Motherhood, Homemaking,
and Liberal Arts Education

By Jean Humphreys
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Dallas Baptist University

Photo Jean Humphreys is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Dallas Baptist University. She teaches various courses including some favorites such as Death and Dying, Society and Mass Media, Social Psychology, and Society and the Information Superhighway. She is currently developing an Introduction to Sociology to be taught online. She fills her spare time with church and PTA activities, watching recitals and ball games, and chauffeuring. She and her husband, John, have twin boys and one teenage daughter and live in the Fort Worth area.

This paper will attempt to delineate the value of a liberal arts education for a woman who has chosen the traditional roles of motherhood and homemaking, either for a life course or a season of life. In order to attempt to deal with this topic, this paper first will deal with the value of a liberal arts education and then attempt to describe the traditional roles of motherhood and homemaking.

Why should a woman obtain a liberal arts education if for some reason, she may later find herself at home and not working in the outside world? Is there something more valuable in obtaining a liberal arts education rather than merely having a degree? This paper will attempt to delineate the value of a liberal arts education for a woman who has chosen the traditional roles of motherhood and homemaking, either for a life course or a season of life.

In order to attempt to deal with this topic, this paper first will deal with the value of a liberal arts education. A liberal arts education should enable one to think for oneself, to be aware of a world outside of one's own realm. When the president of a small Christian college, was asked how a liberal arts education could be judged, he replied that the students should be taught to question and if they were not asking questions then the faculty was not doing its job. Malcom Muggeridge, in Things Past (1979) explained,

The basic failure of our time, future historians may well decide, has lain in the too ready acceptance of current orthodoxies, whether through fear of being suspected of rebelliousness and consequently punished, or just as a result of succumbing to mass persuasion.... To a civilized and free mind any enforced orthodoxy must be abhorrent. It is inconceivable that the last word should ever be said about anything, or that history should ever reach any sort of finality. Non-conforming is a recognition that Man and all his works are inherently imperfect, and therefore susceptible to criticism, if not ridicule. It is tremendously invigorating, adding a quite special spice to life. As a habit of mind, it is greatly to be recommended (pp. 102-103).

One of the duties and privileges of parents is to educate their children. Allan Bloom (1987) describes this duty saying "In teaching a language and providing names for all things, it transmits an interpretation of the order of the whole of things" (p. 57). The parents may supplement this education with an outside school, but it is the responsibility of the parent to provide this education. A Christian parent must provide an education which encourages a broad based knowledge and understanding, not only of the "facts", but also of the reasons and questions behind these facts. Studies of altruistic behavior indicate that during the Holocaust there was a group of individuals who chose to operate in a different dimension of altruism rather than one of fear or autocratic blunder. This group has been termed the "righteous Gentiles" or the "rescuers" of the Jews. Studies have been done on what set these people apart from the majority who chose to ignore the plight of the Jews. There is not a consistent Christian background that comes forth from these studies, in fact the majority of Christians ignored the plight of the Jews. Among the rescuers there were many Christians as well as many non-Christians. Several shared characteristics of the family background of the rescuers were: the families were nurturing, with a parent who was both altruistic and who portrayed a tolerance for different people, and the family provided an upbringing that was filled with independence and discipline with explanations, not an autocratic form (Fogelman, 1994).

A liberal arts education gives one the language to teach his or her children tolerance and democracy, both in theory and practice. This education enables one to have both the tools and the foundation to engage his or her children in a life where they are not limited by the circumstances and mind sets of their surroundings. Reading good books both to and with one’s children, as well as having one’s children observe that reading is important to their parents and something to be treasured is one way to begin to educate one’s children.

The more limited our language is, the more limited we are; the more limited the literature we give to our children, the more limited their capacity to respond, and therefore, in their turn, to create. The more our vocabulary is controlled, the less we will be able to think for ourselves. We do think in words, and the fewer words we know, the more restricted our thoughts. As our vocabulary expands, so does our power to think..... If we limit and distort language, we limit and distort personality (L'Engle, 1988, p. 149).

Often Christian parents may see the practical value of a college education in monetary or marital terms but not see the value of a true liberal arts education. Parents may sometimes be unsure of having their children achieve beyond their achievements and think beyond their thoughts. Parents sometimes put God into such a small box that they are afraid that if their children learn to think in the fashion of the liberal arts education, the children will see beyond their spiritual world or that their God will not hold up to their questions. In Nash’s (1996) Advice to parents, he emphasizes the importance of the mind.

