Four years ago, as we stood around an altar in southern Israel, my professor explained to us that in ancient Israel every member of the family was involved in making a loaf of bread. The men and boys would be working out in the fields, planting and harvesting, and the women and girls would grind the grain into flour, and make and cook the dough. For those of us who buy our bread at the grocery store, this model may seem insignificant, but as I heard him describe it, I felt overwhelmed. Each individual contributes to achieve a mutually desired end. It is the familial harmony inherent in that process that touched me so deeply.
He shared this with us as we stood around an altar because he was speaking about familial sacrifice. He talked about the many sacrifices made by his wife—the things that she put on her life’s altar—on behalf of their family.
As I reflect on that experience I’m struck by the sacrifices my own parents have made over many years to take care of us. Many of their sacrifices I’ve only recently become cognizant of, and many of them I’ll probably never know about. It also calls to mind the sacrifices my brothers have made for me. I remember times when I was in crisis and one of my brothers sat down and talked things through with me or answered the phone in the middle of the night and came to my rescue.
When as Big Ocean Women we say that we greatly value the contributing role of families, we mean that we recognize the family to be essential and fundamental. In contrast to this, the phrase “unpaid care work” was used over and over at CSW this year. “Unpaid care work” is a mother or father caring for their children. This choice in nomenclature clearly equates value with money. It fails to acknowledge that the way we choose to raise our children today will create a blueprint for what the world will look like in a generation. An article in The Economist aptly describes the situation this way: “If the empowerment of women was one of the great changes of the past 50 years, dealing with its social consequences will be one of the great challenges of the next 50.”
The UN takes a wholly economical approach to encouraging women to joining the workforce. If a woman works then she’ll need to pay someone to take care of her children, meaning that her employment creates a job for someone else. While this does lead to higher employment rates, there are other factors to take into consideration. For example, what is the value of a strong economy if the threads of our being are unraveling because we lack a nourishing home environment in which to develop? Is the strong economy we are promoting even sustainable long term if it comes at the expense of our children’s wellbeing?
Family capital is the understanding that emphasis on strong homes and child-rearing builds the most secure infrastructure for any community. It places value, not on money, but on interpersonal relationships that fortify our communities and embrace our humanity.
As someone who grew up in a loving and supportive family this is something that I believe in fundamentally. I am also achingly aware that many—perhaps even most—are not so privileged. This is not a reason to dismiss the value of the family. To the contrary it is a reason to work even harder to defend it, nourish it, bolster it. It is a call to those who are blessed with safety, comfort, and familial harmony to reach their arms around those who are not. Like the families in ancient Israel, each of us has a powerful contributing role in this world that can create harmony and unity with our fellow human beings. In this way, with homes as the epicenter, our love and community will grow until the world becomes our family.
Written by Elisabeth S. Weagel