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Monday, March 14, 2005

Desperate to be housewives

(Picture from youngminds.org.uk)

The central argument in this article entitled "Desperate to be housewives: young women yearn for 1950s role as stay-at-home mums" seems to ring with certain truth, at least from my own limited experiences and impressions. I had noticed a few years back that more of my peers seemed to voice the opinion that they would certainly prefer to be stay-home mums if they got married and had kids; to be there full-time for them during what's probably the most crucial, formative first years of their lives. To be a stay-home mum is really a luxury these days, suggesting that one's income is not necessary for the maintenance of a fairly comfortable lifestyle for the family. Either that, or one is so convinced of the merits of doing so that both parents are willing to lead a much more frugal and modest lifestyle for the sake of giving their children something deemed far more precious--the love, attention and training that only a full-time mum can provide.

Both the ability and happy willingness to be stay-home mums and housewives can be correlated, I think, to the higher education and greater confidence that many more women today enjoy (as opposed, let's say, to women a few decades ago, when a more radical, modern feminism was beginning its heyday). Equipped with more resources (intellectual, material, etc.) to occupy their time meaningfully at home and with their kids, possessed of the benefit of historical hindsight (having seen many women fail at juggling family and career), no longer feeling the need to "prove" themselves as women to be "as capable as the men" in the workforce, and possibly feeling the strain and meaninglessness of perpetually being a rat race in a society that is increasingly seeing the decline of a crude materialism, it is understandable that more young women today crave the satisfaction that comes from fulfilling this traditional role.

Prior to industrialisation and even up to the earlier half of the 20th century, housewives had lots to occupy her body and her mind with: the growing, preserving, pickling and bottling of fruits and vegetables, tending of animals, meat-curing, spinning, sewing, brewing, baking, and catering, not to mention the management of servants (if she had them) and the whole economy of the household. A cursory reading of Proverbs 31 gives a picture of a very fulfilling life for the "stay-home mum"--fulfilling not just in terms of days being filled with manual business, but importantly, intellectually, socially and emotionally. Just consider this: "She considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard... she makes linen garments and sells them... she looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her..." (vv. 16, 24a, 27-28) But with the advent of big industry, smaller families, and generally less land to grow anything, many of these jobs were taken out of the home, leaving the housewife with less interesting employment. She might look around and suspect that working women seemed to have it better. They, at least, had daily work that was more mentally challenging, that contributed in more tangible ways to society, and did not have to be "stuck at home just bearing and rearing children". Perhaps this was generally true for a significant number of women in the recent past, but today's educated woman once again can have loads at home with which to exercise her many talents. The rearing and educating of young children is now widely recognised as a big job and a study in itself, ideally to be left in the hands of parents who have, or who are continually acquiring the requisite knowledge, sense and sensibility to discipline and nurture in proper ways. She can also work from home on flexible and rewarding assignments, do her own research on subjects of interest, engage in part-time social work, write, read, form reading groups, and blog. The list could go on and on.

If you ask me, the role of stay-home mum is more than just based on tradition, but on something much more fundamental--the way God made women! (Now, this is bound to be highly controversial, and may seem to some of you to smack too much of the detested sexism supposedly perpetuated by the allegedly patriarchial Bible. There are too many issues here for me to deal justly with them at this point in time, and so I'll move on, content with showing my awareness of a few possible objections and emphasizing the key adverbs.) The point I'm making is not that God made women only to be housewives and mothers. It is that He has made us such that we possess certain unique reproductive capabilities, and also given us a certain disposition and position to care for and nurture our offspring in a most profound way. Hannah (mother of the prophet Samuel) who prayed desperately for a son and who "would make him a little robe...from year to year" (1 Samuel 1; 2:19); and Lois and Eunice (grandmother and mother of Timothy) "of the sincere faith" (2 Timothy 1:5a) come immediately to mind. I can't speak for all my friends or peers, much less for women in general, but I can confidently say that I'm thankful to be a stay-home mum and housewife (for now, until my job contract calls me back!). I think it's one of the best and most fulfilling jobs in the world.


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