The Personalist Project

The propensity of some to confuse vocation and occupation and spiritualize particular kinds of domestic productivity just increases the angst women carry about work and motherhood. 

Motherhood is a vocation, but it is a personal vocation. It is a vocation to love and educate the individual, real, distinct children in your home. Marriage is a vocation to union with a particular, real, individual, incommunicable person. 

Both "homemaking" and economic work ideally support our vocation and serve the families we have. Because we are all different people with unique skills and weaknesses, needs and strengths, there are almost endless variations in what this might look like in individual families. 

It's a mistake to act as though only one person in a family makes the home a home. Your house is a home by virtue of the life you live in it, and every family member contributes to that. A mother isn't more or less a mother because of the role she plays in or out of the home. Her motherhood comes from her relationship with those God has given into her care. A father isn't more or less a father because of the role he plays in or out of the home. His fatherhood comes from his relationship with those God has given into his care. 

We don't need to "defend" motherhood or fatherhood by assigning distinct tasks to each. Motherhood and fatherhood are already distinct because we are embodied persons. Everything I do is done in and through and as a female body, including my motherhood. 

So a man who is primary caregiver? Hes not "Mr Mom." He's a father.

And a woman with children who works outside the home isn't usurping a father's role. She's a mother, loving the children she has and making a home for them according to her skills and their needs.

Can we fail as mothers and fathers? Make bad choices? Let ego or desire for recognition push us to neglect the good of our spouses and children?

Of course. 

We can lose ourselves and our families to our insecurities and need for outside validation of our work--or of our homes--and our choices. 

Or we can seek to love the families we have with the gifts God gives us.

And we can rejoice that, like snowflakes, God delights in making each person--and each family--a unique reflection of His love. 

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Comments (25)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Jan 31, 2018 7:01pm

Amen, Kate. I agree whole-heartedly.

I am completely and totally with you in rejecting the tendency to reduce motherhood and fatherhood to prescriptive "roles." I think that model has done terrible damage.

The one thing that rings true for me in the anti-feminist insistence that (barring rare cases) women shouldn't work outside the home is that it does seem to be so that a gift for "home-making", in the deep spiritual sense of creating a welcoming, nurturing space for family life, belongs essentially to the feminine genius.

And a society that loses that loses something really big. I think if we were more aware its great value, we'd make more of a point on the level of culture and economic policy to make it easier for more women to spend more time at home. 

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jan 31, 2018 7:05pm

I read such a moving story not so long ago by a man whose mother died when he was a young boy. He talked about how his father gathered him and his brother into his arms and promised to be both mother and father to them.

He said his father did his best, but he couldn't manage it. Their home was never a home again. And though he lived many places in later years, he never again had a home until he got married.

He was writing full of admiration for the feminine genius.

I don't think a woman needs to be a full-time "home-maker" to create a homey atmosphere. 

On the other hand, it's not easy to do if you're also working a stressful job with long hours. 

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jan 31, 2018 7:13pm

I found this article interesting too. It's about a man who gave up his journalism career at age 35 to be a full-time "house husband" and father to the couple's nine children. The wife is a high-flying London businesswoman.

He shares that it's been lonely and frustrating at times, because the role isn't valued in society. He says "especially for a man", and i'm sure that's true. On the other hand, it's also true that many women find it lonely and frustrating too, which is why feminism has such appeal.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#4, Jan 31, 2018 9:10pm

Is home-making particular to the feminine genius? It certainly takes a combination of skills and mindset that is more commonly found in women--but is that innate, or are men simply not inculturated into hospitality, household management, and the many forms of "emotional management" that women are accustomed to perform for those around them? 

Personally, I find the thought somewhat discouraging. One more "feminine" thing I'm not at all naturally suited to! And yet, I am quite certainly a woman. 

I think it's possible some virtue of nurturing/sheltering can be attributed to the feminine genius, but I'm wary of emphasizing that too much, for the same reason I have become very disenchanted with any of the ways women are praised for particular innate virtues-----because I observe that praise of a virtue as particularly "feminine" tends to alienate men from the practice or pursuit of it. I'm not sure why this is, but it's common and widespread enough that it certainly seems to be an endemic social ill. 

Rhett Segall

#5, Feb 1, 2018 8:56am

My wife has been a free lance artist, teacher, and choral director.

That said, and not making reference to her excellency,(my wife!), I think women working with men has led to a certain coarsening of women. I also think the danger of marital infidelity is heightened with women in the workplace. The #metoo movement highlights other dangers.

