I grew up in the Bible belt. I heard a LOT about the Proverbs 31 Woman–the wife of noble character. I attended whole bible studies about this woman described in Proverbs that we should all model our lives after! She’s busily working for her family and brings honor to her spouse.
And we have her to thank for that whole “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who fears the Lord, she ain’t playin” line from DC Talk. Before your time? C’mon, you remember these guys.
ANYHOW, upon further examination, you might notice that the Proverbs 31 woman isn’t doing all of the hard work alone. No, sir! She has SERVANTS. She has a HOUSEHOLD STAFF like an heiress in a British costume drama. A mom friend from our homeschool co-op pointed this out last week and all the moms said amen!
I realized that I’ve got this modern Proverbs 31 woman in my head. And I’m beating myself up for not getting as much done as I think this imaginary woman is doing. And since the Holy Scriptures tell us she’s dressed in fine linen and purple, I’m pretty sure I’m not looking as good as she is either. But, I also don’t have any servants. Not ONE. Not even a kitchen maid! Or a lone footman!
But the more I reflected on the whole scenario I realized that maybe the Proverbs 31 woman is a bit more like Lady Mary Crawley than I previously imagined.
Are you quite sure we shouldn’t have chosen the fine linen and purple, Anna?
So while aspiring to be a Proverbs 31 woman is grand, I think as moms we can develop a really warped perspective about what we can expect from ourselves. Can we be honest that the imaginary woman in our heads that has it all together might not be doing it all on her own? Maybe she has it all together because of the staff downstairs. Maybe if I had an entire household staff minding my children, cleaning my house, doing the laundry, and cleaning out my email inbox, I would have WAY more energy to rise early and heap financial and moral blessings upon my family like the Proverbs 31 woman.
Sure I can take on that project! The kids are upstairs with Nanny and the maids are doing all the laundry. No problem! Can I focus on super healthy meals? Why of course, just let Mrs. Patmore know what the most popular super foods are this week so she can plan accordingly. Oh this trim figure? Must be from walking on the estate grounds before coming in and having Anna dress me for dinner. Except none of that is my life.
Apart from my British manorial fantasy, I don’t have a household staff. And while I don’t plan to wallow in my lack of housekeepers, ladies maids, and nannies, can we talk about lowering our expectations for ourselves a little?
Most moms carry a weight of despair that we’re not doing enough. Our homes aren’t clean enough and our kids haven’t been bathed enough and we don’t have the energy we should to dive into homeschool or homework enough. We aren’t working out enough or making meals healthy enough or keeping the grocery bill low enough. We aren’t volunteering enough or pursuing careers enough or keeping enough clean underwear in the drawer.
When I watch Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs, I remember, hey! They’ve employed a whole team to keep their household afloat. Over here it’s JUST ME. I’m doing the scheduling, cooking, cleaning, and chauffeuring. I’m like Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, Anna, Daisy, and Branson all rolled into one pretending that I should be able to do it all and have time to spare for that pilates class so I can have Lady Mary’s toned arms. But there are only so many hours in the day!
So if I’m going to keep this family afloat, I need to acknowledge that A: This is hard and B: I can’t do it all perfectly with time to volunteer for the Ladies Aid Society or have perfectly coiffed hair. I’m with my kids all day, not just before tea time when Nanny brings them in to be inspected and cuddled before they trot off for their evening constitutional. Things get crazy.
If the household team is just us, can we cut ourselves some slack for not doing everything under the sun? And accept some help if we need it? We can do this, ladies.
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Pssstttt, Haley, you HAVE servants. They are also known as “the kids” in my house. The tricksy part is training them. And we still won’t be able to compete with Lady Mary but, sigh, a girl can wish.
Virgnia Woolf coined the phrase “the Angel of the House” to describe the perfect mother that the Victorians invented. 19th century history aside, she pointed out that by assigning every moment of every day to the care of others, and by making this a duty to her God, her country, her husband, and her children (in more or less that order), the patriarchy could effectively prevent women from even having time to ask for silly things like human rights. There’s a long history of asking women to internalize the message you describe; it efficiently has us participating in our own oppression. It’s not that we should neglect our families, but rather that this Angel who easily sets aside her own needs to serve everyone else must be revealed as the fiction she surely is. Not possible and not healthy!
Ignoring self-care can only last so long before physical and mental health suffers–at least that’s been my experience!
It is not a coincidence that the first cases of “hysteria” coincide with the rise of the middle class Angel Mother.
Yes! Not until modern society have women had to “do it all” – families lived multi-generationally and in community, even the middle class had help. I hate it so much, I don’t know how to improve our modern parenting – we could never afford help, and we live far from family. Anyway…sigh. BTW – on the DC Talk reference, it’s “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain but a woman who fears the Lord, she ain’t PLAYIN” (not “plain”). Many Biblical scholars think Proverbs 31 describes more than one woman, the “wise one” who follows God as compared to the “foolish one” in Proverbs (not just one person either), perhaps she is a precursor to the Blessed Mother. This is not prescriptive for “how to be a modern woman,” thank God!
