ARA Mother's Place: At Home or At Work?
"Did I go to school all those years just to be buried in endless dishes, dirty laundry, diapers, and other household chores?" A stay-at-home mom struggles with her decision and learns how to glorify God through her role.Did I go to school all those years just to be buried in endless dishes, dirty laundry, diapers, and other household chores? Why do I sometimes feel embarrassed instead of being proud when I confess that I am a stay-at-home mom? What does the Bible say about a mother's role in the family? How can I live my life in a way that will glorify God the most?
"To work or not to work?" This has been a
constant debate in my mind recently, as another "bundle of joy"
soon arrives. My husband and I are excited to hold that tiny, wrinkly,
cuddly baby, to smell its milky scent, and to admire another wonderful
creation of God.
At the same time, we are not sure if we are ready to
handle the added financial responsibilities that come with this new life.
In addition, I sometimes ask myself, "Did I go to school all those
years just to be buried in endless dishes, dirty laundry, diapers, and
other household chores?"
Up until now, I thought I was sure that I had made the
right choice in becoming a stay-at-home mom. I have read research
suggesting that children who have close bonds with their stay-at-home
mothers (or fathers in rare cases) tend to grow up to become more
well-adjusted adults. I have witnessed how young children whose mothers
stay at home tend to be more obedient than children who go to daycare. I
myself have also reaped the fruits of joy and pride that come from staying
home with my firstborn.
Yet something nudges inside me once in a while,
particularly when I hear how "successful" some of my former
college friends are, making me question, "Is this what life is all
about?" They have respectable professions and seemingly happy
families. Why do I sometimes feel embarrassed instead of being proud when
I confess that I am a stay-at-home mom?
Thus begins my quest to decide whether "to work or
not to work." In my search for an answer, I came across questions
such as: Do other mothers struggle like me? What does the Bible say about
a mother's role in the family? And how can I live my life in a way that
will glorify God the most?
Why Stay At Home?
The Bible does not really tell us specifically what is best for
mothers. However, the Bible does tell us what is important to children:
"Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will
not depart from it" (Prov 22:6). God also instructs parents to teach
their children the words of God in their daily lives (Deut 6:5-9). So, how
can a family best accomplish the above two requirements? The best
alternative is for mothers to stay home with their young children to
instill the teachings from the Bible. Of course, mothers who work away
from home can also find time to teach biblical values to their children.
Nevertheless, we must admit that it is most likely easier for stay-at-home
moms to spend more time with their children in anything than mothers who
work away from home.
Recently, I stumbled across a book entitled Mother in
the Middle. To my surprise, two Christian authors, Deborah Lewis and
Charmaine Yoest, describe how all the women they interviewed struggled
with the same dilemma I am facing right now. They called the book Mother
in the Middle because so many mothers are caught in the midst of a
dilemma: the desire to spend more time with their children and the need to
work away from home. Many working mothers feel guilty every time they
leave their children to go to work, and they never seem to feel content
with themselves even though they are doing the best they can to support
and care for their families.
The authors also describe the complete transformation
of some "career-minded" women, once they realized what
motherhood meant to them. These women were willing to give up the
professional positions that they had worked so hard to attain, and to make
drastic cutbacks or changes in their lifestyle in order to spend more time
with their children. Not surprisingly, the mothers who made a conscious
decision to stay home with their children, despite the
"sacrifices" they made, were the happiest of all the groups of
mothers that the authors interviewed.
It is absolutely essential that we mothers have a clear
understanding of motherhood. The most satisfied mothers that Lewis and
Yoest interviewed were those who considered their work as mothers to be
their "greatest work" and "the most important thing"
they will ever do. One mother said, "I consider putting loving,
caring, responsible adults into our world to be a greater accomplishment
than anything I could ever do as a high-powered executive of a major
company." This sense of mission motivated them to build their support
systems, to rearrange their priorities, to find creative solutions to
financial problems, and to focus on the joys of children.1
The Contributing Mother
Becoming a stay-at-home mom does not mean that you are no longer free
to do anything else that is productive. If we look at the Bible’s
description of the ideal wife in Proverbs 31:10-31, we can see that while
she took care of the family, at the same time she managed to help with the
family finances and contributed to society.
