False freedom is why we are miserable.

Recently, DF asked my opinion on the following exchange in which DF wrote:

Also on the topic of housework, I think you may come from a different perspective here, not being Christian, but for us, housework is just another way to show those that we love how much we care about them. We’re keepers of the home, and take pride in taking care of our homes well. I know that might make no sense to someone who doesn’t value homemaking and child-rearing as a profession, but for me, this is my job right now.

And Violet Wisp responded (highlighting mine):

“There seems to be some confusion in Christian circles about what ‘traditional Christian values’ are when it comes to the organisation of a family unit. All too often there is an unhealthy pressure for women in a marriage to abandon any paid work they might have doing, in order to exclusively take care of the home and children. This is unhealthy.

Think about how women would have lived in the majority of human societies. Family groupings in close communities; smaller generation gaps and intergenerational living; a mix of community and home based daily tasks e.g. food gathering and preparation, maintenance of common and home areas. People spent a lot of time outside, tasks were very physical and shared with others, children were exploring the world together, under the supervision of a network of adult relatives and friends when young. This is natural, this is what any traditional Christian community would have looked like.

Now think about women today in this artificial ‘housewife’ role. One lone female adult for most the day inside a block of wood and concrete doing physically simple tasks and caring for one to several young children often indoors […]

Human society is not likely to return to the natural community model any time soon. There are too many disadvantages in terms of privacy, wasted time and general comfort. The most sensible way to deal with the changed living conditions of modern society is to consider how to balance life for everyone in a nuclear family.

I take “balancing life” to mean the modern concept of the egalitarian marriage in which both spouses work full-time and split child care and housework 50/50.  The first thing to note is that Violet’s conclusion is wrong.  There may be many reasons why a housewife might feel lonely or unhappy, but since women en masse have entered the paid workforce full-time and sought to make “career” their identity, researchers Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have found that women have become significantly less happy.  So the solution for women isn’t just to get a job, make your husband scrub more toilet bowls, and all will be well.

But even though her conclusion is wrong, her analysis of the problem is correct.  In a post here awhile back, The decline of the gens and familia: we want to live together but we just can’t get along, I wrote:

“We’ve gotten in the habit of thinking of the word “family” as meaning a husband, a wife, and several children, but this is a very narrow view of what family means and certainly isn’t what’s meant by the term “patriarchy”. A patriarchy has generally been a kin-based clan that is headed up by a senior male relative, with each man under him taking on successively smaller leadership roles. For example:

In Roman times, all citizens were divided by gens (clan) and familia(sept), determined on a purely patrilineal basis, in the same way as the modern inheritance of surnames…[t]he gens was the larger unit, and was divided into several familiae…

The idea of the nuclear family being an autonomous unit not embedded in a wider kin network seems to be fairly recent…

Are we happier this way? Maybe in the short-term we are, but I am not convinced we are in the long run.  The decline in the size of our family units has nicely mirrored the decline in our mental health:

Studies show that rates of depression for Americans have risen dramatically in the past 50 years. Research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that major depression rates for American adults increased from 3.33 percent to 7.06 percent from 1991 through 2002.”

So two things seem to be at the root of women’s declining happiness: leaving the home to pursue careerism and extended families breaking apart into nuclear families.  And the major cause of extended family/community breakdown is transplantism, which refers to a person or couple moving away to a different region of the country from the rest of their family, as the author of the blog Face to Face has explained in a number of very interesting posts on the subject.

For instance, transplants are significantly less likely to be in contact with both blood relatives and in-laws, and the result is a decline in happiness:

“A simple comparison between natives and transplants shows that their happiness levels are indistinguishable: 35% of natives and 36% of transplants are “very happy,” while 10% of both natives and transplants are “not too happy” (the rest being “pretty happy”).

That is despite the transplants being more educated (33% hold a college degree, vs. 20% of natives), and earning a higher average income ($58K in current dollars, vs. $47K for natives). Any boost to happiness from being upwardly mobile is apparently cancelled out by not belonging to the broader culture of the place where you live.

