Why the Church Needs to View Working and Stay-at-Home Moms Equally
Pastors / Leadership
By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
The subject of a woman's place has long been a point of contention within the church. Arguments have been broached on both sides for decades, and there probably is no end in sight for the near future.
While many may make a biblical argument for one or the other viewpoint, I am writing merely from personal experience with zero theological training in my background. I was raised in the church, my father was a pastor, I married a youth pastor, and my roots are primarily Baptist. That being said, I have a lot of thoughts on the subject. Bear with me; I don't intend to argue.
For the longest time growing up, I planned to be exactly what my mom was: a stay-at-home mom. Granted, I would always add the clause that I didn't want to have kids too fast, so when I did marry, I waited ten years before taking the leap into motherhood. I've always been rather independent and strong-willed, with a penchant for not listening and a tendency to be defensive of my actions and decisions.
When I became expectant with my daughter, it became clear that I would not be a stay-at-home mom. Whether it was self-perceived or real, I felt as though the moment I said that to fellow believers, there was a stigma attached to me that I was seeking to maintain my independence from the family and wanting to be a self-made woman. It was tolerated, but it wasn't cheered on by a percentage of the church. In other words, while no one really said anything critical, no one responded with a "good for you"!
This made me realize it is sometimes overlooked within the church as we praise mothers and their work inside the home while studying the other mothers and their work outside the home - gauging whether it's necessary or if the woman is trying to make a feminist statement of some sort, and so on. The church doesn't typically respond with a "why?" when they find out that a woman will be staying home with her children to be a homemaker. The church often responds with a "why?" when they find out a woman has chosen to continue their career and not remain in the home.
It's that disparity that hasn't made me bitter but has made me question. Several factors came into play in my decision to be a career woman for the first eleven years of my daughter's life.
1. Financial Necessity
There. I said it. The truth is out. I was not trying to make any sort of feminist freedom from man statement when I declared I'd return to my career six weeks after my daughter was born. It was financially necessary. I would have much preferred to enjoy a three-month maternity leave, but I was out of vacation time, and the budget could only take us so far. So with barely a healing process, I dropped my baby girl off with my mother (thank the Lord for grandparents!) and headed back to work with pain medication and exhaustion.
I couldn't help but notice that another mother who'd given birth and was staying home long term to care for her child was brought meals, had visitors, and was quite popular among the other women of the church. Whether intentional or not, I received surprised comments of "oh, I could never do that!" and "wow, you must be strong," but no other support. Granted, I chose to take them as compliments on my tenacity as a woman, but in the end, I felt a bit abandoned. As though, since I could work, I didn't need support.
2. Life Circumstances
My husband was a full-time Master of Divinity Student when I became pregnant with my daughter. In fact, I only saw him four days a week. The other three days, he lived out of the state on campus at his seminary while I stayed home and shoveled the driveway at five months pregnant with twelve inches of snow. Trust me, being a stay-at-home mom seemed like a dream at that point. But I knew life circumstances weren't going to support it. Not at this point in our lives.
3. God's Provision
Over time, it became clear that my position as a Director of HR would financially provide for our family in a way my husband's pursuit of ministry wouldn't. And being in ministry was not only important to us, but it was our calling in life. We knew the Lord wanted my husband to be in a youth pastorate role, so to make that possible and to provide interactive care with our child from one of us, that position would fall on his shoulders. He could work for the church, care for our daughter, and work with my mom when he needed to be free. I could carry on with my corporate job, hold the health insurance, and pay for our mortgage.
So why am I stating the church needs to view moms and working women equally? It's not a statement of strong womanhood. In fact, when I look back, those years were awfully difficult. Also very lonely. Most women's ministries were geared at a time during the day when moms could gather. By the time I got home from work, most of my options for fellowship were either the Wednesday men's prayer gathering or the Saturday morning men's prayer breakfast. I doubt they would've kicked me out, but boy, would that have been awkward.
It's important not to draw conclusions about why a woman has chosen to work outside the home, and I believe the church should be as firmly supportive of these women as those who stay home. Both work equally hard for their families, just in different venues. When I've talked to other moms who have left newborns to return to work, rarely, if ever, have I heard them celebrating their freedom from the baby and home. Usually, grief is riddled by their decisions. We struggle with self-imposed guilt that we're in some way abandoning our child. Not to mention, if raised with the perception of heralded stay-at-home moms being the "right thing" to do, then we're also skewered with questions and self-doubt that we're actually causing our families harm.
Sometimes life just doesn't support the model of homemaking that has been lauded for years. Sometimes the Lord calls us into other ways and methods that aren't neatly positioned within the perception of what should be versus what is.
I was raised by a stay-at-home mom. It was a blessing. She was a bedrock for our family. My husband was raised by a working mother for reasons of financial necessity. It was a blessing. She was a bedrock for her family.
Women, we're in this together. Before we assume that homemakers somehow have it super easy and lush, and before we accuse working women of trying to be independent and make some sort of political statement, let's take into account that we need to support each other. To love one another. To understand that God has placed us all on personal journeys. Can we make wrong decisions? Absolutely. But then, isn't that what support is for? To help us make those decisions and not be alone when we step out in faith?
Maybe I'm simplifying things too much. But then, I only have my experiences to go by. The church must continue striving to be a place where we come alongside one another. I believe this is one area where we may be innocently overlooking that all moms need support, affirmation, and love. So let's be that for one another!
Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. The Christy Award-Winning author of “The House on Foster Hill”, Jaime Jo Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing suspenseful mysteries stained with history's secrets. Jaime lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com!