Shepherdess: 130 years as a nurturer

The author may not actually have spent more than a century as wife, mother, and grandmother, but the activities she describes here would certainly seem to require more than a single normal lifespan.

Miriam Wood is a prolific writer, finding time in her nurturing role to write a column for the Adventist Review as well as articles for many other publications.

We are living in a confused worldcontroversy over the role of women; increasing divorce; more and more children being placed in day-care centers; teen-agers, unhappy with themselves and trying to solve their problems through drugs and drink. Women's priorities have changed. Each person in the marriage relationship does his own thing, asking of each commitment, '"What's in it for me?"

As chief nurturer of the home, women are finding themselves in a most difficult situation, and the minister's wife is no exception. In fact, her role is often even more complex. In discussing with many of you the difficulties you are experiencing, I realize the problems you face in trying to find your way out of this confusion. Yours is a unique position; many demands are made on you that other wives do not have. Sometimes you are harassed by the feeling that you must "be all things to all people.'' Because of your husband's responsibilities, your home life is anything but regular. Various reasons cause you to feel you should get a job working outside the home. You feel unfulfilled wondering what you are accomplishing day by day.

Can you, as a minister's wife, realize your potential? Can you find your way out of this confusion and find fulfillment? Miriam Wood, wife of Kenneth Wood, former editor of the Adventist Review, gives a personal testimony indicating that this is possible even while coping with the home duties and unique demands of a minister's wife. The first part—her own experience appears in this issue. The October Shepherdess will carry her observations on how a busy pastor's wife can still be a nurturer of the home. —Marie Spangler.


A friend told me recently that many people regard me as a strong protagonist of the liberated woman. I was astonished. Nothing could be further from the truth, either in my intellectual concepts or in the way I have lived my life. Few women have been given greater or more lifelong opportunities to be a family nurturer than I. Challenges in this area have given me life's greatest satisfactions. This doesn't mean that I think women are inferior to men or incapable of being successful at any job. And I have certainly expressed my conviction vigorously and often that women should be in the midst of the church's decisionmaking committees, be given opportunity for any advancement for which they are qualified, and be paid on the same scale as males. But Marie Spangler has asked me to discuss my attitude toward the basic structure of homelife in my role as wife, mother, and grandmother. In doing so, I shall be speaking of the family with children, and not of singleness.

By my own form of reckoning, I have now spent 130 years as an active nurturer! That alone should enable me to speak with some degree of authority. Besides, I am having a unique opportunity, right now, to step off the relentless escalator of working life and look both backwards and forwards. For the first time in thirty-four years, I am not employed outside the home. This is by my own choice because I feel that I need to be a strong nurturer just now, and I'm not sure I could manage both a professional and a nurturing role with the same ease I once could.

Let me briefly validate my claim as a lifelong nurturer. I graduated from college at 19, married immediately, and plunged into the life of a young preacher's wife. "Young" is no mere euphemism, for my groom was 20 and I the aforementioned 19. I accepted the entire minister's wife "package" of that day—the selfless life, the lack of funds, the helpmeet through thick and thin. We were painfully poor, and things didn't improve much when two baby girls joined us during the first five years. But it never occurred to me to get a job outside the home, although I possessed teaching credentials and was a good secretary. I felt that 1 had been given the most precious and important job on earth, nurturing my husband and my little girls.

Sometimes I think back on those sweet old days and a lump comes into my throat. How I pored over my few little cookbooks, contriving recipes that would tempt the palate! At that time we didn't fear sugar,, salt, and everything else that tastes good. With no mixer, I produced cakes that were marvels of lightness. My pies were legendary. I taught myself to be a passable seamstress and designed matching outfits for my little girls. I read them stories every day. I took them to parks and museums and zoos and parades. When they were of school age, I assisted in their homework. I played the piano for all kinds of meetings. I was the "consultant" for Friend Husband's sermons. (I don't know where I got my boundless energy; if I did know, I'd go find it for I could certainly use it now!) Of course, I complained regularly, but not too seriously, about our lack of funds.

It occurs to me that in the above paragraph, I should substitute "we" for "I." KHW was just as enthusiastic as I about the nurturing role. He made me feel that mine was the most important job on earth. He always expressed appreciation for everything I did. He counted on me. He ate with gratitude anything I put in front of him. I basked in his admiration.

When we moved to the East Coast, we left all our relatives, including parents and grandparents, in California. Daughter Number One was just 2 years old, and daughter Number Two had not yet appeared. I was determined that Janet, and later Carole, should have a sense of family and that the relatives would feel close to my children. So every few weeks I typed a letter, with many carbons, sending copies to everyone. I added personal notes.

I loved being a pastor's wife. One of the saddest days of my life was the day KHW became a departmental secretary. I wonder whether I have ever quite forgiven him! This changed our lives, since he was away some of the time, but still the essential structure remained the same. Now I was needed more than ever in the nurturing role.

