Sunday, April 24, 2022

ABC Post 17--Ask Aunt Dorcas--Moms and Product Pressure--Part 3--Concerns, Advice, and Ideas About Working From Home

Aunt Dorcas badly wanted a new carseat before she had that baby.
But they were living in Canada, way out in the bush, with no opportunities.
So she wrote three stories.
CLP bought them.
And Dorcas bought a very nice carseat.


Last month, at the REACH conference in Pennsylvania, I was blessed to have a few minutes with Danette Martin, a writer from Ontario.

Of course we discussed writery things, and I mentioned a book that Paul was reviewing that essentially advised wives in abusive marriages that it was all their fault and they should just do everything right already.

As you might expect, I had some Opinions about this.

Danette said, “What advice would you give instead?”

What a powerful question that is. I am good at going off, even ranting, about pet subjects. A few of my children find this entertaining, and encourage it, which is not good for me. Danette’s question stopped me short. Pointing out the wrong isn’t enough. I need to provide an alternative.

In the last two posts, I’ve shared my misgivings about the MLM system, and Danette’s question is buzzing in my head.

“What would you advise instead?”

All right. I’ll tell you.

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The common thread in all this conversation is that Mennonite moms want to have an income, and they want to earn it from home.

I have no idea how much of this desire for supplementary work is motivated by poverty and how much by a desire for fulfilment. A number of readers commented that our system, with dads going to work and moms staying home, leads to isolation, loneliness, and unused talents among women. Thus, women are vulnerable to predatory “opportunities” as well as depression and obsessing about minor details.

If true, that’s alarming, and merits further study.

Today, however, I’ll look a bit more at the financial aspect, and income and work disparity.

I promise that after we walk all around the fescue field, I'll have some actual advice for you

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Most Amish and conservative Mennonites used to be farmers, and many women were fully involved in farm work: milking cows, driving tractors or seed trucks, and feeding chickens, even when the men made all the financial decisions.

We’ve made a transition to trades and small businesses, and in the process the work of husbands and wives became much more separated.

Maybe they need to be re-integrated.

What would that look like, and how could we make it happen?

I think we should also consider the vast disparity between men’s and women’s acceptable occupations and therefore wages. Also: the unintended results, both good and bad, of Anabaptists discouraging people from going to college.

In the U.S. as a whole, there’s a common belief that you have to have a college degree in order to be successful. The truth is, medical and engineering degrees pay well. English and Art History do not, so you have the stereotypical barista at Starbucks paying off an impractical degree.

This has led to a scarcity of workers in the trades, and many Mennonite men, no longer on the farm but retaining the work ethic, turned to building and plumbing and so on. Meanwhile, wages have gone crazy. If you build houses, move dirt with a big yellow machine, repair cars, or build brick patios, your wages are astronomical compared to the barista’s. 

Around here, these trades and businesses are common jobs for Mennonite men, and it seems they can pretty much set whatever wages they want, like the 17-year-old with a portable welder who did repairs at the warehouse a few years ago for $45 an hour.

So the men in the Anabaptist culture have benefited financially from the anti-college tradition.

Except for wives supported by their husband’s wages, Amish and Mennonite women have not benefited from our attitudes about education.

Stay-at-home moms are limited in their earning ability by practical realities—you can’t paint someone else’s bedroom from your kitchen—and by the cultural pressures that prevent them from doing small-engine repairs in the garage.

Vocational training and/or a college degree would help, opening up opportunities to do counseling, architectural design, accounting, coding, website development, and so on, including fixing computers or lawn mowers, and other “men’s” work.

The disparity is most shocking when you compare married and single Mennonite women. Even if married women never earn money from home, most of them still end up owning their homes and taking road trips in comfortable cars to visit the grandchildren. Meanwhile their single sisters are often past retirement age and still teaching in a church school, making quilts, or cleaning houses so they can pay the rent and maybe fix the air conditioning on their 20-year-old car.

That brings up much deeper questions about why we tolerate such disparities in our churches.

