Creating New Life,
A Woman's Perspective
From Chapter One…
When wives and mothers resolve to imitate Christ and love God and neighbor, they may discover that their neighbor in need is not encountered primarily in a rare emergency on the road to Jericho, but right at home. Day and night, women are on call, constantly oriented and alert to the needs of their families. When Christian women follow the Gospel ideal of laying down their lives for their friends, the friends in question are often kith and kin. Laying down our lives does not usually mean martyrdom, but it is always concrete. Marriage and family life mean a lifetime of altruistic, personally attentive work. Love’s labor is never lost in the constant round of physical and psychological acts of care.
At a conference last year, I was asked to respond to a paper that describes new research indicating that the way families eat dinner together and tell family stories positively affects the children’s future development. The paper’s findings moved me to thought. I calculated that I had cooked well over twenty thousand dinners in more than fifty years of family life—and still counting. And what about those thousands of conversations? What role had they played in the shaping of our family story?
As a result of this consciousness-raising encounter, I resolved never, ever again to complain about cooking dinner. I also recommitted myself to engage in conversation at meals with my husband, resident granddaughter or guests. The paper also stimulated me to the rueful reflection that time spent cooking and eating is but a fraction of the work needed to keep a modern family up and running. Nevermind laundry, shopping, cleaning, going to the bank or library, and driving to and from school and other events. Just keeping track of everyone’s whereabouts, appointments and trips can crowd the memory bank.
Middle-class American women are blessed in their material and technological resources for family living, but standards also keep rising. As circumstances become more complex, choices increase; leisure and enrichment activities proliferate. Affluent women can find themselves as harassed and burdened with tasks as earlier, poorer generations of women. A cottage industry has grown up to help women cope and lower stress levels. With each new choice, women end up adding yet more activities to their already full schedules. Deciding to stop and assess our lives and relationships becomes a priority.
As women become increasingly aware of the importance of relationships, there is a corresponding increase in their appreciation of the concrete effects of love and positive emotions in marriage and family life. Dozens of books have been published in the last decades on happiness and how to become happy. Thus a woman’s expectations for marriage and childrearing have increased along with other standards of living. But then, how could it not? With the acceptance of women’s equal rights, dignity and opportunities for education and work, some women come into marriage on an equal footing with men. Communication can be easier between similarly empowered and educated men and women. When the status gap is closed, there is more potential for supportive and cooperative friendship in marriage. More married people report that their spouse is their best friend.
People regularly report that their family is their greatest source of happiness. Does this mean that certain benign cultural winds are beginning to blow? Loving and giving love begets joy and satisfaction. Good things do happen to good people. Those who help others out of intrinsic motivation are happier. Moreover, mutual self-giving sexual love is valued for the increase in love and pleasure it brings.
Although we cannot deny the level of cultural selfishness, domestic and child abuse and other social ills, modern culture values altruism and the giving and receiving of love. While women’s work to create life and sustain families is still undervalued, wives and mothers lay claim to happiness and spiritual satisfactions. Great numbers of women join the increasing number of support groups centered on spirituality, study and self-help. Optimistic cultural critics rightly claim that these movements witness to a rising consciousness of life’s goodness. Many of us have taken part in an exercise that involves creating a gratitude list—an overwhelmingly female activity.
Monday, December, 1, 2008