I have an adorable 6 year old grand daughter and I want every opportunity opened to her. But she's going to be challenged on many levels in the workaday world. Much preparation is needed.

By the way, DVH has some provocative statements vis a vis this topic in his little book "Man and Woman".

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Feb 1, 2018 6:36pm

 

Kate Whittaker Cousino wrote:

Is home-making particular to the feminine genius? It certainly takes a combination of skills and mindset that is more commonly found in women--but is that innate, or are men simply not inculturated into hospitality, household management, and the many forms of "emotional management" that women are accustomed to perform for those around them? 

Personally, I find the thought somewhat discouraging. 

 Do you? For me, it didn't come across like that at all. I didn't see it as a role I'm supposed to live up to, but constantly fail at. Instead, I saw it (for the first time) as a power I have by virtue of being a woman. Like the power to conceive, birth and nurse a child.

It's essential, though, that we don't think of homemaking as a set of practical functions.

Also essential, imo, that we keep in mind that men and women are not interchangeable in society. 

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Feb 1, 2018 6:38pm

 

Rhett Segall wrote:

I have an adorable 6 year old grand daughter and I want every opportunity opened to her. But she's going to be challenged on many levels in the workaday world. Much preparation is needed.

 Rhett, you will not be surprised that the preparation I think mainly wanted is the personalist kind—a constant, conscientious stress of individual freedom and responsibility, and rejection of all forms of externalism and conformism.

Anamaria

#8, Feb 6, 2018 11:02pm

I'm a frequent reader here and at Like Mother, Like Daughter, where this latest version of the "mommy wars" supposedly began- but really, the crux of what she said there was exactly what Katie van Schajik said here (is home-making part of the feminine genius), not what many of the commentators misconstrued, along with the question of priorities. I used to disagree with the idea that home-making is part of the feminine genius, but my short five and a half years of marriage have disavowed me of that, especially in the period when my husband takes this over after we have a new baby. He is actually better at many of the tasks of home-making than I am. He is competent in the kitchen as well. Yet, there is still something that is just... better when I am the one in charge of making the home (with everyone else contributing, too, of course!).

I wanted to comment in part because I think this is a much more interesting discussion than the one that happened in the LMLD comments (and, I take it, else where on the web), as the detractors really missed the point on a philosophical and theological level. 

Katie van Schaijik

#9, Feb 7, 2018 8:36am

Anamaria, my husband, too, is much better at virtually all the practical tasks traditionally involved in homemaking and childrearing. And he does more of them than I do.

He's also much more patient, cheerful, organized, energetic, etc.

And yet, somehow, mysteriously and inexplicably, I think neither of us would say he's the homemaker. I think especially he wouldn't say it.

Even if I were ill and incapacitated completely and he were doing everything, it wouldn't quite be true that he was the homemaker in the family.

Somehow, the woman makes the home. It's her spirituality, primarily, that creates its atmosphere.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#10, Feb 7, 2018 9:34am

I wish I understood what you two are talking about, but I really don't. Would you say male-headed households are not homes? That monks can't offer hospitality because they don't have the "feminine genius" for making a home-like atmosphere? That bachelors are forever homeless? 

What is it that makes this difference that you seem to perceive? I can see socially-mediated differences in the expectations men and women hold for themselves when homemaking, but I don't see the innate something insubstantial you seem to.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#11, Feb 7, 2018 9:36am

I understand the appeal of spiritualizing a role that women have been often (but not always) especially tasked with. But it seems like saying it doesn't reside in skills, abilities, mindset, expectations, etc. leaves you with something almost deliberately and uselessly vague. And--personally frustrating--since it's not something I perceive, I still feel like I must not possess it.

 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#12, Feb 7, 2018 9:42am

On the bright side, if this "genius" of homemaking has nothing to do with *who* does which tasks and has nothing to do with any particular skill set, as has been posited in the comments above, then Leila is wrong to connect it with women not working outside the home, because this intangible "something" isn't a thing that is dependent on any external skills or replicable actions. If all the external actions can be replicated by other members of the home, then all a working mother needs to do is be present to the other members of her family according to her feminine genius for homemaking--whatever that is--and presto! it's a home! 

I do feel sorry for all those men who are apparently left homeless because of their celibacy or widowhood, though. 