I think a good beginning would be to consider more educational opportunities for women. I recall a conversation with a single woman in her twenties struggling to stay on top financially with her CNA job in a nursing home. She wished she could be a registered nurse, but her church didn’t allow anyone to go to college because of the dangers of being out in the world.

“Could you get a degree online?” I asked her.

“No,” she said. “We’re not allowed to have Internet access.” So she kept struggling along in one minimum-wage job after another, beset by financial setbacks like dental work, and waiting for rescue by a miracle, a man, or a combination of the two.

I really think we need to do better.  Surely God’s emphatic words about providing for widows apply to unmarried women as well.

We also need to rethink the sharp line between men’s and women's work. What is Biblical, and what is cultural? How can we integrate our work so it belongs to the whole family and not just the dad? How can we make sure single women can amply support themselves, and married women can supplement the family income and still care for children?

Since I might as well hang for a sheep as for a lamb, let me broach one more subject: I’ve heard a number of stories of women who began to be successful in their work from home, whether it was sewing or running a greenhouse or whatever, and then faced a backlash from people in the church who felt that she was “out of her place,” putting her marriage in peril, emasculating her husband, and outside God’s will.

That’s sad.

There was even someone in our church who faced that kind of pressure, I’m told. I had no idea, because I never faced any of that even though I had a fairly public and time-consuming role as a writer and speaker. Probably no one confronted me because they knew they’d very shortly have to deal with Paul Smucker, who always gave off a School Principal vibe wherever he went.

What if all the men in the Anabaptist world followed Paul’s example and encouraged their wives’ talents, building them all writing cabins, so to speak, and helping with their bookkeeping, and hauling boxes of books to the post office?

What if all couples sat down, discussed their finances and skills and wild dreams, and figured out a plan together to make it work? What if they were willing to flex on the traditional roles to find a life they both found fulfilling?

I think all that would be a change for the better.

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Let’s talk about the financial motive for women working from home.

Sometimes you just need money, and usually you have to try a number of different things before something sticks.

There’s no shame in that.

When we had young children, my motive was entirely financial. I baked and sold bread, decorated cakes, and wrote a few stories for Christian Light. I cleaned the neighbor’s house and sewed for people, which was always a disaster. Clothes didn’t fit, and zippers had to be ripped out and resewn.

My children wanted to earn money as well, so one year I got a Current fundraiser catalog and schlepped the children and the catalog around to the relatives, who bought cheap things out of obligation. The whole process was so humiliating that I decided I’d rather be poor forever than do that again.

I bought pop at Memorial Day sales and stashed it in the old fridge at the warehouse all summer, selling it to the workers. One winter, I left little Benjy with his grandma for two days and sewed puffy weed-wiper cloths at Smucker Manufacturing, hoping they would let me sew from home once they had trained me. Sadly, they decided to keep all their work on-site.

Eventually, writing became my “thing” that worked, long-term. While I doubt writing will ever make us rich, it did pay to remodel the kitchen in 2009. That was gratifying, and also terrifying, because the fridge cost 200 books and the sink was four months of newspaper columns.

Writing also became more about a calling than about an income.

A number of people suggested, on the recent posts, that I should buy from MLM consultants to help them out, since they’re trying to help support their families.

That’s a valid motive, I’ll grant. At our stage of life, it’s actually doable. So, if I need a specific product like LunaRich or lavender oil, I’ll buy from a dealer.

Otherwise, I would much rather buy products and services that came directly from someone’s hands, mind, creativity, and heart. For example, if I need a birthday gift, I’d rather buy a candle poured by my sister-in-law Laura than one made in a factory somewhere, even if I’d be helping the factory worker or the Party-Lite dealer.

No judgment though. You don’t have to agree. I’m just giving context for the following “what to do instead” advice coming up.

Which is: Produce, create, grow, or do something out of your own gifts and skills. We have the advantage of a great work ethic and a tight community. Why not create our own products and buy them from each other?

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Here are some ideas for making money at home. If I can, I’ll add a link to someone who’s actually doing this so you can see how it’s done, buy from them, or both.

1.      Day care for children or elderly

2.      Photography--our friend Janane who took our most recent family picture

3.      Counseling--lots of counselors, including mine, switched to Zoom counseling during Covid. I'm guessing this will continue to be an option. State laws vary but you probably need a degree to do this.

