Have you ever considered how industrious and productive the Proverbs 31 woman is — how much work she has accomplished? Over the course of a lifetime, this woman not only has raised admiring children in the instruction of the Lord, but has
sought wool and flax, and worked with willing hands;
brought her family food from afar;
considered fields and bought them;
planted a vineyard;
dressed herself in strength;
considered her merchandise with regard to profit;
labored throughout the night;
made bed coverings and clothes for winter;
sold homemade garments and linens;
contributed to the needs of the poor;
labored such that her husband was respected in public; and
not bowed to idleness or inactivity.
Was she a stay-at-home mother or a working woman? Yes.
Her duties toward the people of her home required production for her home. She was not forced to choose between them. Her ideal was to love her husband and children and to contribute her gifts and ingenuity to the production of the household. She did not replace Dad as primary worker, but she did work alongside him, in different ways in different seasons, to help build and manage their realm.
When we read of women who express a distaste for confinement to the realm of the household, thinking of it as a sort of dungeon, we can hear in their complaint a groan that the household is not what it is supposed to be. The productivity, the ingenuity, the purposefulness — for mother and all members involved — no longer exists as it once did within the household. The modern home, in many respects, is hollow. Though filled with more goods than ever, it has been emptied of purpose.
Place to Eat, Sleep, and Watch
The modern family can be described, simplistically, in terms of the household after the Industrial Revolution. During the mechanization and technological advancement of the world, work left the home — and men with it. This transition dealt a severe blow to the household as containing family business, as a productive realm. C.R. Wiley writes,
We don’t think of our households as centers of productive work. That’s because the economy has largely moved out of the house. During the industrial revolution steady work in factories replaced the home economy, and many people were forced to leave home to make a living. In the process the household was reduced to what we think of today — a haven in a heartless world — a place to sleep and eat and maybe watch television. (Man of the House, 31)
In the preface to Wiley’s book The Household and the War for the Cosmos, Nancy Pearcey describes some of the effects that followed the exodus of men and work from the home:
Education moved from the home to schools.
Care of the elderly and sick went from the home to institutions.
Grandparents and singles moved out to separate houses and apartments.
Recreation allured beyond family bounds or became a privatized enjoyment.
Family devotions, even, migrated from the home to churches and youth groups.
The home grew thin. Its functions that tied members together were outsourced. People were emptied (extended family, singles, sick, and school-aged children), productivity left (home industry, education of children, good works in the community), and with it all, much of its purpose fled. What remained for mothers? Housework and early childcare.
Of course, neither housework nor childcare is a small matter — especially not childcare. Chesterton was exactly right not to pity Mrs. Jones, the former teacher and now stay-at-home mother, for the “smallness” of taking care of her children:
How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness. (What’s Wrong with the World? 95)
Nevertheless, as production, people, and purpose have been outsourced to specialists — including ever-growing Father State — a loss has occurred. The modern mother has fallen from homeschool educator, industrious worker, healthcare provider, helper of the poor and elderly, and host to doing good for those in the community, to being tempted to insignificance and invited to send even her infant children out of the home and into daycare.