The Exalted Station of Motherhood

In my boldest of moments, I’ve not come close to this candidness about the role of women and motherhood.  Take it for what it is, but it’s hard to deny that much of Dabney’s predictions have come true; only it’s hard for us to see, mainly because all of us have at least some of the “debauched” disposition he describes…and notice, there is nothing of insult or demeaning in his words; just blunt reflections on reality.

 

By R.L. Dabney

“But now, what will be the character of children reared under such a domestic organization as this? If human experience has established anything at all, it is the truth of the principle announced by the Hebrew prophet when he declared that the great aim of God in ordaining a permanent marriage tie between one man and one woman was “that He might seek a godly seed.”   God’s ordinance, the only effective human ordinance, for checking and curbing the first tendencies to evil, as domestic, parental government.

When the family shall no longer have a head, and the great foundation for the subordination in children in the mother’s example is gone; when the mother shall have found another sphere than her home for her energies; when she shall have exchanged the sweet charities of domestic love and sympathy for the fierce passions of the hustings; when families shall be disrupted at the caprice of either party, and the children scattered as foundlings from their hearthstone,–it requires no wisdom to see that a race of sons will be reared nearer akin to devils than to men. In the hands of such a bastard progeny, without discipline, without homes, without God, the last remains of social order will speedily perish, and society will be overwhelmed in savage anarchy.

The very traits which fit her to be the angel of a virtuous home unfit her to meet the agitations of political life, even as safely as does the more rugged man. The hot glare of publicity and passion will speedily deflower her delicacy and sweetness. Those temptations, which her Maker did not form her to bear, will debauch her heart, developing a character as much more repulsive than that of the debauched man as the fall has been greater. The politicating woman, unsexed and denaturalized, shorn of the true glory of her femininity, will appear to men as a feeble hybrid manikin dwarf, with all the defects and none of the strength of the male. Instead of being the dear object of his chivalrous affection, she becomes his importunate rival, despised without being feared!”

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27 Responses to “The Exalted Station of Motherhood”

  1. liz says:

    Wow. I think that would be hard for a lot of people to hear/read. I am a reluctant working mom ( a teacher- so at least it has a semblence of being better, my hours are their hours, I can check on them throughout the day) mostly in deferrence to my DH who wants me to work.
    I have often thought of childcare/aftercare settings (having worked in them) as having a Lord of the Flies mentality- children learning from other children , minimal adults to guide them, and even then it’s often just crowd control. People don’t want to hear it, but it is the truth. Actually 2 of the most courteous and kind children I know are not from a churchgoing family. The parents are not overly “nice” or volunteering types. But both parents are with those kids all the time. The dad works in the home, and the mom does some part time work, also in the home. I have no doubt that these kids are good because they have an almost constant parental guide. They are learning from grown ups, not children. They re not “scattered to the wind.” The parents are not “well off” but they present a loving example to their children.
    And the line that jumped out at me was the last “Instead of being the dear object of his chivalrous affection, she becomes his importunate rival, despised without being feared!” How true is that! We are still viewed as weaker, inferior, but now without the benefit of being protected, taken care of, or treated with chivalry.

    Great post.

  2. wordwarrior says:

    Liz,

    Wise reflections…it still amazes me that in general, parents have been convinced that somehow their children may be better off with other children instead of the continuous training and oversight of parents. Years ago, this would have been considered absurd thinking.

  3. Kelly L says:

    I always have a hard time saying women can’t do something. Mostly because I do not want to tell my daughter she cannot do something. (We have told her we want her to please God more than anything else, even us. Hopefully that will guide her.) But my first thoughts when Sarah Palin came on the scenes was, “what about those poor kids?” God has never said we cannot do anything. But He lovingly gives us the Bible to show us what He would like for us to do. What beautiful balance He wants for us. Thanks for the great post. And so glad everyone’s prayers were answered with a “yes.”

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Heh. These kinds of things always seem to beg for a sarcastic response. One’s immediate temptation is to say things like, “Oh no, I would not want all that nasty autonomy and self-determination and opportunity to participate in public life because guys like the Rev. Dabney might not like me, and that would be just terrible.”

    Also, the notion of women being “angels” anywhere is humorous. Women, whether we stay at home or go forth into the world, are just human, nothing more, nothing less.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    “Instead of being the dear object of his chivalrous affection, she becomes his importunate rival, despised without being feared!”