LOL, Ari! I always thought it was plain. I’ll have to update that, haha! And yes, thank goodness it’s not prescriptive.
Oh my goodness… you posted a throw back dc Talk picture. That is AWESOME.
I aim to please!
Rachel R. says
Yes, yes, yes! I just posted earlier this week, myself, about why every Christian woman should be a home-maker — and why that doesn’t necessarily mean what we think. We have this idea that it’s our job to DO everything, when really it’s more our job to see to it THAT all the important things get done, whether that’s by doing them, delegating to the kids, hiring help, or whatever.
Amen, and YES!
Living a Catholic Fairy Tale says
I’m still adjusting to the fact, that I can’t do it all and that homes of families with little kids ARE messy.
I try to develop are certain kind of gallows humor that gets me through my messy days. 😉
I’m not very tidy myself, so add three kids and a husband who’s also relaxed on the whole messy house thing and well…you get a big mess, haha!
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Hannah @Sunshine and Spoons says
I JUST posted about this very subject on my blog today too!! But my post doesn’t have a throwback picture of DC Talk so obviously you win, lol.
So funny! Great minds 😉
While it certainly is common to be overly anxious about meeting standards set by someone else, not just for moms but for all women, and men too, I`m sure, there are also things we have now that the Proverbs 31 woman or Lady Mary did not. Like washing machines, dryers, dish-washers, fridges and deep freezers (perhaps Mary`s house had those), vacuum cleaners… They had a moral obligation to maintain a house big enough to let half the town stay over and eat from their table while we can make our homes as tiny as we like or can afford and no-one ever dares to suggest or say a word about who we can or can`t marry. Not to mention the possibility of sitting kids behind a screen to entertain them and spend days and weeks and months watching tv ourselves.
For me the literary character that gets closest to the Proverbs 31 woman is Almanzo Wilder`s mother Angeline in Farmer Boy. She did everything mentioned in Proverbs 31 and her husband and son adored the ground she walked on. Her portrayal in this book is likely seen through rosy glasses as Almanzo was old when Laura wrote it and it seems that her daughters did not think as highly of Angeline as Almanzo. But still I like her far better than Caroline who had a much more liberal husband and yet set her own limits tighter. Angeline knew how to lift up her husband who learned to keep certain kinds of sheep just so his wife would have better wool to make their clothes of and built an ice house so his wife could enjoy cold drinks in the summer. In all his strictness with their kids he allowed his wife to express opinions that Caroline would not have dreamed of saying and Angeline never set her foot in the stables or barn while living on a farm that depended on keeping animals because she didn`t want to. Her life was much closer in time to our own while still surrounded by many conditions that we don`t have anymore. She did not have servants, though her husband occasionally hired help for farm work. Having others work in their farm was a lot like Mary or the Proverbs 31 woman having servants in that they sensed it as their responsibility to provide work and livelihood for others in need. So Farmer Boy is a book worth studying for anyone who wants to be more like the Proverbs 31 woman.
I got the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle last year. It had some great things included, especially e-courses and conference recordings and I found some bloggers through it that I`m still following. It is a great resource but only for those who already have a heart for homemaking. It won`t teach anyone who`d rather not have anything to do with housework to love any of it.
It’s been so long since I’ve read Farmer Boy! It’s definitely time for a re-read!
Ingrid, so we’ll said. No offense Haley, though we do not have maids etc., we do have so MANY modern conveniences that have replaced maids (washer/dryer/dishwashers), and let’s be honest- TVs and computers not only for us, but solely for keeping the kids out of our hair on many many occasions. Modern day day nannies…
I go through spurts where I get so SICK and tired of having my tablet on hand all day long – whether it’s for email, checking out the blogs or Netflix- when I put it away for a day or two or more- it’s amazing how much more I accomplish around the house when it’s not there out to distract me. So in my own opinion, we are our own worst enemies…
We are a homeschooling family and yes, the house does, and will suffer. but I also do feel some deserved guilt for not having the house in better shape for my husband when he comes home- being on this stupid device distracts me from my kids and household duties!
I’m one of those “I can do it all” moms. I keep thinking to myself that if I could figure out how to get the kids involved it would be so much better, but I find myself doing it all anyway because it’s easier in the moment than taking the time to teach them. That and I feel like they won’t do it up to my standards and I’ll have to fix it anyway (kinda like when a guest loads the dishwasher to be helpful and then you have to reload it because it wasn’t right).
Anywho – I think all of this is my pride. And I’m on day 2 of the litany of humility. Hopefully it will help. I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to work toward a perfect love.
Oh Ginny, I actually need a little more of your personality to temper my loosey goosey haphazard way of running my home, lol! Together we could be THE PERFECT MOM! 😉
Oh my gosh. I talk a good game. You should see what it really looks like! Hah!