[…] here we see a vivid reminder of how simple it is to sever the ties to your extended family — just move away, or perhaps they will. As long as the split is not acrimonious — you’re just leaving to better yourself — no one will be bitter about the diluted and fragmented family web. It’ll be one of those things that just happen, mysteriously and uncontrollably.

I don’t see things changing course due to a change in attitudes toward family ties. There’s too strong of an impulse toward self-enhancement, rather than maintenance and enhancement of everything else that made you.”

It is really quite a paradox.  Born of a selfish impulse for self-enhancement, transplantism and the decline of the gens has actually led to reduced happiness  Truly, we do not know what is good for us.

And what is good for us?

Submission.

And not only for women, but for men too.  Because in the traditional family structure, wives submitted to their husbands but their husbands submitted to the leader of the larger family group.  Transplantism, like feminism, like no-fault divorce, like atheism, like democracy itself —like all of liberalism’s twisted offspring—is born of the desire to rebel against submission to proper authority (you can do what you want!) and a futile search for happiness in total freedom.

Paradoxically, true emotional fulfillment is only found in dying to self, and true freedom from misery is only found in submission to proper authority: children submitting to parents, wives submitting to husbands, husbands submitting to the family patriarch, family patriarchs submitting to the rightful king, and everyone submitting to Jehovah God.

Edited to added: I should clarify that I do not think it is unhealthy for mothers to be at home caring for their children.  I wasn’t clear about that.  What I do think is unhealthy is the atomization of the extended family into progressively smaller units via transplantism, divorce, and the like.

“You can do what you want”: transplantism instead of tradition and friends instead of family.

The author of the blog Face to Face sometimes writes about the social trend he calls transplantism, which refers to people who migrate in adulthood to a different state from where they were born and grew up.  It seems to mean not just moving, but moving in order to satisfy some aspect of status-striving. He outlines three types of status-striving: career, lifestyle, and persona.

He has a number of very interesting posts on this subject, but one caught my eye on Thanksgiving evening, as I was relaxing with a cup of coffee just before we left to go out of town overnight, Transplant-ism Breaking Down Large Family Reunions on Thanksgiving.
Read the whole post (it’s brief), but I’ve picked out a quote that I found interesting:

“My memories of Thanksgiving in the ’80s still included most of the extended family, aside from an uncle and his wife who moved Out West awhile ago (my cousins through them were absent, too). For those of my mother’s siblings who stayed in the general region, it was common to see all the aunts and uncles, as well as the cousins, and of course the grandparents on that side. But those get-togethers involved one-way travel times of at most three hours by car for all involved, and usually under two hours. You could travel there and back in the same day, so nobody needed to put you up.

Contrast with today, where transplants spend seven or eight hours door-to-door, one-way, and will have to be put up for one or more nights.

There’s another way in which the lifestyle strivers seem to be making things worse. Since they’re foodies, meals are a fashion contest, and fashion corrodes tradition. So why would a foodie want to trek all the way back to family, just to have the same old things for Thanksgiving? They would rather spend Thanksgiving alone and pick up a pre-made dinner from Whole Foods, as long as they put sriracha in the stuffing. That’s something you could post to Facebook for status points — not whatever your non-foodie parents would have prepared.”

I found it interesting because this is a subject I’ve written about a bit myself*.  But I didn’t realize how bad the whole “foodie” and “friends instead of family” thing had gotten, especially among Gen Y and millennials. I even wondered if maybe he was exaggerating a little bit.

We got into the car and when we hit the highway, I settled back and decided to read the news on NPR on my phone.  This was literally the headline article:

How to Put Real Giving into the Friendsgiving Feast:

“Culturally, we’ve seen the rise of Friendsgiving, as young professionals take the opportunity to create the Thanksgiving they want with their friends,” says Clay Dunn, chief communications officer for Share Our Strength, a hunger nonprofit. “You can avoid your Aunt Ina’s terrible cranberry sauce. You can do what you want.”

And as long as you’re reinventing traditions, he says, why not put more emphasis on the “giving” in your feast? That’s the idea that Share Our Strength is pushing this year. It’s asking people to leverage their holiday goodwill by turning their friendly gatherings into fundraising opportunities to fight childhood hunger.

