A Woman’s Feminine Design: Nurture Life
About the Guest
Mothering comes naturally for some women. For others, not so much. Busy career woman and mom Shaunti Feldhahn talks about her initial uncertainty about motherhood, and shares how the Lord taught her how to make more time for her children while engaged in a fulfilling ministry.
Shaunti FeldhahnShaunti received her graduate degree from Harvard University and was an analyst on Wall Street before unexpectedly becoming a social researcher, best-selling author and popular speaker. Today, she applies her analytical skills to investigating eye-opening, life-changing truths about relationships, both at home and in the workplace. Her groundbreaking research-based books, such as For Women Only, have sold more than 3 million copies in 25 languages and are widely read in homes, counseling centers...more
Mothering comes naturally for some women.
A Woman’s Feminine Design: Nurture Life
Bob: Have you noticed as a wife that you and your husband don’t always have the same ideas when it comes to parenting? Shaunti Feldhahn says that’s pretty normal and it’s probably a good thing.
Shaunti: Anthropologists have actually found that in every culture around the world that a man, a dad, will let a toddler child get three times further away from him than a mom will. The mom’s got that nurturing following them around so they don’t hurt themselves, and “Johnny, did you skin your knee?” and the dad’s like, “Go! Fly! If you fall down, suck it up and get back up.” And kids need both.
Bob: This is FamilyLifeToday for Thursday, March 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Today Shaunti Feldhahn joins us to talk about the priority of marriage and parenting in an already overcrowded woman’s life.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, as we’ve been spending time this week unpacking what God’s design for womanhood is, because of the video series that Shaunti Feldhahn and Robert Lewis worked on called LifeReady Woman.
Dennis: Yes, and Shaunti joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Shaunti, welcome back.
Shaunti: Thank you.
Bob: I’ve just been interested as I’ve been listening to this; I wondered if we made it kind of feel like there’s a recipe for fulfillment in the heart of a woman. If you’ll just do all the things you’re supposed to do –
Dennis: A plus B plus C –
Bob: Yes, and life will work out perfectly if I just do my part. I think we can have this formula mentality, not just about this but about raising kids or about –
Dennis: Or about life.
Bob: Yeah, if I just make the right choices life will work out the way I want it to.
Dennis: Yes. I look back on my life and both Barbara and I have been talking recently about this – how we started out in our 20s, 30s, maybe even 40s with really a very idealistic view of life.
Man, we’ve been through some tough stuff. She’s nearly died on three or four different occasions. We’ve had struggles with a child or two over our years of parenting. I mean, it was not smooth sailing. I think it’s one of the reasons why the Bible paints people the way it does; it paints them warts and all. I mean, you see their lies, their deceit. Judas, for instance, who was right next to Christ, denied him for thirty pieces of silver. I mean, life doesn’t necessarily work out the way we imagined.
Bob: And Shaunti, one of the things that you’re trying to say to women as you take them through the LifeReady Woman material, the video series, is there’s a way you are meant to live, but that doesn’t mean that the road you’re going to be on is going to be a smooth road.
I mean, you used the illustration earlier about your van and how you took it through a flood and it wasn’t made to do that, and you killed the van. Well it may be that you’re going to wind up on a rough road and there are a lot of bumps along the road, but you still have to be true to what you were made to do. Right?
Shaunti: Yes. It’s basically a matter of looking at our design and our callings and seeing, okay, you know what, if I work in the way that I’m meant to, this is the best possible way for me to live life. But that doesn’t mean that life doesn’t come at you and impact you. And it doesn’t mean that suddenly – like you said, it’s not a formula. It’s not like a cake mix; you know you put so many pieces of flour and this much sugar and you bake a cake and it all turns out perfectly, because there is stuff that gets in the way.
We deal with this a lot in the study, actually, and we talk about basically God’s ideal versus my real. One of my closest friends—I know she’s made mistakes, but she’s really done it as right as I could ever say a woman could do it. She’s been a great wife. She’s been a great mom, homeschooling five kids, adopted two of the kids out of foster care. She’s done so much of it right, and she’s beautiful. She takes care of herself and she’s respectful to her husband. She does all the stuff, but you know what? Last year her husband abandoned her, and walked out on her to go live with another woman. For him, he just completely collapsed, and it became a trust issue for her.
Life has handed me this; what do I do? It may be, like the single woman who says – you know, we had a woman in our LifeReady group, because I was trying to get every conceivable demographic, and one of them was a woman who is almost forty, she’s single, she would love to be married. I know her well enough to know she’s made incredibly wise choices, and it’s not because somehow she’s done something wrong, or whatever. No, this is just what’s happened in her life because of various circumstances, and she would love to be married but she’s not.
