A recent debate regarding my choice to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) has compelled me to construct a defense of my vocation. Or, rather, an apologetic.
I have been loosely accused of being inflexible, lacking gratitude, living an unapologetically privileged lifestyle, not being a team player, making my husband shoulder an unbearable burden alone, and, heck, just flat out selfishness. My friend whom the conversation took place with is a working mom with strong beliefs in her choice and I respect that. We agreed to disagree and not let our point of divergence affect our relationship. In light of that, I took these criticisms as a jumping off point for a post about something I’m very passionate about: the SAHM. It’s certain the mixed feelings surrounding the SAHM are nothing new—I’m not the only one to wonder whether anything I do all day matters. And, yet, as SAHMs are snubbed by society as “less than,” it is only in the last century that women have felt pressured to invest their precious mother years in a “job” rather than in their homes, communities, and families. And I have one question for women that feel they have to do this…
(Disclaimer: any and everything I say here is in defense of SAHMs and is not meant as an offense on working moms.)
Women In The Workforce
For thousands of years, women stayed home. They cared for the home, raised their children, baked and sewed, and created a safe haven for their families. And they were happy. Or, if they weren’t happy, they were at least doing what came naturally to them and benefited the whole family. Even looking all the way back to the Garden of Eden, Adam was cursed with laboring to provide for the family and Eve was cursed with laboring to birth and raise children. But somewhere along the way, we women felt the need to try and shoulder the burden our men were supposed to carry for us: providing for our families. And the results have been detrimental.
From 1940 t 1996 the percent of women in the workforce increased from 8.6% to 70% (Reference here). <– This study was from 1998. The conclusion the researchers came to? That the negative effects of working moms were minimal if not totally negligible. However, if we look around now, 20 years later, I think the results are evident. Many men are being demonized for trying to embrace their traditional role of provider. Other men never embrace this God-ordained role at all because women won’t let them. We’ve become a society of women who refuse to let men “take care” of us—so independent and manly ourselves, that men have been totally displaced and stepped on. Is it any wonder that good men can’t be found?
Does this mean that women should never work? Of course not. I worked part-time from age 14 to 23—until my son was born. It taught me so much about discipline, responsibility, money, and hard work. And I plan to work again when my children are grown. But once Jonas came along, I knew I had an infinitely more important role at home with him.
The Conditional Harmony of Traditional Gender Roles (Hint: You Have To Have The Right Attitude)
There are so many facets to the SAHM vs. working mom debate, but I want to focus on a piece that I consider to be critically important: traditional gender roles and the harmony they create in the home.
Why do I believe in traditional gender roles? Well, one might argue that I’m biased because I was raised that way. Though this is true, I’ve also concerned myself deeply with raising a family on biblical principles since before I was married in 2013. I decided long ago that I would shape my life around the picture of Christ and His Church as it relates to my marriage and family. The conclusion I have personally reached is that staying home most closely aligns with this biblical model for the family. Is it easy? No. Does it always feel right? Not always. Sometimes I wonder if what I do means anything at all. Sometimes I wonder if I should give up full-time motherhood and pursue a career for my own happiness. And then it is alluded to that I’m privileged, inflexible, and selfish. And my resolve is renewed.
Let’s look at a few scriptures regarding husbands and wives:
Ephesians 5:22-25 – “Wives, be subject (be submissive and adapt yourselves) to your own husbands as [a service] to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the church, Himself the Savior of [His] body. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,”
Colossians 3:18-19 – “Wives, be subject to your husbands [subordinate and adapt yourselves to them], as is right and fitting and your proper duty in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives [be affectionate and sympathetic with them] and do not be harsh or bitter or resentful toward them.”
Titus 2:3-5 – “Bid the older women similarly to be reverent and devout in their deportment as becomes those engaged in sacred service, not slanderers or slaves to drink. They are to give good counsel and be teachers of what is right and noble, So that they will wisely train the young women to be sane and sober of mind (temperate, disciplined) and to love their husbands and their children,To be self-controlled, chaste, homemakers, good-natured (kindhearted), adapting and subordinating themselves to their husbands, that the word of God may not be exposed to reproach (blasphemed or discredited).”
And then, of course, the mammoth example of being a Proverbs 31 woman, but I want to pull out my favorite verse:
Proverbs 31:27 – “She looks well to how things go in her household, and the bread of idleness (gossip, discontent, and self-pity) she will not eat.”
There’s an awful lot to digest here, so I will perhaps hit a few general points and expand on them in later posts.
I am convinced that embracing traditional gender roles has the greatest benefit for all members of the household— if each member can cultivate the proper attitude and servant heart in their God-given role. The harmony is conditional.