    This was also a bizarre statement. It actually sounds like a childish threat.

    What the Rev. Dabney fails to appreciate about his threat (perhaps because he lived in a time before women participated in public life in any significant numbers) is that when men underestimate women in adversarial professional situations (such as a court case, a business negotiation, or a political campaign), that is a problem for the men who make this error, not the women. Men underestimate women at their peril because women are, in fact, just as effective in public life as men.

  6. Word Warrior says:

    Elizabeth,

    Sarcasm aside, the one thing feminists don’t address (and act like doesn’t even exist) is the absolute MESS we’ve gotten into since women became “liberated” from the home and left children to flounder. Never in history have homes been so broken, never have children grown into such demented individuals, never have women been unhappier by all statistics, never have husbands been more irresponsible towards marriage–all in the name of this wonderful thing called feminism and liberation, which underneath it’s feel-good definitions of “giving women rights” has really done little more than destroy the family.

    I’ll take the facts, ma’am, regardless of how it settles on my feelings. Home, husband and children and the incredible freedoms that come with that position is a place I only aspire to…not something to be dreaded or feared as an inferior role. Once we get that, we would be a different and GREAT country, just like we once were.

  7. Word Warrior says:

    Elizabeth,

    Dabney wasn’t suggesting men were *underestimating* women, nor was he suggesting they weren’t as effective (this has never been a claim by those who exalt the role of women in the home.)

    He was addressing the inevitable results (based on the way human nature was created by God) of what happens when men and women become competitors instead of each fulfilling their appropriate roles. Both are equally capable of whatever role he/she sets the mind to; that’s entirely beside the point.

  8. Deanna says:

    Blessings to you, Kelly.
    I’ll reread this post again in a quieter environment later in the day when things aren’t so hectic, but for right now…I like how the author has written his perspestive. Agree with the brunt of it except the part -it requires no wisdom to see that race of sons will be reared nearer akin to devils than to men.

    I believe it DOES REQUIRES WISDOM to know the difference along with knowledge, observation and practical godly common sense.

    Did I misunderstand his wording…is he saying that people will think it takes no wisdom? Okay, hope you’ll clarify this statement for me, I’m overtired.

    Blessings to you and may you take it abit easier as you draw near to delivery.
    ~Deanna~ from Kansas

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Hmmm . . .

    Dabney clearly says that men will never “fear” women in public life but instead “despise” them. That is the claim I am addressing. I don’t know exactly what he means by “fear.” (Literal fear? Respect? Who knows?) The point is that it would be silly for a man not to foresee the possibility of defeat at the hands of a woman opponent.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    You say that feminists don’t address the mess we have gotten into allegedly as a result of feminism — but the idea of a “mess” is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t think we are in a mess at all. While society is never perfect, I see us as a happier, healthier, more child-friendly place than ever before.

  11. Word Warrior says:

    Deanna,

    I think he meant simply that it would be obvious to everyone that our children would suffer dearly for their lack of involved upbringing…i.e. “even an idiot” could see it.

  12. Word Warrior says:

    Elizabeth,

    Please take this in the sincerity it is meant, with no sarcasm intended….but are you serious? That’s the kind of brainwashing the feminists movement has done?

    Have you looked around, read statistics, talked with people, surveyed the condition of marriage and the family, considered the crime rate, looked at the behavior of the typical child/teenager, asked employers about employee performance, heard the constant snide remarks made to anyone who has over 2 children, seen the rise in teen pregnancy, abortion, drug use, marital abuse, depression, exhaustion, suicide…

    I mean, where do I stop? We are in a mess and surely the only person who doesn’t see that is one who is living in a cave…with all due respect.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    I am, indeed, serious.

    Within 50 years, the respect and access to opportunity enjoyed by black people, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, women, gay people, and people with disabiltiies has improved dramatically. Those are huge segments of society whose lives have improved.

    Women have the means to leave destructive marriages (often a good thing for children, in my view). Police take domestic violence and rape seriously, which didn’t occur in the past. Crimes, such as child sexual abuse, are no longer swept under the carpet never to be spoken of, but rather taken seriously and addressed.

    It is more culturally acceptable for fathers to be involved in their children’s lives. While the divorce rate may be higher than in the past, it has leveled off and the men in intact families are exponentially more attentive to their children than in previous generations. Families seem to be more child-centered than in my mother’s era of “children shall be seen and not heard.” Children are certainly never sent out to work in coal mines or otherwise expected to support their families (except perhaps in the rare situation of the child star). Children’s education is more widely valued than before, with families making the saving of college funds a priority.