Too often, Christians condense the first and greatest commandment; we are willing to love God with heart, soul, and strength-just as long as we can get our minds off the hook (see Matthew 22:37). But this practice of compartmentalizing knowledge into "sacred" and "secular" boxes is unbiblical and leads to the dangerous notion that secular knowledge is somehow unfit for the spiritual Christian. Such an attitude creates the intellectual equivalent of ostriches: Christians with their heads buried, unable to apply their faith to disciplines like economics, law, or philosophy - disciplines that desperately need the true foundation, Jesus Christ. Although the truth God has revealed in scripture is sufficient for faith and conduct, it is not exhaustive. The truth we can find outside the Bible is also important and worthy of our attention and careful study. We must reject the mistaken belief that faith somehow provides the Christian with a shortcut that eliminates any need for a grounding in so-called secular areas of learning. Put simply, if parental concern is functioning on all the proper levels, it will include a concern that children develop mentally as well as spiritually. In order for parents to have the same degree of input on the level of ideas as they might have, say, on the emotional and spiritual level, the parents themselves must keep in touch with the contemporary world of ideas (p.2).

As children grow, a liberal arts foundation will enable their parents to grow with them and to understand their ideas and questions.

In, Bring Out the Best in People, McGinnis (1985) tells the story of a girl who was raised on the Lazy B Ranch on the New Mexico and Arizona border. The adobe house had no running water and no electricity and no school within driving distance. Her mother used the Calvert method of home instruction when she was young and then put her in boarding schools. This girl went on to college, then on to law school, and became the first woman Supreme Court justice in the United States.

What causes a woman like Sandra Day O'Connor to go so far? Intelligence, of course. And lots of inner drive. But much of the credit goes to a determined little ranch woman sitting in her adobe house at night, reading to her children hour after hour.... (1985, p. 20).

The title of this paper is Motherhood, Homemaking, and the Liberal Arts. Motherhood or parenthood is in today's world a more acceptable topic than homemaking. Homemaking carries with it the connotation of the "grunge" work involved in maintaining a household, that "anyone could do." In Smoke on the mountain: An interpretation of the ten commandments, Joy Davidman (1954) gives a wonderful interpretation of the price that may be paid in society when families and homemaking are degraded.

Housework today has been reduced to a dull and crude sort of labor, tiring but unrewarding, which bores the average housewife so much that she has to listen to the radio to take her mind off it. What sort of rich human experience can a child get on such terms? ... Still we are paying too high a price for our gains, paying in terms of juvenile delinquency and adult unhappiness, for those who have never known warmth and love when they were small are seldom capable of much love when they grow big. We pay in restlessness, in desperate pleasure-seeking, in the lack of moral standards - our teeth are set on edge by the sour grapes of our fathers' eating. No gain in social efficiency can save a community that offends against the little ones. And let us be honest about it: our modern cities have created a society in which children are in the way. They are physically in the way, and therefore we find them in the way emotionally too. There are many who do not want them at all, like the girl who recently told this writer that a civilized woman can't "realize her creative impulses through self-expression" with anything so dirty as a baby around! Our problem, then, pending reconstruction of the world, is to reconstruct our own lives so that we give our children as much warmth and attention and time and teaching that the present world will allow. At least we might give them our leisure. Let us drop the disastrous cant that persuades women, often against their won hearts, that they have a "duty" to neglect their children for civic affairs, or broadening cultural activities, or even heaven help us, for "realizing their creative potentialities through self-expression in a rewarding career." Let us drop too the curious theory that the care and teaching of children are entirely women's work, and that their father should have as little to do with them as possible. Most of all, let us remind the innumerable Americans who don't seem to know it that begetting and rearing a family are far more real and rewarding than making and spending money (pp. 66; 69).

A liberal arts education prepares a parent for a rich home life, where children can learn to ask questions and seek understanding. Again, one of the primary duties of a parent is to educate the child, and in that education teach the children to question. Through a true liberal arts education the child will be able to weigh anything that the world has to offer in the light of God's truth. In the Presence of the Kingdom, Jacques Ellul (1989) speaks of the practice of Christian hospitality in the details and the household. Ellul states "absolutely everything, the smallest details which we regard as indifferent, ought to be questioned, placed in the light of faith, examined from the point of view of the glory of God" (p. 122).

