Keeping It Simple: The Splendor of a Modest Upbringing

I often speak of my time in the Working World, not because I would rather be in it now, but because that’s where I spent 15 years of my life post-college. The other day, I was reminded of a young mom with whom I worked at a local bank, going on 20 years ago.

Her husband made an excellent living and she did a fair job herself of bringing in some income. She had acknowledged that working outside of the home was a choice for her, not a requirement. However, she walked around the office speckled in red all over her neck and chest from internalizing the stress from the job.

Clearly (and later, admittedly), this gal hated her job.

At the time, I was an idealistic 22-year-old and this woman was an enigma to me. I eventually blurted out to her, “If you hate this job so much, why do you do it?”

Her exasperated response burned into my brain. “Because my daughter needs a nice big yard and a nice big house. That’s why I come to work.” Her daughter, at the time, was 2 years old.

Please do not misunderstand me here. I salute the working moms (and dads) for the tough jobs they do. Most parents financially cannot afford to have a parent stay at home. And there are other families in which moms and dads may not require an extra income. Many of these folks understand themselves well enough to know that a job is where they need to be to feel balanced. All fine and good. You must take care of yourself to be able to be the best parent or spouse you can be.

What made me squirm about this woman’s remark was that I felt she was so misguided. She had no desire to go into work. However, she truly believed that her daughter needed a big house and big yard? I beg to differ.

cm2My Early Life

I spent the first 8 years of my life in a 2 bedroom/1 bathroom duplex with my parents and sister. People have it much worse.

My dad worked in the South Carolina public school system as a very talented high school English teacher but basically was not paid a fraction of his worth. My mom dedicated her time to taking care of her girls, running the household and volunteering her heart out at our school.

Our parents gave us everything we needed. I was always surrounded by my baby dolls and wore my grandmothers’ old dresses and high heels to play dress-up. I often donned my sister’s hand-me-downs as many sensible parents have their younger children do.

cm3We didn’t take fancy vacations, but did go down to a Georgia beach with our entire extended family for a week every summer.

From my perspective, life was simple and sweet.

We were able to move into the house where my parents still live when I was in 2nd grade. This house had a REAL yard and was in a REAL neighborhood with kids riding bikes in the road. I moved my stuff into my own room and shared a bathroom only with my sister.

But I was fiercely homesick for the old apartment.

I missed the tree stump off which my sister and I would jump and twirl. I missed the wooded vacant lot next door that would spark our imaginations, even though there were lots of woods nearby in the new neighborhood. I missed sharing a bedroom with my sister. Many nights, I would pop into her room and climb up in her bed for a bedtime story even though I had been reading on my own for years.

cm4I couldn’t verbalize it at the time, but I think I was homesick for togetherness. I was small girl accustomed to a small space. Having everyone suddenly spread out began to make me feel a bit disconnected.

In my experience as a little kid, it was simple: I just wanted to be close to everyone that I loved.

In my later childhood and teen years, in addition to our annual beach trips, our family went to Disney World a couple of times and drove up to New England from the Carolinas. I have fond memories of visiting these places, but my sweetest family memories of all are the simplest, every day ones:

  • Proudly watching my mama, one of the storytellers at my elementary school, read to my class.
  • Doing my nails with my grandmother for the first time and feeling very grown-up.
  • Playing shopping mall with my sister, complete with “elevator music” (actually, a cassette player in her bedroom closet blasting Lionel Richie music she recorded from the radio.)
  • Listening to classical music with my dad, as he taught me the different instruments in Peter and the Wolf.
  • Eating salmon and grits by candlelight from a Mrs. Butterworth’s bottle with my other grandmother and my sister.

cm5My Present Life

Now that I am a stepmom to a 21-year-old young man and mom to 4-year-old twins, I often reflect on my own childhood. Around birthdays or holiday time, it’s very easy to get a giddy gift-giving buzz. It feels good to watch your children squeal with delight when they open a gift that you carefully selected. But what happens next?

They open the next gift and forget all about the Most Awesome Present In the World that you just bestowed upon them.

Then, when the day is done, they crawl into their beds with the ratty old blankie or doll baby that is one spin cycle away from total destruction.

cm6Even if my husband and I felt that we could pinch pennies enough to afford elaborate vacations or fancy expensive toys, I honestly think that we would decide against these things.

At this point in our lives, our children (the big and small ones) have a pure desire to just be with us, regardless of where we are or what we are doing. It is so gratifying to watch the unadulterated rapture that can come from a cardboard box and some markers. We can nurture our children’s curiosity and imaginations with the simplest of objects.

