Friday, January 15, 2010

The Strong Woman

My friend Dee said something about strong women in her blog one time that really got me thinking. It wasn't the subject of her blog, or even the point of her sentence, but it was the final impetus for my writing this blog.

Her statement was not the first thing lately to get my thoughts whirring on this particular subject. Many thing lately have:

* the words and actions of Ma in our Little House books

* the history lessons full of the thought that the woman's place is barefoot in the kitchen

* listening to and thinking about stories from my mother's and grandmother's past

* and plenty of other things...

What makes a "strong woman"? By what standards is her strength measured?

I know a woman who raised two children on her own after her husband left her for another woman. She was often ill and spent a good amount of time in the hospital, and she loved her ex-husband til the day she died. And somehow, in spite of all this, she managed to provide for and raise two kids and lead a fulfilling life.
That is strength.

I know a woman who spent her childhood in a dysfunctional and abusive family. She lived a wild life in her young adult years. She gave birth to a daughter and shortly after found herself pregnant again. Knowing she couldn't care for two children, she gave her second daughter for adoption. She had no decent example of how to raise a child but she did her best and many years later was brought to tears by a young woman calling looking for her - her birth mother. And now she has both her daughters.
That is strength.

I know a woman who thought she was marrying the perfect man but was not so lucky. She raised her children practically on her own, making sure they went to church, that they learned about life and love, and God, while her "perfect" husband worked long hours or slept in or went out with his buddies.
That is strength.

I know a young mother of three rowdy boys, left abruptly by her husband and trying to make things work with a new guy. She's worked nights and gone half-asleep through her days to provide both the material necessities and some quality time with her children. She has refused to push her children off onto other people, though God knows it would make things easier on her, and has struggled to keep her head above water while being the best mother she can.
That is strength.

I know a single young woman who had a daughter while in college, and just this year started her last year of law school, who beautifully balances school, work, and most importantly, being a great mom.
That is strength.

I know countless women who had babies when they were teenagers, and worked hard to provide good lives for themselves and their kids; women who struggle daily with illness, injury, and physical affliction, but get up each morning and take care of their families and home anyway; women who take care of handicapped children and injured husbands, who struggle to live on worker's comp or go back to work to help out financially even though their heart's desire is to be at home.
That is strength.

A few decades back, the feminist movement was in full swing, telling women that they should demand equality with men in all areas of life. Which is true - in some ways. Where the whole movement went wrong was that suddenly women weren't happy being women, and spent much time searching for that elusive something that would make them feel complete, whole, fulfilled. The feminists had them convinced that somehow the things they did - raising children, keeping house - were not of "equal" importance to the things men went out and did (and how wrong they were!). Forty years later, and women have begun to realize that there is much to be said for those "womanly" things - having children, loving and raising them; being loving, faithful, supportive wives; keeping a nice clean home, cooking good, full meals, etc. As Dorothy learns at the end of The Wizard of Oz, "The next time I go looking for my heart's desire, I won't look any further than my own back yard, because if it isn't there, I never really lost it anyway..."

There is something to be said for a woman's duties. I know many women who work outside the home, many single mothers who work their hardest to provide, but what makes them strong is not that they juggle work and home, and sometimes school on top of everything else. I know many stay-at-home moms who manage to raise children (sometimes 5 or 6!) while keeping house and still having dinner ready when hubby walks in the door, but what makes them strong is not that they juggle kids, and husbands, and housework (and sometimes homeschool besides!)

What makes these women strong is not that they do amazing feats of skill and daring for the world to watch and applaud. What makes them strong is that they do what has to be done, they stand up under pressure, they make the decisions and choices that have to be made, they make up their mind and stick to it, they refuse to be swayed. They get their priorities in order, they place their husbands and children first, themselves last. They stand tall in the face of adversity and critics, they stand their ground! They are independent and yet so much, and so many people, depends on them.

I went to the park yesterday with my friend Amanda and our kids. There was a woman there with a little boy of about three. She was dressed to ultimate perfection in her designer clothes and her designer shoes and her perfectly styled and highlighted hair. She had a perfectly coifed little poodle on a leash and her cell phone to her ear. Now a lot of people would say that mom had it all together. But as I watched her walk round and round the playground, letting her perfect little dog poop all over where the kids were playing - one of them stepped in it - and talking on her phone the entire time she was there, I saw her sad little boy sit, all alone and forlorn, and I felt a great pity for them both.

There was another woman there, older than me but obviously a first time mom, with a little girl about a year old. This mom had on jean shorts and a plain T-shirt, no-name-brand shoes and her hair up in a clip. She took that little girl all over the playground, showing her things and talking with her quietly. Every so often she'd grab the big bulky stroller and lug it to a new spot and they would sit there and play for awhile. She talked with me a little when she was nearby, and was a very sweet woman. She didn't have the perfect looks or the latest fashion, but she didn't care. She had made her choice, and her top priority was not herself, but her daughter, even if it did mean braving the park all alone, with the perfectly dressed woman nearby and her disapproving gaze.

And which of those women was the stronger?

I come from a long line of very strong women. I challenge anyone who thinks it doesn't take strength to raise children, ro make home a welcoming place when your husband comes home, to shape the hearts and minds of our little legacies. I challenge anyone who thinks those things are any less important, less noble, less equal than anything a man can do. The pen is mightier than the sword, but the mop and broom, the dishtowel, the freshly baked cookies, the old worn Bible, the child's hand within our own - these are the weapons by which our true strength is shown!

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