Friday, June 10, 2011

Guess Which Talk I Plan On Attending?

I'm hoping to attend my first ever home-school conference tomorrow. The contrast BETWEEN these two talks where just too funny.

Option A

Controlling the Chaos: Managing
Housework and Schoolwork

Having trouble balancing schoolwork, caring for babies, and housework? The key to getting it all done, while remaining serene and confident, is to simplify. Clutterfree rooms, regular household routines, an orderly curriculum, and straightforward discipline really work.

or Option B

Discovering God in the Pots and Pans

This talk is a reminder from a Carmelite
that changing diapers and ecstatic prayer
are not mutually exclusive. There are not
“two ways” of holiness and “two heavens” to
attain–one for the contemplative and one for
the active. All are called to deep prayer, even
when being faithful to the daily duties of our
state in life seems to belie that reality.

Please excuse me while I jump up on my internet soap box for a moment. PEOPLE! There are snake oil salesman the pedal "quick" spiritual fixes. Avoid them! You can't eat one simple pill to lose weight. You can't adapt one simple domestic routine that will effortlessly combine home-schooling, home-making and deep spiritual development.

I have no doubt that Home-schooling Mom of Option A has great intentions. I'm sure she has a much smoother house hold routine, with many more children, than me a lowly, frazzled Carmelite.

I'd like to tell her, "Sister your helpful advice doesn't really help me. Do you know what really made my home-schooling a challenge this year. ..

One, I had a baby that almost croaked in the NICU.

And two, I got a surprise eviction for having "too many kids" that left me with only 60 days to find new living quarters for my family in a far away town."

Both of the curve balls came directly from Jesus himself. The preventative cure of a "clutter free" room was not going to really help me survive either crisis. And while having a steady household routine helped my family, getting the energy to do the laundry when my whole world was falling apart wasn't a matter of following an established routine. It was a supernatural effect of living a life of Grace.

I feel so strongly that generalize "advice" giving is generally so useless.

Our families are as beautiful and unique as snowflakes. Making them "work" is not a one size fits all solution.

Yes, we can share techniques about how best to take bubble gum out of satin church dresses, which Karate teacher is the most fun, and which piano books contain Roman Catholic hymns.

We can't not, however, take the Cross out of Homeschooling- or Catholic home life in general.

There will be days that the laundry doesn't get done. (Hopefully one reason is that you are saying a rosary beside a sick neighbor's kid in Children's Hospital) And there will be days when we must force ourselves do laundry on laundry day, even when we're sick with the stomach flu ourselves.

But the only way to know with certainty HOW to manage the overwhelming task of home-maker, wife, teacher, daughter, sibling, and friend is to regularly talk with God, the One who made us in his image.

30 comments:

  1. Okay, I hear all about simplifying and decluttering and I agree that life would be better and easier if I did those things. My question is where do I send the children for the month it would require for me to get to that point?

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  2. They evicted you! I guess I missed that post somewhere. Wow.

    You should hear some of the teacher classroom topics I've been to. A lot of the techniques they talk about I already know about or use so sometimes the talks are not very helpful. They make it sound like if you follow a. b. and c then your result will be x when it's more like y. I usually just hunker down and deal with the junk because I have to go.

    Best of luck on the conference.

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  3. "Our families are as beautiful and unique as snowflakes. Making them "work" is not a one size fits all solution."

    Yes, that is true! What I've found, as well, is that my own little family changes, too. The routine that worked three months ago will often times not work later on. This has been one of my biggest struggles with motherhood -- the constant change.

    I would love to attend the second talk, too!

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  4. I would like to offer a different perspective. Keeping things simple and following a routine (rule) is very Carmelite. It allows plenty of time for prayer and encourages each member of the community (family) to cooperate and share in the responsibility of living together. When prudence and charity demands, the schedule can be set aside, since the schedule is meant to serve the family, not the other way around. Order, if not oppressively sought for it's own sake, is usually an aid to family life. The creation stories of Genesis illustrate God's ordering of life in a very beautiful way.

