We live in an age where women are not bound to a specific role in life. They can heal people as doctors, defend justice as lawyers, spread knowledge as teachers, voice a message as authors, or lead an entire nation as politicians. Women have the ability to be of great influence, and they can choose among a variety of opportunities in life.
For those women who choose to stay home with their children, it can sometimes be discouraging to think about our worldly influence. While we proudly make the decision to put all our efforts into raising a family, our self-worth can be damaged by the question of “what do you do?”. It sometimes may seem that people ask that question expecting to hear something exciting and worthwhile. When we answer “I stay home”, it’s suddenly as if our influence in the world is minuscule. All believers strive to have a role in the coming of the kingdom. We all want to participate in bringing forth “tikkun olam” (repairing of the world). If we choose to stay in our homes, concentrating on our specific family, how are we ever going to contribute to G-d’s greater plan? It’s a question many of the stay at home mothers I know struggle with.
Overall I don’t dwell on this question too much. I’m thrilled to do what I do, and I chose to stay home because I feel it is a necessity for my family. G-d made it very clear to me that I need to focus on my child, and I dare not question His intentions for me. That does not mean, however, that I am not struck with self-consciousness every now and then, especially when I’m speaking to someone who is out and about changing lives through their work. Every now and then I need something that uplifts my spirits, and reminds me that my role in life is worth a great deal.
A great encouragement, however, came this past weekend at my community’s annual women’s retreat. The theme this year focused on being created “in the image of G-d”, and how we as women reflect that image. For part of the time we glanced at the characteristics of G-d, and how He possesses both masculine and feminine traits. We are familiar with the masculine language used to describe G-d (such as the Bible’s use of the word “He”, or referring to Him as “The Father”), but there are also times when G-d is compared to a motherly figure as well (Isaiah 66:13, or Luke 13:34 for example).
For me, this presented a new and improved perspective as the matriarch of my household. We know that G-d created both man and woman in His image, as stated in Genesis 1:27. However, the first time we see G-d declaring something as “not good” is in Genesis 2:18 when He says that it is not good for man to be alone. As G-d is the definition of what is good, His reflection (man) should be good as well. So G-d solved this by giving man a woman.
This small detail really hit me, and it’s something I have been thinking about ever since coming home from the retreat. I had already known that my son needs both a mother and father figure for a variety of practical reasons. However, I walked away from this weekend realizing that together as man and woman, husband and wife, father and mother, two people working as one unit, we present a reflection of G-d.
The two distinct roles of father and mother are not required solely for the every day functions of our house. These roles are needed to help show my son who G-d is. G-d presents Himself in many ways, whether it’s through His word, prophetic dreams or visions, blessings, the words of our congregational leaders, or even the actions of complete strangers. One of these manifestations is the reflection a father and mother show their children. The role of a mother, half of a complete image of G-d, is no small thing to be. It is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly, and one that can have great impact not only in the lives of her children, but in the world as a whole.
As we raise our kids we are presenting them with a message and way of life that will be passed down from generation to generation. They are the future. The people who will continue leading by example and spreading this message. What we instill in them will be spread to their friends, their coworkers, their own children. There is something special and important in the decision to give up any personal success in order to focus solely on one’s family. It’s something that shouldn’t make us feel ashamed, but proud. We see that what we impress upon our children will have a variety of ripple effects, so we might as well give it our all.
This does not mean that G-d expects all women to stay home with their children. It does not mean that there isn’t another purpose and path that G-d may lead some women through. Women have made great impacts throughout history outside of their homes, and they too have contributed to tikkun olam. Their work should never be diminished, and everyone should be encouraged to follow the path G-d has set forth for them, traditional or not. It most certainly doesn’t make them any less of a mother.
I am, however, saying that those of us who choose a more subtle and traditional life are worth something as well. We are not stuck in the house because we would be unsuccessful in other areas of life. We are not the weakened damsels who remain locked away at home under our husband’s enslaving authority. Our kids are not the chains that make our lives a miserable Hell. That imagery is pathetically deceitful, yet very common in the mindset of general society these days.
We are so much more than that. We too strive to accomplish G-d’s work, and we have a purpose in our roles. We play a part in the completed reflection of who G-d is, and we present that image to our children who will continue the progress of tikkun olam.
So, remember that next time someone asks “what do you do?”.
You strive to present the future generations with the image of G-d.
Above all else, that is what we were created to do.