I wonder how my three kids would define the home culture they were raised in?
In which ways did our home environment color the lens by which they now perceive things?
What values influenced them the most?
These thoughts surface especially now that my 88-year-old mom lives with us.
In fact, all sorts of emotions and reflections rise up in me as I watch my mom, who struggles with Alzheimer’s disease, try to make sense of her life, amidst crumbling memories and fragmented thinking. “What’s my purpose,” she asks me. “How did I get here and what am I here for?” She longs for purpose, something she has always found in being productive!
The other day, after doing yard work for over 3 hours, she sat down for a quick rest and exclaimed, “we cannot be lazy!” She is a constant source of energy and wants everything in order. Everything. A dirty dish on the counter is quickly rinsed (without soap), dried and placed out of sight – anywhere she finds room. Daily she folds and irons clothes for my children. She is in process of organizing and cleaning our garage. Weeds are picked as she passes by them.
Productivity and orderliness are the highest of values to my mom.
It’s where she finds her joy. She has one of the strongest work ethics I have ever come across. I am better able to understand myself, as well as my own struggle to experience rest apart from productivity, having this extended time with my mom.
My mom is a product of the culture she was raised in. She grew up in a small farming community in Finland during a very tumultuous time in this small developing nation. Her father, a farmer, sold milk and wheat to provide for their family of eight kids. Nearly everything they needed came from their own land including the materials to build their homes and the food that graced their tables. Even their clothing and linens were woven by hand from the flax plants they cultivated each year. Their leather shoes were formed from a butchered cow by a shoemaker who, in trade for room and board, would stay with them long enough to make shoes for each family member.
To be diligent and possess a strong work ethic is an important virtue.
It’s certainly a virtue my own kids gained and one that I hope my grandchildren will embrace as well. Yet even virtues can be formed in excess. My mom’s drive to work stands in the way of connecting meaningfully with others. She enjoys her great-grandkids but views toys on the floor as a problem. “Why do those toy cars have to be in here?” she asks me when she looks over our garage. (four battery powered kid vehicles clutter one side of the garage). She loves having them around but it’s clear that they are not to intrude on her work time.
Do my kids and grandkids see this same propensity in me?
Like my mom, I have always prided myself in being able to accomplish a lot. But love for my family must be a higher value than keeping a clean and organized house. I am blessed – really blessed – to have many grandchildren around me regularly. To be sure, they make messes and require time and attention but time with them is far more valuable than any project I can accomplish, any closet I can organize or any flower bed I can perfect. They will soon be gone. I don’t want to miss opportunities to nurture their hearts and pass along important values and beliefs. I learned a strong work ethic from my parents but I want to pass along something even more valuable – that relationships matter even more than productivity.
Having my mom live with me forces me to examine this balance each and every day.
I have much to do, yet she now craves my time and attention too. She also needs regular assistance. It’s a privilege to have her around but it fuels a tension of competing desires within my heart – that of being productive and of maintaining close connections with all my family members. I want both. I want to to write (we have a book deal in process). I want to perfect talks I will give at conferences later this summer. I want to maintain an orderly home. In the midst of it all, I deeply desire to love my family well while I still can. I can do that by being kind, serving them and by spending time with them. I want no room for regrets. Tomorrow may never come and today is actually quite short!
“Quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep. Cause I’m rockin’ my baby, and babies don’t keep!”