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  5. Thanks Trish, but I think you missed the point. Order comes from God. Abby isn't supporting a life of disorder, she simply is saying each family is unique and advice is useless. If we are quiet and listen to God he will show us how to order our lives. This order will not come from advice in the form of a book, TV show, or class presentation.

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  6. Amen, I get it!My house with one kid is fine, my house with 3 is disasterously beautiful! ;) Decluttering...Funny. ;)

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  7. Have you heard of Amy Sasscer? She wrote the book, "Simplifying your Domestic Church." She's pretty famous in Catholic HOmeschooling circles. She's a Catholic homeschooling mom who has an apostolate to help Mothers succeed in the homemaking aspect of their vocation. Many women today enter the vocation of Marriage without the skills necessary to manage a home through thick and thin. Fortunately, there are people like Amy who can help! Their advice is far from useless. Our homes are domestic churches and we need to strive to provide orderly, holy homes for our families. Homemaking skills can indeed be taught and learned if you didn't learn them in your family of origin. Order may come from God in the form of a Catholic Homeschooling mother teaching a class to women who struggle and want to learn. Some women even go as far as to have a Rule like the Religious have. See the book, "A Mother's Rule of Life."

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  8. Abby,
    The contrast is too funny. I'm with you at talk B. If God isn't in the pots and pans and diapers and laundry, I probably won't find him.

    I agree that most generalized advice is pretty useless.

    Also, what Jenny said. I'd love to have the time to declutter and get rid of junk. It would make my life so much easier. And yet to get it done I'd have to neglect the children, laundry, cooking, or sleeping. There are just enough hours in the day right now to scrape by with getting food in their bellies, clothes on their backs and keeping a modicum of order. Not enough for me to tackle deep cleaning or decluttering. Much though I'd love to do those. (Tee only reason I'm here right now is because I'm glued to a chair while my youngest fills his belly.) Yet I'm hopeful there will come a season when the decluttering will happen. Probably once baby doesn't need to be latched onto me for hours every day.

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  9. As for a Mother's Rule of Life, frankly, I found it demoralizing. When I started reading it I had one child and was pregnant with number two. In the next couple of years I had two more. I think the book has much wisdom but as it was written by a mom of older kids, I think she'd forgotten how hard those first years are. How hard it is to know yourself as a mother. It was completely inaccessible to me as a new mom and only after child three did I start to understand how to recognize patterns.

    It seems to me that the perspective one must have in order to write an effective Rule for yourself comes after time and experience. When the rules of the game were changing every few months as my children's needs changed, I simply didn't have the knowledge to know what was mutable and what was fixed. I didn't have a sense of the ebb and flow of motherhood's seasons, how to weather the tides of pregnancy exhaustion and the frustrating but beautiful postpartum season when a nursing infant really ties me down.

    I'm glad I read the book because it's given me much to ponder; but I'd only give it to new moms with a huge caveat about giving themselves time. When all your children are under five and none of them can really help with chores, Holly's chapters on chore charts are only going to make you feel inadequate.

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  10. This is a REALLY fascinating topic.

    Here's the thing. I've MET Amy Sasscer in person and I think she's amazing. I found her thoughts VERY Encouraging--full of hope and full of humility. She's got a gift of organization and she humbly shares with the church.

    I think there is a HUGE difference between giving encouragement to a home-schooling mother or mother with tons of kids under age 5 and JUDGEMENT/Negative Advice which assumes that if you're having a problem managing your homemaking chores there is something wrong with you.

    I really feel for the "there must be something wrong with me" for TOO MANY YEARS.

    And REALLY what I was missing was having an 8 year old in the house.

    8 year old, the best! Can hold a fussy baby for a second while you put a load of laundry in the wash. When your oldest is only 2, you can easily go 30 seconds a day to change over the laundry.

    So just to clarify, the "content" of helpful advice is good. The "TONE" is what is objectionable.

