I've never done an interview before, but I am a sucker for a free book. This book sounded too good to pass up, so when Sheila contacted me, I jumped right on board. I want to read it even more after reading her awesome responses to my interview questions. I hope you'll feel the same.
Sheila, what inspired you to write “To Love, Honor and Vacuum”?
Once upon a time, when my children were little, I was surrounded by women who were miserable. They had achieved their dreams: they were married, they had houses and they each had an adorable little baby. But they weren’t happy. And both of them blamed their husbands. Diane, one of my friends (not her real name!), used to say to me, “Everyday, I get out his clothes, get the kids up, spend all day cleaning up after everybody, and then I make dinner. He comes home and eats it in front of the TV. He goes out with his friends, and I bathe the kids and put them to bed. He hasn’t been nice to me all day, but then he comes home and you know what he wants?” I think we all know what he wants, Diane.
Now... her husband sounds like a complete idiot, from this description. I knew him, and I don’t think he was. I think they just got comfortable in a very dysfunctional way, and Diane didn’t know what to do to change things up a bit.
Other women may not have had issues with their husbands (I certainly didn’t), but they could still feel some of Diane’s frustration. All day long they do nothing but work, work, work. When I walked down the aisle, I thought I was signing up for the greatest relationship in the world. But five years later, when the kids were little, it sometimes felt a lot more like a to-do list than a fairytale. And I don’t think that’s how God meant it to be. So I wrote the book to help women sort out what really is important, foster relationships that make us swoon rather than whine, and make housework far less of a chore!
Can you give us a little glimpse of what is in your book? Maybe share a little of the table of contents? It sounds wonderful.
Okee dokee. The first half of the book I tackle YOU: the moms. What can you do to change your life, even if nobody else ever gets a lightning bolt flash and decides they want to help? I talk about why we’re so stressed; why modern life can often be less fulfilling and far more complicated than it was a century ago; setting our own standards (and letting go of our mothers’ standards!), and creating balance in our lives. If you just do that, your life will be better.
Then I tackle the relationships. How can you change the way you relate to your kids so you’re serving them appropriately, and not waiting on them like maids. Remember that the best gift you can give your future daughter-in-law is a son who cleans toilets, so you’re not doing him any favors by letting him get out of doing housework! I tackle how we can help foster a house where people respect each other (rather than take each other for granted). Of course, the book doesn’t only deal with kids doing chores; it also talks about how we can make sure we spend quality time with kids, and how we can encourage that same relationship between our kids and our husbands. And finally, I tackle two big things which are often a challenge in marriage: money and sex. In fact, I liked the sex part so much I turned around and wrote a whole book just about that: "Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight: Help for women who want to feel more in the mood", which is an elaboration on chapter 10.
I’ve been through many stages in my 14 years of marriage. I have come to actually enjoy keeping house for my husband where in the beginning, I begrudged him those socks on the floor. What advice do you have for new moms (especially newly-weds) if they have husbands who tend to leave a trail in the house?
That’s so funny you asked that, because I’ve experienced that exact same thing! I’ve been married for 15 years now, and I love cooking and I love cleaning. I really don’t understand it, because I never thought I would. It gives a real sense of satisfaction now that it didn’t when vacuuming meant being sure not to step on a toddler underfoot.
When kids are little, it is virtually impossible to keep the house spotless. Don’t even try. Settle for comfortable and free from communicable diseases and then just play and enjoy your little ones without feeling guilty. This time will pass, and one day, when the house doesn’t resemble a tornado quite as much, and you are actually sleeping through the night again, housework can actually be peaceful.
But remember, too, that your relationship with your hubby will change as the kids grow. When they’re little and you’re so busy it’s easy to resent him if he seems to be making more work for you. But as the kids get older and you negotiate your roles a little bit more, you’ll probably find that you start to do the things you like, and he gravitates to the things he does, and it all evens out. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t encourage your husband to aim for inside the hamper rather than beside the hamper, but don’t let it become a huge issue in your marriage. Concentrate on loving and accepting your husband, rather than nagging him, and then, when you ask him to change small things, he won’t feel attacked. Men thrive on appreciation, not condemnation.
