Unromantic Ways To Say I Love You

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Today I haven’t done much but fold a mountain of laundry and wash a pile of dishes. I have nothing particularly insightful to say—but then, would you have anything insightful to say if you were recovering from stomach flu while taking care of an energetic, stubborn, easily bored nine-month-old?

One thing that the whole experience did remind me of, though, is the fact that while romantic things are nice, in many cases it’s the unromantic things that are really the most important. Boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses are lovely, but nothing says, “I love you.” quite the same way as cleaning up vomit. I have had the opportunity to watch my husband clean up my vomit a truly astonishing number of times since we got married (think morning sickness and a couple of bouts of stomach bug), so I should know.

Now of course, it is important to have nice shared experiences too. A very wise marriage counselor I met said that one of the biggest mistakes that parents make is only having unpleasant interactions with each other. Discussing the kids’ bad behavior, discussing money problems, discussing rules… and then blowing up because you are so unhappy. He reminded all of the couples who came to him that it was very important for married couples to remember to deliberately have fun together so that they don’t start to subconsciously associate each other with only unpleasantness.

So dates (or date-mornings, if that’s your thing) are something you should really try to do. And if there’s some reason you can’t make a regular date-night work, there’s still plenty of simple things you can do to make sure that not all your interactions are unpleasant. The Five Love Languages has a lot of ideas, actually. (We’re still running a giveaway for it here.)

I think some people feel like they have to do certain types of things on their dates just because someone, somewhere decided that that sort of thing is more romantic. But it’s more important that it be enjoyable. Exercising together might not be romantic—nothing so romantic as baggy workout clothes and the smell of sweat—but if you enjoy it, then you should do it as often as you can. It will make you happier, and make your marriage stronger. Or if that’s not your thing, just sitting and chatting about pleasant things after the kids are in bed can be fun, though not necessarily very romantic.

When all is said and done, if you want to eat a candlelight dinner with roses and orchids, and then dance by moonlight afterwards, while playing the song that you played during your first dance at your wedding, do it! But don’t feel like it’s necessary. In fact, I am pretty sure that no moonlight dance says “I love you” quite as effectively as when your husband takes away the bucket you’ve just been puking into and hands you a kleenex, a glass of water, and a nice clean, dry wastebasket.

Shop the post: (Yes, this is sort of a joke)

 

How and Why to be Socially Connected

(This post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through these links will support the website at no extra cost to you.)

A couple of years ago, I visited a homeless shelter with a youth group. While we were there, we participated in an activity, a sort of game that the leader of the shelter had created to educate people on the reality of homelessness and how people become homeless, and the cycle of hopelessness that results.

The narrative of the game was that we, the players, had just been released from prison—the situation of the majority of the homeless men in the shelter. We had an amount of money typical of a person in that situation, and a certain number of resource cards. Then there were event cards where things happened to us that we needed resources to deal with. For example, we had to go see our parole officer, and this involved somehow getting a ride. We could ask a friend for a favor, we could pay a taxi, or we could walk…. Anyway, to make a long story short, my group didn’t get to see their estranged family, ended up sleeping under a bridge, but we stayed out of jail—just barely.

What I learned from this activity was how much I depend on my network of friends and relations. In all of the hypothetical situations that our group ran into, my real-life answer would have been, I’ll ask a buddy. I’ll ask my parents, my cousins, my friends.

The Benefits of Social Connectedness

Everyone should have a positive social support network. In many cases, it is literally the only thing that protects people from becoming homeless, going to jail, committing suicide, or many other negative outcomes. The one biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful people is what their social support network looks like.

Imagine a successful young man or woman. After graduating from highschool—which they do, thanks to supportive parents, school staff, and classmates—they move onto getting a job or going to college. The people that they and their parents know will be invaluable at this time in their lives. While some people get jobs by filling out employment applications, I for one have never been hired this way. The only jobs I have ever gotten were jobs where I knew someone, and other people’s experiences confirm that this is often the case. People like references that they know and trust.

This is just one example of how a positive social support network can help a person. Dr. Emma Seppala at Stanford.edu writes “that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.” And that “people who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”

Shawn Achor, the happiness researcher, writes in his book, Big Potential that working together with other people makes your productivity rise exponentially. One study showed that even standing next to a person who is viewed as a friend will make obstacles seem smaller and more manageable. (in the study, people were asked to estimate how steep a hill seemed. People with friends nearby found that the hill seemed more climbable than people who were alone did.) The book is filled with other fascinating studies showing similar things.