4.      Cleaning [not “at home” exactly, but I used to take children along]

5.      Growing and selling fruits and vegetables. My favorite source, Horse Creek Farms, is closing its doors. I hope someone local decides to do this.

6.      Running a greenhouse/selling plants--My cousin Edna in Iowa has the most amazing greenhouse

7.      Writing--Emily Smucker

8.      Editing--Emily's friend Janessa is excellent

9.      Self-publishing books, magazines, directories-SheilaPetre is someone who creates opportunities and doesn't wait for publishers. I don't think she has her own website but you can do a search for her books.

10.   Illustrating/Design--We self-publishers are always looking for good cover illustrators and designers and are willing to pay what they're worth. A woman from London, England, did two of my covers. I'd love to find someone closer. Recently I discovered MargieYoder  and enjoyed her work.

11.   Formatting; publishing ebooks--again, someone that self-publishers are always looking for.

12.   Making macrame hangers--Niece and neighbor Kayla does beautiful work, and her mother-in-law gifted me this.

13.   Accounting and bookkeeping

14.   Growing flowers and supplying florists-- Flowersfrom my Garden

15.   Arranging flowers--I know three local women who do flowers from home. One also arranges for weddings and special events.

16.   Teaching English online through companies like Spicus or Cambly. My nephew, Jason, has done this for years and says, "The only requirements are a good internet connection, a computer, to be a native English speaker, and to be endlessly friendly."

17.   Raising chickens/selling eggs

18.   Making pottery

19.   Sewing and altering—my friend Lois Miller was sewing wedding dresses even before she helped me with mine in 1984. She's still helping brides get the perfect fit.

20.   Making jam and supplying stores--Paul's sister Lois makes hundreds of jars of jam every year and puts it in the local bakery and other stores.

21.   Making candles--another creative sister-in-law, Laura, makes lovely candles and comes up with new designs and scents all the time.

22.   Giving piano lessons--my children took lessons from four different stay-at-home-moms

23.   Decorating and painting—my friend Sharon can look at a room and tell me what colors and styles I want. It is worth a lot to me, so I pay her a little, even though she tells me not to. She used to paint for me as well, and of course she charged for that. Yes, this involves coming to my house, but it would work with a child or two along.

24.   Baking--a local teacher started baking on weekends and grew the enterprise to a successful full-time business, the Country Bakery, that is well-known and loved.

25.   Buying books or other items and selling them on Ebay--my friend Kay sold books and my daughter Amy sold purses and shoes. You have to know the market and be able to sniff out bargains at thrift stores, but it can pay well.

26.   Selling fabric in a store and/or online--another niece, Starla, does this at Western Star Variety. Last fall, I bought a pretty gray knit from her and made a dress for another niece's wedding.

27.   Breeding/raising puppies

28.   Hosting a VRBO or AirBnB room or house

29.   Flipping houses--My friend Joanne Weaver from Texas raises seven children and flips houses! True story. She buys them, fixes them up, and sells them. Her husband is fully supportive and does the heavy lifting. Like my husband was, he is also a principal and pastor. And encourages his wife to use her gifts! Conclusion: marry a principal/pastor guy.

30.   Medical transcription--Rhonda Schrock writes about this and other subjects.

31.   Flipping furniture--it's good if you live in a town where people put free furniture on the curb

32.   Tutoring

33.   Making leather accessories—I just found out that my former neighbor, Sholanda, makes cool leather stuff.

34.   Making cosmetics--one reason we buy from MLMs is because it's hard to produce good cosmetics in our basements. One person who is changing this is my niece Annette who came up with Justice Skin Cream for her son's sensitive skin. She mixes and whips it up herself, and it's the only stuff that works when I get a rash on my face, and I'm happy to pay $9 a jar. She's not doing mass sales at this point.

25. Website design. My cousin's son Leslie does great work.

26. Videos--I know there are Mennonite women who do well posting YouTube videos about their lives. I know very little about this world, but I love the creativity and trying new ways of earning a living from home.

