‘The Glory of the Usual or Jack of All Trades’
We’re at the half-way mark of our read along of this book and I hope you have enjoyed what you’ve read so far.
For many of us, becoming a mother and making the decision to be at home while our children are young, has meant putting aside a profession or putting a career on hold for a period of time. Some careers are difficult to put on hold and this puts pressure on mums to return to work earlier. I wrote in an earlier post about the government here dropping the age of school entry to help mothers go back to work earlier but this decision isn’t ‘for the children’s sake’ and doesn’t help those who want to stay at home while their children are still very young.
This chapter is encouraging for those who have put aside their out of home work life in order to spend that time as ‘stay at home mums.’ It’s a misnomer, that term, for obvious reasons – we don’t just stay at home!
’A ‘stay at home mum’ is a label that tends to conjure up an image of a lack lustre life; a person who doesn’t have to use their brain and who is probably bored most of the time; an unpaid labourer doing what needs to be done now but looking forward to better days.
There is no ‘degree of motherhood’ or credentials we need in order to become mothers. We are amateurs in the truest sense. The word ‘amateur’ comes from the Latin, amator – a lover; from amo, to love.
Susan Schaeffer Macaulay writes:
‘Nothing in this life is perfect, and small essential things make a big difference…
To be dependable, the home atmosphere has to be as consistently regular as possible. And this means that one person has the freedom to respond to needs, give time, and serve.’
Something I often used to hear from mums who didn’t spend much time with their children was – ‘I give them quality time when I’m with them.’
It sounds good, but in reality we don’t get to choose when our children will require our ‘quality time’ with them. What if they are sick and we need to go to work or they have a fear or something they can’t articulate and just need some time to be near us? We are trying to rush out the door and we aren’t able to spare them this particular time. Of course, we can be at home 24/7 and also miss these opportunities if we are insensitive or pre-occupied with other things. It’s not really up to us to choose this special time with our children. We can plan a holiday or special day out but our child’s particular delight could have occurred at an unplanned moment that we may be totally oblivious about.
The cost of childcare is a frequent complaint but why should it be work that is low paid? Isn’t it vital that the care of little children should be entrusted to those who will take care of them well if their parents can’t do it?
It is work that can be done by an ‘amateur’ but that doesn’t make it any less important.
‘It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life—the sick, the needy and the handicapped.’
I’ve been reading a biography of Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear which describes a woman who was not only a great artist but an ‘amateur’ naturalist.
In the late 1880’s natural history was a public passion with the Victorians but by the end of the 19th Century,
‘The professionalisation of science in general, and of the natural sciences in particular, was part of an effort to exclude those without formal education, and to develop a scientific elite. Amateurs and those generalists without degrees or formal training, particularly women, were increasingly excluded from this new scientific dialogue.’
Beatrix was unimpressed with the natural science establishment and described them as ‘not even half sharp,’ and ‘less well-informed than an ordinary person on any subject outside their own…’ 🍄
Susan ties her thoughts in with those of Charlotte Mason and her belief that ‘children should have the best of their mothers.’
She also writes about Amy Carmichael, a single woman, whose life work was to be a mother to unwanted children in India, work that others considered beneath her.
She said of herself that,
‘My working life until the children came had been spent almost entirely in what is usually called “soul work,” and I was the last person in the world to be of any use where bodies and minds are concerned. But I had to tackle both, and felt very often the “Jack of all trades, master of none” would be written on my tombstone – if I ever had one.’
I was a registered nurse before I had children. I didn’t keep up my registration so it’s not something I can go back to now that my children are almost all grown but I’ve enjoyed learning skills since I’ve been a mother that I never had time for before. Full-time nursing was demanding and shift work didn’t leave me much energy. I have friends who continued working part-time but they didn’t have large families. When my older girls were thinking about what they should do when they’d finished their home education, we talked about which careers were more conducive to family life. Wracking up monumental debt and feeling guilty about wasting the years you’ve spent studying to get a degree that now you feel you need to continue is a burden you don’t need when you start having a family.
I’ll finish with Susan’s words:
‘Perhaps this gives us a good title for the mother, the parent responsible for the mix of everyday, humdrum “body needs” plus the wonder of unfolding minds and hearts responding to faith, hope, and live – the jack of all trades.’
And also my paraphrase of G.K Chesterton’s thoughts on the amateur:
‘A mother must love her child very much if she not only looks after it without any hope of fame or money…Such a woman must love the toils of the work more than any other woman can love the rewards of it.’