In my world, my kids are no different from me. The new and shiny fancy things that come their way are exciting for a minute. But what they want to feel safe and happy and loved are the simple things.


Mary Peterson

Mary Peterson

Originally from South Carolina, Mary Peterson moved “up north” to the Tar Heel state nearly 20 years ago after graduating from Winthrop University (yay Eagles!).

After enjoying many years of employment in the banking industry and singlehood, she met her husband, married him six years later acquiring a dream of a stepson (now 21), had boy and girl twins after 4 years, and decided to say adios to her paying job.(I hope you’re not trying to do the math right now, because YES, she is no spring chicken!)

With her children now 4 years old, she is still working at the most demanding but gratifying job she has ever had and WILL ever have.She is extremely thankful for those women in her life who have shared their own mom stories with her. Your victories and catastrophes have served as blueprints for her own parenting, and now she hopes to do the same for others.
Follow her at Carolina Twin Mom
Mary Peterson
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10 thoughts on “Keeping It Simple: The Splendor of a Modest Upbringing

  • November 13, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    You’re right, I think the best thing you can give your children is love, security and your time. There are things they may want or think they want and things we think we want to give them but they could have all the material things in the world but if they don’t have your love or your time to listen to what they have to say then I think that’s when they suffer. Lovely post, thank you for sharing it with us at #Familyfun xx p.s I totally didn’t think it was contradiction to my post x

  • November 6, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    My favorite saying for my kids is that the most important things in life are health, love, and happiness. Material things lose their lusteur. I am fortunate to be able to stay home but often find myself also wanting to go back to work because my own happiness has suffered. But knowing that my children’s happiness would be sacrificed with me returning to work I have chosen not to. I loved my career but I love my children more and soon they will be grown and gone. Thanks for linking with #momsterslink.

  • November 6, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    A really wonderful and very true article. I hated that I had to work two long days each week after having our first son. We downsized homewise before the birth of our second son, so that I could stop going out to work and be with them. My first son had hated me going to work and was so much happier when I was at home. A simple life is often what kids want. #KCACOLS

  • November 6, 2016 at 10:09 am

    First off – thank you for a great “make me think” piece.

    Next – there’s a couple things going on for me here. Like you say, to work or not to work as a mother is an incredibly complex choice. I would agree the former colleague you reference likely had misguided intentions, but unpacking those feelings likely reveal so much more than simply the desire for her daughter to have a big backyard. That moment of frustration may also speak to the need to want her child to feel secure, more generally – as well as the nagging sensation on ever so many fronts as parents as you look at others that maybe you need to “Keep up with the Jones'” in order to give your child a successful life. From my end, as the primary breadwinner in my family by quite a bit, the feeling that the “to work or stay home” debate still firmly circles around mom also leaves me unsettled.

    As for keeping it simple – I completely agree. Kids need the security of knowing their parents are there and supporting them. Then, aside from food, a place to call home and at this stage I’d say a heck of a lot of support with homework and school, I’d say much of the rest is discretionary.

    I should probably stop now or just do my own post! It sounds like you had a wonderful childhood and are giving the same to yours. Thanks for the great read!

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  • November 2, 2016 at 5:49 am

    Such a wonderful piece! I love how simplest thing can fulfilled in our children memories. And it is so very true. I was brought up in a big family and I never have my own space. I desire this for my kids for them to have their own space. We are trying to save for a house of our own at the moment as we are curently renting. I kept telling my son that one day we will have our own home. I don’t think he has quite grasped that yet as he think he will be in a bigger home. Your wonderful post has reminded me to remind him of that – simple things does not have to be big to fulfilled our joy. xx

    Thank you so much for linking up with us on #FabFridayPost

    • November 4, 2016 at 8:44 am

      Su, it sounds like this was timely for you! It is wonderful that you have this goal to own your own home and you are working hard toward it. I agree with you: your son very likely doesn’t NEED a bigger home to be happy. But there is also a lot to be said for mom and dad feeling satisfied with the living arrangement! As they say, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy!” 😉

      I drove by our old apartment the last time I visited my parents and felt that old familiar tug on my heart, even now. Don’t be surprised if your son will have the same feelings about your apartment! It’s a mysterious thing how places can be so very sentimental to us.

      Happy to have joined y’all on #FabFridayPost! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

  • October 29, 2016 at 7:40 am

    I loved this article. This is very practical and down to earth wisdom.

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