Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 1

This is one of my most often read books on my anthroposophy bookshelf. I’ve struggled with it for many years; just like Steiner lectures, it takes a lot of chewing over and ruminating. I think to do it justice, I will go through the entire book (don’t worry, it’s only 42 pages) and summarize and comment on what I think are the most interesting points. (You might differ — go read it!) I’ll start with the first 6 pages.

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Individuality and Role Expectations

In ancient times, people were not as individualized as we are today. Each person was part of many larger groups; gender, tribe, nation, and religion all had their norms, which guided many aspects of everyday life. Human ego development slowly advanced over time, leading to increasing individual autonomy that reached something of an apex in the various social conflicts of the twentieth century such as women’s emancipation, drastic changes in parenting styles, and new family forms (more on this in a moment).

What could be called the “naive ideal” of the modern homemaker — the “supermom” who does it all herself (anyone remember this commercial?) — is based on the Victorian middle-class woman, who had servants to help her cook, clean, and look after the children. And she was not expected to (or allowed to, in many senses) seek mental stimulation outside the home. This of course is not generally the situation today, and so homemakers are setting themselves up for frustration, hopelessness, and failure.

While in times past women were largely confined to the home, over the last fifty years or so there have been major changes in Western culture that have given homemakers more options. Authoritarian parenting has lost ground to numerous alternative methods. Alternative parenting structures have also arisen: blended families, communal living, the expansion of preschooling, and so on. It became socially acceptable for women to work outside the home, and women were no longer seen as intellectually inferior.

Strength and Insight

“How does one find the strength to manage, how does one find the insight?” How do we work from individuality and not role expectations?

If we believe the premise of reincarnation (as put forward in anthroposophy), then we see that we have chosen on some level to be male or female in this life. Our true, immortal selves are not gendered, and thus we are fundamentally independent of our earthly circumstances. We are not our bodies, nor are we our social milieu. This realization can help us meet our tasks and challenges with more equanimity and not react so much out of compulsion or social custom.

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The personal perspective — “A homemaker is an individual who enters such work for particular reasons,” and “An individuality . . . formed her destiny so that she became a wife and mother. What did she want to achieve by it?” — leads then to the question, “What effect does the homemaker have on history?”

I’ll ponder that one in Part 2.

Manfred Schmidt-Brabant, The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, Temple Lodge, 1996.

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15 Comments

Filed under Anthroposophy, Books, Deep Thoughts, Homemaking, Parenting

15 responses to “Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker – Part 1

  1. I, too, have read this several times. I sent my copy to a friend several months ago and am feeling like it need it back. I was just thinking about this book last night I was reading an article in the back of the “Steiner Books” catalog by Dan McKanon. It was actually a presentation about “Christian” communities transforming societies. About the Catholic Workers and Camphills around the country. It got me really thinking about the modern human and how we are so lacking in the individual will forces to do the things are grandmothers did (sew clothes, cook everything from scratch, have lots of babies, cook church suppers and for sick neighbors, look clean and tidy when our husbands come home from work…) I would rather take care of my need more often than the household or family needs. While we are more individualistic in nature these days we really need to be embraced by a community to get everything done and to help each other to not get caught up into the mentality that we need to be the “Enjoli” woman. Although I can’t do it all, I try to bring a certain mindfulness to my daily tasks that I hope compensate for the ones I choose not to do. Maybe being in a service oriented community one can find ways to keep giving and not be overwhelmed because there is often someone else there to get your back when you need to “be fed”.

    This has been a little OT but it was just what has been on my mind- trying to find my place in the world as a spiritual and creative person, farmer, mother, housewife, teacher.
    Thanks for sharing your insight into the book, I really love this book and I hope it touches other people as well.

  2. Lisa Anne: Not OT at all. One of the results of modern frustration is not feeling able to give to others. I feel that way quite often: most of my time is spent serving my family in one way or another, so how can I do more? Who’s serving me? Where is my support network? Some people still find support through church, or other social networks. But many people are so much more isolated, or their social interactions are fairly shallow and don’t offer true support.

    One of my favorite authors is Wendell Berry, and one of the things that strikes me in his fiction is the beautiful interaction between the men and women in terms of division of labor. The farm wives are truly valued for their work, and it’s not portrayed as lesser than the men’s work. Certainly the culture he described is fairly rigidly circumscribed in terms of gender roles, but there doesn’t seem to be an inherent hierarchy within it. The gratitude flows both ways. And of course the women receive support from their neighbors and friends and churches.

