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When Eric and I were first married, we visited the home of a Christian family with many young children. The father picked us up from our speaking event in their minivan. We slid into the backseat, our feet crunching on chips and cracker bits that were strewn all over the car floor. I had to move several crumpled McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes off the seat in order to make room for both of us. As I buckled the seat belt, a sticky jam-like substance transferred onto my hand. Eric reached behind him and pulled out a small plastic robot that had been jabbing him in the back. Toys and crayons littered every spare inch of the van.
The father, a local pastor, smiled apologetically. “Sorry about the mess,” he said, “but we have five kids. You’ll understand when you have a family. It’s impossible to keep anything clean. We never even bother to pick up this van anymore; it just gets trashed again the next day!”
When we arrived at the family’s home, it was more of the same scenario. Dolls, trucks, games, and books were scattered over every square inch of the living room. We had to watch our step at every moment in order to avoid crushing toys beneath our feet. The five young children ran wildly about the house, yelling, shrieking, and laughing. The kitchen was a mess, with dishes, cookbooks, and junk mail cluttering the countertops. The bathroom looked like it had not been cleaned in several months.
All throughout dinner, the couple told us about their strong conviction that the primary way Christians could evangelize the world was by having a large family and homeschooling their children. But I kept wondering what kind of testimony the outside world would see in their lives with such chaos and disorder surrounding their environment.
The mother attempted to give me some advice to tuck away for the future. “Having children changes your life, honey,” she informed me. “You have to get used to your house always being in disarray. That’s just the way it is with kids. But God gives you grace for it when you are obedient to Him in becoming a mom.”
Though the couple did their best to “sell us” on the idea of having a large family, I walked away from that experience less excited to have children than ever before.
I’d always wanted to be a mother. But early in my marriage, I met one frazzled, harried mom after the next who told me that a chaotic lifestyle and disorderly home environment was to be expected, and gladly accepted, once I started having kids.
When I mentioned to one young mom that I liked to sweep my kitchen floor daily, she chuckled sarcastically and remarked, “Just wait until you start having kids. They’ll cure you of that idea really fast!”
When I showed up to dinner engagements dressed nicely, I would often be looked over warily by disheveled mothers and then told, “You better enjoy these days when you have time to actually look nice. Because once you have children, you will barely have time to brush your teeth, let alone put on make-up or iron your clothes!”
So, my enthusiasm for having a family began to wane. Was it really true that children removed all dignity, order, and cleanliness from a woman’s life and surroundings? I’d grown up with a mom who kept a beautiful, clean, orderly home. But our family only had three children, and we weren’t always home-schooled. Maybe having a larger family and choosing to home-school always led to messes and chaos, as these women kept insisting. I wasn’t really sure what to think, but the more examples of frazzled motherhood and messy homes I observed, the more hesitant I became toward having lots of kids and teaching them at home.
A few years later, my perspective changed dramatically. I read a powerful book that chronicled the lives of many great Christian women from history past. And I saw what is possible when a woman fully yields every aspect of her home, family, and motherhood to Jesus Christ. I learned about amazing women such as Elizabeth Fry, Catherine Booth, and Sarah Edwards – women who had large families and world-changing ministries – and managed both with incredible grace, excellence, and dignity. Their homes were clean and well-ordered. They were feminine and well-dressed. They made an eternal impact on the world around them for the glory of God. They showcased biblical motherhood without being harried and frazzled in the process. Their children and husbands rose up and called them blessed, as it says in Proverbs 31:28.
Seeing these women’s lives expanded my vision. It brought dignity back to the idea of mothering. I began to allow God’s pattern, rather than the experience of so many worn-out moms, to shape my perspective when it came to having children and managing a home. As I studied Scripture and Christian history, I gained a clear, exciting picture of what my home and family life could be.
Now, Eric and I have four young children and we teach them at home. Yes, I have had many moments of chaos, and I have experienced the overwhelming challenge of trying to keep order in a home with so many little hands working overtime to mess things up. But, by the grace of God, our home environment is not the constant disaster that those moms prophesied it would be. I am not the haggard, frazzled mother that I always feared I would become. As I’ve said already, things are not always picture-perfect in the Ludy house. And yet, as we’ve put a high value on beauty, order, dignity, and peace, God has backed us up. And thankfully, I’ve found that it is possible to raise young kids and have an orderly, peaceful home environment at the same time!
Just for fun, I wanted to share with you some little ways I’ve been putting these principles into action in my children’s play and learning environments.