    That's what I would ask us to look carefully over our hearts (which all comes out in our actions and our speech." When we comment on a blog or give a Talk, is our goal encouragement? Do you humbly believe that EVERYTHING good in our life comes straight from God? Do we want our Sister's to make it to heaven. Or does it make us feel better to say "I've got the answer and You're hard life is simply because you're not following my A,B,C,D approach to running a Catholic household.

    Food for thought

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  11. Amen†

    I wanted to go to the conference. I know some of my friends went. The timing was just too bad this year. I wanted to go to the Carmelite Sister's talk too. If you went to that one, I'd love to hear what you thought of it.

    I'd love to "get it all done" but convincing myself I can while caring for 4 kids aged 5 and under would be a disaster. I'm really hoping to de-clutter some after this move but unless I de-clutter down to no more than could fit in our car, it will never "all" get done.

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  12. "It seems to me that the perspective one must have in order to write an effective Rule for yourself comes after time and experience. When the rules of the game were changing every few months as my children's needs changed, I simply didn't have the knowledge to know what was mutable and what was fixed. I didn't have a sense of the ebb and flow of motherhood's seasons, how to weather the tides of pregnancy exhaustion and the frustrating but beautiful postpartum season when a nursing infant really ties me down.

    I'm glad I read the book because it's given me much to ponder; but I'd only give it to new moms with a huge caveat about giving themselves time. When all your children are under five and none of them can really help with chores, Holly's chapters on chore charts are only going to make you feel inadequate."

    AMEN exactly Melanie

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  14. I'm going to go even farther out on a limb. I think advocating a single "rule of life" for domestic chores is ALOT OF rubbish.

    I'm a Carmelite.

    I don't have a "rule of life" for chores.

    I have a rule of life for my PRAYER life.

    I give time to Christ everyday. HE is the one who gives me the strength, wisdom and supernatural virtue to get through my vocation--all of it. Chores, home-schooling, and LOVE for my husband and my children.

    If you're chatting to much about a "chore list" as THE KEY to success in running a Catholic home then you run a huge risk of assuming that your smooth household routine is all thanks to YOUR personal effort.

    It's not.

    Your smooth Catholic household routine is a result of Christ being present in your home.

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  15. "I think there is a HUGE difference between giving encouragement to a home-schooling mother or mother with tons of kids under age 5 and JUDGEMENT/Negative Advice which assumes that if you're having a problem managing your homemaking chores there is something wrong with you."

    But I also think that when giving even positive and non-judgmental advice it is very necessary to consider what season in life a mother is in. The best advice in the world can still crush a mom if it doesn't suit her situation. I have been so grateful to mothers with older kids who have taken the time to gently remind me (like you say) of how much difference having even one 8 year-old makes. The moms who have let me know that when they were still in my shoes they struggled just as much as I do now.

    They kindly told me that there is no way for me to do it all and that this season in life is about asceticism and purification and learning radical dependence and trust in God who is busy stripping away from me any illusion of control. Order and discipline and neat schedules are are all very well and good; but it would be unrealistic for me to expect to be able to have them all right now.

    Of course this is exactly why I'm not attending homeschooling conferences yet.

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  16. "Your smooth Catholic household routine is a result of Christ being present in your home."

    Amen!!!

    To be fair, Holly writes a lot about "the first P" being prayer and how everything comes from that. But I do think that her book is weighted a little unevenly so that the chores and schedules felt like they had equal weight. In my mind as I read they took over and maybe that was my own immaturity; but I really couldn't see that as a young mom I just needed to work on prayer. More, that sometimes the prayer I needed to work on wasn't saying the Liturgy of the Hours perfectly but perfectly putting my trust in my Father. There have been times in the sickness of pregnancy when he took even the LOTH away from me so that I could see how useless it was for me to go through the motions while me head and heart were elsewhere. I sort of got the message (am still learning the lesson daily) that before I can have neat schedules and a clean house I'm going to have to get my priorities straight: God first, family next, chores and schooling last. Holly kind of made it seem like you could sit down and do it all at once. Not me. It's taken years just to get to the point where I'm starting to understand the priorities and how they work in my life.

