“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
That well-meaning question posed by polite adults wanting to engage children in conversation is generally asked of little boys and little girls without distinction. One answer, given by a shrinking number of little girls, is shocking and controversial in today’s culture:
“I want to be a wife and mommy.”
This spring we are graduating our fourth homeschooled student and oldest daughter, Anna. Though we tease her about her blondness (she once told me she was going to rule her children with an “iron thumb,” among many other “Annerisms”), she is an intelligent young woman with a special love for history, theology, and cooking. When she graduates, she will continue pursuing studies in those areas, but not on a college campus. Our daughter will not be attending college.
This is not a unilateral (by parental edict) decision, though she has been taught from her babyhood that marriage and motherhood are noble callings. Anna truly desires to be a “wife and mommy,” and wise young woman that she is, she intends to prepare for those jobs with the single-mindedness that any serious student would give to training for an important profession.
We’ve met with varying responses to this decision, not always negative. But some reactions that we, and others with like convictions, have received have been condescending at best, negative at worst: “Don’t you want to do anything big with your life?” “You’re too smart to waste your life like that.” “Don’t you think women deserve to be educated?” “You need something to fall back on.” Some parents have even been accused of abusing their daughters. One octogenarian lady chastised her husband for telling a little girl at church that she would make a great wife someday. “Young ladies today aspire to greater things,” she said.
My purpose is to frame a defense of the important callings of marriage and motherhood rather than criticize college per se, though I do have many criticisms of it as a given rite of passage for Christian young people. As G. K. Chesterton notes in Orthodoxy, “When you choose anything, you reject everything else.”
It’s impossible to explain our choice without stepping on some toes, but I do so very gently as I am well aware that there is no Biblical command against women attending college. There are, however, places in the Bible where a woman’s role is explicitly detailed, and also many examples of godly women to emulate, and it is clear that the normative role for godly women is centered around home and family.
In 1Timothy 2:15, after reminding us of God’s created order in relation to a woman’s conduct in the church, Paul confers a real, though mysterious, benediction on motherhood by saying women “will be saved in childbearing” (nkjv). Later, he gives instructions regarding the care of worthy widows, including the requirement that these godly women have “brought up children” (1 Tim. 5:10). The younger widows are admonished to “marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Tim. 5:14 nkjv). The young women who did not busy themselves with these occupations were instead using their leisure time to be gossiping busybodies, going from house to house, and leaving opinionated comments on blogs (I added that last part).
Everyone has heard Titus 2:4–5 so many times that familiarity has bred contempt. Yet there we find some of the most direct scriptural instruction regarding the roles of older and younger women. Paul lists what the older women are to teach the younger women, as part of what is proper for “sound doctrine”: “[A]dmonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (nkjv).
John MacArthur says:
I will tell you this, if the Church doesn’t wake up soon and obey the Word of God—all is lost! We don’t need to fall victim to this stuff. You don’t need a Master’s degree to figure out what it means “to love your husband, love your children, and to work at home!” How hard is that? By the way, there are no qualifiers there, no caveats, no footnotes—it is just what it says: “Go home, submit to your husband, have children, raise them in godliness, take care of your house.” And that’s what older women are to teach younger women—they are to teach it not only with their mouth; they are to teach it with their life.1
One of the central battles facing the church today is over women’s roles. Christians have marinated in the prevailing feminist paradigm for so long that they blanch at the notion that being a keeper at home is not only a woman’s highest calling, but the normative calling for a Christian woman. There are some who claim to hold a “high view” of Scripture who also rationalize away the previous verses as cultural edicts only relevant to the time they were written. The patron saint Deborah is usually invoked with her example of leadership in Judges given as an imprimatur for choosing a career in addition to, or in lieu of, those equally valid choices of home and family. Yet a woman’s leadership was a judgment on an apostate people who persisted in doing what was “right in their own eyes” (see Isa. 3:12).
Feminism is not a phenomenon that exists just in liberal circles any longer. A popular homeschooling speaker and author, Susan Wise Bauer, recently came out of the feminist closet and proudly proclaimed that she is an egalitarian. Mrs. Bauer bemoaned the fact that her alma mater, Westminster Theological Seminary, promotes a “complementarian” view of gender roles, saying that the culture has “moved on” to fully embrace egalitarianism. With a cadre of classical homeschooling mothers hanging on her words, she is in a position to do a lot of damage to certain segments of the church, persuading mothers that their daughters should, as the elderly lady in our example noted, “aspire to greater things.”
What does all this have to do with college for our daughter? Since the Bible teaches that the normative role for Christian women is centered in the home, then we not only want Anna to be well-prepared for that important position, we also want her to be content in it. Though some see our decision as a condemnation of their conflicting views, rejecting college as necessary for her success in life is more an affirmation of the importance of preparing for life as a keeper at home.
