What Are We Teaching Our Daughters?

200px-Knitted_pinksquareMaybe I’m not reading broadly enough, but there seems to be a heavy emphasis in the reformed community on passing domestic skills on to our daughters. Many authors and bloggers stress that, along with the quiet and gentle spirit, we need to be enabling our daughters to be fabulous homemakers. Now, that’s great. This generation of young men just might have wives who are Martha Stewarts from day one. That’s a blessing for those husbands.

But for mothers, the pressure to teach our daughters how to budget like Dave Ramsey, clean like a Dutch housewife, and cook like Julia Child seems to be mounting as the church recovers a high view of homemaking and motherhood. Homemaking internships with older women, books on money, and classes on crocheting are strongly encouraged; mothers whose daughters are “behind” in these areas carry an extra burden of mommy guilt. Perhaps this is especially true amongst home schoolers.

Now, budgeting is important. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Cooking is a life skill. And crocheting is icing on the domestic cake. Equipping the next generation of wives and mothers with these abilities is not counter-productive. It is part of older women teaching younger women to be keepers at home. Perhaps, though, the mommy guilt we have for not producing domestic divas comes from a misplaced emphasis on what we are to teach the next generation of wives and mothers.

My mother is a wonderful cook, cleans her home, and is clever with stretching a dollar. But these were not really things that she taught me. Instead of learning the envelope budget thing (or any budget method), I watched years of tithing, self-denial, and generosity. I never took apart the pipes under a sink at home, but I knew that fixing pretty much anything small in the house was possible because my mother did it all the time, often while explaining gerunds or helping me memorize a sonnet. I don’t remember cooking a meal until I was married, but I saw how to teach children to like new foods, serve a formal meal, and welcome the stranger. Learning how to make croissants took half an hour with youtube; developing a worldview took years of reading, writing and discussions with Mum while she made meals and cleaned bathrooms.

Never did I feel as though I was being prepped to be a housewife. Never did I feel as though I was given “busy work.” Always I knew that my mother was preparing me for life as an adult Christian, freed by her teaching to serve wherever I could (which would probably include homemaking!). She did this not by having me practice cleaning her toilets, but by giving me skills and experiences that take years to learn: watching what turning the other cheek looks like; providing a huge framework of Western history and thought; how to rejoice with those who rejoice; what good writing is; how to work hard on three hours of sleep; what sacrificing for a marriage means; understanding people; and much more. Those are not skills you can google. Those come slowly, through years of prayerful mothering. Of course, all of these are life-long lessons; a daughter doesn’t stop learning them when she moves out. Hopefully every Christian is growing in them. But a mother who teaches her daughter these things develops the intellectual, social, and spiritual maturity that a daughter needs in order live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16).

There are young mothers in our churches who feel stressed because they have not mastered baking, sewing, ______, and feel as though they are failing their daughters because they can’t teach them these skills. Perhaps the greatest things a mother can teach her daughter are the greatness and beauty of Christ, self-denial, and the ability to learn through life. None of those are directly related to house work. But all of them make and shape the woman who scrubs her bathtub with thankfulness.

Of course, being a great home maker and having this other teaching are not mutually exclusive. Isn’t that wonderful? We can teach our daughters how to knit and how to write well. But frankly, I’m pressed for time and have limited energy. Plus, I can’t knit. I am not going to put a lot of time and effort into skills that my kids can learn from youtube. I encourage them to acquire the skills that make life comfortable and pretty, but I’m not going to put the emphasis there. Instead, I want to teach them so that they understand the times in which they live, how to live in those times as Christians, and honour the God who gave them the skills and opportunities that He has. A daughter needs a godly mother to teach these things, because the our culture certainly won’t.

The Lord doesn’t require His daughters to braid bread and arrange flowers. For women who want to, those things are gifts. And while we should have skillful hands and strong arms (Prov. 31), what God does require is that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). That is a teaching that can, by grace, bear eternal fruit in a daughter’s life. A woman who is skilled in every domestic art is of little Kingdom use unless she also thinks biblically, discerns wisely, understands the times, and can serve her family and church with these vital gifts as best she can. So, by all means, let’s teach our daughters how to make their own clothes. But let’s get it in perspective, put the first things first, and not sweat it if they can’t make their own wedding dress.