[…] So if the Friendsgiving fundraiser piques your interest, there are plenty of places to look for tips on planning the feast, like here and here. Share Our Strength has resources, including templates for table name cards and a Pinterest board for cooking and decorating inspiration, too.

[…] And if the do-good feeling isn’t enough to motivate you, Dunn says there are prizes. The top fundraiser will get to tour the official Food Network kitchens in New York.

I just had to laugh at how well the guy from Face to Face had described this.  Hey, don’t like the boring cranberry sauce that’s going to be served at your family’s?  Then don’t even bother with that multi-state drive home to see them.  Do what you want, but whatever you do, make sure to earn status points by creating fancy table name cards and signaling how charitable you are by making it a fundraiser for some charity no one’s ever heard.  Of course, there might be a little somethin’ in it for you, you Foodie, you!  How many of your friends have gotten to tour the Food Network kitchens, I ask you!

The sad thing is that these young people are chasing after the lie of modernity that blood is no thicker than water.  It’s not really about with whom you ate Thanksgiving dinner this year so much as it is about the whole ethos of the age, the disconnectedness, rootlessness, and emptiness of individualism (“You can do what you want!”) in place of family, faith, and tradition.

*Here are a few of my posts that are related to this subject:

Thankful for the blood.

I’m in a flurry of cleaning, baking, and cooking, but I did want to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.  And this will sound…oh I don’t know, trite?  cliche?…but bear with me please.  What I want to tell you is to stop and just let your heart be filled with gratitude for the family you have, your blood relatives and your in-laws, however imperfect they may be. Yes, everyone says that, but the thing is to truly do it.  And then tell them how much you love them.

On Halloween, a young man at my daughter’s high school, a senior, died in a catastrophic car crash not far from school.  This is a small town and everybody pretty much knows everyone else, so not only the family but the whole community was pretty much devastated.

His obituary read, “[He] lived in Chelsea his entire life.”

My daughter told me that at the candlelight vigil, his sobbing older sister addressed everyone, saying:

“If you guys would do one thing for me: take stock of your life and tell everyone you love them. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Apparently she and her brother had had the typical sort of sibling relationship and didn’t exactly spend much time expressing their love for each other.  She had gone off to college in August and not seen her brother for some time.

And I know how she now feels.

On the evening of December 4, 2006 my mother called me.  I was irritated with her about something and when we hung up, I didn’t say, “I love you, mom.”

Ask me what the one thing is from life that I would change if I could.

No matter how irritated I am with my children, I try to tell them every day before they leave that I love them.

You may find yourself irritated, annoyed or offended by some family member or another tomorrow at Thanksgiving dinner.  Let go of the offense.  Tell them you love them before you leave.  The lie of modernity is that blood is no thicker than water, but that is utter horseshit.

Consumerism, politics, “careers”…it is all meaningless.  What I am truly thankful for is the family that I have by blood and by marriage and for the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for the remission of my – and your – sins.

Kith and kin and Christ – the blood you share with your people and the Blood of the Lamb – are the only things that mean anything.  Do you have these things?

If not, instead of heading out to that door-buster sale for another piece of crap, I entreat you to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  And then call your mom or your dad  or your kid from whom you’ve been estranged, or whatever relative you have, and tell them you love them.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

The primal desire to stick with one’s own.

From NPR’s story Being With People Like You Offers Comfort Against Death’s Chill about an immigrant from India who developed a retirement community in Florida for other Indians (highlighting mine):

“It’s a gated community where you will be living with people of your own cultural background,” Iggy says in one of the YouTube advertisements for the complex.

So I went down to Florida to find out if the people had bought out of some primal desire to stick with their own. And if so, was that OK? What if you flipped this and this is like one of those country clubs that only let in white men?

That comparison is unfair, Ignatius says. “We would let anybody in.”

But no one at ShantiNiketan was shy about admitting that part of what everyone was paying for was being around people like them.

NPR puts a whole lot of spin on this story and dances around the fundamental conclusion, but it’s an interesting article anyway and worth reading.

Christian women should be helpers, not careerists.