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  17. You know, it's also very interesting to know how God uses the natural breaks in pattern to draw us closer to himself.

    I don't think I'm the only one who was 8 months pregnant with Baby Number Four and thought "oh no, here we go again." We just got the household down to a happy routine and you know that a new baby is going to "gum up the works" so to say for at least 6 months.

    It's a sacrifice you make to welcome new life. And you have to make a blind leap of Faith and trust that Jesus is going to get you "reordered" with a new number of people in your family.

    And it's what leaves your husband co-workers scratching their heads. "You up for the swirl of life that comes with the addition of a ANOTHER newborn to the family?"

    How do you survive with a newborn in the house? Jesus!

    How do you survive with 3 kids under age 4? Jesus!

    How do you survive with an 18 year old in college AND another newborn in the house? (If anyone should be so blessed...) Jesus!

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  18. "We just got the household down to a happy routine and you know that a new baby is going to "gum up the works" so to say for at least 6 months."

    Exactly!!! With each baby I have had to learn again to die to myself and my desire for order and peace and control and to cling to Jesus.

    I'm just noticing that the tagline to A Mother's Rule is "How to bring order to your home and peace to your soul" but as we're teasing this out I think the task God has set me is to find peace in my soul when my home is not ordered. I really need to learn how to rest in him and be at peace even when all around me is chaos. Because if my peace comes from an ordered home then it is not Christ's peace.

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  19. I think you two are right! The last thing Melanie B. wrote is spot on. Maybe the ladies with the messy houses are apostolates also? I mean this very sincerely. Maybe the women who struggle with housekeeping but who are doing all they can to be faithful to God are apostolates of what Melanie B said-- women who are peaceful/resting in God in a messy/chaotic environment? I don't know. I have a Catholic friend with many small children who feels that she has even more of an obligation to keep a clean, orderly home to provide a good witness. I think that she only has this expectation for herself, though and doesn't judge other women who are struggling. This is a difficult topic for mere mortals!

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  20. There is no need for a false dichotomy between prayer and work. One talk description focuses more on work, one on prayer, but neither to the exclusion of the other.

    I went to the "Option A" talk yesterday, and it was the highlight of the day for me, due mostly to the speaker's humilty, radiant joy, and deep generosity. She was NOT a "snake oil salesman peddling quick spiritual fixes." In fact, she wasn't offering deep spiritual advice at all and made that clear. She was offering "professional development" to a generation of women who simply were not taught basic domestic skills by their mothers, schools, or society. Most of the women our age were prepared for a professional career in the work force, not to manage a home, and there is actually a skill set to home management that takes time to master. Knowing how to get those tough stains out, how to sew buttons on, how to properly cream butter and sugar, how sweep a floor without raising dust, etc., are skills that need to be learned, and our poor generation has, by large, had to learn on the job, which is very difficult. That is why so many women ask for advice in this area, and I applaud the women who take the time to offer their advice and support.

    I find it somewhat insulting to say this advice is useless and unnecessary. To me, it is like saying that I could just show up and do my husband's rather complicated job without going to law school and having years of work experience. To think that a novice could show up on the first day and be a veteran denegrates the nature of the work and the effort my husband put into mastering his craft. But this is exactly how many people think of homemaking. Anyone can do it well with no preparation or experience. Hogwash, I say! Like any important work, managing a home is a craft that it takes time to master.

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  21. Further, I think home management is a craft worth mastering for Catholic mothers. A clean, orderly home creates a structure of virtue for the family to grow in. It often prevents near occasions of sin, where tempers can flair has every child in the hime has lost their shoes yet again or we can't do our math while tge baby naps because we spend an hour looking for the math book. It also allows a family to exercise the virtue of hospitality more easily if you don't neef to worry about cleaning the house before having guests. Finally, at the most foundational level, a ordered home speaks of Beauty, which is nothing less than a manifestation of God, the Ultimate Beauty.

