Women Can Have it All, From the Home
Are women really being honest in proclaiming that women can have it all? Can women truly bring equal energy to their outside career and motherhood?
Women can indeed be professionals. This is the conclusion of a saintly trio: St. John Paul II, Edith Stein (St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross), and Venerable Fulton Sheen. St. John Paul II even thanked women who worked in a profession in his Letter to Women. Edith Stein affirms this possibility in her Essays on Women stating, “Indeed, no woman is only woman; like a man, each has her individual specialty and talent, and this talent gives her the capability of doing professional work, be it artistic, scientific, technical, etc.” (Essays on Women, 49).
How it is then possible to be both a mother and a career woman? It comes to the “when” and the “how”. These saintly philosophers and theologians left blueprints through their writings on how to approach work and motherhood. In Familaris Consortio, St. John Paul II encourages society to respect motherhood. He stated that, “While it must be recognized that women have the same right as men to perform various public functions, society must be structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to work outside the home, and that their families can live and prosper in a dignified way even when they themselves devote their full time to their own family” (Familaris Consortio, 23).
The gift of motherhood is profound. Growing a human being from scratch in the hidden veil of the womb is nothing short of miraculous. However, once the child is born, a woman’s job is not finished. Also stamped on her body is the ability to nourish her child. She is called to procreation and nurturing. After becoming a mother, a woman is forever changed. Current research is revealing this truth through the use of neurological scans. In reviewing brain images, doctors are now able to detect and determine which brains belong to mothers. One psychoanalyst, Erica Komisar in her book, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood In The First Three Years Matters, shares that a mother serves as her baby’s central nervous system for the first year. There is an incredible and lasting bond between mothers and babies.
Moveover, a Catholic woman is called to be open to life throughout her marriage (see the encyclicals Casti Connubii and Humane Vitae). “Two and done” is not a mantra she can live by with moral honesty. Therefore, how then can a mother, who is open to life, also be a professional?
The answer rests in the Proverbs 31 woman described in the Old Testament. She would have lived over 2,500 years ago, but she remains a wise model for women today. While she is a housewife, she is also a business woman. Yet, her economic endeavors are secondary to her household.
The Proverbs woman is more valuable than gems (Proverbs 31:10), provides provisions and nourishes her family (31:14), makes investments (31:16), earns profits from her merchandise (31:18) while also taking good care of her household (31:27), and giving thought to the poor (31:20). Doesn’t this sound like a woman who works?
The Modern Age is the perfect age to be like the Proverbs 31 woman. It’s time for a new vision of work and life balance. Technology has never been on women’s side more in pursing work from home with options like remote access, video conferencing, ecommerce, and even grocery delivery. With creativity and flexibility, there are many professional opportunities for women dedicated to home and children first.
Interestingly, Venerable Fulton Sheen points out that women have worked for centuries. He also demonstrates that women would have made profitable products from home. Pulling women from the home is a rather new idea, whereas, women contributing to the culture and commerce is not. The issue isn’t if women can work because women always have, it’s a matter of where. At the same time, women don’t need to feel pressured to work as mothers, but the possibility remains. Either way, mothers need to be available to their children.
“Nothing is more historically erroneous than the belief that it was our modern age that recognized women in the professions. The records of these Christian times reveal the names of thousands upon thousands of women who influenced society…Up until the seventeenth century in England, women functioned in business perhaps even more than today. In fact, so many were in business that it was provided by law that the husband should not be responsible for her debts. Between 1553 and 1640 ten percent of the publishing in England was done by women. Because the homes did their own weaving, cooking and laundry, it has been estimated that women in pre-industrial days were producing half the goods required by society. In the Middle Ages women were as well educated as men and it was not until the seventeenth century that women were barred from education. Then at the time of the Industrial Revolution all the activities and freedom of women were curtailed as the machine took over the business of production and men moved into the factory” (Communism and Women).
St. John Paul II taught motherhood first, and any other roles second. He declares that, “the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions. Furthermore, these roles and professions should be harmoniously combined, if we wish the evolution of society and culture to be truly and fully human” (Familaris Consortio, 23). Again, working from the recesses of one’s home allows for the possibility that a career and motherhood are “harmoniously” combined. For mothers, home should be home base.
Edith Stein understood that sometimes the household arena does not give full expression to each woman’s particular gifts. She encourages women to reach beyond; however, she cautions that it shouldn’t come at the cost of home management and family relationships. “Whenever the circle of domestic duties is too narrow for the wife to attain the full formation of her powers, both nature and reason concur that she reach out beyond this circle. It appears to me, however, that there is a limit to such professional activities whenever it jeopardizes domestic life, i.e., the community of life and formation consisting of parents and children (Essays on Women, 80). If a woman’s home life is busy and demanding, she asserts that women should not be working outside of the home. “And we should accept as normal that the married woman is restricted to domestic life at a time when her household duties exact her total energies” (Essays on Women, 80).
As seen, the Proverbs woman “looked well to the ways of her household,” and then sought to express her energies economically. St. John Paul II encouraged societies to be ordered in a particular fashion, which respects women’s role as mothers first. Change begins in our hearts and homes first.
Mother Teresa wisely shared that, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”