  3. This sounds like an excellent book, full of wisdom. I look forward to reading part two. I like the way of looking at the individual as fundamentally independent of our earthly circumstances and believe it to be true.

  4. Alida

    Staying home to raise kids was always something I felt compelled to do, it was in fact a deal breaker when I was dating. I’ve never subscribed to the “super woman” concept of doing it all. While I’ve never regretted the decision, there have been times of isolation (especially after moving away from family) and plain old exhaustion.

    I’m excited to read about a homemakers affect on history. I headed to the library today and getting a lot of the books you’ve recommended.

  5. Penny in VT

    These are *wonderful* posts – and I was just about to reread this! Now I can do it with some of your insight to augment my own – thank you!

  6. I’ve been reading this post with some gratitude, as the book you talk about is not one I have had time to work with as yet – being too busy reading all the heavy duty teacher training books. But this question of how to best support our families I think is one of all adults with children. In my case, I was a homemaker and homeschool parent for 9 years before starting to teach in a Waldorf school and sending my children there as well. I have found that with shifting responsibilities, the answers to the question change. Where I used to focus more on making our house a home for everyone else, I now find that we spend a lot more time working together so we can have time doing our crafting and other things that are often curtailed by the limited time we are actually home during the week.

    I also wanted to touch on the idea of Karma that Rudolf Steiner puts forth. While I’m not sure that we actively “choose” our gender (and other details of our next incarnation), we certainly seem to carry impulses with us through time that shape the road that is laid out before us in a future life time. Personally I find it very reassuring that what so often seems mundane is really about learning to serve others lovingly (wow, how often I forget about that last part!) so we may learn about love.

    Thanks for writing this and inspiring thoughts!

  7. I find it amazing that you posted this. I literally JUST told my husband that I wanted to take this book out and start reading it. Look forward to sharing with you on it.
    xoxo

  8. Dawn: The amazing thing is that the book is essentially three lectures given at a conference on homemaking at the Goetheanum in 1992! Too bad there aren’t more conferences like that.

    Alida: It’s amazing how supporting having family nearby can be, even in little ways, or only sort of psychologically.

    Penny: Great minds think alike 🙂

    Kirsten: Welcome! I get the feeling that things change for homemakers as their children get older as well. My kids are still quite young and so aren’t quite “helpful” yet, though they can feed the cats, help fold laundry, and so on.

    As for karma, I have also read or heard that we often alternate gender from one life to the next, so it may be that we only in some ways, or in some circumstances, choose our gender. Karma is one of those things that is almost incomprehensible, in my experience — too complex and too hidden from our conscious minds to apprehend fully. But I do believe that we make plans, so to speak, before birth, and yet those plans can change or be sent awry by our and others’ choices made out of free will.

    Eileen: Even more great minds, thinking alike 🙂

  9. Oh I am so glad you posted this – I really struggled with this book too – it was probably the first anthro book I read aot general steiner ed books – and I just couldn’t get it! At the anthro institute here they actually run a course called ‘the spiritual task of the homemaker’ – which is on my ‘must do’ list – apparently its amazing and blends the philosophy with lots of practical stuff to! They might be a bit appalled by my handwork or lack thereof though …

  10. Gypsy: Ooh, do please take that course and report back…I wish I could take it! I can see how this book would be a hard one to read for a newbie, since it assumes you know about anthroposophy and doesn’t explain much.

  11. Nana

    just a random thought: when did the term housewife become homemaker? was it after a large number of women went to work in white collar jobs and began moving up the ladder?

  12. Nana: Well…probably around the same time that people started trying to be more gender neutral. The same time we started having postal carriers, firefighters, flight attendants and police officers, instead of postmen, firemen, stewardesses, and policemen. I actually kind of like hausfrau, myself! And I also like that homemaker speaks to what you *do* instead of what you *are*.

  13. Mon

    Fabulous. I will bookmark and come back to these summaries.

  14. Nana

    well, my darling daughter, hausfrau translated into English is housewife, so let’s just agree that it really is demeaning and homemaker is much more accurate

  15. Nana: I know, I just think it has a nice, ironic ring to it.

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