    Of course, all mothers will have different standards, different natural apptitudes, and different circumstances, and their homes will all look and run differently. That is how it should be. Still, there is no need to denigrate those who support and teach what I think to be one of the greatest civilizing influences of humanity: homemaking.

    Finally, I find this all to be a very different discussion than one's vocation as wife and mother. A wife and mother is who I AM; homemaking is what I DO. It is the difference between a vocation and a job. My husband IS a husband and father; his job is working as a lawyer. He should work hard for his employer and try his best at being the best lawyer he can out of justice, but that is not his primary path to Heaven. His path to Heaven is doing all for love of God. The same with me. My job is to care for our home, and I should work at doing that well sunce it is the work given to me, but it is all nothing without love.

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  22. Wow. That was a little long-winded!

    I guess the crux of that matter is that while it is more important to find God in the pots and pans, we might as well clean them well while we're talking to God!

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  23. Once again I think you are missing the point Maria B. Lets take another look:

    "Having trouble balancing schoolwork, caring for babies, and housework? The key to getting it all done, while remaining serene and confident, is to simplify. Clutterfree rooms, regular household routines, an orderly curriculum, and straightforward discipline really work."

    Lets look at the language, "the key"

    Its about Pride not skills. Its the tone that differentiates encouragement from advice. Advice is different from skills. I didn't go to graduate school to receive advice, I acquired a skill.

    It is a bit tangential to discuss the skills needed to run a household, when the topic we are concerned with is "order" not "skill".

    The question is, do you impose order from your own will, your own desire for order? or Do you allow God to order your life by spending time with him, and allowing for "His" order in your life? Which by-the-way may look very different from mother to mother.

    This is where we run the risk of becoming perfectionists. It is a dangerous path we walk when we try to create order that is driven by vanity and pride.

    To summarize: less advice more humble encouragement. Nobody is denigrating homemaking.

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  24. Maria, I'm sure the talk was beautiful and helpful. Really, we weren't actually discussing whether it was helpful to you or not; but whether it would have been helpful to Abigail.

    Did you read her point about her baby being in the NICU and being evicted from her house? How would any sort of simplification of routines, discipline, and curriculum have fixed those problems?

    She wasn't making a false dichotomy between prayer and work. But pointing out that no matter how skilled you are, work is useless unless it is rooted in prayer.

    She was arguing, rightly so, that the best schedules and routines and methods in the world won't help you remain in control of your household if God has other designs. In other words, they are good but of limited usefulness. Ther are helpful to some people some of the time; but not to all women all of the time. Because sometimes life throws us curveballs and there is no way we can prepare for those. But if I focus on building my prayer life, that will get me through even those unforeseen disasters.

    I've got to say that the description of the first talk puts me off because I don't think there is a "key to getting it all done while remaining serene and confident". There are good skills to learn, I grant you. Learning how o do your work well is important, I grant you. But that's not what the advertisement for the talk is selling. It's selling the myth of getting it all done- impossible! With serenity and confidence-- possible only if my peace and confidence are in God not my own skills.

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  25. Melanie,

    I agree the talk may not have been helpful to Abby - whom I consider a very good friend in real life - at this point in her life. Or it may have been. We don't know because she didn't actual listen to it. Instead she implied the speaker was of the "snake oil salesman" types who claimed to solve all you spirutual problems through a few easy steps. All of this based on a one sentence talk description the speaker probably did not even write herself. Since I actually heard the talk, I thought I should explain what the talk actually was about and defend the somewhat maligned speaker.

    Jon,

    It was not that I didn't understand the point; I just thought it was based on incorrect, sketchy information. Since Abby referenced a specific talk and speaker, I thought I would share more about the actual person and what she actually said. I think it is imprudent to judge a person motivation with a talk from a one sentence blurb. The basis of her talk was about helping form actual homemaking "skills." However, throughout the talk she emphasized at every opportunity that the purpose behind all of this was not perfectionism or order for order's sake or to wrench control of your life, but to seek and serve God. In fact, her first piece of advice...pray. Whenever you can, however you can. She made it very clear that you are not able to do anything without pray. And the measure of success is not in outward order or cleanliness or even peace, but in how we love God. I wanted to ensure that this speaker.s actual presentation was given a fair shake because it was excellent. Plus if I were her and I read this reaction to my work, I would be deeply hurt and felt misjudged and misunderstood.

