Woman's glorious vulnerability...

In response to my earlier post, "Marriage, Student Debt, and Motherhood," Elizabeth wrote:

Tim... you can't realistically recommend that one group of people (young women) unilaterally forswear economic self-help. ...Still less can you put this recommendation in terms that suggest it is overwhelmingly a matter of a woman's personal character...

Actually, I didn't recommend that young women resign themselves to financial vulnerability, but just the opposite. I warned against young women making themselves financially vulnerable and selling themselves into many years of economic servitude by taking out large student loans for academic and professional training that will require them to postpone marriage and childbearing, and to give over the rearing of their children to others.

Does each generation really need to be surprised by their desire to marry, followed by another desire to make fruitful love and pray to God for the blessing of children?

And just because it happens to some, does every Christian woman need to prepare for singleness or for her husband's abandonment of her and their children? Chesterton rightly warned against "the modern and morbid weakness of always sacrificing the normal to the abnormal." And when it comes to marriage, fatherhood, and motherhood, we must be more sophisticated in counting the cost to young Christian men and women of giving in to the abnormal.

It's a plain fact that's easily observable to those of us who live in the middle of academe that, for women, preparing for a career and preparing for motherhood are often incompatible. I've outlined this argument in the article but let me try to put some meat on the bones.

A few years ago Michal--our fifteen-year-old middle child--was invited to spend a week at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with her godfather who, at the time, had been clerking for a number of years for the court's chief justice...

Right before she left I took her aside and said, "Michal, I want to warn you about something. When you're hanging out with clerks and justices, it's likely several of them are going to ask you what you're going to do when you grow up. They'll note how bright and articulate you are; they'll see that you're pretty and polite; and they'll know you can go far in the legal world. They're absolutely right. But remember, if you decide to go to law school and become a judge, you can't be a mother. Being a mother is much too important to play second fiddle to a court.

"If you want, you may go to law school. And you'll do well. But that choice will have meant that you've also chosen not to be a mother. So look at your mother and think carefully about your future. What kind of a mother was she? Do you want to be like her? Or do you want to spend your life in the courts? Where's your heart? You better think about it right now because, if you love motherhood, you need to be on guard against the flattery and seduction that will come your way next week."

Listening, Michal grew increasingly impatient. Finally she put her hand on my arm and said, "Don't worry, Daddy. I know what I want." With a soft smile and kiss she left for Pittsburgh. And she had a wonderful time.

About a year later, Michal graduated a year early from high school as a National Merit Finalist. But instead of going off to college right away, she went to Ndola, Zambia, where she and her best friend, Annie Walker, lived with the David Wegener family. Michal and Annie took classes from David each morning at the Theological College of Central Africa and spent the afternoons hanging out with the other TCCA families and working at a local orphanage.

When she returned home, she enrolled in Indiana University where she got in-state tuition and some scholarships that enabled her to attend without taking on any debt. Then in May of her freshman year, Michal married a young man in our church, Ben Crum. Having miscarried twice, they've not yet had children, but they're praying for them. And currently, Ben and Michal are about two hours outside of Durban, South Africa, where they're working at an orphanage tutoring the children, planting a community garden, and handling whatever odd jobs are thrown at them.

Meanwhile, our second-to-youngest child, Hannah, also graduated a year early. Two weeks ago, she and her good friend, Kim, went overseas for a month of service with Brian and Vivian Doub, missionaries of our congregation with Operation Mobilization. Then in early October, Hannah and Kim will fly to Durban where they will spend two and a half months working with Ben and Michal at Agathos Foundation's orphanage.

Who would accuse Mary Lee and me of being foolish in wasting our daughters' time on unaccredited education and unpaid work?

Of course, no one here has suggested that volunteer work is worthless, or that every Christian daughter has to maximize her education and wage-earning potential.

Still, these are real decisions with real consequences that we've made with our daughters. And some (likely not Elizabeth, though) would argue that we have chosen the financial vulnerability of our daughters and their children in future years if no one asks for their hand in marriage; or if, having married and been blessed by God with children, their husband abandons them and their children in mid-life.

Quite unlike our two sons ☺, all three of our daughters could have been very successful in a number of different professions, but Heather, Michal, and Hannah believe God made them women for a purpose, and that to aspire to marriage and motherhood is not pig-ignorance, but godliness. They believe that they ought to plan and live their lives in such a way as to fully embrace their sexuality in every plan and choice they make, and that it's likely their life will be consumed by helping their husband and giving birth to, raising, and serving their children. They would laugh if someone suggested such a view of their own womanhood is demeaning to their personhood.

Read the article again and it will be clear that I'm simply recommending that Christians realize motherhood is a glorious calling, and that all of us make decisions about our and our children's lives accordingly.

As a rule, I don't think it's wise for young women to choose a major without consideration of its significance for their almost-certain motherhood in a few years. I don't think it's wise for young women to take on large amounts of debt immediately prior to marriage, thereby saddling their future with the necessity of working to pay off that debt. I don't think it's wise for couples married in their early twenties to put off children until they're in their thirties. I don't think it's wise for young mothers to give over the raising of their children to day care centers so they can continue to work. And I don't think it's wise for Christian families to encourage their daughters to make their plans as if they are the one of the minority who will not marry, or who will be abandoned by their husband, the father of their children.

