Monday, July 23, 2012

Above Rubies

“A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

                For several years now I have been struggling with the idea of “the Proverbs 31 woman” spoken of in Scripture.  There are countless websites and devotional books focusing on this topic, and the interpretations vary, but in the minds of many women I believe it has become an impossible ideal that has led to frustration and self-doubt. For a handful who truly believe they have reached this goal, it is a source of pride that causes them to look askance at those of us who don’t meet the standard. I personally have been hurt by some insensitive remarks thrown out by SAHMs (stay-at-home moms). In today’s economy, the stay-at-home mom is a rarity, but there has been such a turnaround. It used to be that the working mom was the “elitist”; now it is the SAHM. My opinion is that each family should do what works best for them, that there is no “one size fits all” in this situation.

                My mom worked before I was born, leaving my sisters with their grandmother. She quit two years before she had me, and stayed happily at home for twenty years, but was by no means idle. She had five children, was involved in the PTA, the church, and various volunteer and neighborhood organizations. She has a gift of hospitality and loved hosting all kinds of parties and get-togethers, from kids’ sleepovers to fancy dinners for my dad’s business associates. She would sometimes take classes to learn a new skill, such as ceramics. She was there for us when we needed her but she fostered in us a great self-sufficiency and independence. We were expected to help out around the house and, as soon as we were old enough, to start doing odd jobs to earn pocket money. I began doing this at the age of ten and by thirteen or fourteen was a much sought-after babysitter and pet sitter in our neighborhood. Thus my mom found a good balance that worked for all of us. When she had to return to work, I was a senior in high school and very much able to take care of myself.

                I do not think that being a “helicopter mom” or having a “child-centered family” is healthy, but there are those who think that one can only be a “Proverbs 31 Woman” by being a slave to her children-and her husband.  They believe that one absolutely CANNOT be a “Proverbs 31 Woman” and work outside the home. In studying the scripture for myself, I have to disagree with this assessment. “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.” Obviously the Proverbs 31 woman is a hardworking lady who is also a businesswoman of sorts. She “watches over the affairs of her household.” It does not say that she is staying there 24/7. It does not mention where her kids are when she is going about her work in and out of her home, but she probably either took them with her or had some kind of co-op arrangement with other women of the village. In that time, Jewish communities functioned as extended families.

                Do I think it is probably the best case scenario for someone to be at home with the children for the first three or four years? Yes. I know of situations where parents work alternating shifts so that can happen. I know some stay-at-home dads, and some moms who work out of their homes (online jobs are pretty popular these days and make it easier for women to earn money while staying home). Some women babysit a couple of extra kids so that they can be home with their own. But often these days, women have no choice but to work full-time away from home, and they should not be made to feel guilty about it. I was lucky in that my kids were already in school when they came, and I have the best possible working situation because my kids are at the school where I teach. But had things been different, had we adopted an infant or toddler under the age of three, we would have had to either find family or close friends to babysit, or hired a nanny, or found a small church or home daycare. We would have worked it out and the world would not have ended and I could still have been a good mother.

                I do good to my husband, I do not “eat the bread of idleness” and I am the one who makes sure the necessary chores get done most of the time. I do not cook. My husband is an expert at it and I’m not, and he enjoys it and I don’t, and it is something that he and the kids have fun doing together. I don’t generally do laundry or dishes because my kids are capable of those things and there is no reason for them not to do them. I go to work every day during the school year and minister to students while also adding to the family income. For the past four years I was also taking online classes which I worked on in the evenings and on weekends. I am involved, along with my husband, in church activities. I work to make sure that my family has what they need. I spend time talking to my kids and I help them with homework and projects. They know they can come to me and tell me anything and I will listen. I do NOT wait on them hand and foot and I never have. If I had not had to work, guess what? I STILL would not have waited on them hand and foot-because it isn’t good for them. Children need to develop the skills required for independence and I have seen far too many teenagers who can’t even cook a simple meal or do their own laundry. This does not make me less of a “Proverbs 31 Woman”.