What Can We Do About It?

So what does this mean for you? Social connectedness is good for basically everything. It makes your health better, enriches your life, makes you happier, more likely to have a good job, and more likely to achieve your personal goals. But who do you need to get to know? How will you avoid losing touch with your friends?

A lot of people want to go back to their highschool or college years, not because they fear the responsibilities of adult life, but because highschool and college was the last time they felt like they had a close network of peers to look out for them. Once you leave highschool or college, it is common to feel friendless, and the longer you wait to make friends, the harder it can get. Young people are more adaptable and tolerant of others (in general), so it can be easier to make friends when you are young.

So, how do you cultivate social connections?

Where to start

First of all, recognize that you and everyone else is lazy. You are likely to see people who it is easy to see, and not see people that it is hard to see. This makes it important to engineer your life to encourage social connection.

Family

The most obvious people in your life are the ones you live with. You see them everyday, and their behaviors and attitudes affect you the most. Studies have been done on spouses and their behavior and its effect on each other. As you might expect, a happy wife does make a happy husband, and vice versa. Similarly, a person whose husband or wife who succeeds in losing weight to become more healthy is considerably more likely to do the same. The first thing to focus on then, is the people who live with you. A strong healthy spousal relationship is one of the best predictors of success, while divorce is a strong predictor of unhappiness and poverty.

Spousal relationships are not the only family relationships that are important, however. Married couples who have children are less likely to be lonely in their old age than those who raise dogs or cats instead. Parents should have good relations with their children—after all, you might need their help in old age, and the empty nest can be lonely if the kids never want to visit. It is also super important for parents to try to cultivate good relationships among their children. A supportive sibling is such an asset to an adult, and a loving extended family, complete with aunts, uncles and cousins, is the best environment for a child’s growth and development.

Work

Not everyone lives with family, but many people work with others. Forging relationships with co-workers can be extremely helpful for accomplishing work-related goals, but it can also enrich your life with real friendships, if these relationships are extended outside of work hours. (if you only see your co-workers at work, their presence might do little to relieve your feelings of isolation.)

Not everyone leaves their homes for work, however, and even among those who do, many people don’t seem to have much in common with their co-workers. So where will you find friends?

Church

In the book Coming Apart Charles Murray cites some fascinating statistics on self-reported happiness and church attendance. Apparently, Americans report higher levels of happiness the more frequently they attend Church, all other things being equal. There are probably other factors involved, such as feeling more spiritually well, but one cause of this correlation is doubtless the effect of Church community.

If you have strong religious convictions, and spend time weekly with other people who share those convictions, the likelihood of your making friends is much higher. If you have trouble just walking up to strangers after Church and talking to them, most churches have events and volunteer opportunities which will give you an opportunity to mingle with people in a more structured way, and eventually make friends. These events are not a substitute for an active social life where you invite friends to your house and are invited to theirs, but a gateway and a necessary supplement to it.

Community Events

Most towns have a few organizations for getting things done. Whether its volunteer groups trying to help people who need help, or volunteers for the town parade, there is usually something that you can do to with other people in your neighborhood. There are often events at public libraries, and local schools.

If one is not isolated by a disability or by living too far from anyone else, there is usually some way to meet other people in person and develop relationships that will enrich your life.

A Word of Warning

Now, of course, a social network is only as good as the people in it. Gangs are very strong and connected social groups, but they tend to lead to crime, prison, drug use, and other negative outcomes. Social support networks of this kind do more harm than good and need to be replaced with better networks before you can make any progress.

Gangs are an extreme example, but toxic relationships can exist in any social milieu. Jordan Peterson has famously advised people to “make friends with people who want the best for you.” And to walk away from bad friends, and people who want to keep you in self-destructive behaviors. Whatever you might think of the rest of Jordan Peterson’s ideas, this advice just makes sense. Good friends are people who try to help you become better and happier, not people who try to keep you in your cycle of bad habits.

 

That said, forming strong social connections is the best investment you will ever make. The best social network will contain people who are older than you, so that you can learn from them, and younger than you, so that not all your friends will die before you. It will contain men and women, married people and singles. And these people, ideally, will look out for you, will help you and your children, will broaden your horizons and make you a better and happier person.

 

A few resources for becoming more socially connected:

This is THE classic guide to improving all your relationships with people you meet.

Shawn Achor shows how happiness and productivity are linked to social connectedness. It’s an entertaining and compelling look at how we do things and how we can do them better together.

Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you. (And other advice that gets you out of yourself and vibrantly in contact with others.)

The Five Love Languages is a best-seller for a reason. It is a quick, fun read that tells you how to improve the most important relationship in your life–your marriage. (I’m actually running a giveaway for this book right here.)

Self-Development for Stay at Home Moms

We’ve all heard the phrase, “occupational hazards.” You might think of cooks burning themselves, linemen suffering accidents, office workers getting back problems, or something like that. You might even think of a sort of humorous occupational hazard, like English teachers finding themselves correcting their friends’ grammar. Anyway, every occupation comes with its own set of hazards, even being a stay-at-home mom. In fact, the occupational hazards of being a stay-at-home mom are surprisingly dangerous and subtle.

A woman who works a “normal” job in the world, whether it’s being a lawyer making six figures, or working at a grocery store for minimum wage, has certain benefits associated with this job. She has contacts with the outside world. She has a schedule of sorts that makes her go from one place to another. She is recognized for her work, and she’s at least paying into social security, if not into another retirement account.

But then the woman has a child, and finds that she needs to spend time with her children for their well-being. And sometimes when the wife works a job it actually costs a family money, because of peculiarly designed tax codes and the cost of daycare. Besides, there is no substitute for a strong family environment with a caring parent. Children almost always do better both cognitively and emotionally in a stimulating home than in an institution.

The Dangers of Staying at Home

But when a woman quits her outside job to spend time caring for her children, she often loses her contacts, her schedule, her recognition and her societal respect. This is a dangerous situation for a woman to be in, for anyone to be in. Adults need the company of other adults. They need structure in their lives, and they need to have a sense of self worth, which in many cases, is a by-product of being respected by others.

Bitterness

In her book, The Price of Motherhood, Anne Crittenden tells the story of one lady who quit her job as the copy editor of the Washington Post so that she could care for her children as she believed they needed to be cared for. She said,

“It’s a shock…raising children is still part of a relatively low status world. Everything was gone once I started to stay home. In my new job as a mother I had no salary and no professional contacts. There were no more movies, no more dinners out, no work clothes….it was as if everything was being taken away from me.

“I hope this doesn’t sound self-pitying, because self-pity is not what I felt. Anger is what I felt. You can sit behind a desk in an office and proofread and be paid $50,000 a year…you can enjoy freedom and respect. Or you can stay at home and do work a thousand times as important and not only not get paid, but almost have your privileges as an adult stripped from you.”

This is one option: anger at your fate and at society for making the life of stay-at-home moms so unrespected. I think there’s a lot of that nowadays. And some of it, perhaps most of it, is justified. It’s true that society doesn’t seem to care about the sanity and self-worth of those who train tomorrow’s citizens in mind.

But anger and bitterness can eat you from the inside out and leave nothing left. You may have started out with the noble ideal of raising your child, and chosen to leave behind a promising career or a fulfilling job. And this is noble. But you can become embittered by the consequences of that choice, and bitterness has a way of turning into resentment. And if you resent your children, one wonders if they will really be better off for having their mother around.

So don’t get bitter… easier said than done. How will you avoid bitterness and resentment? How can you avoid pining after the freedom and respect you had previously? How will you maintain your sense of self-respect?

Needing To Be Needed

But, maybe you don’t have this problem. Maybe you have always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom, and you are so happy to be one now. That’s great, but even this can be dangerous, too. Some women get their sense of self-respect by devoting themselves to their families in a fanatical, controlling way. They compensate for their lack of worldly status by basking in the fact that their families “need” them. This can be as poisonous an attitude as anger and resentment.

C. S. Lewis describes where this attitude can lead in his book The Four Loves. (The sections on affection and friendship are amazing!) He invents a character, Mrs. Fidget, to personify this outlook.

Mrs. Fidget… died a few months ago. It is really astonishing how her family have brightened up. The drawn look has gone from her husband’s face; he begins to be able to laugh. The younger boy whom I had always thought an embittered, peevish little creature, turns out to be quite human. The older, which was hardly ever at home except when he was in bed, is nearly always there now and has begun to reorganise the garden. The girl, who was always supposed to be “delicate” (though I never found out what exactly the trouble was), now has the riding lessons which were once out of the question, dances all night, and plays any amount of tennis.