    Children’s safety is more valued than ever before. I am amazed I survived my own childhood what with everyone smoking around me, no car seats, no bicycle helmets, lack of supervision, etc. Today, child safety is much more valued and emphasized (sometimes perhaps too much so).

    Children are less likely to be beaten and shamed than when I was growing up. Parents are finding ways to set boundaries without hitting, scaring, or shaming their children.

    Unwed motherhood is down since the 1950s. And more of today’s unwed mothers aren’t desparate teenagers but rather older mature woman who have planned for and chosen to raise their children alone.

    Mental illnesses and substance abuse are better understood and therefore more effectively treated than before. The stigma surrounding these things has been reduced allowing people to get help for their problems in order to live happier and more productive lives.

    People with disabiltiies are integrated into society rather than packed off to live out restricted lives in institutions. Last year, I attended the wedding of a lovely young couple with Down’s Syndrome. They both have jobs and will live in their own apartment (with lots of support and assistance). This would never have happened 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago. A person with a mobility impairment (such as using a wheelchair) can expect to be able to use most public facilities and function in the modern workplace, and is thus far less likely to be consigned to isolation and poverty.

    I don’t think I live in a bubble yet most of the teenagers I know seem kind, engaged, and well-mannered. 15 years ago, everyone was despairing of my generation (Generation X) but it has turned out that we have one of the highest rates ever of volunteerism and social engagement. Everyone I know my age and younger is concerned with how to live an ethical life, how to contribute more to the underprivileged, how to save the planet, etc.

    I see a kinder society and one in which more people than before have the opportunity to live fully productive, engaged, and happy lives.

  14. Word Warrior says:

    Elizabeth,

    Too many things to address…first, many of the improvement you mentioned–the viable ones–are not a result of feminism but of sheer technology, etc (mobility with wheelchair…)

    Several of the things you mentioned aren’t true–not sure where your statistics came from.

    You mentioned this…”Unwed motherhood is down since the 1950s”…Why wouldn’t it be with the easy access for non-parental consent abortion? That’s NOT an improvement, whether you think it is or not. Killing children to “improve” the stats is not a winning number.

    I don’t see more responsible, mature adults. I hear complaints from employers on every side of the lack, of people even capable of showing up for work and doing a decent job. Mental illness are better understood? Maybe the real ones. But now everything has been turned into a mental illness so who can tell the difference?

    You see things the way you see them, and so do I. I see a mess. Period. I think if you would be more honest, you would too.

  15. Sara says:

    I’ve read this excerpt before. Recently I’ve noticed that the same comments he had for women leaving the sphere of the home, also apply *inside* the home. When I am in a bad pattern of disrespecting my husband as the leader, my children get out of control quickly, obeying neither me or my husband. He mentioned the example of a mother’s subordination to her husband as an example to the children, and that’s been true in my own life–and I’ve never “left” my home to farm out my talents elsewhere.
    I think I’ve been told often enough that my submission is good for my husband in various ways (obviously because it’s a biblical model), but I’ve been seeing first hand how it’s very much for the children’s sake, too.
    Trying to take control in the home because I think I can do it better, or think my husband is inept or whatever is extremely counterproductive. It doesn’t produce peace in the home, and it makes the kids worse.
    If we can’t fulfill our God-given role because it’s right, maybe we can do it because it actually works.

  16. Kristen says:

    Wow, he’s not very subtle, is he?

  17. Elizabeth says:

    Kelly,

    I didn’t mean to imply that the improvements I see are all a product of feminism, but then I don’t think the problems you cite are all a product of feminism either.

    My real point is that the idea that our society is a mess is a subjective characterization. I view society and our children as doing pretty darn well. Though I love history and am prone to romanticizing other eras, when I really think about it, I wouldn’t want to live in any other time.

  18. Leslie Viles says:

    I don’t think our society and children are doing very well at all. The teenagers at the church we attend act just as silly, selfishly, worldly, carnally as teens that don’t go to church. The younger children don’t know how to behave and have very little respect for authority. OUR SOCIETY has come to view all sorts of deviant, sinful behavior as normal and acceptable and that may be the reason some people think that it is fine. There are more important things in life than technology and medical advancement. I would suggest, in my opinion, the loss of morality is more significant than the advancements that have been made.