27. Tea Room--About once a year I'm invited to a tea by two amazing young ladies named Dolly and Hannah. If I post pictures, I always get messages from people wondering if Dolly and Hannah will do tea parties for hire, for birthdays and such. I think there's a wide-open market for fixing up a room in your house and hosting teas by appointment.

28. Ghostwriting--Every few months I get a request to write someone's story. Usually an older person has a fascinating story and wants help putting it into words. I always have to say no because of time constraints, but it's an opportunity waiting for someone else.*

Here are some services that I'd be happy to pay for if someone local provided them--

Servicing sewing machines and sergers

Repairing toasters and sandals and purse straps

Printing pretty stationery and note pads and cards


I'm sure you have many more ideas and examples. Feel free to share in the comments.

*P.S. Just today (4/25) I got a phone call from a woman who really wants her story written by someone who "gets" abuse in Plain cultures and also healing. Her story is compelling. I don't have time to write it. Email me at dorcassmucker@gmail.com if you're interested.

I was going to include recipes here, but that will wait until Thursday.


17 comments:

  1. Elsie Zimmerman4/25/2022 4:10 AM

    Your columns are so down to earth and full of common sense! I love your list of occupations for stay at home mother's and single ladies to make an income. It takes a trying of numerous occupations until we find the one that is our gifting. So do not dispair when the first 2 or 3 don't work out. You are on a journey to the calling that you are gifted in. I have not needed to earn my own support, but had that been necessary, I could come up with a list of things to try my hand at. The thing I think is sad is when a single lady school teacher gets paid too little to be able to support her own source of housing while those of us who hire those teachers live very well.

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  2. Love that you see the women struggling to use their gifts and call out the need for more support!

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  3. Thank you for this post, Dorcas. And thanks for the ideas for making money from home! I'm always looking for ideas to earn money.

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  4. Thank you For as for your lovely ideas. I was sitting here brainstorming ways to earn money at home as I read your article. I keep thinking of crocheting baby items to sell on Etsy but that would require so much work. My sewing skills are still beginner level and when people find out you sew their question is "Can you sew this for me?"
    I've seen ads on Instagram for selling used books which brings to mind about selling used homeshool ( nonconsumable) curriculum.
    I'm sure there are other ideas your friends here can think of. I'm looking forward to seeing what other things the ladies come up with.

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    1. Regina, you might consider making tee-shirt quilts. In general, quilting does NOT pay, but tee-shirt quilts (people's memento shirts from high school, concerts, etc) have the hope of paying well, if you're willing to charge.

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  5. I forgot to ask, Does Sheila still publish her magazine for young girls? The name of the magazine has just now vanished from my mind.

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    1. Yes, we still publish The King's Daughter, Regina.

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  6. I'm very honored that you mentioned our "writery" (I love that word!) talk time at Reach, and that my suggestion was significant enough to buzz in your brain for a long while after. The result is palatable and nutritious as honey, I'd say. Thank you for all the advice about "what to do instead", both in this post and in the one on honest books. I especially perked up my ears on the latter. I wish you many productive sessions in your writer's cabin!

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  7. Well, I feel a little “Kayla”ish about this issue. Is there something wrong with me that I actually feel content and busy at home with my children, and I’m happy to live off my husband’s income? (I did just get my first payment for writing an article after about ten years of volunteer work, and can see how that could be addictive. I promptly bought a vintage white cotton nightgown.)
    I’m sure I am influenced by our lifestyle at present. We live overseas and while my husband is paid for his actual job, we both function together as contributing team members. My husband makes room for my gifting, but instead of supporting me in earning money somehow, he offers childcare while I meet to mentor a young lady and study language.
    I think my generation’s tendency is to try to escape motherhood and homemaking “chains” for fulfillment elsewhere, and it’s important to really learn to love those roles if that’s where we are in life. That said, I know there is room for a broader view of a woman’s role in our churches.

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    1. That's exactly what I thought... whatever happened to just being content and living within the means of your husband's income? Personally I would rather have a lower standard of living and not have a job than to make money just so I can buy more stuff. Not always, but often I think discontentment can be the reason ladies have a side job.