Mrs. Fidget very often said that she lived for her family. And it was not untrue. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew it. “She lives for her family,” they said; “what a wife and mother!” She did all the washing; true, she did it badly, and they could have afforded to send it out to laundry, and they frequently begged her not to do it. But she did. There was always a hot lunch for anyone who was at home and always a hot meal at night (even in mid-summer). They implored her not to provide this. They protested almost with tears in their eyes (and with truth) that they liked cold meals. It made no difference. She was living for her family. She always sat up to “welcome” you if you were out late at night; two or three in the morning, it made no odds; you would always find the frail, pale, weary face awaiting you, like a silent accusation. Which means of course that you couldn’t with any decency go out very often….

Mrs. Fidget, as she so often said, would “work her fingers to the bone” for her family. They couldn’t stop her. Nor could they—being decent people—quite sit still and watch her do it. They had to help. Indeed they were always having to help. That is, they did things for her to help her to do things for them which they didn’t want done….

The Vicar says Mrs. Fidget is now at rest. Let us hope she is. What’s quite certain is that her family are.

Now Lewis is evidently exaggerating for the sake of humor as much as to make a point, but there is a real danger here. If a woman finds all of her self identity in being needed by her family, she will either end up controlling and limiting her children and ruining their lives, or she will be empty and embittered when they leave home.

If she becomes a controlling parent both her spouse and her children will suffer. But the children will get the worst of it, because they are not developed yet. Children are not supposed to need their mothers forever. Children are supposed to grow up and become independent. But it is perfectly possible to change that: to make a person permanently dependent on another emotionally and even physically.

If her children are lucky enough to escape and strong enough to go start independent lives of their own, then in her middle age, when they are grown up and gone, her life will be empty of all meaning. If she has made her self-worth completely dependent on being needed by others, when they don’t need her anymore, she will have no selfworth.

Self-Worth and Self-Development

So how can a mother stay at home with her children, and raise them well, and still be happy and fulfilled? Is it possible? Or is there too much societal pressure against it? Is the only solution to work an outside job and put your kids in a daycare center all day?

I think there is a solution. In fact, I think there are many solutions—about as many as there are dedicated stay-at-home moms. But they all boil down to one thing. Self-development.

Usually when someone finds a career fulfilling, it is because that career has possibilities. It gives you opportunities to advance, to challenge yourself. You can feel that you are getting somewhere, that you are better in some way than you were the year before, that you have done something worthwhile.

Now motherhood is definitely challenging, but does it offer opportunities to advance?

I think it does, but only when viewed in the right way. I think that motherhood is not only easier but more fun if it is approached as a learning experience. You are learning how to be a better parent. Studying new ideas for raising your children and teaching them new skills. Seeing how much independence they can handle, how strong you have made them. Constantly learning new things and new methods. This is one way to make motherhood fulfilling.

But some women, despite taking pride in their parenting, and trying to do a great job, still need some recognition of their abilities and feel insufficiently challenged. This is not a good situation, as it can lead to frustration and boredom, and there’s nothing so boring as a bored person. I think that it is very important for a woman like this to find something she can challenge herself with.

There are hundreds of different options out there. Some ladies learn languages, write books and blogs, or perfect their cooking with ever more intriguing recipes. Others run photography businesses, design clothes, do direct sales, make and sell amazing crafts, or paint pictures. And these are just a few of the many options out there. I’m sure there are plenty of ladies who write computer programs during their toddler’s naps. Even reading good books is a productive activity.

Christian women can (and should) spend time in prayer and spiritual reading, in developing a relationship with God that will outlast any life-changes. In A Mother’s Rule of Life, Holly Pierlot describes how this activity helps her become happier in her home life, and how much it helps both her family and herself to be happier and more contented.

I think these sorts of activities are extremely good, both for the women who are doing these things, and for their families. If a woman has a productive, fulfilling hobby, she has an extra source of happiness and interest in her life, and this will enrich her family’s experience.

Time spent on productive businesses and hobbies is not wasted, and it is not time taken from the family. Not only does it give her children a broader range of activities to observe, it makes the mother more interesting, more perfect, more truly human. She will be a better person and a better mother because of it. And her family will be better for it as well.

Some books that every mother can enjoy. (These are affiliate links. Purchases made through these links benefit Enjoyingwomanhood.com at no extra cost to you. I have read all of these books and found them excellent)

Holly Pierlot shares her personal journey from desperation and misery in her family life to peace and order. While this book is written for Catholics, her ideas and insights could benefit any mother of children.

In this famous book on parenting, John Rosemond draws from his own experience, his knowledge of child psychology, and common sense to develop a sensible, healthy system of raising children that is liberating for both parents and children.