So it’s like, okay, here we are, here’s the situation, but you know what? I am designed this way. I am called this way. With what life has handed me I can still choose to live in obedience. And it may not look like I really wanted it to look, but it’s still going to end up being God can make this the best that it is for me right now.
And you know what, the other thing for all of us as women to talk about, and we deal with this a lot in the study as well, is to realize we have so much of an earthly perspective. We have so much of a perspective like this world is sort of the end point. Finally we die, we go to heaven and that’s sort of the end point, and it’s not it at all. And that in fact, really it’s just talking about that’s just the beginning and how we live in obedience in this life – it’s going to determine so much of what it looks like for us in heaven.
We just don’t talk about that as Christians. Jesus talks about that very clearly. Like in the parable of the talents, we think it’s saying if you live well, then more will be given to you here on earth. But in the context, it’s all about the end times and it’s all about when you get to heaven and the master has come back to you and said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. I’m going to give you more,” and that more is in heaven. So we have this earthly perspective and it’s so easy to do, but it’s so critical for us to start to get an eternal perspective instead.
So we’re trying to switch people’s mindsets to saying, “How can I live here in obedience according to how I’m designed?” In most cases it is going to lead to a better life here on earth, and certainly will lead to that good and faithful servant in heaven.
Dennis: Shaunti, I agree, and one of the things I really like about this new eight-session video series for women called LifeReady Woman is that you’ve really mapped out how both men and women are called to leave and cleave; in other words, establish the marriage relationship, but how also we are to be fruitful and multiply.
You’ve broken that down; talking about what a woman’s assignment is there, what her unique, feminine calling is there. Explain that to our listeners.
Shaunti: You know, there really is a unique way that women are designed to nurture life that is different from the way that men are designed to nurture life. And this is something I fought against for years, because we as women -- we don’t have any more special thing than men do, and why do they keep putting us as women into that bucket?
Dennis: Oh, yes you do. Any man who has ever stayed at home with the kids for a weekend knows that you’re more gifted in this area.
Bob: But you know what – there are women listening who are saying “I go crazy staying home with the kids for a weekend, too, so I don’t feel like I’ve got any of that nurturing thing.”
Shaunti: Yes. I would be one of them.
Shaunti: I mean, honestly, for example – and this is just to put it in a framework, is that my husband is actually much more naturally, to me, he looks much more naturally gifted and comfortable at hanging out with the kids and playing games. He’s a big kid. I’m like, well if we can put them in the car and go do something – I’m good at that. But I don’t feel that natural, sort of maternal giftedness that some women do.
It was always this very confusing thing of why is it that we’re supposed to be nurturers, right? Well, I look at the biology of my brain as a woman; I’m actually wired in some ways to do nurturing differently than my husband. Yes, he may have a personality that’s more big kid, but you know what? I as a woman am designed to hear things that my husband doesn’t notice.
Dennis: There’s no doubt about that.
Shaunti: I’m designed to be able to sense things and have this sort of empathy. As a woman, I see body language at a much earlier level than a man does. And I’m making generalizations, but generally this is how the female brain is designed. Obviously, biologically we’re designed to nurture life while we have children in our bodies as well. It’s a bigger picture framework for us to realize it is part of our design as being fruitful and multiply that we will do it differently.
Bob: Do you think some women shy away from a responsibility to engage as a nurturer because they just sense that “I’m not like that woman over there –“
Shaunti: Oh, sure.
Bob: -- who just seems to be a natural with her kids, and they’re hugging her, and she’s cutting out paper dolls, and you go “I am not that woman.”
Shaunti: Oh, believe me, you’re talking to me.
Bob: And so she says, “If I’m not that woman, then I’m not designed to be a nurturer.”
Shaunti: Well, and see this is the reason why it was so critical to do the Bible study and to create this Bible study for all sorts of different kinds of women, and to be able to talk to every individual woman who has a different personality, different temperament as we were talking about earlier, different life circumstances that have come at her – and she’s working all of those together, but it is because there is a way that God has specifically designed her.
Here’s an example for a woman as a female who does it differently than as a male would, anthropologists have found that in all cultures, all around the world, that on average a father of a toddler child will let that child get three times further away from him than the mom will. We as moms, we’re designed to be more of that kind of following them around, and “Oh, I don’t want Johnny to fall and hurt himself,” and you know the dad is letting them get further away. “Go! Fly! If you fall and hurt yourself, suck it up and get back up and do it over again.” And kids need both.
That’s the way God designed us, and to the degree that you can, and it’s sometimes hard, to realize that this is something to embrace. This is something for us to say, “Okay. I’m going to look for these opportunities. I’m going to see how God has designed me.”
There are other things that I talk about in the study, you know, that we don’t have time to get into here, but God, for example, has also given us as women a real specific kind of wisdom. The word is sophron in the Bible; this specific kind of female wisdom that God says we need to bring into the hearts of our children and that we need to bring into the hearts of our family in the world, too.
