Monday, 9 April 2012

A Woman's Work Is Never Done

(Image from Mama Bear's own collection).

Today has been a lovely peaceful day of rest for us all. In England the Monday after Easter Sunday is a bank holiday, so it has meant no work, and all of us at home together, which has been lovely. We enjoyed our Easter - goodness me, what a lot of people we saw yesterday. There was much fellowship and feasting done! We're all glad for today when we can stop at home and rest. Outside it has been raining hard all day, although it is a little warmer than it has been for the past few days. That is English weather for you - two weeks ago, it was definitely spring, and just now it is definitely winter again! And what nicer way to spend it, than all at home together?

A question I'm sometimes asked by other women that I know, is what on earth a stay-at-home wife and mother like me, whose children are grown, and whose husband is out at work all day, actually does with her time. "Don't you get bored?" they ask. "It must be lovely to have all that free time!"

Well certainly it would be, if I did - but the short answer is, I don't! That's not to say I couldn't, but we have made a personal choise, based on the needs of the family, and more importantly, the teaching of the Bible, that I do not have lots of time to myself each day. It's a very common misconception that women who don't work outside the home, have lots of free time. Of course, it would be true that I would, if I didn't work inside the home, but the fact is that for us, my being in the home dictates that what I do there should be as demanding as Papa Bear's work outside it is. For us, my being a stay-at-home wife and mother is a career move, not a cop-out, and it means therefore that I am to be as industrious and productive in what I do at home, as Papa Bear is, when he's out at work.

So, what exactly DO I do, to stay so busy, when our children are grown and no longer need to be homeschooled?

Well, first of all, let me direct you to a very famous role model for a stay-at-home wife and mother, one that's been written about for centuries and that no Christian woman could fail to be acquainted with. Introducing the woman of Proverbs 31 -

"Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
" (Proverbs 31, 10 - 31).

I'm not going to go through the whole of this passage of Scripture line by line to study my example. But I will pick out a few main points, because the Proverbs 31 woman is whom we've come to use as a model for what my day-to-day activities should look like. First of all, verse 13 - "she worketh willingly with her hands." This is a key point that is a major motivator for me. My days should be as busy as my husband's, even though I am at home. That means, as in verse 15, that I rise early - earlier than everyone else - to prepare the first meal of the day, look through the plans and schedules for everyone's day ahead, and note any special details. I'll prepare a pack up for those who aren't going to be home for the midday meal, and maybe get started on the midday meal for those of us who are (or if it is a slow-cooker meal, the evening meal as well). I'll see that everyone is up in good time, and well fed and watered before they leave for their respective jobs and college studies. I may give people lifts if the weather is bad. I'll perhaps run some errands on the way back, if these are in my schedule. And then I get home, and the work of the day starts. I do my daily chores, and then my weekly chores for that day, and any extra projects on top of that. I'll plan ahead with activities for during the coming week, and maybe make phone calls or run other errands. I'll stop for a quick meal at about 12, and then in the afternoon I usually work on paperwork and other office duties for Papa Bear. This is "paid" work as I'm contributing to the work of the family business, so - just as with all the other chores I do - I don't have a choice about whether to do this or not. It's employment - just as the Proverbs 31 woman does, I keep myself busy with work - I won't eat "the bread of idleness" (verse 27).

There's more to it than this. Look at all the qualities that the Proverbs 31 woman has. She's definitely not afraid of hard work, but she's also a good manager - making sure the family is well clothed and fed, and she's a shrewd businesswoman too - buying land, and making garments to sell. She knows what good quality is, and she plans ahead too, ensuring that everyone will be warm in the winter months, and keeping busy into the night to stay on top of things. Moreover, she has some particular character qualities too. Not only does she care for her family, but she has compassion for the poor, and she's wise, and doesn't gossip either. What an excellent example she's setting for her children as they watch her in her daily work!

There's a great deal more that can be (and has already been, by far more eloquent and educated writers than I am) said about the Proverbs 31 woman. But for me, one of the biggest lessons that this passage of scripture has taught, is not so much what this wonderful woman is, but what she isn't.

