Preparing for motherhood...

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(Tim) Under the post, All in all, they're just bricks in the wall..., a reader asked if sex has anything to do with how we educate our children? As a pastor to many undergrad and grad students the past fifteen years here in Bloomington (home of Indiana University); but more, as the father of five children, two sons and three daughters; this question has been relentless in its presence in every aspect of my calling as pastor and father. As one effort to wrestle with the issue, back in the late nineties I wrote the following essay. It's been published here before (in August of 2004 and January of 2006), and it also ran in a print publication in the late nineties. Readers will note this piece does better at diagnosing a problem than providing a solution, but comments could go far to fill in the gap.

By the way, during our recent vacation, Mary Lee read a book that filled in some of the history of the origin of Home Economics as an academic discipline. You'll note I didn't know of its feminist roots when I wrote this piece, for which I apologize. Still, the late history of Home Economics' demise is well-documented and, given the discipline's history, highly ironic.

PREPARING FOR MOTHERHOOD

by Tim Bayly

My mother-in-law studied for her degree in Home Economics during the

late '30s and early '40s, graduating summa cum laude from Oregon State

University. After marrying her childhood sweetheart, she gave birth to

10 children in 14 years. Her husband, engaged for most of the years

when the family was young as editorial director of a religious

publishing house, brought home low wages, so frugality was a necessity

and the degree served this young mother and her family well.

Food preservation, hygiene, cooking, sewing, and home budgeting were

part of the home ec curriculum and, along with the liberal arts

training which came with every bachelor's degree at the time, these

young women graduated with specialized training for their profession of

choice--motherhood. Other women took similarly helpful majors in

Elementary Education, Bible, Christian Education (my own mother's

major), and Nursing.

Then came the frontal assault on housewifery and motherhood carried

out largely by a new and powerful aristocracy, the "Information Class."

(Footnote 1) During the late '60s and

early '70s this assault reached fever pitch and the academy was ground

zero. College and university students were assigned propaganda

tracts such as Ibsen's, A Doll's House, and joined the ranks of those determined to liberate the "Noras" of the world. (Footnote 2)

Oxford historian Paul Johnson provides interesting historical details on A Doll's House,

noting that both Karl Marx's youngest daughter, Eleanor, and George

Bernard Shaw took part in its first private reading in London, Eleanor

playing the title role of Nora. Johnson writes, the "clear message" of A Doll's House

was that "marriage is not sacrosanct, the husband's authority is open

to challenge, [and] self-discovery matters more than anything else."

Johnson concludes, "[Ibsen] really started the women's movement." (Footnote 3)

The discipline of home economics (also known as "household arts") was an early casualty...

Traditionally,

home ec had enjoyed a comfortably apolitical niche in the world of

higher education, and the guardians of this discipline had every reason

to trust their academic peers would continue to be favorably disposed

toward a curriculum so integrally tied to domestic tranquility. It was

taken for granted that a dignified and competent wife and mother,

devoted to her family, was a desirable constant in American culture.

To the feminists, home ec was anything but apolitical, so they

attacked. The level of their hostility can be illustrated by Allan C.

Carlson's account of an address given to the 1972 American Home

Economics Association Convention by Robin Morgan, the feminist editor

of Sisterhood Is Powerful:

[Morgan] laid the matter squarely on the line. The main

emphasis of the organization, she reminded the delegates, was 'to

reinforce three primary areas: marriage, the family, and the issue of

consumerism .... Now those three areas.... [are] the primary areas that

the radical women's movement is out to destroy. So one could say that

as a radical feminist, I am here addressing the enemy.' Morgan charged

that young women who passed through home economics courses were usually

left as 'a limp, gibbering mass of jelly waiting for marriage.' Indeed,

by feminist standards, home economics was so corrupted in its nature

that the speaker had only one unambiguous recommendation: 'You can quit

your jobs.' For those who must stay on, she urged that they work to

eliminate the home economics requirement for junior and senior high

school women and impose it instead on high school men. Home economists

should also 'tell people the truth' about the housewife's role and 'the

despair she faces in her life' and 'about the economic bigotry against

women.' Above all, those who stayed in the obsolete profession must

work to 'change' social mores, not reinforce them. For home economics

was 'hooked' into institutions that were 'dying.' Morgan concluded:

'It's your choice whether you're going to crumble with that system ...

while history rolls over you or whether you're going to move with

[history]. I hope that you will join us--but we're going to win in any

event.'