But you see, for example, the Proverbs 31 woman that talks about the specific kind of wisdom and teaching that she has. And you know what? If we don’t bring that to our kids, they’ll be missing something.
So it’s all part of looking and being purposeful. How are we designed? How are we called? How can I bring that to bear? And that is what is going to make life seem to fit. Although, as we talked about earlier, there are going to be cases where it doesn’t look exactly like we want it to, but at least we’ll be doing our part to the degree that we can.
Bob: So you leaned away from nurturing early on, right?
Shaunti: Yes, very much so. I didn’t even know if I wanted to have kids, frankly.
Bob: So now that you have kids and you’ve looked at what the Scriptures say and you’ve seen this is an assignment for women, how is life different than it was?
Shaunti: Well, you start to see –To me, what I always rebelled against and, hate to say it – it was rebellion – I always rebelled against words like assignment. What do you mean, it’s an assignment? What do you mean, I have a role? I don’t want to have a role. I don’t want to be put into a box. You know, we as women, we don’t want to be put into a box.
And instead, you start to see it once you walk in this, the way that you’re called. It starts feeling so right, that it starts feeling like, “Wait a minute. This isn’t a box. This is a gift. This is an opportunity. This is – suddenly I feel like it just works.”
And that’s really why the LifeReady Woman – that’s the title. It’s about being ready for life and it’s about feeling ready and clear in your direction and focused, rather than feeling that life is just happening to you and coming at you and you’ve got all this stuff to juggle and you don’t know how to do it all and you’re tired and yada, yada, yada, ya. Instead you feel like you understand where you’re going and what your purpose is.
Dennis: What I heard you say a bit earlier is that the Scripture really kind of edited some of the things that you really enjoy doing. Like you’d like to be out there and maybe not being the nurturing mother that God did design you to be. Help me if I’m wrong here, but it would be really easy for your husband to be the stay-at-home dad.
Shaunti: Yes. It would be very easy for us to have completely switched things around and for me to say, “Well it doesn’t come naturally so I’m just not going to do it. And you know what, honey? It comes naturally for you so you go and do,” as opposed to realizing, “Wait a minute! Both of us have responsibility here.”
This is what we talk about in the LifeReady Woman, is that God turned to both Adam and Eve and said, for example, “Be fruitful and multiply.” I am designed for that, and if I don’t do it, I’m going to end up like so many other women who have focused on my career – and men, for that matter – who have focused on my career and have focused on all this great stuff I’m doing out there – and I get a few years down the road and my kids are grown and they’re in college, and they go, I missed it. I missed all of those opportunities because I was so focused on going and doing out there, and that subdue and rule – you know that’s another one of the core callings – but it does not stop the fact that I’m also called to be fruitful and multiply.
I have to conform myself to that scriptural model to do those three things -- leave and cleave, be fruitful and multiply, and to subdue and rule – that God tells Adam and Eve. I have to conform myself to that rather than letting the world or my own desires conform me to the way that I would otherwise go.
Bob: So give me a concrete example of how you would lean into nurturing at home when you might not have done it this way in the past.
Shaunti: Well, here’s something that actually happened for me. I was so focused on the stuff I was doing in my ministry and the books that I was writing and the fun I was having being out and talking to women’s groups. And I hate to say it – this is really hard to talk about, but I was perfectly content with leaving my very small children in daycare all day.
I had just had my second child and I felt in my spirit there was something wrong with me when I really didn’t mind leaving my infant son in childcare until 6:30 in the evening, and got irritated to have to pick him up. At my 36th birthday dinner with some girlfriends I broke down in tears. “This can’t be right.” I asked my friends to pray for me. I cried out to God, “Lord, is this wrong? If so, change my desires.” And here’s what I felt that I heard as an answer from God:
“Pick them up at three.”
“No, Lord, I mean make me want to be the mom you want me to be.”
“Pick them up at three.”
“But how will I get all my work done?”
“Pick them up at three.”
Finally I obeyed, and I picked them up at three o’clock, which meant I was spending at least three hours more a day with my children. God changed my desires.
I had always bought into the notion that some women are just not naturally maternal. And okay, maybe I wasn’t maternal in the same way as a woman who had always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but part of the reason my feelings were off-base is that I was living from the outside in, and I was letting my skills and interests dictate how I was spending all my time. When I changed how I spent my time, my feelings and my interest followed.
This principle is so well summed up by one moment in the movie Fireproof. One of the main characters looks at his friend, a man who is contemplating divorce because he doesn’t ‘feel the love’ anymore, and he says, “You can’t follow your heart, because your heart can be deceived. You’ve got to lead your heart.” Leading your heart is essentially what inside-out living is.
Dennis: I kept waiting in the midst of that story, Shaunti, for you to say, “And then Jeff said to me,” or “Jeff confronted me,” or “Jeff appealed to me.”