    Finally, I guess don't find giving advice to be "useless." Some very holy veteran moms out there have some very good practical advice on how to create a home and some very deep spiritual advice that can help you come to realize many of the very truths we are discussing here. Heck, it's why I read Abby's blog. She often has very deep spiritual insights that I wouldn't come to on my own...or at least it would take me a lot longer! Not all advice is helpful to everyone all the time, but it is not judgemental or useless.

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  26. Could I chime in for just a minute to say that while I recognize the value of order (even if even at this late stage in my life I have yet to achieve the level I'd like), I think it's possible to make a sacred cow of it. Sometimes the appearance of order becomes the focus instead of the serving the people we are called to serve. My sister-in-law is a social worker and she told me once that an overclean house is a red flag to them. It's an indication that the mother is placing more emphasis on the state of her house than on her children. I had a neighbor once who kept an immaculate house (she rose early regularly to bleach her kitchen floor and her toilets). Meanwhile her kids were running amuck. I've had friends who were quite tidy, but still were wonderful mothers, but what most of them found was that once they got past one child they became at least a bit more relaxed about the state of the house. They had to in order to actually serve the children whom God had given them.

    The idol of order seems to me to join hands with the idol of the gentle Christian woman with modulated voice who speaks only in "church speak." Our homes are not convents with multiple adults cleaning constantly. Our homes are places where little people need to be made welcome along with their muddy feet, their unsure hands, their dandelion offerings, and their diaper accidents. The woman who can humbly serve God by serving them may not ever achieve the pristine home of the Better Homes and Gardens photos, but she is doing something better. She is opening her heart to welcoming a child in God's name. The motto ought to be clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy. Decluttering is not a bad thing, simplicity is a good thing to embrace in a materialistic world, but we can make all of it a false idol in an attempt to look spiritual when our heart is actually needing more to embrace the task of loving those around us. Schedules are not bad, but sometimes they are simply a way of imposing our adult wills and preferences on little people whose needs are then ignored, often in the name of "training them in spiritual discipline."

    For much of my adult life I probably would have gone to the first talk, hoping that it would give me a solution to some of our disorganization. Now I think I would probably go to the second knowing that it would actually get to the root of what I needed to be focusing on.

    There's a poem which my sister embroidered and hung on the wall of her kitchen that contains the words. "Scrubbing and cleaning can wait til tomorrow, but babies grow up I've learned to my sorrow, So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep. I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep." No one is ever going to regret the time they spent reading a book to their child instead of cleaning the grout in the shower stall.

    Orderly patterns are a tool, but when they become more than that they are a potential tyrant and a temptation to pride. I've done the cards, and systems, and I know whereof I speak. It's much easier to be imposing your own will on things in the name of order and cleanliness than to be listening to the voice of God interrupting your day.

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  27. Wonderful topic! I've enjoyed reading all the posts. I don't feel like I can offer anything to the conversation right now. I am struggling myself and, from reading the posts, have concluded that God must be working on my thinking! (Probably other stuff too.) I brought my twins home from the hospital last year when their older brothers were 2 and 3. So, 4 kids 3 and under it was! It has been a ROUGH year! But we're getting thru it. My house is not clean enough and it bothers me. Especially since I hear my mom's voice in my head telling me how I have to keep a nearly immaculate home for various reasons. That's just not possible for me at this point in my life. So, I find myself judging myself and feeling judged poorly by others, to the point that I'd rather not have visitors. So, yeah, I guess I'm supposed to be learning to let all that go because the kids are what's most important and not an immaculate house! So, thanks, ladies!

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  28. I'm new here, reading around on your blog today. I enjoyed many of your posts, but this is the one that made me a subscriber. After seventeen years of homeschooling I know it is only God's grace that will get me anywhere near the finish line.

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