my moods, energy level, and desire to fit in this or that. On the rare occasions I shop on a Saturday, I spend the whole time feeling frustrated at the traffic and crowds and feeling SO sorry for all the people who have no choice but to do their errands on the weekend. I’m so lucky!

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