  19. Leslie Viles says:

    One more thing about children doing well.

    Physically, many are not doing well.
    From the AHA Journal:
    The rate of childhood obesity has at least tripled over the past 3 decades and has raised significant concerns about the cardiovascular health of America’s youth.1 Some fear that as a result of the obesity epidemic, a wave of debilitating chronic conditions will afflict America’s youth. We do not yet know when, or even if, the wave of cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypercholesterolemia and type 2 diabetes, will crash into the health of our country’s young adults. Perhaps the real question is the impact of childhood obesity, and the accompanying risk factors, on the health of Americans in their 30s and 40s.

    Since the women in this society have made their career their main focus, children are suffering.

    Suicide rates in children 5-14 have doubled from 1979 to 1997. Recently, a family from our church has had to deal with the suicide of their 20 something daughter.

    Leadership in our church is having problems with wild, unruly, disobedient teens, dropping out of college, getting arrested, and not even showing up at church often. BUT, we can’t even consider the possibility that these things might be repercussions of working mothers and public schools.

    Can we honestly believe that there has been no negative impact from turning our children over to others besides their mother and from mothers seeing themselves as more worthwhile serving a job first and their families second.

    When we alter God’s plan for family, we can expect negative consequences.

  20. Elizabeth says:

    Obesity, including childhood obesity, is definitely a problem that has gotten worse over time.

    It would never have occurred to me to blame working mothers for that problem. Of course, that kind of lets the working dads off the hook, doesn’t it?

    I would recommend Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” (I don’t think that there is anything in it that a conservative Christian would find objectionable. In fact, it highlights a libertarian conservative Christian family that runs an organic farm as among the heroes in the book.) It tells the story of how government policies have encouraged the mass production and distribution of cheap but unhealthy and high fat foods, and how the profit motive has led the food industry to encourage overeating (by supersizing everything, for example). I think the poor in particular struggle with obesity because the worst foods tend to be the cheapest and the poor tend to be the most strapped for time.

    My personal observation is that your stereotypical upper-middle-class woman professional tends to have pretty trim and healthy kids — mainly because she (and her husband) have the education and the money to make sure they eat right and to enroll them in sports and other physical activities.

  21. Leslie Viles says:

    Elizabeth,

    I will disagree with the the last paragraph. Many professional women go through the drive-thru and bring home takeout, alot. I used to be one of them. Sure on the weekends I was super concerned about a balanced diet, but on the way to work almost every morning we got a chicken biscuit. Many times, I ran across the street from the hospital where I worked and got a burger or chicken fingers to eat on the way home. I know a lot of working moms that do the same. I have to say that I am able to feed my children better than most of them because of my TIME, not money. I have time to bake bread, I have time to garden, I could have time to milk a goat ;). Organic is expensive– unless you do it yourself. I tend to spend my spare time researching my job– of being a good mother, wife, homemaker, nutritionist, etc. When I worked, I spent a good deal of that energy finding out how I could do THAT job better.

    I do agree with you that the government has encouraged the consumption of unhealthy foods, which starts with WIC offering free formula to lower income families.

    I think one of the problems is that many moms feel like they are not NEEDED by the children they have. Moms today think they can be replaced by a bottle of formula, a daycare worker, a baseball coach, a teacher at school and the list goes on.

    My children are fit and trim because of healthy homemade food, a mom that reads labels obsessively, a mom and dad that play outside, ride bikes, jump on trampoline. All of the things we do are very inexpensive. I think the problems are more time related and maybe education related, which goes back to the government. In the 50s home economics taught girls how to run a household. As a side thought, maybe the reason so many women choose to work outside the home is because they don’t even know what the job description for homemaker is. Maybe they think it is an easy, unchallenging job.

    I also agree with you that the worst foods tend to be cheapest, BUT many of the choices made are from ignorance. Sodas can be purchased with food stamps. Water is free and tea is pretty cheap.

    I do think feminism is to blame for the majority of this and I let dads off the hook because feminism claimed “women could do it all”. We can still take care of our houses and our families AND work. That has changed a little in that now we want to work and have the husband shoulder much of the household responsibilities. So really, we can’t do it all, have it all or be it all and our children suffer. Maybe not every working mother’s children are overweight or have high cholesterol or spend to much time in front of video games or the TV, but many do and the consquences of this are not good. I feel for women who absolutely have to work. I have been there. But once all my previous worldly mistakes (credit cards, new cars, vacation, etc.) were paid for, I was able to fulfill my role as a full-time mom and homemaker and wife.

