Thursday, April 28, 2016

The spiritual battle for domestic bliss

Is it sexist that our culture still prefers women who are happy? We see the 1950s version of domestic perfection in June Cleaver—vacuuming in pearls and heels, smiling—and the modern woman shudders. Did she have gin stashed in the laundry hamper? Was that her secret?

Men aren’t expected to be happy; no one ever told a man that the best accessory is a smile. Bad news is easier to take from a man, or so it seems. An overwhelming percentage of meteorologists are men (definitely a gloomy job in Oregon). And we expect a certain gravitas from the all-male priesthood during the sacrifice of the mass, from the pulpit, and in the confessional. Despite the battle cry for “equality” women still dominate professions in which the female virtues (and a ready smile) are valued, such as teachers, nurses, and counselors.

I guess that means we’re different:

Male and female he created them. (Genesis 5:2)
Although women have made inroads into careers and activities formerly reserved for men (e.g., the military, boxing, and politics), our culture still yearns for the return of true femininity, that which is noble, gentle, and nurturing.

God became man for a reason: to suffer death on a cross, which is “man’s work.” As for “the woman,” Mary took up her cross with her fiat, becoming our Lady of Sorrows. Yet, in no way do we imagine the mother of our Lord pessimistic and complaining. She is calm as the drama of salvation unfolds all around her. As she herself sings in her Magnificat, “my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

So when a mom tells me she would “kill herself” if she stayed home to raise her children, that’s a spiritual failure to surrender to motherhood. It’s a rejection of her femininity. Like all virtues, those which pertain to motherhood—love, patience, humility, temperance, even magnanimity—require a lot of attention, cultivation, and prayer. It doesn’t come in the packet of new-mom things from the hospital. And if it did, it wouldn’t hang around through teething, potty training, and the daily witching hour. The smile comes from within—or it doesn’t come at all.

There must in every machine be a part that moves and a part that stands still; there must be in everything that changes a part that is unchangeable. And many of the phenomena which moderns hastily condemn are really parts of this position of the woman as the center and pillar of health. Much of what is called her subservience, and even her pliability, is merely the subservience and pliability of a universal remedy; she varies as medicines vary, with the disease. —G.K. Chesterton, The Emancipation of Domesticity
A wife and mother is not meant to wage war or slay dragons, but to engage in an internal battle—she must find contentment in repetition while accommodating a whole host of needs and personalities. It’s easy to resent the fact that logistical wizardry alone is not enough. Even acting as wife, mother, cook, chauffeur, accountant, nurse, teacher, laundress, maid, and landscaper, we fail if we don’t have joy.

It could be called a double standard. It could be called sexist. Or it could be called what it really is: a higher spiritual calling given to us by God. In war the general prepares a battle plan, the soldiers load their guns, the whole company assembles with a clear goal: defeating the enemy. June Cleaver bothers us because we don’t see the struggle behind the smile and the pearls. We don’t see the decision renewed each day to fulfill the mothering vocation with love, persistence, and joy. Our wars are quiet ones, fought intensely but internally, waged through prayer, devotion, and love of God.

Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. —Mother Theresa of Calcutta