Rhett Segall

#13, Feb 7, 2018 9:56am

 I wonder if Harry Harlow's experiment with Rhesus monkeys might shed light on the discussion. Briefly, the infant monkeys were provided with surrogate parents. Here is an extended quote that gets to the heart of the matter:

To investigate the debate, Harlow created inanimate surrogate mothers for the rhesus infants from wire and wood. Each infant became attached to its particular mother, recognizing its unique face and preferring it above all others. Harlow next chose to investigate if the infants had a preference for bare-wire mothers or cloth-covered mothers. For this experiment, he presented the infants with a clothed mother and a wire mother under two conditions. In one situation, the wire mother held a bottle with food, and the cloth mother held no food. In the other situation, the cloth mother held the bottle, and the wire mother had nothing.

Rhett Segall

#14, Feb 7, 2018 9:58am

Overwhelmingly, the infant macaques preferred spending their time clinging to the cloth mother. Even when only the wire mother could provide nourishment, the monkeys visited her only to feed. Harlow concluded that there was much more to the mother–infant relationship than milk, and that this "contact comfort" was essential to the psychological development and health of infant monkeys and children. It was this research that gave strong, empirical support to Bowlby's assertions on the importance of love and mother–child interaction. (Wikipedia)

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#15, Feb 7, 2018 9:59am

Fathers are not constructions of wire and cloth. That's a pretty horrible analogy to try to apply.

Katie van Schaijik

#16, Feb 7, 2018 10:02am

Kate, it sounds like you're mad. Are you? It sounds like you're being sarcastic and dismissive in using scare quotes and caricaturing. Am I misunderstanding you?

In any case, I don't see myself spiritualizing something basically practical. Rather, I'm speaking of homemaking in its spiritual sense, which I understand to be its prime sense.

I know you get the difference between material and spiritual. I can't imagine you wouldn't agree that a home can be expertly organized and maintained and still feel spiritually cold and inhospitable.

Good literature consistently describes homes spiritual terms. I'll never forget an article I read once about the novelist Iris Murdock and her doting husband John Bayley. A reporter visited their apartment, where they lived in "amiable squalor." 

One of the facts of spirituality is that it's intangible. But it's manifested in the material realm.

My conviction is that women have home-making power by virtue of their womanhood. All women have it, just as they have wombs and breasts.

And like with any power, it can be cultivated or neglected. Wielding it well requires time, energy, and creativity. 

Men don't have it naturally in the same way, though some men learn it.

Katie van Schaijik

#17, Feb 7, 2018 10:12am

In my opinion, based on personal experience, long observation and much reflection, the fact that women have this power doesn't mean they shouldn't work outside the home. (For personalist reasons, I think it's flat out wrong—ethically wrong—for anyone to suggest to any woman that she ought not to get a job, because women are supposed to be homemakers.)

But, at the same time, it would be naive to think that that their working outside the home for long hours at stressful jobs won't have an effect on the home life, and that large percentages of women doing that won't have an effect on society as a whole.

What I wish, personally, as I said above, is that we, as a society, would learn to esteem much more in word and custom and social policy, the unique spiritual good of women's presence in the home, in such a way that it would be easier for more women to spend more time at home.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#18, Feb 7, 2018 11:35am

I'm not angry, but I am frustrated. Contemporaneously, I think the modern era (industrial age and following) has tended to attribute special status to women in the home as a way of excusing the increased absence of fathers from the home due to the artificial estrangement of work and homelife. It frustrates me that this set of assumptions about work is so often overlooked to focus on women working or not working, and that the burden of balancing life and work is again and again laid on women in a way that it is not laid on men. 

I don't think either men or women have any spiritual virtue inaccessible to the other, except perhaps those particularly and exclusively associated with the birthing and nursing of small children. I believe femininity and masculinity are primarily and rightly distinguished by virtue of the sex of the person acting--that it ought to be unnecessary for a woman to fret about fitting into any specific role because any rightly-ordered action will be "in the feminine mode" since she is a woman and inseparable from her female embodied self. 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#19, Feb 7, 2018 11:37am

I wish we, as a society, esteemed much more in word and custom and social policy the importance of caregiving roles and unpaid labor of all kinds, emotional and practical, in such ways was that it would be easier for all families to make decisions for themselves that reflect the unique spiritual goods of each person rather than be pressured into roles and configurations unsuited to them. 

