I have a lot of friends who are pregnant, or who are hoping to be pregnant soon, or who recently had babies.
They are working through the normal pre-baby jitters:
- Will it be healthy?
- Will I know what to do with it?
- Will I ever sleep?
My friends who are working confront another set of questions:
- When do I tell people at work?
- Will I want to go back to work? What do I say if I’m not sure?
- What does my husband want? Can we realistically live on one salary if I want to stay home from work?
- What is really best for our child?
- If I do go back to work, how do we pick a daycare?
- If I decide to stay home, will people think I never took my job seriously? That I was only biding my time until children came along?
And my Christian friends who are working face yet another layer of questions:
- Will people at church think I don’t care about my children if I chose to continue to work?
- How do I respond when a mom says “My children are my number one priority I could never work outside the home” and you think you hear her tone saying “Obviously your children aren’t your number one priority.”
- How will I get to know and learn from other moms when their Bible studies are at 10:00 on Tuesday morning?
- Should I just say "I’m only working outside the home because our family budget requires it" when part of the reason I'm continuing to work is because I am energized by my work and feel like it actually makes me a better mother?
- Proverbs 31 shows a working mother, but Titus 2 says women should be homemakers? Can you work and still keep your home? Or are you supposed to stay home full-time?
These are all important questions. There’s tons of information out there about the first two sets of questions. Let’s focus on the third set.
As I mentioned above, I’m not pregnant and I’m not a mom, so my answers to these questions don’t come from first-hand experience. But I’ve walked with a number of friends struggling through them. I know that one of the many battles in the [white, upper-middle-class, evangelical, US based] church is between working and stay-at-home moms. It may not be overt, but the undercurrent is palpable (and, sometimes, it is overt).
Cultural Trend turned Spiritual Mandate?
I think this is one area where we’ve taken a cultural trend (the 50s June Cleaver image) and made it a spiritual mandate. Historically, women have worked – both inside and outside the home – for a long, long time. When we look at the world population, not just the relatively wealthy US population - women's contributions to the family and national economy are critical. And even in the 1950's in the United States, June Cleaver didn't represent everyone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics about 40% of women between the ages of 16 and 54 were in the workforce in 1950. And that is only counting the traditional labor market, not necessarily the women who did the bookkeeping for the family business but weren't officially an employee, or the women who took care of other women's children, or any number of other non-traditional positions.
Okay - women's participation in the labor force is a whole other topic... back to the originally scheduled blog post: working doesn’t mean you can’t keep your home, or that you can’t cultivate Godly characteristics. A few examples from the Bible of Godly, working women include:
Of those 4 examples, at least three were married (the Bible doesn’t say if Lydia was married or not) and at least the Proverbs 31 woman had children (and it's likely the other women had children, they would have been a rarity if they didn't). The Bible provides enough examples of working women to settle the debate as to whether or not it’s “allowed” from a Biblical Perspective. Whether women can work outside the home is settled. So then, what is the debate all about? The question is whether you (personally) should. That’s it – it’s a personal question. Not one with a blanket answer for every mother, it’s about what is right for your family. And that’s based on a whole range of variables that don’t allow for simple answers.
It takes those questions from above (particularly the 3rd set) and removes the fear of other people’s judgment. The questions that you as a Christian woman (working or not) ask yourself are no longer about what other people will think of you, but rather, they are:
- How can I best raise my children to know and love the Lord?
- What are the needs of my family and how has God wired me to best parent these little beings?
- How can I parent from my strengths rather than from other people's expectations?
Whether or not you work outside the home is only one component of answering those questions.
It's not a competition
I think it’s important to remember that your choice doesn't diminish someone else's choice, just as their choice doesn't diminish yours. When writing about her “Year of Biblical Womanhood” experiment Rachel Held Evans said: “The project has taught me to confront the fact that when I categorically dismiss another woman’s lifestyle as irrelevant or unworthy in order to elevate my own, I am in effect, placing limits on God.”
I don’t want to categorically dismiss that some women are called to stay at home, any more than I want those women categorically dismissing that I may not stay at home full time if Andy and I have children.
And I also don’t want to “get my back up” so much that I chose not to stay at home, just to prove a point. That’s my personal fear. I believe so strongly that Christian women (and moms) can and should work when God calls them to it, I’m afraid I won’t listen to God’s call for me. I’m afraid that if I ever have children I’ll charge back to work without sincerely seeking God for answers to the questions above (the 4th set).
I believe Christian moms want to raise children who have a healthy knowledge of and love for the Lord. Let that be your first focus. Figure out how you can best do that with your own family, before you judge how another woman does it with her family (or take on another woman's judgement on how you're raising your family).