"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 school age.
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 those involved.
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 the Internet.
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 their husbands.
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 return."4
Deborah S. Lewis and Charmaine C. Yoest, Mother in the Middle (Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), p. 219.
Brenda Hunter, What Every Mother Needs to Know (Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1984), No. 52.
Ibid, No. 61.
Lewis and Yoest, p. 236.
"Family Altar" is dedicated to providing practical, biblical insight for parents who face the challenge of raising a family in today’s fast-paced and variant society. Please direct comments on this article or questions about parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org.