The battle for home ec was over almost before it began, and soon the deconstruction of this discipline was complete. (Footnote 4)

Somewhere in mothballs there may be a beautifully preserved specimen of

a home economics department, but at this sitting I don't recall running

into one person with this major since my own entry into the world of

higher education in 1971. A woman in our congregation who teaches home

ec told me recently that her professional association changed its name

from the National Association of Home Economics Teachers to the

National Association of Consumer Education. "It no longer has the word

'home' in it!" she lamented.

The demise of home economics is indicative of a sea change in the

thought patterns and habits of women standing at the edge of adult life

today. Although elementary education, Christian education, nursing, and

even home economics are still studied, these degrees are often chosen

for their professional, and not domestic, value. Women make academic

decisions about course work and majors with little thought of the value

of specific areas of knowledge for running a home, raising a family, or

educating children. Instead, the marketability of the degree is

primary. Not surprisingly in a culture that disparages motherhood, we

see a decline of conscious preparation for this task by women making

academic, financial, and career decisions.

But in lusty defiance of all the rhetoric, men and women still

marry, give birth to children, and raise a family of their own. Yet

when children are born reality hits: Who will be this child's mother?

Not surprisingly the government's answer is more bureaucrats paid by

more taxpayers, trained and certified by other bureaucrats. Thus the

Information Class extends its influence to the earliest days of our

nation's children.

There are significant economic reasons for our nation not to choose

this direction, reasons obvious to thinking women and men from time

immemorial. Chesterton sums up those reasons by pointing out that

neither bureaucrats nor the money to pay them grow on trees, and that

it is quite foolish to set up an industry to do what familial--and

specifically maternal--love does naturally; "You are like a lunatic who

should carefully water his garden with a watering-can, while holding up

an umbrella to keep off the rain."

Seriously though, the reasons for Christians to raise, train,

educate, and discipline their own children extend far beyond economic

considerations. The making of the Christian home and the raising of

children are at the very center of our calling as followers of Jesus

Christ. Scripture commands fathers to provide for their families(Footnote 5) and mothers to "be domestic," (Footnote 6) to be devoted to their husbands, their children, and their home." (Footnote 7) Scripture calls mothers and fathers to train their children, (Footnote 8) to teach them about the Lord, (Footnote 9) to feed them the Word of God "from infancy," (Footnote 10)

and to explain to them the traditions of our Most Holy Faith while

sitting in their living rooms, walking through the neighborhood, riding

in the car, and lying in bed. (Footnote 11) God has decreed that one purpose of Christian marriage is to raise up for Him "a godly seed." (Footnote 12)

To purport to be faithful to this task by packing our children off to "professionals" is often dishonest and disobedient.

Its dishonesty consists in the fact that, although many Christian

parents give high-minded reasons for turning over the nursing,

discipline, and instruction of their children to others, their true

reasons are often embarrassingly secular: careers, financial security,

and peer respect hold a higher place in their values than the

approbation of God and the eternal well-being of the souls of their

children.

This is not to say there aren't many Christian women and men who,

due to tragic life circumstances, find themselves with no choice in

such matters. Consider for instance divorcees who work full-time to pay

rent and put food on their tables; widowers whose children are cared

for during the day by grandparents; and wives and husbands whose

physical or mental handicaps require such attention that childrearing

must at least partially be provided for by non-family members.

