Beyond Cradles and Careers

Beyond Cradles and Careers
By: Leonora Aquino- Gonzales
Retrieved from Vol. 8 No. 3 (1993)


Liv Ullman, a Swedish actress, wrote an autobiography entitled “Changing”.  It begins with the story of her birth: 

I was born in a small hospital in Tokyo. Mama says she remembers two things: A mouse running across the floor, which she took as a sign of good luck. A nurse was bending down and whispering apologetically: “I’m afraid it’s a girl. Would you prefer to inform your husband yourself?” 

Such recollections evoke a variety of responses. Some people might feel indignant at the apparent bias against women that was prevalent in Japan then. My spontaneous reaction was laughter, maybe because opinions about women today have changed. Couples no longer anxiously wait for the birth of a boy before practicing birth control. Today, many women stand out as reliable leaders in the community, church, country, and the world. They are no longer relegated to the background or ignored in decision-making. With the healthier outlook on women, they now face a variety of options. Traditionally, the only place for the woman is the home. Today she sees herself also in other workplaces. Before, the woman is totally in bondage to traditional expectations. Now, she is free to choose among a wide array of options. Freedom, however, is always accompanied by responsibility. But even before she can assume the responsibility to choose wisely, the woman must start with the right perspective.


The Right Perspective

I learned the right perspective over time. Learning was challenging and involved all my faculties and feelings. Often, I rebelled against God, asking funny if not stupid questions: “Did you allow me to work at wit’s end to get my MA only to find myself staying at home?” But in all my struggles, I had to be sensitive to the small voice within me. 

When I was a student, I learned by using my mind most of the time. With parenting, I had to learn with my heart in my mind. It’s tough. I have never read a single book on parenting that says parenting is easy. 

One of the tough things I have learned is this thing called “balancing”. When I say I have learned, I do not mean that I’ve mastered the art and can perform anything before an audience. I still need to learn every day how to balance. Each day is different, with new challenges set before me. The premise that I have to work for balance is essential. The trapeze artist does not have to be told that he should keep his balance. He fully knows that it may mean the end of his career or even of his own life if he falls. 

Why not settle at home and just look after the children? Or why not pursue a career, earn enough money to hire nannies and domestic helpers? Why not just concentrate on one and be happy with it? 

As I see the need to hold on to these two, I look into myself. This is not easy to do. There were issues I grappled with and could not accept myself. The analogy with the trapeze artist ends. A single slip of the trapeze artist could be fatal, but with the balancing act of a mother, it takes some consistent mistakes before the fruits or non-fruits crop up. In my case, I admit I have had several slips already, but I have always managed to pause and gain my balance. However, there were many times that I got stuck with the balancing process that the reason to maintain my balance got clouded. And so, another act of balancing must start all over again.


What’s My Worth? 

My reason for maintaining my equilibrium is tied up to my perceived worth of myself. To measure my worth, I need a serious look at myself. I don’t find this easy. Being Filipino, I tend to think in relation to others. Other women find it easier when they define themselves in relation to what they do. The usual questions are:  What am I doing? How much does it contribute to the family income? How does it affect the community or society in general? Am I good at it? Do people recognize me for what I do? How do I see myself on the corporate ladder in 2-3 years? The Filipino in me tells me to look at myself as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a sister, and so on. Hence, most of my reflective thinking revolves around relationships. It’s more undefined and difficult to measure. It’s more complicated than just computing my monthly salary or looking at my accomplishments or performance bonuses. The most career-oriented Filipino woman values her relationship with her family. I think we should be thankful for this high regard for relationships. Many of us still believe the saying that “No amount of success outside the home can compensate for a broken relationship in the home.” I guess that given a choice, many working mothers today would quit their jobs and do homemaking full time. If I may push it further, many working mothers feel unhappy or even guilty about not giving full-time attention to the home and the family. 

A part of me asks: How am I as a writer? How do I look at myself in the corporate world? How much is my worth outside the home? Where do I see myself when my children are off to school and gone the whole day? What will I do when my children begin to prefer going out with their friends or “barkada” rather than with us? The Jollibee commercial always touches me: the mother was so used to going out with the whole family. She realized that her two older children have their own world to live in. She now has to eat at Jollibee only with her husband and her youngest child. Sooner or later, her youngest child will also go out with his own group of friends. Of course, I am relieved with the ending, which shows them all accidentally meet at Jollibee and end up eating as a whole family. 