The home needs to have the atmosphere, the "homemaking" that creates an environment where children are able to ask questions. The home should be full of books and conversation and time for work and play.

The child should enjoy an atmosphere where life can be explored in a rich way. Little holy hedges are not what is wanted. Understanding the objective certainty of the truth of God gives an atmosphere that is free from fear. We can face up to people's ideas. Questions can be asked. We can talk about them right in the open.... They should be able to enjoy what is good, and yet be able to see what ideas are wrong (Macaulay, 1984, p. 74).

What is the other side to motherhood? Life at home is not always candlelight and fulfilling, intellectual conversation. In Children first: what society must do - and is not doing - for children today, Penelope Leach (1994) speaks of the need for parents to be involved in their children's lives and the consequences of the abandonment or partial abandonment of homes. Leach also describes the obstacles that a mother may face. "Becoming mothers disadvantages women in adult individual - fulfillment stakes because giving birth expands their experience of individuality to encompass the baby and makes it impossible to seek self-fulfillment that is separate from fulfillment of his perceived needs and wishes" (p. 39).

Madeline L'Engle (1988) described her own struggles in motherhood and the alienation which she sometimes felt.

I loved my children, but I hungered for adult conversation.... No matter how much we love our children there are many things we cannot talk about in front of them, things that we need from time to time to say. Let us try to remember for their sakes as well as ours that every once in a while for our development we must be alone (p.156).

Although the daily grind is often the hardest part of life to deal with, it may well be the most important part of the lives of children. What happens in the home when children are infants and must have their basic need to be able to trust someone met? What happens when they are preschoolers and ask the same question over and over and want to know why the sun is higher than the clouds and who made God? What happens when they come home from school when they are in elementary school and ask why their friend's parents are always fighting and may get a divorce? What happens when they are in junior high and want to know why people are so different and why isn't the world fair? What happens when they are in high school and want to date someone and because their parents have been so involved in their own lives that their parents don't know who their friends are?

Parents are given the delicate task of training an imperfect and highly impressionable child who is not their "property" but is entrusted to them for a time, that they may curb the natural tendencies which are useless or destructive and guide him to God. In all the daily routines at home we were taught.... But what if our parents had not been there? What if we had seen more of some other "care-giver" than we saw of Daddy and Mother? The power of influence would have been diluted (Elliot, 1992, p.124).

In this past election year candidates bombarded the public espousing family values. Both political and religious leaders have told how America has declined and the answer is a return to the family values. In today's political rhetoric, all problems seem to stem from the "breakdown of the family." C. S. Lewis (1970) saw many of the same tendencies in the 1940's. In "The sermon and the lunch" he speaks of the vicar's family.

The problem is not that he is insincere but that he is a fool. He is not talking from his own experience of family life at all: he is automatically reproducing a sentimental tradition -- and it happens to be a false tradition. That is why the congregation has stopped listening to him.
If Christian teachers wish to recall Christian people to domesticity - and I, for one, believe that people must be recalled to it - the first necessity is to stop telling lies about home life and to substitute realistic teaching (pp. 284-285).

A true liberal arts education enables a parent to do this - to realize that a home must be both a haven and a challenge. A home must be a place where children learn to ask questions and are given the freedom to ask them and to grow. A home is not a panacea to life's problems, but a place to discover answers.

Works Cited

Bloom, Allan (1987). The closing of the American mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Davidman, Joy (1954). Smoke on the mountain: An interpretation of the ten commandments. Lewisville, KY: Westminister Press.

Elliot, Elizabeth (1992). The shaping of a Christian family. , TN: Oliver Nelson.

Ellul, Jacques (1989). The presence of the kingdom. Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard.

Leach, Penelope (1994). Children first: What society must do - and is not doing - for children today. New York: Vintage Books.

L'Engle, Madeleine (1972). A circle of quiet. New York: The Seabury Press.

L'Engle, Madeline (1988). Two-part invention: The story of a marriage. New York: Farrar, Staus, and Giroux.

Lewis, C. S. (1970). God in the dock: Essays on theology and ethics, (ed. by Walter Hooper). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Macaulay, Susan Schaeffer (1984). For the children’s sake: Foundations of education for home and school. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.

McGinnis, Alan Loy (1985). Bring out the best in people. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.

Muggeridge, Malcolm 1979). Things past. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Nash, Ron (1996). Advice for parents., Leadership U..