Yet even in such circumstances the diligent Christian parent and his

or her Christian community can do much to compensate, creatively and

lovingly, for these circumstances. For an excellent series of stories

on just such a family which, while having great hardship due to the

absence of the father, maintains its health and integrity, see the

series of "Five Little Peppers" books, including Five Little

Peppers and How they Grew, Five Little Peppers Midway, Five Little

Peppers Grown Up, and Five Little Peppers: Phronsie Pepper,

published one hundred years ago by Lothrop Publishing Company in

Boston. The first volume is dedicated, "To the memory of my mother;

wise in counsel--tender in judgment, and in all charity--strengthful in

Christian faith and purpose--I dedicate, with reverence, this simple

book."

But in the too-normal case, face the matter squarely and we see that

young women today find themselves in possession of all the old

responsibilities as well as a considerable number of new ones, not the

least of which is preparing for and competing within the wage-earning

world for the level of responsibility, opportunity, and salary

commensurate with their abilities. If they are successful in this

competition, landing a good entry-level position with significant

chance of improvement, they must be careful to maintain their

productivity and commitment such that they are in no danger of losing

the position they have prepared for and sought for so many years. Would

it not be poor stewardship to gain the department headship only to lose

it later while trying to meet the needs of one's spouse or children?

Today's college woman gathers knowledge and degrees useful for the

world of business, education, service, and health care--not marriage

and family life. Still, there is clear evidence that these same women

have not disengaged from the timeless rituals of courtship and

marriage. This then is the expectation of our culture for young women

today: prepare for life-consuming responsibilities in the world and in

the home, both at the same time, and then balance these

responsibilities for as long as you can as well as you can.

Some men and women are called by God to the single life and are aware of having been given this spiritual grace. (Footnote 13)

Most men and women, though, will be blessed by God with marriage and

children and are therefore to raise up a godly seed for the Lord. To

fail to acknowledge this and make decisions accordingly in the critical

years of life is so sad, really. Why should Christians join the world

in despising housewifery and motherhood?

When young Christian women are ashamed to admit their choice of

school, of major, and of method of financing their education is

directly related to their commitment to be ready for marriage, bearing

children, and making a home, who would deny that the Church is taking

her cues from the world?

Christians ask their children, "What are you going to be when you

grow up?" Pity the poor young thing who answers, "I want to be a mother

like Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, or Mary," because her indoctrination is

about to begin.

"Yes dear, of course you will be a mother; but wouldn't you like to be a doctor or lawyer, or to play in an orchestra, too?"

Being a wife and mother isn't enough anymore, is it?

So it all starts. And before long, our daughters will be taught it's

not sufficient to dream and plan for marriage and motherhood; they must

dream and plan for a professional life--a "career"--also.

But before it's over, the pressures of these life choices will have

a life of their own with concomitant (and tragic) results for the

woman, her husband, and their family. The collegiate woman who follows

the culturally preferred pathway comes out of college prepared to work

in a profession which will give her material rewards commensurate only

with her faithfulness to her colleagues and employer. Often she will

arrive at her first position saddled with the substantial debt she has

accumulated purchasing her education.

So when, within a year or two of graduation, marriage appears on the

horizon, even if the couple desires to place parenthood above their

reputation among their peers or their commitment to the woman's career,

the debt accrued during their pursuit of professional training and

accreditation sinks their hopes and they realize that having children

is not feasible, financially. The same logic inexorably leads the woman

and her husband to the conclusion that, in the event of an accidental

pregnancy (accidental according to the finite plans of man, that is),

soon after the baby arrives, mother will return to her profession and

give over the care of the child to someone else. Thus the mother will

keep on the cutting edge of her career and grow dull in her God-given

vocation of motherhood.

This ought not to be. In God's Household, the pillar and foundation

of the Truth, we must do our best to honor the Lord in every area of

our lives, especially this critical matter of providing for the

Christian home a Christian mother who is well-prepared in every way to

fulfill her calling.