In reality, the ending may not always be as happy as this commercial. Unless the mother who gives up her career and all “for the sake of the family” confronts herself with crucial questions, she will never be prepared for the “empty nest stage” of their marriage. For full-time homemaker or career woman, some questions may be worth pondering: 

  1. What matters to me the most? What or who should count in my scale of priorities? 
  2. Am I ready to work for what is most valuable to me? Am I willing to give up certain things or persons in exchange for what is important to me? 
  3.  Am I happy? Do I feel some regret or guilt? Am I fulfilled? Or do I feel used and abused? 
  4. Why do I stay at home to do homemaking? Is this out of pressure or expectations of the family or the church? Why do I work? Is it out of economic necessity? To pursue a career? To prove myself or to get fulfillment? 

These are some basic questions where the answers will always touch on one issue. What is my self-worth as a woman? Literature abounds telling women and men that they are only as good as their work. The world tells us our work is who we are and what we are about. Artists think this way naturally. Doing less than what they feel they should do or doing other things is like cutting through the very fiber of their existence and destroying them as creative human beings. But while the world views our worth based on what is seen on the outside, as Christians, we should be at peace with ourselves that the Word views us from within. Not from what we do or achieve materially. Not even from the relationships that we build and nurture. 

We work and relate well with others and build stable homes and try to achieve much with whatever we lay our hands on because of the wealth of resources within us. 

Our most significant wealth is measured not in terms of riches nor relationships but of the potential and power given freely to anyone who believes in Christ.

Whether taking care of the home or pursuing a career, it all depends on how we look at it. It is easy to make an idol out of either one. Even the home can stand in the way between the most dedicated and her Creator. We should be conscious of this. A common misconception is that a career is more in accordance with the measures of the world and not of the spiritual. But I say it still boils down to our perspective. When we begin to say: “No matter what it takes, I will do this or that…” then idolatry is starting to seep in.

“A healthy self-image is seeing our self the way God sees us, no more, no less.”


The Woman of the Lord 

How are we to respond as daughters of God? Whether homemaking or working in an office, we are to love God and honor Him. Proverbs 31:30–“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Lest we misinterpret this to mean that the wife should not bother to fix herself and try not to look pretty, let us look at the whole passage from verses 1-31. The text does not indicate that there is no place for beauty and charm in the woman of the Lord. If we carefully read verse 17, the woman is pictured as one who takes care of her body. The Tagalog Bible says it more clearly: “Gayunma’ y naiingatan ang kamay at katawan upang matupad ang lahat ng tungkulin araw-araw.” In verse 13, she is described as very industrious and hardworking, giving long hours to her work. The Tagalog translation reads: “wala siyang tigil sa paggawa, hindi halos nagpapahinga.” I would have shuddered at the picture of this woman had I not come across verse 17. I imagine her taking time to rest, perhaps doing aerobics, visiting the beauty parlor every so often. She does this because she knows that keeping oneself fit, pretty, and feeling good will enable her to carry on with her daily tasks. There is no place then for the shabby woman who enslaves herself in work (whether at home or the office), only to spread herself so thinly over so many areas and wearies out so quickly. We must endure physically, emotionally, spiritually. Verse 25 may even shock the martyred woman who feels that she does not even have time to remove her curlers (my husband calls them batteries which women put at night to recharge themselves). It says she is clothed with strength. This does not mean having to wear expensive or queenly clothes. Rather verse 25 tells a woman with a strong sense and regard of self – secure and dignified. She takes time to look her best always. Many mothers unconsciously think that because they have given birth and have married, it is perfectly all right to “look like a mother.” Mukhang Nanay, as we would derogatorily say. By this, we mean getting fat, dressing in dusters with hair all mussed up with curlers, not bothering to bathe or take a facial wash. 

Before we conclude that the passage refers only to a full-time homemaker, let us look at verses 13-18. While we see this woman worthy of praise as one doing traditional chores, like working with eager hands (v. 13) or perhaps needlework, selecting wool and flax, weaving, and sewing, she is also described as traveling far and wide and providing food for the household. Some eyebrows may rise with this description, but let’s even look further. She is also engaged in a profitable trade. (v.24) so she is also in business, contributing significantly to the family income.

Further, she buys real estate (v.16). She is a skilled manager and keeps a well-ordered household. She knows how to delegate tasks (v. 27). She also has time for the people outside her home and works well with and for the community, even sharing her material and spiritual blessings with others (v. 20). 

