Our discussions about faith-work integration often focus on paid labor, yet there is plenty of value, meaning, and fulfillment in other areas where the market may assign little to no direct dollars and cents. I’ve written about this previously as it pertains to fatherhood, but given the forthcoming holiday, the work of mothers is surely worthy of some pause and praise.
My wife stays at home full-time with our three small children, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard others ask her, “So what do you do all day?” If we are at risk of diminishing the full meaning and potential of our service in the workplace, surely we ought to be careful that we don’t do the same in the home.
The economy of love is different from the economy of creative service, to be sure, but the work therein is no less important, and we do damage to each if we fail to see both their distinctiveness and interconnectedness on the path to human flourishing. Though both parents play significant roles in that process, throughout history mothers in particular have played a unique role in the early-life shaping and shepherding of children. Modernity is adding new dynamics to all this, but the work remains, and such work is worth celebrating.
To demonstrate the nature and value of all this, Chris Marlink recently shared a lengthy excerpt from G.K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong With World, in which Chesterton expounds on the “gigantic” function of a mother’s work in human life.
Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist. Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world. But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean.
When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. 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.
Thank you, mothers, for the “large careers” you pursue. Your work is meaningful, colorful, and of full import to the spirit, the soul, and the vibrant and varied future of the Good and the True.
Happy Mother’s Day!