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?