Shaunti: Oh, oh yes. That happened multiple times, actually. There were several times when Jeff basically said, “The way you’re spending your time, you’re not with your kids when you’re with your kids.”
There were a few times in that process where I’d pick them up at three and I’d be on the telephone doing conference calls. He finally got in my face and said, “You’re still not with them. You’re still not really investing into them.” So that was all part of my “Okay, I have to do this. I have to function the way that I’m designed. I have to not follow my feelings. I have to lead my feelings.” And that’s really when my feelings changed.
Dennis: I appreciate you sharing that story, because there are a lot of men listening right now who may need to say something –
Dennis: -- to their wives. What they need to hear is the hope that can come by a man being strong enough to keep stepping in, not nagging –
Shaunti: Yes, yes.
Dennis: -- not being critical, but appealing to embrace God’s design of being a woman, a wife, and a mom.
Shaunti: I think also there are some men who probably need the encouragement to say, “You know what?” to them as a dad, “It’s okay that you feel that nurturing thing, too, and that you want to go play with your kids. That doesn’t make you somehow less of a man. That’s the way you’re designed, too.” It’s just that sometimes, unfortunately, the roles, the situations, can get so flipped because it’s more natural for one of the other, and both people have that responsibility.
Dennis: And then think that it’s okay that the guy’s doing the women’s part so therefore she doesn’t have to. A guy shouldn’t necessarily come to that conclusion.
Shaunti: The thing that’s interesting is there are going to be households where the two of them together come to a conclusion that, you know what, right now she’s making more money than I am, so he’ll have the part-time job for a little while, and she’s going to do this big deadline, this big thing that happens.
Jeff and I do that; there are times when I’m on the road because I have some opportunities that he wants me to do, and he’ll say, “You know what? It’s okay. I’ll get the kids for a couple days while you’re doing some of these things off here,” but we’ve prayed about that, together. I know now that I’m not operating out of rebellion, and I’m not operating out of avoidance, and instead we are unified, and Jeff is taking the lead in saying “I think that this is the right package for us as a family.”
Bob: Do you think your kids know that there’s a difference in Mom?
Shaunti: Oh, absolutely. Without a question. When I’m gone they’re all excited that they get Camp Dad, because he lets them stay up later than I would and all that other kind of stuff. But now, when I’m home, we are so much tighter, and they come running to me and we have the best time.
And my daughter – I got the best confirmation – I’m going to cry here – but my daughter showed me a school project that she did yesterday, and it’s a big poster that talks about her family. She’s in fifth grade. It says, “Who’s my hero?” and it said my name. Underneath that – it said, “Why is she your hero?” “Because she goes and saves marriages and then she comes home and loves us.”
I thought, “Oh, my gosh. I don’t think that that would have happened three or four years ago,” but doing this LifeReady study has forced me to confront my own self and forced me to put myself back into a biblical balance.
Dennis: I’d like to encourage a woman who is listening right now who is the leader of a small group. Take a look at the LifeReady Woman. Go online, check it out, and find out what each of the eight sessions are all about, and how you can bring this to a small group Bible study in your church, in your neighborhood. This is first class. It’s eight videos, high definition, high quality production. And the manual for each woman who comes is really outstanding. Shaunti has done a great job on this.
Bob: And you don’t have to be a woman’s ministry leader in your local church. You can just be a woman in your neighborhood or with a group of friends, or you’ve got a small group and church and the women in the small group could get together and go through this material.
I really think there are going to be a lot of living rooms where these DVDs are going to be shown to a group of five or ten women who get together and go through this eight week series. I think there’s going to be a lot of realignment that happens as a result of not just going through the material, but going through it with some other women.
You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the LifeReady Woman video series. There’s a video clip available for you to view, and you can order the series online if you’d like. FamilyLifeToday.com is our website, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “TODAY.” When you get in touch with us we’ll let you know how you can get the LifeReady Woman video series sent to you.
Let me also mention that Shaunti has written on this subject in a book, together with Dr. Robert Lewis, called LifeReady Woman, and we’re making that book available this week as a way of saying thank you when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. We are listener supported; your donations make it possible for this radio program to continue on this local station. So we want to say thanks to those of you who, from time to time, pitch in to help with the cost of FamilyLife Today, and we want to encourage you to consider making a donation this week and getting a copy of Shaunti Feldhahn’s helpful book, LifeReady Woman.
If you make a donation this week online at FamilyLifeToday.com, be sure to type the word “READY” in the online key code box, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make a donation over the phone, and ask for the book LifeReady Woman. Again, we’re happy to send it out to you, and we want to say thanks in advance for whatever you are able to do in helping to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We appreciate you.
And we want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to talk more about a woman and her priorities in life. I hope you can join us back here tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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