Simply put, I think Christian faith will never lead us to be forgetful of our sexuality, treating it as insignificant. Rather, we will embrace it as one of God's choicest gifts. We'll seek to maximize that blessing in every area of our lives, even if it leads us to greater vulnerability throughout our life. After all, what did we think God meant when He revealed that women are the "weaker vessel?"

Can we really try to escape that vulnerability while walking by faith?

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Comments

"If you want, you may go to law school. And you'll do well. But that choice will have meant that you've also chosen not to be a mother"

Why is it either or? My son, who graduated from a Christian law school, has several fellow graduates who are young ladies. They are all reveling in their lives as stay-at-home moms. Some of them also do legal work from home, using their research skills via the internet. I think your statement is over the top and not a truthful one.

Karen, I was not talking to your son's young lady friends who went through six years of schooling so they could earn money as stay-at-home moms doing internet legal research. I was talking to my own daughter, Michal, and letting you and other readers in on our conversation. As for whether or not what I said to her was over the top and a lie, she'd respond but she's in Africa.

We're each responsible for our leadership of our own children. If you or other parents don't find what I said to my daughter helpful as you consider what to say to your own, God bless you.

Tim,
Would that more fathers had the wisdom to have such a conversation with their intellegent daughters. It's all a question of where you invest that intellegence: in careers, in classes, or in the family. It's not always mutually exclusive. But I have to admit that this college-educated poli-sci major reads far more books on parenting, marriage, homeschooling, child-shaping, and general family life, than I read about news, politics, elections, or other such things.

I'm not saying I'm not thankful for my education. But even with me earning 90% of my expenses on my own, it still saddled me with more loans than I would have liked. And until this very day, I never had thought of it as what it really was-- limiting our family's options until said loans were paid off.

Thanks for breaching this topic here. I'm also tackling it on my own blog: http://www.makinghome.blogspot.com/

All that to say, thanks for dealing with things that others wouldn't touch with the proverbial 10-foot-pole.

Dear Jessica,

URLs should be able to be posted. But if you're unable to put yours up here, please send it to me by E-mail and I'll happily put it up for you.

And maybe I should say I believe in education, too? But how and when and why are the details the devil is in.

Warmly,

Tim Bayly

Well, i appreciate the posts on this series of topics. I have shared them with my wife. We are trying to realign our thinking on this matter. I was brought up in a Christian home in which my mother was a stay-at-home wife and mother to my father, a baptist minister, and me and my sister. My wife, though, was raised in a nominally Roman Christian (i don't call them "Catholics"--but that's a different story), and to say it nicely, she didn't get the best education on things from a mother who was basically a feminist, but on the bad end of several broken relationships and marriages and who, even today, looks at all men as though they are useless and unreliable. We are growing, though, and your posts have helped.

One question, though: Where did a PCA Covenant Child get a "godfather"?

[[[Dear Pastor TA, I've answered your good question in my latest post, "How did a PCA covenant child come to have a godfather..."]]]

This is such an important topic, and one in which there are no easy answers. On the one hand, I am so thankful for my sister-in-law's college education that is enabling her to provide for my nephews and niece after my brother's death, while still being with them every afternoon after school.

I am far more vulnerable, should my husband die while I still have little ones at home. And, frankly, I fail to see much glory in that vulnerability, especially having seen the horrible struggles of other women who have been widowed or abandoned. There are times when I wish I had made better preparation before marriage. (I still stand by my decision not to accrue student debt; I just wish I had "thought outside the box" a bit more.)

Ah, yes, but most women will get married, and most will not be widowed young. And why should we plan "just in case" scenarios or plan for our marriages to fail, just because so many do?

My grandfather, in my opinion, did things well, swimming against the stream of his culture many years ago. He delighted in his five daughters, answers to his specific prayers. He did not want them to have to marry out of economic necessity. He wanted each established in a trade or career. (This was not really done in his day and his culture.) He also wanted each to throw themselves wholeheartedly into being wives and mothers when that day arrived.

He was a very practical man. Also, because he had his own business, he knew what being a "helper" could require of a wife, and he had no romantic notions of Proverbs 31 meaning a wife could spend all her hours at home with her children, focused on them and housework alone. His wife, because of her own preparations for marriage, was indespensible to him. He wanted his daughters to bring at least as much into their marriages, should they marry.

Over the years, I have seen the wisdom of how my grandfather raised his daughters and prepared them for life. I have also seen how God has blessed our extended family, over and over again, because of my grandfather's faithfulness and godliness.

My mother and two of her sisters never worked very long in the careers for which they prepared. But they do not regret any of the work or money which they invested. (In fact, two of them came to marriage with some of the financial fruits of their labors.) They believe fully that God has used what they learned to prepare them to be better wives for their particular husbands. Two of my aunts wisely chose careers that enabled them to be mostly home when their daughters were home. I realize that doesn't work out for everyone; they were in somewhat unique situations and also were able to be home full time until their children were in school. (One aunt actually had her office at home.)