Wives must learn to submit to their husbands and adjust to them. Husbands must strive to provide sacrificially for their wives and children. But each must be done with a heart of service and submission to God and one another. If a wife who stays home is bitter or resents her husband as he goes out into the workforce, the arrangement will not work. If a husband feels condescension for his wife’s choice to be a full-time mother and homemaker, the arrangement will not work.
Should You Feel Guilty Staying Home?
Is It A Privilege To Stay Home?
In a way yes, in a way no. I think answering the question of whether I’m privileged or not is sort of irrelevant, though. The argument is that this modern economy is so tough to tread living on only one income, but… is it perhaps that we have just falsely believed we need more than we really do? Our parents and grandparents lived with much less and, it could be argued, had better childhoods than we did and our children do today. We’ve been spoiled almost beyond repair.
I do not consider it a privilege to be a SAHM. It means being frugal and learning to be content. It means learning to live within your means. The only privilege I believe I have is one that everyone else has too—the privilege of working in an assigned role God designed for me as a woman in his kingdom.
Are You Inflexible As A SAHM?
I was told I was being inflexible because I wasn’t willing to work to help my husband with the finances. However, money isn’t the only aspect of flexibility to be considered. It’s true, I don’t help my husband with income, but, all other things considered, I think I may be the most flexible person in the family.
When I decided I would stay home with my children, I told my husband I would support him whatever career decision he made and would follow him where his job lead. It turns out it took us four hours from home to a town where I had nothing and nobody apart from my husband. I lived alone for a month as he was finishing up his training elsewhere and came home on the weekends. I had no friends, no family (save my cousin and his wife whom I saw a couple days a week), no church, no job, and nowhere to go. And worse, only a month after arriving in this totally new place, I found out I was pregnant.
It’s been two years since then and we have blossomed tremendously–my husband loves his job, we couldn’t ask for a better church, and I’ve made friends I enjoy spending time with. And a beautiful son being raised by his mother.
My staying home allows me to be incredibly flexible. I’m able to take care of the house so my husband can focus on building his career. He can totally devote himself without having to worry about splitting the chores or having to cook meals. If we want to take a trip or do things as a family, we don’t have to worry about coordinating time off from two jobs. I am totally flexible to his needs and schedule. I try to ask him every day what I can do for him or what he needs. Everything I do is adapted to support him as he works to provide for us.
Is It Selfish To Stay Home?
I truly believe a wife and mother who stays home and tends to her family is by God’s design. Therefore, I don’t believe it is selfish to work in that capacity. Are there SAHMs that are selfish? Of course! I’m sure there are women who take advantage of their position and neglect their duties as homemaker or mother. And it is easy to fall into this trap if one sits around and “eats the bread of idleness.”
If done in service of one’s family, I believe that both the husband and wife give sacrificially of themselves in their roles—the husband works to provide and the wife works to nuture. Both are ultimately sacrificing their time and person in submission to each other.
The Picture of Christ & The Church
As I said, there is so much to unpack here that I will have to write multiple posts to tackle the subject. So let me wrap this up with a timeless analogy.
In the picture of Christ and the church, Christ is the head of his church. He is her provision and authority. He lovingly sacrificed Himself for her and she, in return, answers to Him out of respect and love. Likewise, as wives, we are to respect and love our husbands. We are to answer his sacrifice and provision for us with submission and give ourselves up in service to him.
But imagine a woman takes on the role of sharing the work of providing for the family. She may make as much or even more money than her husband. How then is she going to respect her husband’s provision? Can a Christian who takes their lives into their own hands respect and trust God’s provision for them? No. Likewise, a wife taking her family’s provision into her own hands cannot deeply respect and appreciate her husband in his role as provider because she has taken over his role. The husband is then forced to share in his wife’s role as homemaker. Before you know it the lines have been blurred so much that you aren’t able to distinguish Christ from His church. Neither has a distinct role and suddenly, the husband is no longer the head, the woman is exercising power over him, and the picture becomes skewed. Is it impossible to depict Christ and the church with two bread-winning parents? No. But the proper love and respect attitude is much more difficult to cultivate.
On top of that, a woman who stays home is able to raise her own children—these little impressionable souls, unfathomable in their worth, put in her care—rather than leaving them to be raised by another caregiver.
At the end of all of this I say to you moms: do as you see fit. It may be that you are a SAHM and have felt guilty or stepped on for your choice. I hope this has encouraged you. It may be that you are a working mom and you feel no convictions about it whatsoever. Great! Do what you believe is best for your family.
As for me, it is my deeply held belief that my staying home is by design. It’s not a privilege or selfish. It is not a guilt trip or a lecture, but a defense of my belief that at the beginning of time God placed his finger on us and said “She shall be called Woman”—and an attempt to be sure that, at the end of all things, I did some justice to all the beautiful things that entails.