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    2. Just an additional thought on my initial comment above. I’ve been discussing this with my husband, and he pointed out that while I’m not making money to help support our family, many of my interests (herbal medicine, DIY cleaners and personal products, cooking from scratch, growing herbs etc.) probably do the same thing for our finances. I’m just saving money rather than earning it. I should say too that I think business from home can be done well. I just don’t personally feel interested in it in this intense season with a houseful of little children. I have enough trouble finding balance in my life as it is.

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    3. occasinally, you aren't able to live on your husband's income. My husband was earning a good living but health issues caused him to be let go and at the time he could only find a job making about $1000/month, so my 12-year-old daughter and i took on paper routes and built up enough that we were adding $300 to $400/month to our income. As a family, we work as a team. When one falls down, the others pinch hit.

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  8. When I was a SAHM, I edited technical research papers for people whose first language is not English. Ability and willingness to edit on topics others find dull (regulatory specifications, etc.) may allow one to find a niche. Computer aided design (CAD) work could also be done from home.

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  9. For several years now my daughter who has four young children has had a cookie business making and decorating cookies for birthday parties, bridal showers, etc. She was advised to not sell inexpensive cookies to friends but to charge a realistic amount ($3-$6 dollars per cookie) to cover her costs and time. She has more business than she can handle even living in a town of 2000 people.

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  10. Dog sitting and dog walking!

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  12. You hit the nail on the head with " Produce, create, grow, or do something out of your own gifts and skills. " this is absolutely biblical and across all Christian (and even non-Christian) cultures. In reading your article, though I am not Mennonite, and did not grow up in that branch of Christianity, I realized how pervasive a lot of those things WERE in American culture, and how fortunate I have been to have a supportive husband all these decades!!
    My mom was of the ilk that women's work is women's work and men's is men's. Though I was gifted math and engineering talents by virtue of my father's genes, and my father pointed it out to my mother even when I was a toddler, he died when I was 9, so there was no one to fight for me and my upbringing reverted to my mom's background. I learned to sew and cook and clean and "be ladylike" but I was discouraged from working on my bike or doing all the physical labor I loved (too rough and rambunctious to be ladylike), and my mom even professed to me one day when she came home to find me under my VW bug replacing the tail pipe, "You'll NEVER get a husband THAT way." (and suddenly it became clear to me that HER goal was for me to find a husband. !! ) God proved her wrong. I did find a husband who appreciated my gifts, my intellect, and even my strong will He has supported me in anything I have wanted to do--starting a business making children's clothes, cleaning horse stalls, learning medical transcription--whatever. He gave me the oppotunity to be a stay-at-home mom when our daughter was little, and then 16 years later, I trained him in medical transciption and we are still working together at that to this day, but it gave HIM the opportunity to be a work-from-home dad and not miss out on our son's growing up, like he had missed out on our daughter's.
    Whether men acknowledge it or not, the women that oil the machinery so they can work, are essential. Whether that is taking care of the children, milking the cow, tending the garden, or providing meals, clean clothes and a haven to relax in at the end of the day. The single women (and men) carry a double load, because the have to do both jobs. Our 21-year-old son, still iving at home, but working full time, it coming to understand that his "free " time is more and more being spent in "adulting"--taking care of his car, doing his laundry, helping his parents around the house..(which if he were living on his own, there would be SO MUCH MORE to do).
    But getting back to your " Produce, create, grow, or do something out of your own gifts and skills. " I believe it was Marilla in "Anne of Green Gables" that said a woman should always have a way to support herself and not always be reliant on a man. I think there is wisdom in that. our "culture' has made that pretty acceptable. But it's always God that provides the opportunity, even if it doesn't look like an opportunity at the time. My daughter wanted to go to "real" school in 9th grade (after being homeschooled) and so we found a private school for her and I realized how much time I had been putting into homeschooling and I prayed, "Lord, idle hands are likely to get me into trouble. Please bring me/show me something to do to be productive". A friend of one of my dad's employees was looking for someone to "train" in medical transcription. It was the answer to prayer. But God used it to bring my husband "home" to work, and it has supported my family for the past 20 years.

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