She knew how to work with wool and flax. She provided
food for her family and her servants. She bought land. She planted a
vineyard. She traded successfully. She could weave and make garments and
bedding both for her family and for profit. She oversaw the affairs of her
household. She helped the poor and needy. Her husband and children held
her in high regard, and she was praised as a woman surpassing many others
who did noble things (Prov 31:29).
What does this mean to us today? It means that while
our first priority should be to raise godly children, we can contribute to
our family and society in other ways as well. Understanding that each of
us is in a unique situation, I would like to share some workable
possibilities that I have discovered in the course of my research, which
might be helpful for other mothers too. In their book, Lewis and Yoest
have gathered some strategies that those "mothers in the middle"
have used, and I find them to be very helpful references.
Taking One Thing At a Time
The philosophy behind this strategy is that you can have it
all—just not all at once. Consider that both Sandra Day O’Connor, U.S.
Supreme Court justice, and Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. ambassador to
the United Nations, stayed home when their children were small.2
Children’s advocates tell us that the first five years of a child’s
life can greatly impact the rest of his or her adult life. Therefore, many
women choose to put their careers on hold until their young children reach
Just because you’re a "stay-at-home mom" doesn’t
mean that you can’t also be a contributing member of your community.
Many organizations, especially nonprofit ones, rely heavily on
mother-volunteers. They help out with schools, churches, food banks,
homeless shelters, teen pregnancy programs, etc. Although volunteer work
does not pay, it is real and valuable work that enriches the lives of all
Some mothers enrich their lives by learning or studying while at
home with children. Some take night classes; others attend seminars and
workshops in order to pursue a long-time interest. Now, with the help of
technology, it is possible to take classes at home via the television or
For several of the mothers that Lewis and Yoest talked with,
motherhood was the turning point that forced them to do something
creative, steering them into new entrepreneurial careers. Some mothers ran
home-based daycare centers. One mother ran a mail-order catalog business
out of her basement; another designed and marketed greeting cards; another
was a published writer; one mother sold Amway products; and one had a
home-decorating business. Some former teachers tutored students on
weekends and evenings. And there are many other opportunities for those
interested in working at home.
The Part-time Solution
Some mothers found part-time work to be the optimal solution
because they could stay at home with their children and still keep their
profession part-time. However, not every workplace can accommodate
part-time work, so it is sometimes necessary for mothers to change their
careers in order to work at a job that allows them more flexibility.
In one family, the husband and wife worked at different shifts of
the day so that one of them would always be home for their children. This
couple seemed to enjoy the arrangement, but it is not a very common one,
because not many people enjoy working night shifts.
Finding a Support Group
A great majority of the most contented mothers made connections
with other moms on a regular basis. Some found support through their
churches, others through La Leche League, and others through
mother-oriented groups like MOPS and MotherCare.
It is impossible for women to be successful mothers without the
support of their closest partners, their husbands. Just as in a healthy
marriage both partners must strive for a common goal, so it is in
successful parenting. Both parents must recognize the importance of
raising well-adjusted children and be willing to make the sacrifices and
adjustments that make it all possible. Indeed, all of the most contented
mothers that Lewis and Yoest interviewed said that the most important
thing contributing to their happy motherhood was the strong support of
Leah Lampone, former Milwaukee County circuit judge,
left the bench after fourteen years to come home and care for her
children. She said, "Looking back upon my years as both judge and
mother, I have come to realize the greatest impact I have made in any life
is that which I’ve made in the lives of my children."3
Finally, what does all of this mean to me? I learned
that there are many mothers who feel as confused and frustrated as I do;
who feel the pressure from society’s expectations and from their
family’s financial needs. I learned that the Bible values the role of
mothers as important contributing members of the family. And I also
learned that there are actually many options that allow me to be an
involved mother and a fulfilled individual at the same time.
Looking at my toddler daughter proudly displaying her
drawing of a happy face, I am amazed at how quickly she has grown. Soon
she will be going to school, going to college, and eventually having her
own family. I realize that life is short. "But childhood is shorter.
And motherhood is the one road, if not taken, to which we can never
Deborah S. Lewis and
Charmaine C. Yoest, Mother in the Middle (Michigan: Zondervan, 1996),
Brenda Hunter, What Every
Mother Needs to Know (Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1984), No. 52.
Ibid, No. 61.
Lewis and Yoest, p. 236.
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