We must do everything in our power to legitimate--no, to honor--the

calling of motherhood so our children grow up knowing no calling is

higher. Where is the mother who has found she's too bright for the task

of honing her child's mind and nurturing his heart?

A dear friend of mine, 83 years old, gave up her graduate fellowship

from the Department of Astronomy at Harvard to marry another astronomer

she had met there. Soon she had four children and, as they grew, she

devoted herself to those children, teaching them everything possible.

She never missed one of their science fairs and, foregoing the faculty

wives' coffee klatches, she stayed home so she would be at the front

door to welcome her children at the end of each school day.

"That's when they tell you everything," she explains. "When they

walk in the door they're eager to tell all the things of the

day--things are welling up inside of them then. If you don't get it

then, you will not hear it, because they'll put it aside and do other

things." My own mother adds that a parallel to meeting the children

when they get home from school is staying up late at night, when the

kids get older, to talk to them after their late-night excursions.

While her husband built telescopes, observed the sky, and published his research in the Astrophysical Journal,

my friend trained, nurtured, fed, and disciplined her little ones into

adulthood. Today, two of those four children have Ph.D.'s and the other

two married Ph.D.'s. Forgetting for the moment the spiritual side of

these children's instruction, let us ask the smaller question: Was this

a waste of good intellectual talent? Would those children have been

better off--even intellectually--had Mrs. Cuffey completed her graduate

work and been awarded the terminal degree?

At this point some would argue for inserting a delicate caveat to

indicate that there are many ways to raise children--many divergent

styles of motherhood--and that some mothers can do it all, while

others, due to native limitations, have to be more focused. But is it

not true that Mrs. Cuffey and others following her path have, in fact,

chosen the more excellent way, devoting themselves to their husbands,

children, and home in a way that another mother of children who works

full-time outside the home is unable to? In fact, was not Mrs. Cuffey's

decision to give up her Harvard fellowship and turn toward home a

decision laden with spiritual significance, not just for herself but

for her husband, children, and future generations?

If we teach our daughters the high calling of motherhood and they

take that calling on as their own, it will often lead them to make

decisions similar to the one Mrs. Cuffey made. In such cases, certainly

their own parents, but also the people of God, must be prepared to

provide them fulsome support for any steps they take to decrease, that

their husbands and children may increase, especially when those

decisions close doors behind which lie prestigious honors and large

financial rewards.

In her excellent booklet, Where's Mom: The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective, Dorothy Patterson writes:

Homemaking, if pursued with energy, imagination, and

skills, has as much challenge and opportunity, success and failure,

growth and expansion, perks and incentives as any corporation, plus

something no other position offers--working for people you love most

and want to please the most.... Homemaking--being a full-time wife and

mother--is not oppressive restraint of intellectual prowess for the

community, but a release of wise instruction to your own household; it

is ...the multiplication of a mother's legacy to the generations to

come and the generous bestowal of all God meant a mother to give to

those entrusted to her care. (Footnote 14)

As I write, leaves are falling, winter is quickly approaching, and

autumn's smells and sounds draw me through fond memories back to my

childhood home and my dear mother. There within that home Mother

deposited the warmth and love which was its engine and which to this

day causes her children and grandchildren such happiness when they

return.

What sort of a home was it?

It was a home where the roof beams were raised to make way for

grandparents preparing to die; a home where dinners were almost always

late--seven or eight in the evening--because Mother was a perfectionist

and had to serve food which showed her love, down to the details of the

table service. Most nights, prior to our sitting down at the table we'd

go around turning out all the lights while Mother lit the candles. She

loved eating by candlelight, and we all got used to Grandpa's

curmudgeonly lament, "A man would like to see what he's eating."