Finally, when both children were in school, finances (or lack of the same) dictated that I get a part-time job. This eventually led to full-time teaching for about twenty years and then to editorial work for nearly ten. I enjoyed my professional life; loved my graduate university courses; worked on my Master's degree and was rewarded with a great deal of appreciation on my job. Then choices had to be made. I was starting up the corporate ladder of school administration. I was asked to be a department head and was told that this would lead to further promotions. I was a "natural" for leadership they said. This is heady stuff, and I had to do a lot of thinking. Promotion meant consider ably more money, but I would have to give up the free summers that were so important to our family structure. And I would be involved with many night meetings. Could I continue to be the primary family nurturer under these circumstances? So far I had succeeded, I thought, in juggling both aspects of my life. Should this change? Would I be happier if it did change? Would my husband and daughters be happier?

My answer was No. I wanted my nurturing role to continue uninterrupted. I tried to explain to the people offering me "the kingdoms of this world." I don't think they ever under stood, but I have never regretted my decision. There was not room in my marriage for two high-powered careers. There was room for a career and a job, and for the person holding the latter to give good value. Perhaps some women have the capacity to do what I could not. I am speaking only of the decision I had to make. Incidentally, I tend to reject the current "quality" vs. "quantity" argument that is used to justify spending only fifteen minutes a day with a child. I don't think such short periods, no matter of what quality, can be "meaningful," especially if the mother is exhausted from her professional role. As much as possible, a nurturer needs to be a physical presence in the home—not to carry on incessant conversations with the children, but simply to ward off loneliness and to ensure correct on-going decisions.

Later, when I was offered the editor ship of one of our major denominational periodicals, it didn't take long for "no" to spring to my lips. By that time KHW was editor of the church paper, and I could not see how our home could survive two people with constant deadlines and relentlessly high public profiles.

The girls married. They were busy with their lives. Nurturing time was drawing to a close, I thought. Then divorce struck our younger daughter when her baby was only a few months old. Though her decision had disturbed us, Carole had not finished college. Now she was swirling about in all sorts of negative currents, and it became clear that unless she could gain a purpose and direction, her life would be wasted. Her baby must have a stable mother. She wanted, she said, to be a nurse. We committed ourselves to that goal, and again I took on the role of nurturer. Carole was busy with her nursing course. She and Jennifer lived with us. What joy it was to have that warm, precious bundle to wake up to each morning, to bathe, to feed, to dress, and then, as she got a bit older, to have worship with before taking her to her baby-sitter. I would have preferred to take care of her totally myself, but if Carole's tuition was to be paid, I must continue to teach. All day I hugged the thought to myself that at four o'clock I would pick up Jennifer and give her a bottle of fruit juice and let her play around my feet while I cooked a good meal.

Six happy, very full years went by. Yes, they were full of stress. Sometimes there were heartaches and tears, some times periods of despair, sometimes hasty words, but Carole succeeded in her ambition gloriously. She graduated, with a list of job offers. Jennifer was growing into a beautiful little girl, and the two of them moved into their own apartment.

Now my nurturing role really was over for good, except for Friend Husband, who was gone a great deal of the time and almost totally absorbed in the stresses of late twentieth century religious currents. Jennifer still spent weekends with us; there were the familiar museums and zoos and cookies and fruit juice and stories and rides into the country. Carole was working very, very hard and making a great success, but a single parent cannot do everything alone.

Along the years two grandsons— Janet's children—had also put in appearances. They were a source of infinite fascination to me, since I had had no sons. I spent as much time with them as I could, and when the family moved to Andrews University I bought special stationery that would appeal to them. I wrote them their own letter each week in which I enclosed small pictures, dimes, and other fun things. They spent every Christmas with us and many weeks in summer. I felt that Jennifer, Kenny, and Chris were the products—in a sense—of my nurturing role. I could rejoice in their development, along with their parents. Tragedy struck. The little boys' father died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 36, with no warning of previous heart problems. Kenny and Chris were 10 and 8 years old. Just one month prior to Dick's death, the family had moved to Maryland, about fifteen miles from us. Their new house was not even settled, not even decorated.

I have never known such despair. I didn't blame God. I have never felt singled out for sorrow, since this is a random universe and the devil's territory. But could we all survive? Could our daughter, strong and courageous though she was, be everything that two little boys needed? She would have to earn the living. It was clear that the Lord had presented me with another nurturing role, not as chief nurturer, but as associate nurturer. KHW viewed the situation exactly as I did. After the first few black weeks, Janet squared her shoulders and staunchly moved back into her unfinished house, applied for a teaching job, and valiantly began the process of trying to live again. Hers had been a close and loving marriage. Dick had been a devoted and unusually attentive husband and father. Life seemed infinitely bleak to all of us.

KHW and I were united in our resolve that the boys must not feel that, having lost their father, they had lost everything else. We put aside most of our own social life to clear the decks for time with Kenny and Chris. Every Friday after noon for four years during feasible weather, KHW, who had never gone in much for sports, played golf with Kenny. Janet, Chris, and I roamed the nearby shopping mall, with special attention to the pet store. When other activities had to be contrived, we came up with all sorts of creative ideas.

