Does the importance of a family decrease when children start to leave the home?
Is a homemaker still needed when the laundry pile is small, “chauffeuring” duties are done, and there are fewer places to set at the table?
Does an “empty nest” signal it’s time for a mother to reinvent herself?
These are some of the questions I have been musing over as Leo and I fly home after visiting our adult children on the other side of the country.
Our boys are living full and independent lives—one married, one single. This could lead me to conclude that the days when I am needed are over and that my role is to recede into the background. And to some degree, that is true. They don’t need me telling them what to wear, when to shave, or that they need to put on some sunscreen. But I still have a role to play in their lives. The home I create in Florida is still to be an oasis for all, and my heart can be a home that my family travels to whenever needed.
The Catechism tells us that the family is the original cell of society (CCC 2207). But this doesn’t mean that a family is like a basic building block where one unit can serve as well as another. Each family is unique, and all are strengthened when the family affirms that each member (whether the mother, father, brother, or sister) is a distinct and unrepeatable person, imbued with dignity. When family members see themselves in this way, they are better able to fulfill their mission of being “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). A Catholic family has a mission to spread the warmth, hope, and peace of Christ into the communities that they are a part of. Saint John Paul II summed up this truth with the words, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” This mission doesn’t end when children leave home.
Most people navigate fear, confusion, worry, and hopelessness on a daily basis. They exist in a world that values them in relation to their productivity. Far from being seen as irreplaceable people of dignity, they are expected to fit into a framework which leaves no room for God and sets a very high bar for success and significance. Even at the end of the day, true rest and restoration is elusive. Many return home just to dash out to evening activities (there’s still more to achieve and accomplish) or to numb out in front of a screen.
Our homes are meant to be sanctuaries in the midst of the world—to be life-giving alternatives to a sterile way of existing. Our families are called to be the church in miniature, a place of welcome and healing. If we could grasp this vision and reorient ourselves around it, I believe we would find that the need for this kind of a homemaker would never diminish. We’d quickly discover that there is always someone who longs to be invited into this kind of environment.
I recently watched a video about the transcendental of beauty by philosopher Roger Scruton. In it, he describes two different kinds of beauty. The first is grand and perfect. You know it when you see or hear it. It’s the rose windows in Chartres Cathedral, the face of the Blessed Mother in Michelangelo’s La Pietà, and Andrea Bocelli’s tenor voice. There’s a harmony and a perfection. The second kind of beauty is the type that matters most in our homes. It’s the everyday kind of beauty—the ordinary beauty. We express it in the way we garden, cook, set the table, and fluff the pillows. The reason this beauty is important is because it’s the way we cultivate an environment where things and people fit together, creating an atmosphere that restores. Although this beauty lies all around us, Scruton notes that we need eyes to see it and hearts to feel it. But the most ordinary event can be made something beautiful when people see into the heart of things.
Scruton considers this kind of beauty as an instrument of peace. It creates a sense of home. It’s an imperfect beauty, but nonetheless, it settles us. It’s not the beauty of a perfectly clean house, a designer interior, or an updated color scheme. It’s the beauty of a space that’s become a haven for all who enter. It’s a place that has been cultivated by a committed woman who has made it her mission to create an atmosphere of warmth and welcome. She has prepared for each person’s homecoming (whether a family member or not) by focusing on each person’s unique dignity and unrepeatability. When we think of home in this way, it’s clear that the significance of a homemaker’s role continues throughout the decades.
Author Leila Lawson writes, “A lot of homemaking consists of being ready for those times when someone needs you—and it’s hard to justify this way of using time to a world that measures productivity in equal units and output.” The world is pulsing, action-oriented, and distracted, rewarding the self-centered. But if we have chosen to center our lives on God, we no longer need to justify the way we use our time to anyone other than Him. He invites you to measure your days by how you love, not by what you produce. And loving well means being available.
Your heart and home can be a sanctuary. Just being available is a tremendous gift you can offer to those you love. An empty nest is not a signal that you need to reinvent yourself. Those in our care will always need a shelter—a place to come home to where they don’t need to produce something to be considered worthy, where they are received as the gifts that they are.
Perhaps, as Dostoevsky claimed, beauty really can save the world. What might change if more women responded to this high calling to cultivate this kind of home?
With you on the journey,
 “Why Beauty Matters” by Roger Scruton, https://vimeo.com/128428182, accessed April 4, 2022.
 Leila Lawson, The Summa Domestica (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2021), 208.