It's the end of the month. The mortgage and utility bills are due. Your car's water pump just went out. The washing machine is making a strange noise. Jimmy needs new sneakers. Tina wants $30 for her yearbook. The orthodontist is demanding another payment. Money is constantly going out, and it seems like there is never enough coming in.
For many women, today's cost of living has made working outside the home a virtual necessity, not just a choice. Many working wives would prefer not to work, and they often feel guilty when they do. Most feel overextended, and others are constantly exhausted. Women of the '90s find themselves juggling family responsibilities, household duties and the demands of an outside job.
If you find yourself in this predicament, what should you do? There are no magic solutions, but perhaps some tips in this article can make life a little easier.
Do you feel guilty?
Do feelings of guilt plague you from week to week? Do you feel like you are neglecting your husband and children, preparing less-than-nutritious meals, letting the house go? These are real concerns that worry working wives and mothers. If these matters are getting you down, what can you do?
Ask yourself, Why do I feel guilty? Your answer will probably have something to do with not spending enough time with your husband and children.
Then consider the example of the perfect woman. You can read about her in Proverbs 31:10-31. This archetype of wife and mother spoken of by the writer of Proverbs would have to be something of a businesswoman and do at least some of her work outside her home. Notice verse 16: "She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard." Also, verse 24, "She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants."
Even this ideal woman of ancient times would have helped her husband provide for the family's needs. Notice that the perfect woman would enjoy a good relationship with her husband and children: "She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her" (verses 27, 28).
This woman's family obviously would not feel slighted. Why not? She would spend time with her husband and children and care for their needs. She would not concentrate so much on her outside pursuits that she would neglect her loved ones. She would have her priorities straight, and the fruits of her life would prove it.
In reading this portrait of the model woman, we need not feel guilty if we cannot emulate all she would do. You may collapse in a heap if you try. After all, few of us can command household servants and the financial means to make major investments in real estate.
But that is not the point of the example given for us. God wants us to see the Proverbs 31 woman as an inspiration to help us fully realize our abilities. Learn from her industry, integrity and resourcefulness, but also consider that, in the midst of all she would do, she would still spend time with her family. With all this in mind, what can you do?
Count the cost
Sit down with your husband and go over the cost-in money and time away from your family-for you to work outside the home. Answer these questions:
- How much extra money do you spend on car maintenance and gasoline? If you have two cars, could you get by with only one if you didn't have a job?
- How much do you spend on child care?
- Do you eat out in restaurants more than you otherwise would?
- How much does it cost to buy the clothing appropriate for your job?
- Do you often work overtime?
- How many hours are you away from home each day?
- All things considered, how much extra money do you contribute to the family income?
When you answer these questions, consider the bottom line-can you afford not to work? If so, then stop working. Your guilt will disappear along with your job.
If that's not feasible, ask yourself if you are taking on more at work than you really need to. Think twice before agreeing to a promotion that will let you earn more money but will also increase stress and demand more of your time.
Instead, consider whether you can reduce the time you work, and still make ends meet. If so, then work fewer hours. You'll spend more time at home with your family and shed the guilty feelings.
Obviously, these suggestions won't work for everyone. If you can't quit, and you can't reduce your work time, you need to face your situation squarely. Solicit the help of the whole family in an effort to set aside more time in your life for your loved ones. You may not be able to get rid of your guilty feelings entirely, but at least you'll be on your way to alleviating them.
Talk to your husband
Tell your husband you recognize the necessity of your working outside the home and express your willingness to do so. But let him know that you often feel guilty and tired. Together, discuss how you both might help lighten the load of household chores and errands. Discuss ways you can share the responsibility of spending time with the children.
Maybe on one or two evenings a month he or you could take the kids out alone. This would give you both time to catch up on the chores that always seem to go undone. After all, the children will enjoy their time alone with you, and with their father.
Talk about ways you and your husband can spend time together. Plan at least one evening out every few weeks. Or, if your workplaces are near enough, make a date at least once a week for lunch. Taking this small amount of time out of your busy schedules will give you time together away from the children and enrich your marriage.
Ask the children hard questions
Do your children feel neglected or slighted because you are working? Ask them. You may be surprised to find that they don't think about it nearly as much as you do.
You'll probably discover that their complaints are more specific than general. You didn't have time to go to the school play, or you missed your son's ball game. They may complain that you are grouchy. Maybe you sometimes snap at them when you are tired.