Deep Strength has posted a link to a thought-provoking essay by NYCPastor entitled 10 Women Christian men should not marry. I was particularly interested in one of the categories of women the pastor said Christian men should not marry:

9. The Career Woman. Now, I want to clarify something here.  There is nothing wrong with a woman who works (Acts 16:14), what’s wrong is a woman who puts her career ahead of her family.  Modern American society might hate to hear this, but God made men to be the providers and women to be the nurturers of the home (in most instances).  It’s okay for a woman to be a doctor, attorney, or any other professional.  However, if her career is coming at the expense of her home, then something is wrong.  If day-care is raising her young children while she’s working, then something is wrong.  I understand that there might be a season of life where the wife might have to be the main bread-winner due to her husband’s unemployment, but it should not be the desired norm. The woman ought to be willing (and even desirous–to some extent) to give up her job for the sake of raising her kids in the Lord.  “So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1 Tim 5:14).

It shouldn’t shock my readers to hear me say I agree with him even though I am working full time at present. In The purpose of paid work for women, I wrote:

Feminists with their bloated egos tell women that their paid work is their path to personal fulfillment. This is a lie. Personal fulfillment is found in God and family – nothing more and nothing less. Chasing the elusive and incredibly selfish dream of “personal fulfillment” will leave you empty for the simple reason that – unlike God and your family – your job does not love you.

My advice to young women: prioritize family formation over education and career. Prepare yourself to earn money as a means of serving your family but don’t get wrapped up in worrying about your personal fulfillment at work because that isn’t why you are there.

 

Christian women should strive to be helpers, not careerists.

Now, on to a pleasant bit of related personal business…

As you know, I accepted my current full-time position for a specific reason: my husband and I want to purchase another ten acres of land that is up for sale across from us. In speaking to a real estate agent who knows this area well, he said undeveloped land around here is going for about $10,000/acre if the perc test looks good. The ten acres across the dirt road was listed at $70,000, then started dropping quickly because the owner is in a hurry to sell. It seems like he may have inherited the land and wants the cash. The price has dropped now to $45,000 and we don’t think it will stay up for sale much longer at that price – that’s only $4,500/acres.

We are thinking of making an offer, contingent upon the land perc-ing satisfactorily, but our conundrum is this: we don’t like debt. I’m driving a nearly ten-year-old minivan because I can’t stand the thought of taking a car loan and I don’t want to dip into what’s left of our savings after the big move we did in September. I’d rather my dinged up van than a car payment any day and I could give a rip about what people think of my scuffed up vehicle, since it’s clean and reliable. By being frugal, Philip and I were able to put a very large down payment on our current land and home, but even so we had to mortgage part of it. We haven’t yet saved up enough cash to buy the new chunk of land outright, so we’d have to mortgage part of that purchase price…and we loathe debt! But if we don’t move soon, the land will be gone, and it’s a gem. There are no other unsold, undeveloped chunks of land around us; we are surrounded by homes on 5-10 acre plots (except for the homes lining West Lake), some preservation lands, the Waterloo Rec area, and big 100+ acre farms.

So we’re really mulling this over – buy now by taking on debt or hold out while we squirrel away all my paychecks and pray no one else grabs it? But tomorrow Philip is calling our mortgage officer just to inquire…prayers for wisdom in this matter would be appreciated, as we view this land as part of our long-term vision for our family, if the Lord is willing, with hopes of establishing a base for a multi-generational kin network.  Recall that my husband’s brother and his wife live a fifteen-minute drive from us, his auntie is just around the corner from us, and his mother is looking to move from Dearborn to live near us as well.  Our plan for the land is to allow our children to build houses on it if they wish in the future when they marry.  Living near extended family is something that I have increasingly come to value and the idea of my future grandchildren, should God bless me with any, being able to walk across the street to visit me is very appealing.

But mortgaging it would mean I’m tied to a full-time job for the forseable future. I don’t mind this much, as I work in a pleasant school district with friendly co-workers, but I miss my family terribly when I’m away from them all day. Still, it seems I may have to accept being apart from my family now in order to have a place for them to live near me later on.

The decline of the gens and familia: we want to live together but we just can’t get along.

