Women have always done it all for her family. Today’s world throws new challenges to an Eishet Chayil, fortunately there are remedies.
The Roots of the Song
“Who can find a wife of excellence? Her value far exceeds that of gems.” Written in acrostic format, the song Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valor), glorifies a woman who does it all for her family. Many Jewish husbands and husbands-to-be get a romantic gleam in their eyes as they sing this song to their wives at their weddings or Friday nights. Today’s world throws new challenges to an Eishet Chayil, fortunately there are remedies.
The Reality Women Face
Nowadays in addition to all her other responsibilities, this woman would also have to climb the corporate ladder. When electronics shaved the time off of household tasks and the Pill allowed women more control over their compliance with “Be fruitful and multiply”, expectations of women rose exponentially. The result: it’s is getting even harder to have it all by doing it all. The problem has become so widespread that the Ms. Foundation, a decades-old bastion of feminism, now addresses it in their newly reformed, “Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day”. Now half of the day, originally intended to introduce girls to the wonderful world of work asks children to ponder such realities as,” Your 6-year-old child just started a new school and it turns out the school bus doesn’t come until 8:00 in the morning. You need to leave for work at 7:30 in order to get to work on time. Your boss is very strict about people being on time. You don’t want to leave your child alone for 30 minutes. What would you do?” In “The Second Shift”, sociologist Arlie Hochschild explores the lives of working mothers in dual career homes. These women take it all on and suffer from chronic exhaustion, low sex drive and frequent illness as a result. Is this our Eishet Chayil?
How Does Judaism Factor In? The Jewish community places particular strains and praises on our women. The Torah goes into great depth about the matriarchs, prophetesses and great women. We remember how the women aided in the redemption from Egypt, tried to prevent the golden calf and received the Torah. No man-written books of previous centuries record the songs, battles and victories of women to the extent the Torah does. We’ve come a long way since Eve. While this may flatter and possibly overwhelm many women, modern realities of job instability and high cost of living sometimes demand a dual income home. Lighting candles may help bring light into the world but it does not bring money to the bank. So, many Jewish women face the responsibilities of not only working at home and in the office, as non-Jewish women do, but also creating a spiritual home through freshly cooked Shabbos meals, teaching children some songs and lessons of Torah etc.
Raising the Valor
Despite overwhelming obstacles throughout history women have overcome them. These modern challenges can similarly be captured with strategy and team work. Here are some ideas to help you cope. Make yourself a priority: it may seem counterintuitive that to be a better mother, you need to unapologetically make time for yourself each day. Yoga is a good way to exercise and restore balance.
Make time for yourself as part of a couple too: it may seem like the ultimate motherly act to put the children first but children really like seeing their parents happy, especially together. Set a date night and stick to it.
Remember that Martha Stewart has assistants: before you knock yourself for not baking cookies and air drying your laundry, give yourself credit for all the things you do and do not feel guilty for taking shortcuts on the other things.
Enjoy being a family: try to find something everyone in your family has in common and enjoys doing and do it together. This is easier than constantly trying to squeeze in time for everyone’s interests. You can have your cake and eat it too buy taking long walks with the family: quality time and exercise time are one and the same. Another example would be involving the children in safe, crafty, home improvement projects which allows you to accomplish something and spend time with the children.
At this point, you would think the Eishet Chayil would prefer a nap to listening to a song each week. Yet, somehow, appreciation and support from husbands, family and community goes a long way. Husbands also must balance long hours at work and trying to help out at home. Thankfully, the deeply ingrained Jewish praise of women has influenced some understanding husbands to help out more. It is not uncommon to see husbands coming home late at night to not only take out the garbage but also give the baby a bath and possibly even throw in a load of laundry. No longer can we claim housework is women’s work. Women are too busy going to work and creating spiritual homes to always concern themselves with grocery shopping and vacuuming. Couples must work out an equitable balance that suits their particular needs. The good news, to remember as you go to bed at midnight to wake up at 5am the next day, is that companies are also finally stepping up to the challenge. Flextime and Family Leave make life for women at many companies much easier. More than ever, companies are realizing that even that is not enough. Children do not raise themselves (at least not to positive results) and as a society, we have come to the realization that, as Hillary Clinton wrote, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”. Mothers calling in absent to take their children to the doctor or leaving early to attend PTA is being looked upon by companies less as a job interfering nuisance and more as an honorable recognition of priorities. Have patience. Successful revolutions do not happen overnight but just remember that we are all in the same boat, headed towards progress. It takes a lot of work to raise a family and you don’t truly see results for decades. It takes a lot of work to have a career but there the results are more immediate and less lasting. Balancing the two is a true challenge for today’s Eishet Chayil.