Conor Gallagher takes the wisdom of ancient Greece and applies it to the 21st century child. People haven’t changed much over the last 3000 years or so, he contends, so why not listen to what Aristotle had to say about kids?

Surround Your Children with Beauty

This post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through these links support the website at no extra cost to you.

Recently my baby was given a present of a lovely cloth baby book, for which I was very grateful. I was so thrilled to see that someone was making attractive things for children.

We develop a taste for what is presented to us as children. Children who grow up being fed only fast food often have a hard time developing a taste for either vegetables or fine wines. If you want your children to have a healthy taste for beautiful objects, ideas and actions, you are going to have to present beautiful objects, ideas and actions to them. I personally believe that this starts almost as soon as the child develops the ability to see clearly.

The first step is trying to give your child attractive, classy toys rather than garish, ugly ones. Then, as your child grows older, you will probably want to read books to him or her. (Reading books to your children is one of the best predictors of future academic success.) Now, there are a lot of kids books out there, and a huge range of quality. I suggest that is important both to choose ones with attractive, realistic pictures, and good ideas.

You will also want to decorate your house, and your kids room. Family photos are always a good choice for putting on the walls, but usually you want something else too. And when you choose your wall art or your decorating style, you should remember that it will be a major influence in your child’s life. What do your decorations say about you?

Then there’s the videos your kid will watch. I think that, in general, we are pretty good at making sure that the movies our kids watch don’t “have anything bad in them” by which we mean that there is nothing too graphic in terms of sex and violence. But that’s not what I’m talking about. (I’m also not going to argue about whether or not your kids should be watching movies at all and at what age. Too many other people have written about that.)

This might sound a little snobby. What does it matter if your baby’s toys are carefully chosen since your baby will probably rather play with plastic storage containers in your kitchen, or cardboard boxes out of the trash. Babies don’t have high-class taste. Why does it matter? What does it matter if your kid watches a few dumb cartoons, as long as “there is nothing bad in them?”

Yes, your baby will probably rather play with an empty kleenex box than with the carefully chosen toys you have gotten for him or her. But you still made the effort to choose attractive toys for your kid, and the commitment to choosing good things is what matters. Your child will outgrow her desire to play with empty boxes, and will appreciate the beautiful things you have gotten—if they are there to appreciate.

If you want your children to grow up to have good taste, who admire the truly beautiful, think beautiful thoughts, and do beautiful works, you will have to show them these things.How can your son or daughter appreciate them if he or she has been surrounded by ugliness and vulgarity?

Your child deserves to be treated with respect, and if you think the video style is ugly, then it isn’t good enough for your child either. The ideas presented are likewise important. If you think a cartoon is stupid and dumb, then it isn’t good enough for your child. If the characters are small and mean and selfish, and do not grow, the story is not good enough for your child. If the characters are immature and materialistic, then they aren’t good enough for your kids to hang out with.

And, yes, if your kid reads a couple of mediocre books, or watches one or two lame videos now and then, it’s probably not a big deal. But if you show your kid these videos on a regular basis, and make no effort to choose high-quality books and pictures, how is he to know the difference? If your child has been shown beautiful things, and told good stories his whole life, he will know the difference. It won’t take him long to learn, either. Your seven-year old should be able to tell the difference.

If you have taught your child, mostly by example, what beauty, order, and goodness are, they will be able to choose beautiful, good things for themselves as soon as they are able to choose. If you have surrounded him with good people, good characters in the stories you read him and noble ideas, when it comes time for him to choose his own friends, he will be able to choose more wisely.

 

Here are some books and toys that I think are great for small children:

A classic story of determination and kindness. Lovely cheerful old-fashioned pictures.

I loved this book growing up. It’s one of those stories that has a repeating element to it, and kids love to have it read out loud. It’s also a super cute story. The illustrations are old woodcut style.

Robert McCloskey’s gorgeous illustrations are the best part of this heartwarming story about a family of ducklings surviving in the big city.

This is a cute story about a girl having a new experience and learning something about life. This would be a great story to read to a kid who just lost her first tooth.

This is a retelling of the classic story of the resourceful traveler who tricks the stingy householder into feeding him. The pictures are wonderful.

My baby loves these stacking rings. They are nice colors, and made out of woodThese little buckets stack and nest, making them great for practicing motor skills, and playing games. They can be used for counting and color recognition games later.

This elephant is so cute

The animals in this little fabric book are so nicely drawn and are made of different materials and textures. My baby already likes petting the cat and pulling the mouse’s tail.