Twice in the past two months I have had an “ah-ha!” moment. Both times, I suddenly had an answer to something that I had been feeling guilty about for years.
I was reading by the time I was three years old. When I was a baby, someone gave my mom a book, something about “Teach Your Baby to Read.” I was the first baby, so she had time, and she made flashcards to put on objects all over the house. I can’t remember not being able to read, and I’m guessing maybe she eventually regretted teaching me that young, as I quickly developed an addiction to reading! I remember being excited to start first grade, but then being very disappointed because the first day of first grade the reading lesson was simply, “God.” I was reading whole books by then! I spent hours and hours reading thousands of books as I grew up, and put that love of books to good use when I started a bookstore in my late teens. However, after I got married, little by little I started feeling guilty for loving to read, and guilty for taking time to read when there were other things to do, as there always are. Comments some people made such as, “I only ever read the Bible and ___________(church paper),” or, “Reading is a waste of time for me,” added to that feeling of guilt. I still read, because I can’t make myself stop reading, but always with a slight feeling of guilt.
Last year, my daughter came in from her bedroom one morning saying that she felt like the Lord had given her an idea. She wondered what I thought of a website devoted to book reviews. She would include warnings with the reviews of anything that parents might want to know about the book before giving it to their child, and build a search function to help parents find books about a particular area they were studying. After we all prayed about it, she built the website, and soon I started writing some reviews for her of books I read to myself or aloud to the other children. Still, I felt somewhat guilty about loving to read!
A couple of months ago, a couple of my children and I went to a book fair. As usual, we came away with a large stack of books, including a few that we already owned. We had to stop at a friend’s house to drop something off on our way home, and offered her the duplicate books. She was happy to take them, thanking me for the recommendations for her children, since she has a hard time knowing if a book will be worth reading or not. I was thinking about that little exchange after we left her house, and suddenly the thought came to me that part of my ministry to other people is to be able to recommend books for them and their children! God gave me the gift of being able to read exceptionally fast, and therefore I am able to read a lot more books than most people, which means I can help people by pointing them to the books they need! What a revelation. I still have to be careful not to let myself read when there are other jobs that really need doing (after all, I have a husband and eight children who like to eat three meals a day), but I no longer feel guilty about reading while I rock the baby.
My other revelation came just a few weeks ago. I have been homeschooling our children for 11 or 12 years now. Somewhere around 10 years ago, I picked up an art course at a book fair, and decided that we would do art classes—doesn’t everyone do art classes? Don’t children need to learn art? I decided that once a week, while the youngest two (I think) napped, I would do an art lessons with the three oldest children. We did—a grand total of three lessons! After that, until I ended up selling the art course when we moved overseas six years ago, I kept intending to get back to it, but life was constantly in the way. Anyway, I have very little interest in art or crafts of any kind. There was always a guilty feeling in the back of my mind, though, that my children were missing out because I was not making time to teach them any drawing or modeling or any kind of crafts.
A few weeks ago, my middle sons spent two days holed up in their workshop every spare minute, building something. When I finally got to see it, I was astounded. Those boys had cut a large circle out of a piece of plywood, and painted a railroad track around the edge. They painted roads and fields on the board, and built tiny houses. They unwrapped copper wire from the motor of a defunct washing machine, and built fences by drilling holes through twigs that they glued into holes they drilled in the board. They strung telegraph wires around the track the same way. They glued tiny trees into place, and made stick figures out of copper wire to put in various places. They even made little wooden cars and a train engine. What is all that, but art? And I had nothing to do with it! I don’t have to teach art to my children! If they are interested, they will learn by themselves. All I have to do is give them free time and allow them to use the materials and tools they find and want to use.
Believe it or not, a great weight has lifted from my mind since I realized these two simple things. Guilt has a way of dragging us down, and other people’s expectations can make moms feel very guilty. At least, that is the effect on me. When I don’t do or believe the same as the people I am around, I tend to feel guilty about that, as if I am wrong—but guess what! God didn’t make us all the same! I have a unique ministry—and so do you. It would have been nice not to have to wait so long to find mine, but I am thankful to not feel guilty anymore about reading and art!
Emma Filbrun is a stay-at-home homeschooling mother of eight children, and in between chasing toddlers and keeping the tribe fed you can usually find her reading a story to several of the children or directing operations from her rocking chair (where her baby puts mommy time high on the agenda). She shares the mishaps and adventures of a large family on her blog, Lots of Helpers.