The most persistent straw man we have had to battle is the idea that eschewing college means our daughter is condemned to a life of ignorance. Because of what R. J. Rushdoony identified as “the messianic character of American education,” even many Christians believe that real education is what takes place within the walls of an accredited institution, administered by experts who give their seal of approval to the student’s achievements—achievements that in many places consist of showing up for classes and, as Rushdoony notes, becoming socialized in the tenets of statist democracy. He quotes Dirk Jellema, “reporting on the composite attitude of college students”:
Q. What is the purpose of education?
A. To enable the student to adjust to the group and thus gain emotional security.
Q. But to what group should the student be trained to adjust?
A. To the dominant group in this country.
Q. And what does it want?
A. A high standard of living.
Q. Is this good?
A. Obviously, since the group wants it.2
This thinking ought to give pause to parents of both daughters and sons. But while young men may sometimes need to face the gauntlet of the university’s subversive teaching in order to fill certain occupations and to sit with the elders in the gates, most women are to aim for different goals that require different preparations. Some have told me that the independent college life made them better prepared to be good wives and mothers. Jennie Chancey has another perspective. She left college with a degree and with $8,000 in debt, having become a “Christian feminist.” She says,
College is not and never has been the real world. Not by a long shot. It is an isolated, insular little cosmos shut off from real life. Stop a moment and look around at the real world you inhabit. Let’s compare it to a college campus: Does someone shop for all your groceries? Does someone prepare all your meals for you, having hot food available at almost any hour of the day? Do you have 150–5,000 peers surrounding you throughout the day and night? Can you walk a few steps from your door and find a library, a recreation center, a gym, a fine arts studio, and a swimming pool, all available for free? Does a committee make sure you are entertained by providing concerts, movies, or social soirees every weekend? Can you get up at 3 a.m. and drive off to an all-night restaurant, leaving all your responsibilities behind so that you can enjoy a gab-fest with a few friends?3
Both Guy Odom in Mothers, Leadership, and Success and George Gilder in Men and Marriage argue that feminist thinking, relegating marriage and family to just another—and lesser—choice among many valid choices for women, has created instability in society by undermining home life. Gilder says, “The role of the mother is the paramount support of civilized human society. It is essential to the socialization of both men and women.”4 He adds, “The fact is that there is no way that women can escape their supreme responsibilities in civilized society without endangering civilization itself.”5
If even secular observers of cultural trends understand the central importance of the mother in the home, why isn’t the church, in light of God’s clear teaching on women’s roles, emphasizing more preparation for the work that is done by homemakers and honoring those who embrace that calling more than with a token nod on Mother’s Day?
Such an important job does not come intuitively when the wedding band is slipped on the finger or the baby is placed in the arms. As Titus 2 indicates, young women must be taught the necessary skills, even how to love their husbands and children, something that requires great self-sacrifice. As Mrs. Chancey mentions, college life can be filled with self-indulgence. Is the significant investment of time and money it represents justified when the end is at odds with the means? Four years in school to obtain a bachelor’s degree is approximately 20 percent of a young person’s life, and the time it takes to pay off the debt for that degree often postpones marriage and childbearing. Family size is even limited due to that financial burden.6
Though not the primary consideration in Anna staying home rather than going to college, there is also the issue of the moral and physical protection of young women away from home. Last year, Newsweek profiled how evangelical students entering secular colleges are pressured to engage in partying there with devastating consequences. It is also a well-known fact that violent crime rates are very high on college campuses.7
“Sheltering” is a bad word today, but I’m happy to be sheltered from all sorts of things, including pornography on the Internet due to very strict filters my husband has placed on our home computers, and dangerous situations as my husband makes sure that I avoid certain areas when I travel. I’m even constrained by the accountability I have to my family from indulging in activities that may be lawful but not profitable for serving God. Why then should we insist that our daughters leave home for a kind of rumspringa, where the limits as well as protections are totally removed? Liberal author Caitlin Flanagan wonders the same thing:
Given the coarsening of the culture, the intense peer pressure and corresponding desire to fit in that have always marked college life, and the way very young women are defined today as at once independent and exploitable, the bitter pill for many parents sending their daughters to college is that there is no possible way to protect them from what they will encounter once they have been dropped off at the freshman dorm.8
No young woman should be ashamed to say that her goal is to be a wife and mother. Christians should encourage girls to look forward to those noble callings, not portray marriage and motherhood as second-best or second-rate with raised eyebrows or “what ifs.” A few are called to singleness, but marriage is the norm, and from the original command to be “fruitful and multiply” to the picture of our relationship with Christ as a marriage, God holds marriage and family in high esteem. This real-life metaphor pictures a reality that culminates in the marriage feast of the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 19:7, which is really a happily ever after beginning, though it’s at The End of The Book. If we wish marriage and family to be esteemed in the church, let alone the culture, then we must not denigrate the preparation for it with our daughters, insisting they prepare instead for singleness or a career.
1. John MacArthur, “A Biblical Response to the Feminist Agenda,” April 1, 2003, http://www.believersweb.org/view.cfm?ID=299.
2. R. J. Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1963), 319–320.)
3. Jennie Chancey, March 28, 2007, http://buriedtreasurebooks.com/weblog/?p=1869
4. George Gilder, Men and Marriage (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing), 153.
5. Ibid., 177.
6. Allan Carlson, “Anti-Dowry?: The Effects of Student Loan Debt on Marriage and Childbearing” http://www.profam.org/pub/fia/fia_1912.htm.
7. Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner, “The Sexual Victimization of College Women” National Institute of Justicehttp://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf.
8. Caitlin Flanagan, “The Age of Innocence.” Review of College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Co-Eds, Then and Now by Lynn Peril. The Atlantic Monthly, March 27, 2007, http://www.powells.com/review/2007_03_27.