What is your best biblical advice for housewifery and the importance of it?
Well, let me back up a bit. What is your life about? I think it comes down to two things: growing more and more like Jesus, and helping other people to grow up like Jesus around us (Romans 8:29). We’re supposed to be sharing Him. And the best vehicle we have for doing that is our homes. He gave them to us, so don’t waste them or hoard them. Use them!
And how do we do that? We stop trying to be perfect! No one ever invites people into a house that is supposed to be perfect because you’re scared they might discover how you actually live. So you cocoon and watch the home and garden channel instead and feel guilty all over again.
Aim for comfortable, which is what Jesus wants.
Aim for comfortable enough that you can take a bubble bath at the end of the day and eat chocolate while you listen to God without feeling like there’s some cleaning you have to do (listening to God is more important!). Comfortable enough that your kids can have friends over so you can reach out to them. Comfortable enough that you can snuggle with your husband and just enjoy him, without secretly seething inside because he hasn’t fixed the tap yet. People matter more than things, so use what you have for people.
That means a certain level of cleanliness and order. But it doesn’t mean perfect.
As housewives and moms, one of our primary jobs is to train our kids to do the same thing. If we constantly pick up after them, we’ve taught them to treat us with disrespect. We’ve taught them to act in an unChristlike manner. Helping them learn to clean up after themselves will result in raising responsible, independent adults.
So make a home where everybody around you looks more and more like Jesus, and where you can share what you have with others. Your home is a place of ministry, not a trophy. Get rid of the guilt and do what you can, but remember that love covers a multitude of sins ...and stains.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?
I have a wonderful husband who is a very busy pediatrician and I homeschool two daughters. Rebecca is 12 and is very musical and very athletic, which is an interesting combination. She’s my girl who’s always falling out of her chair. Katie is 9 and spends her life dancing around the house. We also had a son who lived for 29 days 11 years ago. His brief life is the focus of my book "How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life", which delves into the things we often yell at God when life is tough, and what God whispers back. I wrote it to be a gift to give a friend when you just don’t know what to say. And finally, our heart is in Africa, and we’re hoping to go back for five months next year, splitting our time between a missions hospital and a children’s home.
I know this is a little off-topic, but do you have a favorite Easter tradition or family story to share with us in light of the coming holiday?
I have a funny story about this. A few years ago I was asked to write an article on Easter activities to do with your kids. I wrote about buying plastic eggs and filling each one with a symbol of the Easter story: a pair of dice, a thorn, and a piece of wood. For twelve days before Easter, the kids would open the eggs and we could talk about that aspect of the story. And then, on Easter, the egg was empty! He had risen. I thought it was a good idea.
The magazine wanted to go a little flashier, so they changed it. Instead of plastic eggs, they wanted to do handmade melt-and-pour soap. So twelve days before Easter, you make twelve bars of soap with different things in the center, and the kids use the soap to get the prize.
Uh huh. Let’s think about that for a minute. That means a child has to use an entire bar of soap each day for twelve days. Think about their skin! And then, on Easter, what they have is an empty bar of soap, which is just, well, a bar of soap. There’s nothing special about that! My kids took to calling our own bars of Ivory soap “Resurrection Soap” after that, calling out from the shower, “Mom! We need more resurrection soap!”.
I think magazines do that sort of thing a lot. They want to come up with new ideas, but they don’t realize that things aren’t always practical or that what they suggest takes way too much work. And then we moms read the magazines, think they’re the experts, and feel guilty because we don’t want to make twelve bars of soap. I think God is happy when we simply cuddle with our kids. Just spend time with them. Don’t be a supermom. I’m not sure there’s any such thing anyway.
Sheila Wray Gregoire is a speaker, author, and syndicated newspaper columnist, but most of all she’s a homeschooling mom. You can find her at http://www.sheilawraygregoire.com/.
To find more encouragement to get your kids to help at home and make your marriage less stressful, you can pick up "To Love, Honor and Vacuum" (less than $12.00!) at Amazon.com
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