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.
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.
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.