When my grandmother and grandfather got married after he returned from fighting in World War II, they lived in an apartment above the garage of my grandmother’s parents’ house until my mother was two years old, when they bought the little home they lived in for the rest of their lives.  After they moved, they had dinner at one or the other set of grandparents’ homes every Sunday, but interestingly, my grandfather only went to dinner at his own parents’ house and stayed home on the Sundays when the family gathered at my grandmother’s parents’ house. Obviously there must have been some kind of residual tension between my grandfather and great-grandparents after years of living in close contact with them.

We’ve gotten in the habit of thinking of the word “family” as meaning a husband, a wife, and several children, but this is a very narrow view of what family means and certainly isn’t what’s meant by the term “patriarchy”. A patriarchy has generally been a kin-based clan that is headed up by a senior male relative, with each man under him taking on successively smaller leadership roles. For example:

In Roman times, all citizens were divided by gens (clan) and familia (sept), determined on a purely patrilineal basis, in the same way as the modern inheritance of surnames…[t]he gens was the larger unit, and was divided into several familiae…

The idea of the nuclear family being an autonomous unit not embedded in a wider kin network seems to be fairly recent.

On Christmas Eve I sat by the tree with my mother-in-law after the children were in bed and we had finished playing Santa Claus and putting the gifts under the tree and in the stockings, and we got to talking about her childhood in Detroit from 1935 when she was born up until she got married around age 22.  Detroit was still considered the Paris of the west at that time and was not the “diversified” urban wasteland of crime and pawn shops that it is now, and she lived in a two-flat house owned by her grandparents. She lived in the upstairs flat with her mother, father, and brother, and her father’s parents lived in the downstairs flat.

I said, “Oh, that must have been really nice.”

She paused, “Well, yes.”  But something in her response made it clear that there was more to the story. It turns out that her mother didn’t get on well with her in-laws. They tended to be judgmental and gossipy and it hurt her mother’s feelings terribly and caused tension in her marriage. Eventually when the children were teenagers there was a particular incident in which my mother-in-law’s grandfather engaged in some particularly unkind gossip and her mother had had enough. I won’t share all the details, but the end result was that my mother-in-law’s parents moved out of the two-flat house and bought their own home in Dearborn, which is about a 20 minute drive from Detroit.  But my mother-in-law said her father was very angry about moving away from his parents. I can’t feel too sorry for him, though; he ought to have stood up to his parents at some point and insisted they treat his wife and children with more kindness.

I’ve been pondering a lot lately how much more connected and fulfilled I feel around extended family but also trying to understand how this can be so despite the various tensions and squabbles that have erupted over the years. There were times when I was at odds with either my mother, my mother-in-law, or both.  It seems that we want our extended families but they also drive us crazy, as we no doubt drive them crazy. In the past, for economic reasons people had no choice but to stay embedded in their extended families, but as we became more prosperous right around the 1950s, people decided the petty bickering, power plays, and factioning that occurs were just too much hassle and the gens broke apart into individual familiae.

And it hasn’t stopped there. After the extended family broke into individual nuclear families, the 1970s no-fault divorce revolution happened.  And then in the 1990s the single (never married) mother revolution really got going.  The nuclear family is now breaking apart into an even smaller unit of just a woman and sometimes her children if she has any, but increasingly, people are remaining both unmarried and childless.

Are we happier this way? Maybe in the short-term we are, but I am not convinced we are in the long run.  The decline in the size of our family units has nicely mirrored the decline in our mental health:

Studies show that rates of depression for Americans have risen dramatically in the past 50 years. Research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that major depression rates for American adults increased from 3.33 percent to 7.06 percent from 1991 through 2002.

It’s a real paradox here in this fallen shadow world; we want to be totally free and independent but the freer and more independent we become, the unhappier we are.   It’s tempting to blame feminism, but I think this is more a symptom of the larger problem of not being able to submit ourselves to the messy and sometimes even unpleasant or emotionally painful larger family unit. We don’t want to compromise any of our precious freedom, not realizing that with absolute freedom comes absolute isolation.

We want both to rebel and simultaneously to be constrained, so we end up acting out a game of how-low-can-you-go; how small can the family unit get before we are all just a bunch of lonely, irritable individuals inhabiting our own separate little boxes, unable to tolerate the messy, painful, satisfying love of our gens and familia?