Every Sabbath I served a special dinner in our dining room, with beautiful tablecloth, crystal, and china, as I had done when Jennifer was small. Now she and Carole usually joined us. The boys accepted me as a surrogate mother when Janet needed my extra help. But I can't think of praise extravagant enough for the nurturing she gave her little sons nor of her ability to set her priorities in order. She was the authority figure; KHW and I were careful not to interfere in that area. We simply filled in, as best we could, the enormous void left by their father's death.

Somewhere along the years after the grandchildren came on the scene, The Drawer came into existence. This is (obviously) a deep kitchen drawer that I keep filled with assorted goodies—rai sins, nuts, sugarless gum, and cookies. I hasten to add that the cookies are as healthful as I can find—oatmeal, raisin, fig, and granola bars. Now dietitians shouldn't waste their time writing to castigate me. The Drawer says "love" and it stays. I'm always amused nowadays when I hear a grandchild initiating a friend into the delights of this arrangement.

After four and a half years, God brought a beautiful new love into Janet's life. After their marriage, I told Naor that I had thought Janet would probably remarry, but I had not expected to feel as close again to a son-in-law as I feel toward him. I could not have had sufficient faith to ask God to provide another loving and concerned father for the boys, but He did so anyway. This is the ultimate in serendipity.

Now nurturing was really over. Wasn't it? Carole and Jennifer had moved to Florida. But in her new work with a surgical supply company, Carole traveled extensively, and it was not always possible to secure the right care for Jennifer. KHW and I were constantly concerned. We spent vacations in Florida, and Jennifer spent most of her summers with us. We took trips together, and we shared her growing-up years. But when she graduated from high school, it became apparent that a major decision must be made. God, it became increasingly clear, was leading Jennifer to make her home with us and attend Columbia Union College.

And so, I decided to give up editorial work and resume the nurturing role full time. Yes, I am back to Square One. I'm back to planning regular meals, to washdays with loads of clothes, to young people staying overnight, to whipping up food at a moment's notice for hungry young males. I'm back to organizing my day around taxing college schedules; to listening for the door key late at night; to worrying about icy roads when Jennifer has late commitments. But her intense motivation for success makes it all worthwhile.

At the present time there is a storm of controversy over the role of women in western civilization. A new, much-dis cussed book, The Cinderella Complex, takes the position that women can never find themselves or realize their potential in marriage. They will always be sniveling dependents. I watched the author of this book on a television talk show, and I came away with the strong impression of a bitterly unhappy woman who had failed in two marriages, a woman who stridently put down those women in the audience who pleaded for a chance to fill the nurturing role. For her, such a role must not, and does not, exist. How should children be cared for? She made vague references to day-care centers and forcing the state to do something. I was disturbed by the young girls in the audience who were bemused by her empty rhetoric.

I am troubled by the fact that many of my women acquaintances who have espoused "me first" and "self-realization" are, in general, now so unhappy. In the wake of their new philosophy lies the debris of broken marriages, shipwrecked children, disillusioned sycophants. If "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" then the proof of the fallaciousness of some current thinking seems substantive.

This is certainly not to say that the only fulfillment for a woman is marriage and motherhood. If so, then single or widowed women would be only partial people, and nothing could be more unfair or unjust or untrue. One of the most fulfilled women I know, Dr. Joan Coggin, is unmarried, but has given so much to the world around her that she is an inspiration and ideal to all her friends. I am simply saying that women were, I believe, appointed by God as the primary parental nurturers.

I can truthfully say that I have never felt stifled by this role. On the contrary, I actually have found myself and fulfillment in it. I was fortunate to have a college degree when I married. I strongly believe that all women ought not to marry until they have some way of supporting themselves, should the need arise. Their viewpoint on this should be the same as that of males—be prepared to earn a living. I enjoyed my teaching tremendously. I enjoyed my university graduate courses. I enjoyed my editorial work. During those working years I authored fifteen books and wrote a weekly column for nearly twenty years, all of which ought to indicate that I was certainly not downtrodden. As a matter of fact, KHW is largely responsible for my creative endeavors. He pushed me along, refusing my flabby excuses for nonproductivity.

As I take stock of what has happened in my own life, I see a husband who has realized his potential. I see two daughters who, despite hammer blows from fate, have salvaged their lives. I see three grandchildren who are successful, and above all and most important, who are solidly stable in their values and goals. Would all of it have come about if I had not considered my nurturing role to be my primary responsibility? I honestly don't know. There were, of course, other contributory factors.

I don't want to give you the impression that everything has been one long, uninterrupted, lovely melody. There have been harsh words from time to time. I have been monumentally irritated with the grandchildren and probably will be again, particularly if they use my car and leave the radio tuned to one of their favorite, atrocious stations. We have had spirited discussions on many topics, with neither of us giving an inch. I have done my share of self-pitying complaining. But my overall goals are being realized.

In the October issue, in this section, I want to use this personal narrative of my nurturing role through the years, as a background from which to discuss the nurturing role as it relates to the preacher's wife.

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Miriam Wood is a prolific writer, finding time in her nurturing role to write a column for the Adventist Review as well as articles for many other publications.

August 1983

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