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Finding my higher ground as a househusband

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How I arrived at homemaking

I am a househusband to a supportive wife and two children, ages six and one. In the last two years, I have spent the majority of my time managing my household through a myriad of chores which include preparing meals, upkeeping the children’s routines and housekeeping, among other things. This role was not something I had envisioned myself doing and I found myself quite unprepared for it. The sense of being unprepared continues today.

My journey into this role was indirect: I started attending seminary classes at Trinity Theological College in 2019 after sensing a call to pastoral ministry and had initially expected to graduate with my class and begin ministry soon after.

Instead, I encountered a series of delays. It began with a decision two years into my studies, to accompany my wife through the grief of losing our second child, Theodore, who would have been four this year. (We had been advised that Theodore would not survive outside the womb, but nevertheless carried him till birth; we were blessed with two hours of his life.) Then, a few years later when I finally graduated in 2023, I delayed any plans to enter full-time ministry to carry my family (hence my role as househusband) through a long and ongoing medical journey for our third child who suffers from a blood disorder. This homemaking decision arises out of an intersection of several concerns, not least the frequent hospital visits, the risk of my eldest experiencing neglect, my small-sized apartment, the quick-changing nature of a medical journey involving multiple steps and my ardent belief that pastoral suitability is perhaps perceived most authentically from one’s work within their humble home (1 Tim 3).

A rude discovery

While I do have the luxury of available parental help on both sides and a wife who shares my load, I must confess I find homemaking very demanding. My journey has been a series of being shocked to realise my lack of skills and knowledge, followed by a scramble to recover and play catch-up by consulting whatever resources I could find at hand. My resources were often arbitrary and, alas, not uncommonly in conflict: the internet (very overwhelming), books (wide-ranging views) and persons of experience. On not a few occasions I have cooked vegetables that were too fibrous for an infant, dozed off in a “class” conducted by my kindergartener and fumbled while trying to simultaneously ensure one child ate properly as I put the other down for a nap. Moreover I have discovered that the relevance of any improvements I managed to make quickly faded as I inevitably encountered new situations and gaps, when I had to learn anew. It seems homemaking, however common and basic, is no different from any profession that requires constant upgrading and refreshment through “continuing education” classes.

A missing clarity

Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Indeed, in moments of intense discouragement (likely produced by a combination of fatigue, stress and making mistakes), I have often felt a missing clarity that would enable me to stand my ground. What is important in homemaking? Why does it matter? What is its proper contribution? Because my fatigue and stress often arise from everything seeming important, a set of priorities would certainly help. Yet, this requires a clear sense of purpose which I clearly did not have. So what is homemaking’s purpose?

Is there a purpose to homemaking?

Resources that cover specifically the purpose of homemaking seem to be rare. Even books on work and vocation have little to say about homemaking’s purpose. It was therefore surely by the grace of God that I stumbled upon J R Miller’s Home-making (the title could not be shorter!). Miller, an American Presbyterian pastor (20 March 1840–2 July 1912), addressed not only the practice and implementation of homemaking in his book but also penned his reflections on its theological purpose.

The home-life

The home, to Miller, is a place for spiritual growth for both parents and children. He wrote, “Homes are the real schools in which men and women are trained, and fathers and mothers are the real teachers and builders of life!” He did not mean “teaching” and “training” in the sense of a classroom; rather, he was referring to a home’s influence. A home “teaches” through its culture and by way of conditioning. This culture is what Miller called the “home-life” and is an environmental entity that is curated and forged, as much by actions as by instruction. Hence, he asked, “What kind of home-life must we try to make—if we would build up noble character in our children?” The home-life is made and is the direct object of homemaking. Interestingly, this extends beyond those who stay home as homemakers: a home-life is made within every family regardless of its structure, whether for better or for worse.

What constitutes this home-life? Miller described it as “all the interactions of the members of the family”. While this certainly refers to a quality of love in interpersonal communication, he had more in mind. The content of conversations—are they salutary or mere idle-talk? The quantity of time spent together—are they spent engaged or in disconnect? The quality and nature of entertainment—are they based on enjoyment or distraction? These are some of what he included in the making of a home-life. If joy and happiness feature strongly, then the home-life “is a happy art, the art of living together in tender love”.

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(left) Writing this article while waiting at the clinic with my son, while he naps (middle) Helping my daughter get ready for school (far right, top) Meat deboned, bones for stock, meat minced, vegetables diced, rice soaked … Now to do the dishes (far right, bottom) Being at home means capturing these precious moments of harmonious playtime

Furthermore, he wrote: “Human lives will never grow into their best in gloom. Pour the sunshine about them in youth; let them be happy; encourage all innocent joy; provide pleasant games for them; romp and play with them; be a child again among them. Then God’s blessing will come upon your home—and your children will grow up sunny hearted, gentle, affectionate, joyous themselves and joy bearers to the world.”

Stress and fear

If Miller’s descriptions seem to you far too lofty to be achieved, I understand. In these two years, I have come to realise that such idyllic joy and happiness can be difficult in the face of our various stresses and fears. I, too, experience the FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome: Am I spending enough time with my infant? Are my children developing on par with others? Should I enrol my preschooler in enrichment classes? I don’t think this syndrome will ever go away.

Also, if anything, social media has made me even more vulnerable. I have caught myself gauging my efforts through the lens of effortless perfectionism that is social media. When my daughter is running late for kindergarten yet again and has not even brushed her teeth, I cannot help but wonder how other parents get their preschoolers dressed, their hair nicely braided, their teeth brushed after consuming a proper breakfast—and still be punctual? After all that, how do they manage to look immaculate as they head off to work?

Even my evenings can be likened to a game of Diner Dash: to bathe the infant, shower the preschooler, read bedtime stories to them, complete unfinished chores, connect with my wife, plan and prepare for tomorrow’s meals, have some wind down time and to go to bed on time (I even feel some stress as I type this!).

I confess that far too often my days are spent in worry and haste. Stress and fear do stifle the happy home-life.

Remaining in Christ

Like many paradoxes in God’s creation, a happy home-life of love, joy and peace cannot be achieved in an antithetical spirit of fear ubiquitous in life (1 John 4:18). Is this why Jesus urged us to remain in his love? (John 15). For me, this would mean at least three things: to accept my inherent finitude as God’s creation in a world that does not believe in limits; to believe I am sufficient in Christ even as I work on my shortcomings; to trust that God’s goodness and wisdom transcends any imperfections within my home-life. Indeed, when these themes feature strongly in my day, I also find more capacity for light-hearted laughter, attentive listening, and being a loving presence—just a few undeniable elements of a joyful home-life that nurtures for the Kingdom of God.

Terence Chua is a Local Preacher at Living Hope Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of Terence Chua

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