What is a woman's part or role in the modern Christian family. Let us first begin with what the present norm is among Christian families. A marriage begins, and often is begun with two college graduates, or at least with two persons that are working full-time. Thus, in modern times, most couples work full or near full-time until the blessed gift of the first child arrives. Then the issue becomes serious, does the mother return to work, and if so, when? Thus the norm is that Christian women stay in the workforce until they are no longer able to due to the increasing demands of life at home, ie, children.
So this is where we find ourselves. Now, what should the norm be? The Council of Trent explains, "The word matrimony is derived from the fact that the principal object which a female should propose to herself in marriage is to become a mother." Everything then should tend toward this principal object of motherhood. Many modern women find themselves caring for a child for the very first time after they give birth. This can be a great moment of shock to a young woman that has never spent nights awake, suffering from a lack of sleep, internal pain, and even psychological struggles that can occur after childbirth. Young mothers often feel a sense of isolation once they are removed from the busy workplace to tend to a child in an often vacant home.
This principal object that the Council speaks of could never be a course of study, even in the best Catholic University. The rightful place of study is in the home, where a young girl learns to mimic her mother and imitate her in the care of her siblings. The large family is a school of motherhood for young girls. When a mother decides to work outside the home, the children are left to learn and imitate their peers in school. This leaves a gaping void in a young girl's life which can only be filled by time spent tending the home with her mother.
Of course, this principal object of the Council is at odds with the contraceptive mentality of limiting child birth. A young couple must decide early on what their vision of family life is, otherwise, the world's pressure to make money leads to a sort of wage-slavery, which is almost impossible to break once the burden's of life increase through debt and spending. Once a couple becomes used to two incomes, reverting to one after a child is born puts an enormous strain on the home. It then becomes a point of contention between spouses and finances can wreak havoc even in the most Christian of homes.
The Council calls this object of giving birth to children a "blessing", and thus, Christian couples should see it that way. While rearing children can be burdensome, it is a daily gift for those that accept it. So much so that the Apostle says that a woman shall be saved by her childbearing! (see 1 Tim. 2:15) Thus bearing children is the principal object for a woman entering matrimony, the primary end of marriage, and an incredible way for a woman to become sanctified.
I was once discussing the difficulties a teacher was having in her classroom. She was at her end with a student and felt that she just couldn't affect a change in him. I had the difficult task of reminding her that the mother and father had sacramental grace on their side to help with raising the child, and she did not! Think of this, God offers sacramental grace to every Christian couple to bear and raise their children, and yet how many refuse this grace through either artificial or natural means of hindering conception!? How many couples choose to limit or hold off conception for financial reasons? I am not referring here to destitution, but those that hold off to purchase a home or car or to just "get a little ahead". In this they have chosen "mammon" over the very grace that God has for them.
For the modern couple these decisions are extremely difficult. A woman can often feel a burden on the home. K.L. Kenrick puts it this way, "The wife and mother of today feels that she is a mere parasite upon the husband and father, as indeed she is, because she makes no real contribution to the economic life of the family. Nearly everything needed in the house is made in the factory and bought from the shop already for immediate use and consumption...The impact of this conviction on many women is such as to make them feel either that they are a mere toy or else an intolerable burden." (Flee to the Fields, pg 114) This leads to most modern women finding their sense of worth outside the home.
Any farming couple knows how silly this all is. They know how indispensable is the mother's contribution to the home. Whether it be canning, cleaning, ordering seed, or assisting in the fields, the farming mother is keen to her requirement to keep the farm running. Homeschooling families experience this same feeling. As most fathers work outside the home, the mother becomes the de-facto educator of her children. Without her in the home, the family would be forced to submit their children to either a state-run school, or oftentimes, a very worldly private school. A mother in the home has the grace to affect change and to form her children like no other teacher in any other school. In this she is the most "blessed among women"!
In these times, the art of homemaking is lost for the most part. Young girls, aside from the few and far between traditional families, have no example of what it means to be a "homemaker". The womanly grace of running an efficient, holy, frugal home is mostly lost. The modern mother can easily tend to become a manager of sorts, only coordinating the ongoing and incessant activities in and out of the home, many times from the driver's seat of her minivan. She may be involved in multiple extra-curricular activities that take her outside of the home week after week. These activities may even be religious in nature. However, if she has decided to leave the home and to put off her duties to her children and spouse, she in essence has neglected the grace of God. This is a difficult saying, I know, but it cuts to the very core of the Christian home.
God has given His grace to the sacrament for the purpose of bringing for children of God and for uniting spouses. This grace is given to help the mother and father become holy, and to help their children to become saints. At extraordinary times, He may call a person out of the home for an extraordinary purpose, such as some of the Apostles were called, however, this is not the norm. The bottom line is this, a woman is given a great gift in the ability to bear children. She is also given a great gift in the sacrament of Matrimony to raise those children, and she can become sanctified through her childbearing. How many couples today choose convenience over the grace of God when it comes to making the decision of having the woman work outside the home?
At the very heart of this discussion is the responsibility of the husband and father to provide a vision and a way for his family in which the wife is able to stay at home. In his role as priest, prophet, and king, he needs to provide a suitable place for his wife to grow in holiness and his family to flourish. He must be her faithful companion, her strong pillar of faith, and her guide in tough times. He must help her discern, help her plan, help her carry out the vision he has put forth. If he is neglecting his role, who should be surprised if his wife would do the same?