When everyone has aired his or her complaints, work out some compromises on ways to be more available for important events. Discuss how your kids can help out around the house to free up more of the time you do have at home. This will produce more family involvement from you and more understanding from the children.
Some women feel they have to be the perfect wife and mother, display the cleanest house on the block, serve up the best food in the neighborhood, join several neighborhood organizations and attend every child's every activity, as well as maintain a full-time job outside the house. Nothing short of Superwoman will do.
As my teenage daughter would say, "Get a life!". Superwoman is a figment of your imagination. No one can do the impossible, and you'll only tire and frustrate yourself if you try.
Arrange your priorities
A better idea is to set in order your priorities. Make yourself sit down and meditate on what is most important to you. Your relationship with God should be at the top of your list. No matter how busy life seems, making time every day to communicate with God through prayer and studying His Word should be your highest priority.
Through communicating with God, you can solicit the power of the universe. Talk to God about the stress you are under. Beseech Him for answers to the problems that burden you. Explain your circumstances, and trust Him for the help you need to put everything in its proper perspective.
Obviously, your husband and children should be next on your list of priorities. How can you improve family relationships and show each family member how much you love him or her? Each week, take time to think about each one individually. Is anyone hypersensitive? Does someone seem discouraged or preoccupied? Be alert to subtle signals from a loved one who may be feeling neglected and spend extra time with that person.
Resolve to carry out some small acts of kindness for everyone in the family. They don't have to be big, expensive or time-consuming. Include a love note in your husband's briefcase or sock drawer. Read a young child a story. Compliment your teenage daughter on her appearance. Play catch with your son in the backyard.
Regularly spend some solo time with each one. Some of the moments I treasure most from my childhood are the times I spent talking with Mom or Dad. In our family of eight, the undivided attention of either parent was something not to be taken lightly. By not neglecting these seemingly small tasks, you will build memories your family will talk about for years to come.
When you have placed God and family as your top priorities, make a list of every task you think you have to accomplish, and don't worry about the order. Look at each point and ask yourself: What would happen if I didn't do this at all? What if I didn't do this as often? Can one of the children do this?
Write your answer beside each item. As you go through this list, you will probably be surprised to find that there are indeed some things you can get by with not doing at all or at least not doing as often.
Teach your children
Enlisting the help of your children in other areas can free up time. Sure, the kids might not do certain chores as well or as thoroughly as you, but at least the chores will get done. In the meantime, you'll be teaching your children to be responsible members of the family.
Shorten some tasks by tackling them as a family rather than spending more time accomplishing them alone. For example, ask your son or daughter to help you fold the laundry while filling you in on what happened at school .
Evaluate your personal practices. Do you eat right? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you get any exercise? If you feel tired and run down all the time, no wonder you're grouchy. Improper diet, not enough rest and no exercise can rob you of energy and health as well as your good cheer.
Plan family meals so that you make one meal do double duty. Spend a little more time preparing nutritious food whose leftovers you can freeze and use again next week. Extra time spent one day can save you hours on an even busier day. By carefully planning, you can minimize time spent in the kitchen, eat less pizza and other fast food and enjoy a healthier diet.
Set a realistic time to go to bed, and then stick to it. Strive to get seven or eight hours of sleep each night. Don't let household tasks prevent you from going to bed on time. When you feel rested, you'll be more cheerful and have more energy to tackle those daily chores, and they won't seem nearly so imposing.
You've heard it before and you'll probably hear it again: Women hate exercise. But you might as well face it: A balanced exercise program does promote better health. You have to get moving, even if it's just to take a walk with your husband or involve yourself with some other physical activity with the kids. Whatever it takes, move!
After you evaluate your life using the steps you have just read, you will know for sure whether a job outside the home is necessary. If you have found that indeed you must work, don't feel guilty. Formally listing your priorities will make sure you put God and family where they belong, at the top of the list, and physical tasks where they belong, at the bottom of the list.
Enlisting your family's help will free up time and foster family fellowship. Getting enough rest and exercise and eating properly will provide you the energy to gain the maximum benefit from the time you do have.
Trust God to help
Having done this, take the apostle Paul's advice, which should help your peace of mind: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6, 7).
Life may not be ideal, but know that you are doing your best in an imperfect world. Trust God to help you with the rest.