My boys are always glad to be home. Jake loves the prospect of a whole day at home, which we manage on the occasional weekend. Even after a fun outing that they wished would never end, they are both happy to arrive home. In fact, they argue over who gets to open the front door and be the first inside. Our house does have a pleasant, homely feel but it’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary. The kitchen needs updating and the carpet is threadbare in some places. We’ve made little effort to decorate because it makes sense to wait until the boys are older and gentler on the house. Watching Jake and Thomas squabble over opening the front door one afternoon, I wondered, “What makes our house their beloved home?” And “could the way we organise and use our homes have any impact on our children’s spiritual well-being?” The more I considered it, the more I realised there are lots of ways the physical environment of our house supports connection to love in our family. Here are some of the aspects that can make a house a spiritual home of sorts –
Home allows for the mess of life and some order too As a child, I observed how house-proud older generations of women in my family were. If a visitor was expected, there would be a flurry of cleaning & tidying in the hours before they arrived. When I moved into my first flat, I was the same way. However, having children has put a lot of perspective on things for me, including housework, and it has been a happy slide down to an easier place of “clean and tidy enough”. (Tip: I have found that if I leave housework long enough, I suddenly feel motivated to do it!) When I get the odd spare moment, I’m now more likely to do something important like play with my boys or sit for 10 minutes with a coffee than to whip around with the vacuum cleaner. As well as giving myself a break, I am showing my boys the importance of joy & rest – vital in a busy-bee world. It is also one of the many small ways I try to provide an alternative to the strong social message that we should aim for perfection in all things. I try not to refuse Jake and Thomas’ requests for messy activities because of the clean-up they’ll require. The sensory nature of painting and water play make them great ways for children to be present and to have fun – important spiritual practices. I want them to feel free to play as they wish at home.
The pendulum hasn’t swung entirely in the other direction, though. We have our own sense of order about the house. For example, there are certain spots for temporary dumping as an alternative to leaving things anywhere around the house. We are fortunate to have a playroom and it is the designated space for building train tracks and tipping out the blocks. Shoes go away as soon as we arrive home. Without order, life becomes more difficult – tripping over toys, standing on Lego (ouch!) and wasting time looking for lost items. When life has some order and is physically easier, we feel more ease within ourselves.
Home contains spaces for connecting with others For me, one aspect of spirituality is connecting with others. We learn to truly love through our interactions with each other. Much of the joy we experience in life is through time spent with others. The first people children experience this connection with are those they share their home with, likely their family. Having spaces that encourage spending time together is important. In our home, the dining table is a sacred space for connecting at meal times. All art supplies and toy trucks are cleared away. We don’t say grace and begin eating until everyone is seated. As much as is possible with a toddler at the table, we focus on being together. My husband and I have also made a number of changes to our outdoor space to make it more inviting for hanging out together. We’ve removed a deck to create more run-around space, built a simple treehouse and turned the vege patch into a play garden (we couldn’t give the poor veges the attention they needed). My husband involved Jake & Thomas in the building of the treehouse and I loved watching them all working on it together. We use the outside space in many ways to relax & play together.
Home contains spaces for connecting with ourselves Ideally, each person in the house would have their own space. Jake and Thomas are fortunate enough to each have their own bedroom. I have noticed that, after a day at school, the first thing Jake does is go to his room by himself. He puts his favourite hoody on and plays with his favourite toys, books and objects, which are kept in his room. This down time has so many spiritual benefits (see my post Just Be – Presence and Stillness) and I respect my boy’s bedrooms as their own. Jake was about 4 when he started spending time in his room other than just to sleep and I sensed it was becoming an important space to him. At that point, I began knocking if the door was closed and waiting for his consent before going in. I do not nag my boys to tidy their rooms, although I may ask them to do one quick job to keep on top of things (eg. put their clothes away before watching tv). By seeing me respect their space, I hope they’ll learn to value time spent on their own and to allow others their own time & space. They’re still learning – I often write this blog in bed in the mornings and they know not to interrupt me…but still come charging in, wanting my attention. We’ll get there.
We share the work around our home By each contributing to the care of our home and the routines of life within it, I am hoping Jake and Thomas will develop an attitude of collaboration. In a world that often feels more competitive than co-operative, our children need a place to learn the value of their contribution to the bigger picture. I believe humans are designed to collaborate in life & that everyone has a valuable part to play. Our house is a perfect place to practise living according to these beliefs. Jake has weeded between the paving stones. Thomas has watered the garden. They do chores around the house. Two-year-olds seem wired to help and imitate adults at work so Thomas is always keen. Jake can take a bit of coaxing but I can see a sense of satisfaction on his face when the job is done.
Our home can be a gallery of our values, memories and heart-treasures As I’ve said, we’ve not yet decorated our home but I look forward to doing so. I think the things we display around our homes can give messages to our children about what we value. For us, we value other people for the exchanges of love and joy we have with them. In our home, we have displayed photographs of my children and their extended family. Their Great- Grandad’s clock sits on the bookshelf in the lounge, even though it doesn’t work. Their Great-Nan’s wall plate with the dog painted on it is hung by the kitchen. In my post A Better Way to Teach Values, I suggested my idea of displaying the words “The Golden Rule” in golden writing somewhere around our home. It would be a bit of an eye-sore but I think it would be a great reminder of the importance of treating others with love, respect and compassion. I figure that, when they’re teenagers and not listening to me so much anymore, the things around our home will remind Jake and Thomas of what’s important.
IN SUMMARY: HOME AS OUR SANCTUARY
I love the idea of our homes being our sanctuaries. They may not look like sanctuaries – DIY half-finished, crumbs under the table, piles of unfolded washing… but they can still be places of spiritual learning and joy for ourselves and our children. I don’t like to create a separation between “our home” and “the real world”, I hope there is cross-over, but perhaps our home can provide some vision for the kind of world my boys can hope to be part of creating.