In Which Proverbs 31 Set Me Free
When I had my first child, I was alone in my circle of friends to return to work. Even working from home half the week, I was alone. I still carry scars from those early days, drive-by barbs, usually from well-intentioned friends. My worst ever was the sweet, good-natured, kindly friend of the family who, upon meeting me in the parking lot of my son’s preschool/daycare, mentioned that she used to work there herself. “I always felt so sorry for those poor, motherless children.” I left the conversation in a daze, to pick up my poor, motherless child. Later that day I wrote:
Considering that Mommy Island is, at times, its own Hall of Terrors, how sad that when we find other castaways we immediately put up our dukes? It’s a little Lord of the Flies, isn’t it? Why is it that, instead of banding together to support each other through truly, one of the hardest tasks of all humankind, mothers instead criticize, lash out, and accuse when others’ choices differ from their own?
Until another mom pointed out to me that the Proverbs 31 woman was a working mother.
Then everything changed.
Proverbs 31. The pinnacle of a godly woman. A woman of valor who can find? How often have I heard that it just makes women feel guilty. Inadequate. Insufficient.
I don’t get it. I LOVE Proverbs 31.
I’ve always been a working mother. It wasn’t what I really wanted or aspired to, but it was what was required of the life we lived here in the Silicon Valley, and the life I believe we were meant to be living.
Valor: strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness : personal bravery
I don’t see Proverbs 31 as a list of misogynistic, unattainable ideals. I see myself – striving to care for my family as a mother, a home-keeper and a bread-winning partner in parenting and life. I see a metaphor that celebrates the working and the at-home mother who rises before dawn whether for an infant’s cries or the screech of an alarm. I see the moms next to me in line at the preschool, juggling work and family, being a great mom and keeping their jobs, doing it all and doing it well. I see the pursuit of excellence not complacency. The needs of the family before the needs of the mom. I see extraordinary measures sought to balance children, finances, service to church and community.
I see valor all around. In the workplace, in the home. At the park, in car-line, in the grocery store, and in heels and hose lugging diaper bags and car seats through the parking lot each morning.
I think greatly due to my working away from the home, my husband has grown to be a rock-star of a dad, having survived my week-long business trips with an infant at home, feeding, diapering, burping and bed-time rocking as well, if not better at times, than I. We’ve already discussed that when it comes to the kitchen, I cannot compete. Once upon a time, I felt inadequate about my cooking. Then I woke up and smelled the coffee he brewed for me each morning and realized just how fortunate I was to love a guy that loved to cook. I quit trying to compete, and we settled into a comfortable partnership. Typically I meal plan, he executes. I am sous-chef, often prepping the next dish or cleaning up as he is cooking the first. For dinner parties, he’ll often do the lion’s share because he’s more comfortable unloading the dishwasher, and I perfectly happy keeping conversations going in the dining room.
He doesn’t do often laundry, and he never vacuums or scrubs toilets. I don’t mow the lawn, take out the trash, or change the oil. I don’t pay the bills or empty the kitty litter (ew), but I do make sure everyone has something to wear to church on Sunday and that uniforms are laid out every night for school. He empties the dishwasher, I load it. He puts the lights on the tree, I decorate it. He gets them ready for school, I put them to bed. It’s a partnership based on complementary qualities and personal interests, not traditional roles or prescribed traditions. It all adds up, and guilt isn’t part of the equation.
Now that I’m further down the road, I would not change our past. Sure, it would have been nice to stay home, but I loved my career in marketing.
My children are healthy, well-adjusted, normal little boys. They are not motherless, or fatherless, or sick and twisted from their days in daycare. They are not sickly or psycho. They don’t have a host of allergies or dozens of ear infections because I couldn’t maintain breastfeeding for their entire first year. We all got on just fine. God’s plan for us did as it always will do – it worked perfectly. It wasn’t the same path chosen for my dear friend Susan, a stay-at-home mom of two, but she serves equally using complementary qualities and personal interests to serve her family and the community. She is as much a woman of valor as I am.
In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans wrestles with this same passage, only for different reasons. She, as a married woman of 30, feels extraordinary pressure to become a mother, that her greatest contributions to the world are in her ability to procreate.
(Once, I sat in church and listened as a minister announced a program for Women’s Ministry, and then spent the next five minutes referring to “you moms.” I could only conclude that, at the time, Women’s Ministry was not for women, it was only for moms. At the time, that wasn’t me.)
Using the example of Mary and Martha, Evans writes:
Martha certainly wasn’t the first and she won’t be the last to dismiss someone else’s encounter with God because it doesn’t fit the mold…when a new mom told me she felt closer to God since giving birth, I secretly dismissed her feelings as hormone-induced sentimentalism.
I guess we’re all a little afraid that if God’s presence is there, then it cannot be here.
Can I not still be a woman of valor scrubbing toilets on the weekends and putting the children to bed every night after I work all day, while my husband displays the greatest of Abba-love by waking at dawn and bringing his wife a latte, herding the children through their morning routine before he goes off to work all day?
I think yes. I’ve come to believe that I can. Evans seems to agree:
I’d made peace with the God of pots and pans – not because God wanted to meet me in the kitchen, but because He wanted to meet me everywhere, in all things, big or small. Knowing that God both inhabits and transcends our daily vocations, no matter how glorious or mundane, should be enough to unite all the women of faith and end the nasty cycle of judgement we get caught in these days.
I’m spending the next few days reviewing A Year of Biblical Womanhood (see introduction.) Check back on Friday to see how Evans and I both discovered that unlike cleanliness, pie crust is not necessarily next to godliness.