I have grown up with good role models in this preparing for marriage business and yet, when it was time for me to make these sort of decisions, I still felt conflicted. Not everyone agreed that I should not invest myself too fully in a future career; I did not want to begin something that I would not be willing to abruptly lay aside. But, then again, there were those who thought I was presumptuous to plan for marriage. And then there were those who simply couldn't see me as the mother of one, let alone so many...I guess the joke is on them!

"Quite unlike our two sons (smile and wink), all three of our daughters could have been very successful in a number of different professions."

Poor Taylor hasn't even had a chance to prove himself...

I am reminded how so much of the "educations" that are given to people are in fact no education at all--as I've found that my "educators" were quite willing to give people a Ph.D. without even a basic course in logic or history.

Of course, if logic were effectively taught in colleges, many women (and men) would realize, as the original post notes, that $50K or more in debt can hamstring one's options. Maybe there's a method to this madness?

Rebecca,

"I am far more vulnerable, should my husband die while I still have little ones at home."

As a financial planner, this is an illustration of the absolute necessity of having the proper term life insurance coverage. If you have the money to pay off the house AND enough to draw from while the children are at home to keep you from having to go to work, the death of a spouse is (financially) navigable. In my experience, most people are far under-insured against this possibility. Not that there are not cases in which it would make sense (have to say that. I am NOT giving advice here,) but this is the primary purpose for term life insurance, not cash value. It is very affordable and will protect the survivors against the loss of income that a death might entail.

Sorry. Needed to insert that.

Archie, you make a really important point. A friend of mine who is an insurance agent tells me that in his 15 years of experience selling insurance, non-Christians are far more responsible in this regard than Christians. He is appalled at how many Christian men fail to offer this financial protection to their families, and how few women realize how important their contribution is, whether they work or are homemakers. In fact, I would encourage full time homemakers to carry life insurance as well if they have young children at home. If they die prematurely, and the husband's salary is not large, money may be needed to purchase household help. And there's also the vast need for disability insurance, since an individual is five times more likely to be disabled (hindering the ability to earn an income) than die before the age of 65.

A parallel note about Archie's profession; along with teaching, nursing, and real estate, it's one that a woman can leave for a while and come back to later. Very good for moms, and it doesn't officially require a college degree for the most part.

And it also ought to be noted that if one doesn't have huge college debt and (per "The Millionaire Next Door") high lifestyle expectations grown in college, one'e need for life insurance drops drastically. It drops even more when one is part of a church which takes the welfare of fellow believers seriously.

Robert,
I would have to respectfully disagree with your statement about the need for insurance dropping. I agree that the lower your standard of living, the less insurance would be needed to actually maintain that standard of living, but I would say that hardly anyone has enough to even make do much less maintain their current standard of living. There certainly isn't a need to encourage less insurance when there's probably no-one reading this with too much. In reference to a church that provides for its members, that is wonderful, but since when should we fail to provide for our own family because of a church that is willing to follow Scripture's commands to look after the poor and hungry? Do we seek to allow our family to become the poor and hungry that need to be provided for? Absolutely not!

And I agree with Light about most families never considering the financial worth of the homemaker. Archie had a hard time convincing me of this at first, because I wasn't earning income. But when I stopped to consider what he would do if I were to die, I realized he would either have to hire a nanny or family members would hopefully somehow take care of the kids. What if one of them had to leave a job in order to do so? Wouldn't he need to offer something? And what if we both died and left our (getting to be) large family to one of my siblings? Do we want them to struggle their whole lives with trying to provide for their own children and ours from their own possibly meager resources without having provided? No, we want them to be able to gladly welcome our children without any additional financial stresses on top of all the other stresses that would be inevitable.

And, (admittedly rabbit-chasing) do we want to throw ourselves upon the future expectation of charity shown by a body when the large majority of churches in America have no such concept of charity. Oh, sure, cook a few meals for someone who's recently had a baby or lost a loved one, but most churches have no real sense of obligation to "care for the orphans and widows."

In a society such as ours, as Heather said, it only makes sense to adequately insure one's family against potential loss.

Keep in mind, though, that when Paul wrote the passage about taking care of one's own, the usual way of doing so would be for a man to take care of members of his extended family, and if it required a job change or move, so be it. Life insurance? Not a chance in a society where the average person lived to be 35 or so! People simply knew that they were very likely to become a widow or orphan, and took steps to deal with that possibility.

This really ties in, IMO, with the issue of what the normal/usual role of a woman ought to be. If we assume that the family Paul speaks of is the nuclear family, then it's perfectly logical for a woman to go into debt to get a profession, and for the whole family to get extensive life insurance.

On the other hand, if the normal family is the extended family, the risk of unemployment or loss is distributed among many more, and it's far more logical for a woman to indulge her biological role as mother and nurturer.

I'll grant that our society doesn't embrace this role of the extended family, or that of the church. I would argue, though, that we do need to take what steps we can to go back to this model inasmuch as we can.

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