Wednesday, November 19, 2008

biblical womanhood (6a) busy at home

I was walking the kids in to school when I bumped into the mother of my son Ben's best friend. We don't know each other well, so we talked about our lives and what we do. Inevitably, the question came up: "Do you work?"

This from a mother who works nightshift as a hospital nurse 3 nights a week and dayshift 2 days a week, as well as running one of those homes where, the instant you visit, you're welcomed into a clean house and plied with home-made delicacies.

I responded the way I always do: "No ... I don't work ... I'm at home full-time with children ... we have 4 children, so it keeps me busy (insert sheepish giggle from me)". Awkward silence. End of conversation.

It's a scenario every one of us who cares for our home and family full-time can identify with, isn't it? So why do we feel so embarrassed?I'm leading a women's book club on Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal. There are discussion questions in the back of the book, and at the end of the first study, the group is given some homework: go home and ask your husband which of the Titus 2:3-5 qualities he thinks you most need to grow in.

Two husbands gave the same answer: "To be busy at home". But when I followed up what they meant, they were said with a quite different emphasis: "To be busy at home." "To be busy at home."

One mum finds it hard to be at home on her own. She's an extrovert, so she gets a bit down when she's alone. She likes to be out at the park or the shops, small children in tow. I remember reading an anecdote from Elizabeth George A Woman after God's own Heart about how she asked her husband for advice on time-management, and he suggested she go out one day a week rather than every day. He didn't say so, but she was grounded!

The other mum is like me: she feels more comfortable being at home. But it's what she does while she's there that's the issue. We all know how easy it is to be at home, but not to be busy. Homemaking is demanding, unlike those 1950's images of happy housewives: you have to be organised, hard-working, motivated and self-disciplined. Yesterday morning, I was downloading some talks to help prepare this series on biblical womanhood, dashing downstairs to my husband's office computer and upstairs to get the kids ready for school, throwing instructions at the kids - "Is your bag packed? Have you put your breakfast bowl away?" - and questions and encouragement to my husband - "Would you like me to make you lunch? I'll pray for your meeting today!" - as I ran past.

At 10 to 9, latest possible leaving time, I was still loading a talk onto my iPod and doing some last-minute unecessary sorting of my iTunes index, when my daughter yelled, "Mum! It's time to go! We'll be late for school!"

I remember another occasion, not all that long ago, when I was working on a blog late in the afternoon, and Lizzy called out, "Mummy! I think you'd better go and get dinner now!"

There's nothing like my 10 year old daughter reminding me of my responsibilities to fill me with shame about the times I neglect my family for "ministry", and the bad example I sometimes set my daughter of how to be a homemaker.
Paid work, a trip to the shops, ministry: good things in themselves, they can all distract us from our responsibility to be "home workers".

Sorry to anyone who got this post in draft form in their reader last Monday!

1 comment:

mattnbec said...

I've been thinking a bit about the work issue: I wonder if part of the embarrassment with the paid work/not issue is that if we work, we feel guilty for potentially 'neglecting' our children. On the other hand, if we don't work, we feel that perhaps we're lazy and just not organised if we can't keep up with her (and her cleaning lady?). Also, I wonder if we feel awkward because perhaps it implies we think the working mum might be/is neglecting her children. On a societal level, I think looking after your children is just seen as a menial thing to do.

Additionally, I wonder if we place value in remuneration. If something is expensive, it must be good. Likewise, better pay must mean that you're worth more. Unpaid work, voluntary work isn't valued like paid work, so perhaps full-time Mummydom isn't valued for the same reason. Likewise, it isn't 'brain-work' like being a lawyer, doctor etc. Like being a checkout chick or garbo, it's not much valued. Therefore, not being paid and 'not using our brain' makes us feel inferior because we're not seen as making a valuable contribution to society.

As for the 'busy at home' part - I think I need to work on both parts!