The term "stay-at-home" wife is really a bit misleading, because it implies that a woman who isn't employed outside the home, does nothing except stay inside it, pleasing herself. And though it would be very easy indeed, with grown children who don't need constant attention and monitoring, to do just that, I don't. I could use my role as an excuse not to be organised, to spend lots of time on the internet, or watching daytime TV. Believe me, there are indeed women who do this - that I know of. I could be visiting with other stay-at-home wives like them, or out shopping. But of course, I don't - partly because I wouldn't want to, but mainly because even if I did, Papa Bear certainly wouldn't approve! Our marriage would be a very unequal partnership if that was how the work and responsiblities were divided. I have as many commitments as he does, in order to ensure that I am doing my fair share of the workload. We are two halves of one whole, and in order for him to be successful at what he does, I need to be able to support him. I need to be keeping things running smoothly at home, so he doesn't have to worry about them. He's a busy man with lots of responsibilites, and he doesn't want to have to be troubled by household responsibilities and paperwork, which I can deal with. I need to be busy too, becuase like the Proverbs 31 woman Papa Bear needs to be able to "safely trust" (verse 11) that I am in control of what's happening at home, so he can focus on his work outside it. Not only that, but we strongly believe the work should be equal in terms of effort and commitment. If he's putting in 8 or 10 hours a day of hard work - so should I. It may not be the same work, but what I do at home is work. My not working outside the home isn't an excuse to sit about making pretty things, or reading novels. While it would be lovely to do these things, safely cushioned from the outside world, and I could probably justify the craft activities by saying that they made our home look nice, they're not work (unless you're making things to sell). They are hobbies. Work is labour, not entertainment. It is an activity done as a means to an end, which you do whether or not you want to. It's done regularly, day after day, and whether or not there is a reward at the end of it, if it is your calling, then you get on and do it. It's a commitment, and that means doing it regardless of your willingness, becuase if you don't, there will be negative consequences - not just for you, but the family too.

When the cubs were small, my days were busy in a different way. Over the years, the schedules we've had at home have changed, but there has always been a schedule, and I've always stuck to it. That gives the days a more worklike feel, even if I can be more flexible than people working outside the home. To begin with, when the cubs were babies, the housework got fitted in around the childcare (our cubs were born very close together, so in the early years it was almost like having twins). No one ever asked me what I did with my days back then! But then they were preschoolers, and there was education to think of. That became the priority, and the housework fitted in around the homeschool schedule. I was a wife, mother, housekeeper and now a teacher too. As the cubs grew older, and were able to do more self-directed work, I was able to take on more responsibilities in the home, along with getting more housework done each day (when they were very young a lot of my housework was done in the evenings, when they were in bed!). Papa Bear handed over his bookkeeping to me, and I did that alongside the cubs while they were working on their school projects. Then they finished homeschool, and my days changed again! Now I do a lot more admin work for Papa Bear. About half my working day is doing that for him, paperwork, phone calls and such, and the other half is housework. On Saturdays I work too - getting meals prepped for the rest of the week. I do less of this now, as I've found I have more time during the week to do it, so that has been a recent adjustment. But it will go on changing. Once the cubs leave our home to cleave to their own spouses, I'll likely take on some other responsibilities - and it's certain that as Grandmama Bear gets older, she'll need more help from me, so I'll be taking on a new role as a carer for my family in a different way from that as a mother to small children. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, this will perhaps become my season for helping others outside the home, as well as the ones in it. But my main priority will always be our home and immediate family.

I find the example of the Proverbs 31 woman very inspiring. To me, she's so much more than the popular concept of a stay-at-home wife who spends her time prettifying her home and crafting without making any really valuable contribution to her family's wellbeing. She's a creative, practical, resourceful and reliable woman who is a great source of pride to her husband, and stability to her family. She's keeping everything running efficiently, and creating a home where they can feel cared for and supported. She's certainly not sitting back and watching her husband do all the hard work. This passage of scripture shows that in order to please God, women must work just as hard as men do - only in a different role. The work they do is a source of admiration from others, and reassurance and stability for their families. It's supportive to their husbands, and helps to ensure that the family unit runs smoothly and successfully. To us, it is not so much that I don't work as productively and industriously as Papa Bear, who works outside the home - I do. It's just that the focus of my work, as a woman, is based in the home. It's a commitment and a responsiblity just like a job outside the home, and my work is equally valuable, and I have to work just as hard at it, to do a successful job.

But that means that when we have a public holiday, I get a break too! And I enjoy it just as much!