I’ve found that it can be a real challenge to make a small child’s bedroom a place of beauty and order. Most affordable kids furniture is characterized by cheap plastic, obnoxiously bright colors, and tacky images of Dora the Explorer or SpongeBob. Add to that the frustrating fact that kids are always toting around random items and leaving them on the bedroom floor. It’s not uncommon for me to find a squishy toy lizard, an old paintbrush, and the lid to a Tupperware container lying next to Harper’s bed, or a bunch of ripped-out pages from an Oriental Trading catalog next to Hudson’s. I can understand why many moms throw up their hands and resign themselves to the notion that kids’ bedrooms are destined to be a display of haphazard tackiness. Here’s how I’ve tried to tackle this challenge:
In Harper and Avy’s room, it was my goal to create a soothing, peaceful, feminine retreat – a place where they could learn to be little ladies. I chose soft, fresh colors for the bedding and décor – with a few splashes of bold pink – trying to capture both girls’ unique personalities: Avy’s energetic spunkiness and Harper’s delicate grace. Wooden name- letters and special photos hang over each girl’s bed, making that corner of the room especially “hers.” I found some fun, inexpensive paper butterflies and pretty silk flowers to adorn the walls. My mom helped me paint a second-hand child’s table white with sweet pink embellishments, and a single silk rose adorns the tabletop. (This is where Avy and Harper like to sit and read books or pretend to have tea.) Toys and little extras are kept in labeled bins inside the girls’ walk-in closet. Every morning, we work with Avy and Harper to help them make their beds, put away their dirty clothes, and find a hiding place for all their cluttery little “treasures.”
The boy’s room was trickier. It is a fairly small space that used to be our laundry room, and it does not have any kind of closet at all. We chose espresso colored bunk beds to save space and add a sparkle of fun adventure (what little boy doesn’t love a bunk bed?). We purchased an inexpensive red entertainment center and turned it into a free-standing “closet” to hide clothes and various other little boy clutter. I found a world-traveler-style trunk to place at the foot of the lower bunk bed – and this has become a great place to stash extra toys, stuffed animals, and knick-knacks collected by our two little explorers. In the past, I’ve decorated the boys’ rooms with themes of trucks, cars, or animals, but this time I wanted to do something a little more meaningful. Our vision for our boys is that they would become God’s little heroes, marked by courage, bravery, and tenacity. We wanted to constantly remind them of these virtues each time they entered their special “boy room.” So Eric helped me find prints online by N.C. Wyeth – prints that portray the daring exploits of the knights of the round table and the bravery of William Wallace. We framed and hung these on the wall, along with wooden letters that declare words such as “Hero,” “Courage,” and “Brave.” A few swords and shields embellish the walls and underscore the “Little Hero” theme. Rich reds and chocolate browns add a masculine dignity to the room. Hudson says it’s his favorite room in the house.
I’ve found that clean, beautiful, well-decorated kids’ bedrooms can greatly help make bedtime, nap time, and quiet playtime far more enjoyable for parents and children alike!
Having a designated “school room” is something that greatly dignifies the process of teaching your children at home. One homeschool mom I know was tired of doing school with her kids at the kitchen table or the living room couch, and didn’t like the idea of setting up a learning area in her dimly-lit basement. Learning was becoming more of a chore than a fun, exciting adventure. So, she transformed her little-used formal dining room into a fresh, adorable, well-organized classroom, and now both she and her children look forward to school time every day. Last year, Eric and I did something similar when we finished our attached garage, transforming it into a large classroom for our children. I love the fact that this room is spacious and well-lit. There are six huge windows surrounding the room, letting in an ample amount of sun and visions of God’s beautiful creation. There is plenty of room to dance and sing, to laugh and play. It’s right off the kitchen, so I can get housework done and monitor the children’s activities at the same time.
This is my most challenging room in the house to keep clean, because the kids use it all day, every day. We paint, cut, color, glue, and play with Play-Doh in this room – so it doesn’t always stay immaculate. But with a little focus and effort, and many carefully labeled bins and baskets, we’ve more or less found a place for everything. To hide some ugly electric boxes on one wall, I covered inexpensive canvases with cute material and created an “art display” wall for my children’s daily masterpieces. To cut down on craft-supply clutter, I filled two white bookshelves with coordinating baskets and storage bins, each one with a chalk-board label announcing its contents. I found two desks with “character” at a thrift-store for about $10 each, painted them white, and switched out the hardware for fun new knobs. I repurposed an unused table in our basement to use as my “teacher’s” desk, where I store all my planning books and resources. Having a fun, cute, well-ordered classroom has completely transformed the concept of “homeschooling” and made teaching our children at home a dignified, enjoyable experience!
Every day, our two toddlers have “playpen time,” where they learn how to stay in one designated area and play with specific toys. Up until a few months ago, the playpen was in the darkest corner of our basement – a big plastic play-yard with bins of toys dumped on the floor for them to play with each morning. I decided it was time to add a bit more dignity and order to “playpen time.” I didn’t want to move their playpen upstairs to the main level of our house, because there was not a good location for it and I didn’t want the tacky play-yard cluttering up our living space. But I repurposed a well-lit corner of our basement, and determined to make it the nicest “playpen” area possible. I asked Eric to paint our ugly grey window well cover white. I hung a green vine over the fire escape ladder to make it look less like a dingy window well. We painted the walls a fresh ocean blue and found some coordinating curtains at Target. I hung some fun wooden animals and letters to give the area a kid-friendly feel. We used the built-in cabinetry for toy storage – to keep toy clutter off the floor and out of sight. We set up a child’s table and chairs, a little reading corner with a bookshelf, and a train-table for them to whisk their cars and trucks back and forth. We put a soft rug over the laminate floor. Now, our little ones always enjoy playpen time. The tables, reading area, and decorations give them far more dignity than simply feeling “penned in” with a bunch of toys dumped on the floor, and the light and fresh air makes it a healthy, edifying part of their day!*
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