But on top of all these activities and commitments is her relationship with her husband and children. Verses 28-29 are key to a homemaker or a part-time worker, or a full-time employee. “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:28-29). When your husband and children call you blessed, I think you have successfully balanced your work inside and outside the home and have managed to direct all your homemaking or career efforts for the good of your family. 

I think this is possible with a woman who has the right perspective. A woman energized from within. Her focus is not only on her physical appearance (charm and beauty) nor on her business pursuits. “A reverential fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of all wisdom” (Prov. 1:7). 

So, what is my worth? 1 Peter 1:18 says it so beautifully. “For you were bought not with silver or gold but with the precious blood of our Lord Jesus…” God has loved me so much that I need not prove anything to the world. Amid my busy schedule and never-ending demands from home and the office, I can still be quiet and like a weaned child at its mother’s breast (Psalm 131). How great is His love that even if a mother should forget her child, He will never leave me nor forsake me? (Is. 49:15-16).


Women and Work

If there is nothing I can do or not do that will prove my worth to God, is there really a better option between my family and my work? To be more specific, should I work outside the home and leave my family behind? What are my considerations? Is it a choice of one over the other? Should I give up one to accommodate the other? Does working outside the home mean deserting my family? Can I be a good mother and still pursue a career? If we go back to Proverbs 31, three verses speak to me. Verse 27-29, “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” This woman is a mother like me. The passage does not seem to make any distinction between homemaking or the traditional role of a housewife vis-a-vis her work outside the home, which either contributes to the welfare of her home or that of her community. All her housework and her job result in good for her family. Verse 28 implies that despite her many activities, she maintains a very healthy and loving relationship with the people who matter to her the most—her husband and her children. The very affirming comment, “but you surpass them all,” is like getting an O (for outstanding) in any office performance appraisal. This is a woman worth far more than rubies (v. 10). 

The husband here is pictured not as a master enslaving the wife but as one who supports her and gives her full trust in all her endeavors (v. 11). This is important to the wife, especially if she has a demanding job inside and outside the home. He is not threatened by the economic activities of the wife, which men usually do. Instead, he expresses his confidence by praising her and letting other people hear how highly he regards her (v. 29). 

The choice then is either career or home? Which is more important? Both are important; it depends on the perspective, how you look at it, the needs of the family that vary according to the age of the children and the people around them. However, the attitude of many is that if the woman stays at home to do full-time homemaking, does not have a job in the office, or a stable income to contribute to the family income, she is just considered a plain ordinary housewife. This is sad. What makes it sadder is that most homemakers agree with this outlook and often are the ones who propagate this big lie about themselves. I have, for three years, been into full-time homemaking and relied mainly on the income of my husband. My mother, who had the earnest desire to see her daughter gain fame and glory, pitied me and asked if my husband was deterring me from getting a job. My decision to quit work came at a time when I just got my master’s degree in communication research from the State University. She said, “It has all gone to waste now, my child.” I firmly but lovingly told her that I did not go to school just to work and be employed somewhere. I studied because I needed to be equipped wherever I would go or be —a job outside the home or a “career” at home. Yet why not? Parenting is a career. You have to build your confidence, prepare, and train yourself for it. To me, the basic skills of management, the psychology to handle human dynamics, and how to relate with colleagues in the corporate world are also developed in the home as a homemaker. You need the same level of intelligence and skills when you become a housewife as when you become an executive. I remember when President Cory was at her peak of popularity, and my husband teased me, “Oh, now I know why you quit your job and want to be a housewife. You’re training yourself to be President.”

 A close friend gave me a birthday card that I treasured. I learned from her that she got this from Elizabeth Elliot’s’ newsletter. It reads, 

“The most creative job in the world involves:

Taste
Psychology
Handicraft
Law
Pediatrics
Recreation
Designing
Economics
Geriatrics
Accounting

Decorating
Cuisine
Horticulture
Religion
Entertainment
Transportation
Medicine
Community
Maintenance
Management

Education
Literature
Government
Fashion
Purchasing
Romance
Art/Ecology
Relations
Direct Mail

Anyone who can handle all these has to be somebody special. She is a homemaker.”


About the Author:

Leonora Aquino – Gonzales, along with her husband Josil, is one of the movers behind the Christian Writers Fellowship. She heads the Resource Mobilization and Communication Office of Tulay sa Pag-unlad, Inc. She is a mother to two sons.

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