Rachel~At the Butterfly Ball says
OH I loved this! But I have just one small question, you mentioned the kids not being bathed enough…We’re supposed to bathe them too??? You mean playing in the kiddie pool on Saturday evening isn’t good enough before going to church on Sunday morning? Seriously? I mean I did at least rinse out the kiddie pool before refilling it, so the water was mostly clean, so that totally counts, right?
YES to the Bible belt/Proverbs 31 woman obsession. Funny, but I never picked up on the fact that she wasn’t flying solo! After converting, I remember being really flabbergasted that that other really wonderful woman in the Bible didn’t get any attention, and we were still talking about Proverbs 31 even on Mother’s Day!
NIna T says
I came to terms with “it’s always dirty” long ago. It’s hard but you can do it! Put the kids to good use! That’s what they’re for. Oh, and LOL at DC Talk. Funny you should mention that, because guess what I found in my closet during clean up week? And one of their books, too! To show my age, I was ‘down with the DC Talk.’
Thank you for writing this out- i was searching for articles written about this issue and came uoon your blog post. I have come to a similar conclusion recently as I realized I had far too high an expectation, based on how I was reading prov 31, and oddly it was not so much about my domestic performance, but rather that Im not OUT in the world doing asxmuch as this woman- buying and tending vineyards, creating clothing to sell, involved extensively in charitable work, etc.
And whole I agree with some commentors here that most of us living middle class existances today do have automated help that replaces some work servants did, we also typically (for good or bad) have much larger homes and more “stuff” to care for than a woman of the ancient world who dudnt have a staff. Furthermore, none of my automated machines fold and put away laundry, scrub tubs and toilets, mop floors, or prepare meals. Or parent!
I think what the Lord is showing me is that this passage is specifically about a KINGs wife, or a wife of a very wealthy noblewoman. A better comparison for today would be the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton). She has a large home and estare to manage, but she has a domestic staff to actually DO the thungs at home so that she can be free to assist her husband in his role as Prince. This means largely charitable and some embassadorial endeavors. And many noble women also work to bring in income to the estate.
So- what Im realizing is what I, as a woeking/lower-middle class modern wife/mom need to take away from Prov 31 is that this woman:
1. Loves the Lord, and does her work out of her desire to honor Him.
2. Loves her husband, and fits her lifes work in a way that compliments HIS role in society. I know this is not a popular notiin today, but I think the Bible is clear we are to be our husbands helper. That means OUR husbands, not King Lemuel. My husband doesnt need me out cultivating financial prowess or showing up to charitable oublic events or dressed in finest apparel and on his arm at givernment functions, with a household ready to host the leaders of soxiety (and those are all very good and noble things to do ifvthat IS your husband). For me, my husband works long hours for not a huge paycheck at a job hes not crazy about to support his family, and what he needs me to do is keep the homefires burning so that when he comes home he has a place of refuge and solace and a space to father our children and speak into their lives. This is very freeing to me bec for years Ive felt I needed to do MORE outside the home, but Im learning to limit those activities to two times a week or so so I can focus on our home, which is what serves MY husband best. He doesnt need a vineyard planted, he needs clean underwear and a good dinner haha. ?
Thanks again for the article. God bless!!
This is exactly why, to piggy back on your revived post yesterday about the mental workload, I disagree with the idea that it is lazy or wrong to hire help when you can. I work full time and so does my husband. We have a housekeeper. She’s been with us for ten years and I love her forever. It provides employment for her and takes something off my plate. Running a home is a lot of work that requires time and attention. It is unreasonable to act as if it can be done in the “extra hours.” Rant over.
As someone who has a housekeeper for about 3 hours a week, let me tell you AIN’T NOBODY GOT IT TOGETHER. My house is still messy and I still get caught feeling like it’s caving in on me and I’m a failure.
I am slowly learning that there is work attached to every gift. I prayed that God would give me a big house so I could have lots of babies and use my home to build His kingdom through hospitality. But I am constantly aghast (aghast, I tell you!) at how much work I need to do to keep His gift afloat. Even with a housekeeper. My mom tried her best to warn me, but I just wouldn’t listen. I had no clue how much work there would be.
The good part of all of this is 1) it helps build my humility and compassion. I pretty much never judge another woman or mom for her homemaking or child-rearing capabilities. (Honestly gals. And it’s so freeing to let go of the judgement!) It has helped me check my pride because I know that I can’t keep it together even with help, so I shouldn’t be critical of anyone. And 2) it helps me build my work ethic. Turns out I’m super lazy, but I had a false sense that I had a great work ethic because I was a college athlete. I literally threw my body on a gym floor every day for hours “for the team.” I did everything “for the team,” but it was actually all very self-serving. I got awards and it was something that I loved, so even though playing a sport was crazy hard, it was hard work that I liked and that I was acknowledged for. Now that I have to do thankless chores that I despise, I have really tested my work ethic. And BOY IS GOD MERCIFUL! He just keeps pushing me on, keeps giving me grace, keeps working with me, and keeps showing me areas where I can improve (or things I shouldn’t be worried about.)
Also, “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who finds a man to do the cooking and cleaning is proof that God exists.”