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Are “Stay-at-Home” Moms More Obedient to Jesus?

August 17, 2012

A few months ago, I listened as a wise woman shared her practices of mothering with a group. She was helpful to me, a younger mother trying to figure out this still-new life. But then she said something  I haven’t been able to shake for months.

Her bright daughter, probably a pre-teen, had confided that she wanted to become a neurosurgeon when she grew up. This struck me because it was my dream as a teenager, and I had only ever been encouraged to pursue it. And her mother’s response was, “Well, honey, those are good aspirations. But remember that your first priority as a Christian woman will be staying home for your husband and children.”

Is this right? Is this biblical? Are modern mothers who seek to follow Christ destined to be homemakers if they are following the will of God? Are working mothers disobeying the Lord?

There are enough “mommy wars” going on today, and I think this question has been a major contributor. The passage (in addition to Proverbs 31) that “homemakers-only” usually run to for back-up is Titus 2:3-5 :

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands,so that no one will malign the word of God.

But here’s the problem with using this passage to claim that all mothers should stay home 100% of the time. This Titus passage is speaking to Christians in a Hellenistic society – where the divisions of workplace and home that we have today were not the norm. Men hammered metal right outside their houses. They worked their fields – often with their women and children right beside them. The Titus passage assumes that women would be at home, because this was a place where nearly everything was done  But women were certainly not excluded from entrepreneurial work or leaving their homes to do business. Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth (Acts 16:14). The Proverbs 31 woman “considers a field and buys it” and “plants a vineyard with her earnings” (v16). She also trades (v18), and makes and sells linen garments (v24).

Furthermore, the clan or tribal familial set-up meant that everyone raised the children – not just a solitary mom. Entire extended families worked together to herd toddlers and thresh grain and bake bread and scrub clothing. Our modern set-up of a mom alone at home with a brood of children, scrambling to get laundry done, make nutritious meals, keeping much larger houses clean, keeping a modern budget on one income, and providing enough intellectual, emotional, and spiritual stimulation for the children is quite a new idea in the history of humankind. It’s a bit of a raw deal, actually, and quite overwhelming and lonely for many of us.

So back to our original question: is it God’s will for all mothers to be stay-at-home moms? I don’t think you can say a blanket “yes” from these passages of the Bible, since they don’t speak to a culture that could possibly understand what we mean by “stay-at-home mom.”

So there must be other questions we can ask. More helpful questions. I’ll suggest some that I contemplated when I first took a pregnancy test:

Will I be a better mom if I stay home or go to work? What will be better for my children?

Staying home is demanding. Working is demanding. There is no easy-out. I chose to stay home because I knew that if I spent all day working, then had to come home and rush to get groceries bought, dinner on the table, laundry stuffed in the washer, and find some kind of quality time to spend with my kids and husband, I would be so frazzled. I need less rush and more space in my life to feel less stressed. I need time to read and think and be alone, or my soul shrivels.

I also know that I have a tendency to be a perfectionist in whatever I do. I cannot go to school and not make A’s. I cannot go to work and not throw myself into it fully until the work is done. I cannot have kids and not give them the best of myself – and my best for them would be impaired if I had no space to be still. So, for my personality, staying home once I had kids was the way for me to be the best mom I could be.

I do know moms who say they would go nuts if they stayed home full-time. They need the stimulation of their work to balance out the daily grind of diapers and go-go-go of the younger years. Some moms wait until their kids start pre-school or kindergarten to start working part-time or full-time. What will make you a better mom? Your kids will feel your stress, so they need you to know what will work best for you.

Are my childcare options (if I do work) the best for my kids?

You need to scrutinize your babysitter for any odd behavior, and make sure he/she’s on-board with your parenting preferences. If you’re choosing a daycare, pay attention to how your child responds to it. Some kids love daycare. My earliest memories are of dread because the daycare was too crowded, too noisy, and there was this fat kid who hugged my neck the entire day. This was not a good environment for a kid like me, and it exhausted and sometimes even terrified me. If your childcare isn’t working for your kids, consider changing it or coming home until they can handle the options you have.

Can we afford staying home?

It’s a rough economy for family life on one income. The very same month that the economy tanked was the month I found out I was pregnant with my first child. While we were in college living on a part-time job each. And then zero employment for the first 3 months of Breckon’s life. There are often ways to make it work, but they may be very painful – and perhaps not worth it to your family. You may have to forego nice cell phones or a roomier house or meat. We’ve always had only one car, set our thermostat on somewhat uncomfortable temperatures, and eaten a lot of beans and pasta. We find that we like a simple life, and that having a weaker attachment to “stuff” has made us move towards generosity.

 (The book Miserly Moms was helpful to me in figuring out how to slash our budget down as much as possible, if you need something to start you out and give you ideas. Check your library.)