                I asked my husband why he thought this scripture had been interpreted the way it has for so many. My theory was that women who stayed at home wanted to somehow “justify” themselves, which isn’t necessary. My husband thinks that maybe it was interpreted that way by men who wanted to make their wives into servants. Whatever the case, I know that, while I was offended by the woman who commented, “I work harder staying at home than I would in any other job”, for some women this may well be the case-for example, I would concede that my friend with twelve children who homeschools them all works at least as hard as I and probably harder. I have no quarrel with that. What I do get upset about is the notion that a woman who works outside the home is breaking some commandment of God and should be ashamed, or a woman who doesn’t coo over her children and constantly hover over them is a terrible mother. The goal for our children should be to prepare them for their future as adults, and that cannot be accomplished if we never allow them any freedom or independence and never have any expectations.

                Right now my two daughters are away at church camp. I miss them, but I am not particularly worried beyond the constant worry that exists deep in the heart of every ordinary mom. I was wondering if the fact that I worry relatively little makes me a bad mom, but my husband pointed out that they are, and always have been, in God’s hands. And, as my sister said, He loved them first, and loves them more than I ever could. Were I to spend much time thinking about what could happen, I would never let them out of the house. And if I never let them out of the house, they could still fall down the stairs –and actually have a few times. There are no guarantees, ever. Ally has asthma. She took her inhaler with her to camp and she knows how to use it. They are with Christian people in a Christian setting, people I know well. It’s as safe as it can possibly be. People who worry so much about their kids being molested are obviously unaware of the fact that most children who are molested are actually abused by a family member, at home or near home, not at camp or church or school or ball practice. Maybe I worry less because I know this from personal experience-my abuse was at the hands of a family member. But you have to trust some people, sometime. Christians should not walk around in a constant state of fear and pass that fear on to their kids. Teach them to be strong and confident, and reasonably cautious, but not paranoid.

                A Proverbs 31 woman does good to her husband. Interesting that the husband is SPECIFICALLY mentioned, not the children. Maybe that’s because the writer of Proverbs understood that once a woman becomes a mother, she is apt to neglect her husband and that should not be. The husband-wife relationship is vital to the family, to the marriage AND the well-being of the kids. I grew up secure in the knowledge that my parents loved me and my siblings dearly-and that they loved each other just a little bit more. I was fine with that. They loved God most of all. I was fine with that, too. I understood that was how it should be.

                And what about the divorced mother, or the divorced childless woman, or the widow, or the woman who has remained single? Where do they fit into the whole Proverbs 31 idea? Well, I have friends and family members in all of the above situations who, to me, epitomize the Proverbs 31 woman. My sister has never married. She works two jobs, both ministry-related. She manages the finances for herself and my mother, who lives with her. My mother, an older Proverbs 31 woman, was widowed at the age of 49 and has managed to make a life for herself. I wrote about her an earlier blog entry. Slowing down she may be, but idle? Never. She still has that gift of hospitality and her greatest joy comes from entertaining friends and family in her home. She also cares for her cat and my sister’s dog, works in the yard, cooks, cleans,shops, is involved in church activities, and reads lots of books. I have a friend who has four children and went through a very painful divorce about three years ago. She now has her own photography business and is able to support herself and her truly awesome kids. She has made the best of her circumstances. She is a true Proverbs 31 woman. Her children will arise and call her blessed.

                We should never think they we are limited to a little narrow God-box, but many women are frustrated trying to fit into the one they believe is labled “Proverbs 31 Woman.” In truth, the Proverbs 31 woman is any woman who does the very best she can with whatever situation God has given her. For me, it is being a working mom whose job also happens to be a ministry. Of course my husband and children come first and I treasure every moment with them .But a Proverbs 31 woman seeks God’s will for her life, whatever it may be. It does not have to fit into some “traditional” mold. God loves variety and diversity. He gave all of us different gifts and different personalities. The circumstances of our lives may vary also. What is most important is that we work at whatever He gives us to do with all of our hearts. This is all He really wants-our hearts.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

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