Northern Illinois winters were bitterly cold and, while wind blew

through oaks standing guard around our home rustling brittle leaves

clinging to branches, our picture window framed three little boys

sitting at the hearth, roasting their backs as Mother read aloud from

the Lazy-Boy chair. Her husband again gone on a speaking engagement,

she led us in family devotions--Bible reading and prayer. Then, as the

evening lengthened, she would pick up a book and read aloud to us until

she fell asleep--often mid-sentence, or until the old mantle clock

caught her eye. Jolted awake by the clock's chimes or coming to the end

of a chapter, Mother closed the book, saying, "To bed, to bed, you

sleepy heads."

We'd beg, "Oh mother, don't stop now! One more chapter, pleeease!"

More often than not she'd relent, picking up where she'd just left off.

Around that fireplace I was first introduced to the five little

Peppers, A. A. Milne, P. G. Wodehouse, and many others.

Summertime Mother's attention turned to her gardens where she taught

us to love beauty, but also to work. We'd complain about the work, at

times, but each night the dinner table rewarded our labors with

tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, green peppers, string beans, squash...

all picked fresh that afternoon from our own soil. And the table's

centerpiece would have been some combination of flowers from Mother's

perennial garden, or rose buds cut from the hybrid teas carefully

nursed through winter. When, as a high school student, I first read

Pearl Buck's, The Good Earth, I thought she must have known Mother.

Though I acknowledge this vision is misty-eyed and could well cause

some struggling mothers a bout of depression as they think about all

the opportunities they've lost over the years, who can miss the

priceless gift my family, as well as the missionaries, pastors,

neighbors, and friends who sat and basked in the warmth of our home,

received out of the abundance of the heart of this woman who chose to

abandon her life to loving her husband and children, honoring her

father and mother in their old age, and devoting herself to her home?

Can I ever express my gratitude to a mother who was present, concerned,

and content within those four walls which were the seedbed of most

everything I have come to be? Such is the beauty of my mother who

demonstrated her godliness in such domestic ways. May her tribe

increase, by the grace of God.


Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs

at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching

of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her

household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up

and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women

have done excellently, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceitful,

and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised

(Proverbs 31:25-30, RSV).

Footnotes:

(Footnote 1) Brigitte and Peter Berger, in The War Over the Family: Capturing the Middle Ground (Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983).

(Footnote 2) For a sage essay on these matters, see G. K. Chesterton's, "The Drift from Domesticity," in The Thing

(New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1948). Here Chesteron refers to

Ibsen as "a very powerful dramatist and an exceedingly feeble

philosopher."

(Footnote 3) Paul Johnson, The Intellectuals (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 98.

(Footnote 4) See Allan C. Carlson, "Treason of the Professions: The Case of Home Economics," The Family in America, (August 1987).

(Footnote 5) Cf. Isa. 58:6,7; 2 Cor. 12:14; 1 Tim. 5:4 .

Especially, 1 Tim. 5:8: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives,

and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is

worse than an unbeliever."

(Footnote 6) Titus 2:5 in the Revised Standard Version.

(Footnote 7) "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent

in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine,

but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can train the younger women to

love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to

be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so

that no-one will malign the word of God" (Titus 2:3-5).

(Footnote 8) Prov. 22:6.

(Footnote 9) "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4, NIV).

(Footnote 10) "But as for you, continue in what you have

learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom

you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy

Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith

in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:14,15, NIV).

(Footnote 11) Deut. 11:18-21; Josh. 4:21-24; and Exod.

12:26-28. Also, Deut. 6:6-8: "These commandments that I give you today

are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about

them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you

lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and

bind them on your foreheads" (NIV).

(Footnote 12) "And did not he make one? Yet had he the

residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly

seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal

treacherously against the wife of his youth" (Mal. 2:15, KJV).

(Footnote 13) See the Apostle Paul's discussion of this subject in 1 Cor. 7.

(Footnote 14) Where's Mom: The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective, by Dorothy Patterson..