    I know this post jumps around a lot, but I was trying to do 15 things at once. Hopefully it makes enough sense. 🙂

  22. Word Warrior says:

    Leslie,

    I agree with you. And just a side note that always needs to be mentioned when this topic comes up, we are addressing generalized things here, as you hinted. Many hear “feminism causes _____” and then say, “Oh no, that’s not MY situation”, which may very well be true.

    But my original point was to look at the broad picture–statistics, situations–not pick apart every individual circumstance–simply because I know that’s always a tendency.

    In general, we’ve bought a message that feminism has liberated women from the home, but in reality, a tremendous amount of damage has been done to marriage, children and family.

  23. Leslie Viles says:

    WW,

    On a completely personal note, I am offended when I hear that moms who work are doing just as good a job as I am and their children are just as healthy, well-behaved etc. That means either I am really bad at it, or what I spend my time and energy doing makes no difference at all. I think as a society we spend a lot of time worrying about offending the working mom, but very little is spent worrying about offending the stay-at-home mother.

    I’m sorry. I get on my soapbox….

  24. Elizabeth says:

    I do think feminism is to blame for the majority of this and I let dads off the hook because feminism claimed “women could do it all”.

    Not any feminism I ever heard of!!! The drumbeat of feminism my whole life has been about tackling the inequity by which women were expected to carry the entire load at home.

  25. Leslie Viles says:

    Elizabeth,

    How is is inequity for mothers to be responsible for home and fathers to be responsible for income? I think it is pretty equal, not the same, but equal.

    I was looking for feminist quotes to support my claim about women doing it all and I couldn’t quickly put my hands on them, but it is the impression I got from growing up in the 70s, from school, from church, from even my parents.

    While I was looking for those quotes I ran across some even more interesting.

    “Being a housewife is an illegitimate profession… The choice to serve and be protected and plan towards being a family-maker is a choice that shouldn’t be. The heart of radical feminism is to change that” — Vivian Gornick, feminist author, University of Illinois, “The Daily Illini,” April 25, 1981

  26. Elizabeth says:

    Leslie,

    I grew up in the 70s too, so I do understand why you would have that impression that feminism says women can or should “do it all.” I have a general memory that ads from the era and from the 80s would show a woman in a business suit doing home tasks in her spare time. But I think that notion is a sort of popular bastardization of feminism. People kind of accepted the notion that women can and should be in the workplace, but never got past the idea that women should have primary responsibility for home and children too. It is kind of like people got 50% of the feminist message but overlooked the other 50%.

  27. Elizabeth says:

    “How is is inequity for mothers to be responsible for home and fathers to be responsible for income? I think it is pretty equal, not the same, but equal.”

    I was actually referring to the inequity by which women too often expected to carry all or most of the load at home even when both partners are working. But since you asked . . .I grew up in a traditional breadwinner/homemaker household and there was nothing equitable about it.

    Problem one is that not all women want to be in the home. We are just as diverse as men are, but men have (under the traditional model) a much wider variety of professions to choose from. While homes can be very different, the basic idea of childcare and homecare is similar across the board. It is not like choosing between being a doctor or a history professor.

    Problem two is that caring for the home is an uncompensated position leaving the woman vulnerable and dependent. Even assuming your spouse is completely dependable (a big assumption), a lot can happen to leave the woman high and dry.

    Problem three is power dynamics. The breadwinner often gets more of a say in how things are run. At least that’s how it was in my family. After all, it is his money we were spending and his work upon which we all depended. Basically, my father’s vote counted for more than everyone else’s combined. I don’t think it is because he was a bad guy. I just think that is naturally how things work out when one person works outside the home.

    Problem four was that the breadwinner has prestige, respect, and an opportunity to influence events beyond the home that a homemaker does not have (except perhaps vicariously through her husband and children).

    Problem five is that the breadwinner has a safe haven, a refuge from the stresses of his job, when he comes home. Mom, in contrast, tends to spend all her waking hours tending to everyone’s needs but her own.

    Of course, tending to everyone’s needs at your own expense is a noble thing to do. I admire the women who do it — but I also do not think it is right to expect one class of people to always take on that mantle of nobility and self-abnegation to an extent the other class does not.

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