There are many options these days as workplaces finally begin to acknowledge the plight of working mothers. There is job-sharing, working from home, freelancing, or part-timing. I know some fathers who are able to stay home while the mother works. You need to find what works for your family, your budget, and your sanity.

In whatever you choose, are you serving the Lord well and managing His gifts to you?

Everything we do is supposed to glorify God – He cares about every piece of our lives. If your job is making you dishonest, over-stressed, or causing you to pass on the discipleship of your children to someone else (or ignoring it completely), then you have a problem. If you’re staying home and ignoring your kids all day to do housework, or if you’re constantly ignoring all your work to play with your kids all day, then you have a problem. God gives us each a portion to steward, and we dishonor Him when we manage our lives poorly. It’s hard to find balance sometimes, and there is grace for us as we navigate it.

These “mommy wars” between working moms and stay-at-home moms are not helpful, and they are not biblical. They lead to lines drawn in the sand between “ideal” mothers and “sub-par” mothers. I’ve been both placed on a pedestal as a stay-at-home mom, and scorned for “wasting my talents.” I’m sick of the judgment of mothers, and I’m sick of the defensiveness that wells up in each woman whenever the subject comes up.

Christian mother, you live in the freedom of Christ, which is freedom that leads to service (Galatians 5:13). Pray and discern what is best for you, what is best for your family, and how you can best serve the Lord.

And remember that each woman has a different “best” from you.

Mothers (or plan-to-be-mothers), what questions would you suggest asking to determine whether to stay home or work outside the home?

Men, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, as you are affected too!

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2012 9:18 am

    Great post! I know that while I do mostly love being home with my kids, it’s also very draining too. Before we moved, I had a 10 hour per week job and that time away from home was great for me. I loved what I did and it energized me and I think made me a better and less grumpy mom when I was home. I love how you explained how *different* society was and that our SAHM today is not the same kind of mom then. I know it’s shocking for some people that our Bible wasn’t written with USA culture in mind, though ;)

  2. Valerie Hardin permalink
    August 17, 2012 9:40 am

    What a timely, well-written piece! My bff and my cousin will arrive at my house in a couple of hours for a mom/wife bible study to discuss just such issues (and more). I am definitely going to share this! Thank you!

  3. August 17, 2012 9:46 am

    Amen, sister. I’ve been diving deep into these issues because of my ebook-in-progress, especially the newly flexible work options. The debate in the church about women working “outside the home” is exasperating, because with so many people working from home (or from Starbucks), what does that even mean anymore?

    I can’t tell you how many Christian women I know who thought they knew THE answer to this question, and that a woman’s role was to stay home with her kids and not work. But reality ended up changing their minds. “Remember that each woman has a different “best” from you.” Exactly.

  4. Tim permalink
    August 17, 2012 12:09 pm

    Aubry, thanks for pointing out how different family life and work life was in Titus’s area, and how the dichotomy we see between the two now was unthinkable then.

    I loved this line: “If your job is making you dishonest, over-stressed, or causing you to pass on the discipleship of your children to someone else (or ignoring it completely), then you have a problem.” That is so true for men as well as women. Men who rely on the Titus passage (and others) to leave raising kids up to the moms are just copping-out.

    Tim

    P.S. New guest post up at Aimee Byrd’s place. It about vines, branches and God lifting us up. Hope you get a chance to take a look. http://www.housewifetheologian.com/lifting-heads/

    • Tim permalink
      August 17, 2012 12:10 pm

      P.P.S. I also agree that the mommy wars are so counterproductive. People get beat up enough in life. Why do that to moms who are trying their best to do what’s right for their families?

  5. alexa permalink
    August 17, 2012 12:14 pm

    it is refreshing to remember that moms have multiple callings, aside from mothering. i myself do not wish to have children. but in general, i see that the american church generally values and talks about earthly children more than spiritual children born through the Spirit and evangelism.

  6. Terra permalink
    August 17, 2012 12:19 pm

    I really liked this! I’m a working mom! Its very challenging at times but I’m one who would go nuts at home all day! I would pull my hair out (or the kids hair out)! I love my kids very much but feel like I made the best choice for me which in turn only benefits them – me not being happy cant be good for them, right? I’ve just tried to make sure that my child is in a place that loves them and treats them well and I think I succeed!
    Great post as usually Aubrey!

  7. August 18, 2012 1:16 pm

    “I cannot go to school and not make A’s” … that is sooo me!
    If I can’t do a good job at whatever I’m doing, then it’s not worth doing… that’s how I feel ;)

  8. Joseph permalink
    November 7, 2012 10:11 pm

    Haven’t done a word study on the word rendered “busy,” but I’d be willing to bet Paul is more concerned about not being idle than he is about staying “at home.”

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