Fortunately, younger generations seem much more prone to being drawn to flexible work and hours for both women and men, so that neither miss out on building up and forming their homes, families, and children. And I think many more men would, if there was no loss of social standing, support, or credibility involved, and if they were not assumed to be ill-suited to it, prefer to spend more time at home and be more intimately involved in the lives of their families.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#20, Feb 7, 2018 11:44am

When we argue about whether women ought to spend 12 hours a day away from their children and homes, we fail to address the question of why on earth we think it is healthy for the family for men to spend 12 hours a day away. How much of that is influenced, not by eternal spiritual verities, but by several generations of male absence from the home through first the labour excesses of the industrial revolution, and then by the privations of war on a grand scale and those households stripped of fathers through death or lasting psychological/emotional trauma, and then by policy trends that favour corporations over small and home-based businesses and housing trends that separate office from home so that lengthy commutes are accepted as normal? 

Katie van Schaijik

#21, Feb 7, 2018 12:19pm

I'm with you in deploring mens' absence from the home in the modern era (though in earlier eras, they were often absent for other reasons, like war), as well as reducing sexual difference to practical roles.

Nor would I describe my view as insisting that women have spiritual virtues inaccessible to men or vis versa. That sounds negative and divisive, and it's not what I mean.

I mean rather that femininity has real spiritual goods to offer that the world really needs, just as masculinity does, and that among the gifts of femininity is the power to create a home. She does it mainly by being present. Of course a woman can be physically present but emotionally absent. Likewise her "presence" can be felt even when she's not home, though not if she's seldom home.

A father's presence, taste, and behavior in the home aren't irrelevant to its spiritual character. They're crucial, including especially in the way they influence the woman's choices, moods and modes. I can affirm all that while holding that a home's spiritual character is primarily shaped by the woman.

Men and women are not interchangeable. Mothers and fathers are not interchangeable. 

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Feb 7, 2018 12:21pm

I offer the analogy of priesthood in the Church. It is a male vocation. Is this because men have virtues inaccessible to women? I certainly wouldn't put it that way. I don't see it that way. I see it rather as embodying an important (though ineffable) truth about masculinity, sexual complementarity, and the nature of men and priesthood.

They're not better than women, but they're different, and they're different in such a way that priesthood is suited to them and not to women.

One reason I think the Catholic Church has preserved the male priesthood, while other churches haven't is because the Catholic Church has tabernacles.  I see tabernacles as essentially feminine, in a way.

Rhett Segall

#23, Feb 9, 2018 8:53am

My point on the Harlow experiment, Kate, is simply to affirm that the physiognomy of women in general is more oriented towards nurturing and comforting then men's physiognomy, not only in the earliest stages of a child's growth but even in his/her later stages. The human yearning for comfort is very deep in the human soul and vital for family cohesion. It is Providential that the feminine physiognomy is oriented towards mothering. Of course, just as we work best with two arms,  two legs,  two eyes, and two ears, so too the family works best with the two sexes, each one having their proper gift, at St Paul reminds us (1Cor.7:7)

AthenaC

#24, Feb 10, 2018 9:48am

I don't think either men or women have any spiritual virtue inaccessible to the other, except perhaps those particularly and exclusively associated with the birthing and nursing of small children. I believe femininity and masculinity are primarily and rightly distinguished by virtue of the sex of the person acting--that it ought to be unnecessary for a woman to fret about fitting into any specific role because any rightly-ordered action will be "in the feminine mode" since she is a woman and inseparable from her female embodied self. 

This pretty much encapsulates where I am on this issue, with much more proper philosophical language than I tend to use. 

My husband and I have essentially flipped the usual gender roles.  I'm the breadwinner for my family and as such I am the one who spends the 12 hours a day outside the home (plus some weekend days and out-of-town travel).  My husband stays home, takes care of the kids and the house, and for him it's a point of pride that his wife doesn't lift a finger around the house.

Continued ....

AthenaC

#25, Feb 10, 2018 9:59am

Continued ...

Whenever I've had to manage the house by myself for a few days, it's become abundantly clear that I am better at his job (i.e. homemaking) than he is, but it's not because of some "feminine genius."  It's because my job involves time management, project management, and performance expectations every day that my husband simply doesn't have.  So when I bring those skills that I developed in my capacity as the "male" in the house and apply them to the "female" role, I kick butt at the "female" role.

I don't know how many men and women would be better at the other gender's typical role, because I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that most people don't have the fierce individualism required to buck societal expecations.  And also, in fairness, probably most people had gender roles figured in their upbringing in a way that neither my husband or I did, so finding roles that worked for us individually was probably much easier for us than it might be for other people.

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