Two interesting questions were raised in response to this post, and to do them justice, I decided to write about them in a post of its own. Both are about two sides of the same coin: what is expected of a woman when there are no young children in her charge? Is tending to the hearth and home sufficient to keep a woman productively employed at every stage of her life?
Here is the first question:
"Do you think it is best for a father to support his unmarried daughter, if it is within his means to do so?"
Saying that a father should support his daughter implies that the daughter would be a burden; I would rather say that the daughter should remain under her father's roof and protection until she is married, all the while taking care to remain productive and use her time wisely. There are many things one can do during the single years, many skills to learn and master. I can attest for myself that there are things I learned while single, which I wouldn't have had the time and energy to learn if I delayed them until I got married.
I understand, of course, that in this age of ours not every young woman can remain under her parents' roof until she is married. Some, like me, grew up fatherless; other come from unhealthy family situations. But whatever the young woman's situation in life is, she can prepare for a vocation of wifehood by choosing a path that would at least make her ready to start a family when there is a chance. Even if she has to work to support herself, it doesn't mean she has to dive into a path of a five-year degree and a job with crazy hours that would leave her drained and exhausted.
Young women are encouraged to invest in their careers before they start families; even those who explicitly say what they want most in the world is to be wives and mothers, are often pressured to enter a path of studies and career that would leave them in debt, exhausted, and would teach them nothing about running a home, being a good wife and taking care of children. The reasoning given is that they "should do it why they can".
Personally, I think it's awfully short-sighted - if a young woman plans to dedicate her life to being a wife and mother at home, why on earth would she invest precious years and lots of money and energy in doing something that would be entirely incompatible with wifehood and motherhood?
Here is the second question:
"My husband retired in Sept., and the day after, he was hired to work at the only place he ever wanted to work after retirement. Due to our thriftiness, and having no debt but our home, we are able to make it. On the other hand, I am a nurse, and am thinking about going back to work part-time so our savings doesn't go down, and as a "cushion" (my husband's income has gone down considerably). One daughter is in college (living at home), and the other I am homeschooling (she is in her last year). My husband wouldn't mind if I went back to work, but has not pressed the issue. What do you and your readers think? Should we stay home forever? I have lots to keep my busy here: gardening, cooking from scratch (my husband is on a special diet), just living a frugal lifestyle takes time." - Mrs. G
As a young mother, I expect I am still many years, perhaps decades away from the time I will become an empty-nester. I have, however, thought about that time in a woman's life. Before marriage and children, we are inexperienced, and have a lot to learn about keeping and managing a home; when children are grown, we are generally wiser and have much more valuable skills, and our homes are most likely running on a smooth routine, and much time is freed up for things we were too busy for in the hectic years of raising a bunch of little ones.
I think the years after the children have left can be a wonderful time for a woman to extend her creativity now that she has more time. A most wonderful example is Rhonda from the "Down to Earth" blog; Rhonda and her husband are a retired couple and their children no longer live with them, but Rhonda fills up her time with so many wonderful, productive ways. She gardens and cooks from scratch, sews and knits and works in the garden, keeps chickens, makes soap and writes. While I don't believe in copying anyone's life, I think that in a way, I want to be like this when I no longer have children at home: young in spirit, busy, productive, with more time on my hands to try things I have always wanted to try, and the doors of my home always open to children and grandchildren who come to visit.
I think that after half a lifetime of bearing and raising children, a woman should ideally experience a gentler, slower pace to her days, while still being there for her family. It doesn't mean she would be idle. Like Mrs. G said, there is always plenty to do at home, especially if you have a garden and cook from scratch. It's an awful shame, in my opinion, that older women, instead of having the freedom to enjoy their time at home, are once more facing the pressure to enter the working world, perhaps to compete with younger people for jobs. I think about my own grandmother and how important it was to me that she was always there while I was growing up, a solid presence. What a waste it would be if grandmothers are no longer waiting with open arms and hearts.
Of course, when a woman's children are grown, she may find more time for pursuits outside the home, if her husband approves. She may do volunteer work, or expand some of her skills in a way that would serve others as well as her own family. If these skills bring some income, I don't see anything wrong with it per se. I just don't think an older woman should be pressured to enter the rat race instead of tending to the hearth and home.