A few years ago, my wife Katie and I made a decision: she would stay home to care for our children rather than work outside the home. We have stuck by that decision, but it has not been easy. The difficulty is not just financial. True, one income has not allowed us to match the lifestyles of our two-career friends. But we knew that would be the case and were prepared to accept the financial limitations of our choice.
The real difficulty is the loneliness. Our commitment to having one parent at home finds little support in the Christian community. Ever since our grandmothers went off to the factories to help make the world safe for democracy, the pressure on mothers to work outside the home has increased. So while three generations of women progressively moved into the marketplace, it has become easier to believe that a woman cannot be happy if she stays home. That the world buys this idea I can accept; that the Christian community has bought it, I cannot.
Married women are encouraged to guide or manage their households (1 Tim. 5:14). Scripture also appears to suggest that it is honorable for a married woman to be a stay-at-home wife and mother (1 Tim. 2:15). And older women are instructed to teach younger women to remain in the home and take care of their families (Tit. 2:3–5). In fact, the Bible says many things that are difficult to reconcile with our perception that women can only be fulfilled if they work outside the home.
And yet, I honestly wonder how many working mothers actually find fulfillment in their work away from home. Katie often hears other mothers say, “I’d go absolutely crazy if I had to stay home all day with my children.” They seldom say, “I need a career to be fulfilled.” Perhaps that is because their work is little more than a job to make enough money to make ends meet. They do not have rewarding careers. They just have jobs.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. Perhaps many Christian women would be willing to forgo a few luxuries if the Christian community gave some indication that full-time mothering was worthwhile. Or perhaps I am being too simplistic. Economic pressures make it difficult for families to survive on a single income. For some Christian families, a working mom is a necessity.
But when a family decides to brave it on one income, they receive little encouragement. In fact, they are offered subtle (and not-so-subtle) reminders that what they are doing is, at best, odd. Consider the actions and attitudes that regularly confront Christian couples:
- Children are described biblically as blessings from God, but they become “accidents” if they delay or alter our personal career or economic goals.
- Christian organizations often pay low salaries, expecting the family to have two incomes (even offering to find work for the wife).
- Churches spend thousands of dollars on day-care centers, but little or nothing on services or ministries for women who choose to stay home. And if a woman who stays home does suffer economic calamity—if her husband leaves, dies, divorces her, or becomes disabled—the church helps her find a job (keeping her away from her children when they may need her the most).
- Seminars for Christian women generally focus on how to balance a home and career, not on how to lower our expectaions so we can live on one income. Likewise, workshop leaders tell my wife that the Proverbs 31 woman ran a department store and a real estate agency (and that she can, too, if she would just use her time wisely).
Though society views her differently, Katie believes her current career as a mother is noble and fulfilling. She wants to be a Titus 2 woman. She wants to live in such a way that younger women can watch her life and decide it is okay to stay home. And some days, when it is raining and the kids are on her nerves, she would like to believe someone else thinks it is okay too.
Both of us like to dream about a church day-care center that offers one day of free child care each week to women who are not generating a pay check. Or a Christian school that offers discounts or scholarships to single-income families. We see how the church does its best to care for two-income families, and we support that. We just wish it would also find ways to support those of us who choose to do otherwise.
It would especially help if people quit assuming that because Katie does not have a “job” she can take on every volunteer position in the church, school, and community. And it would be nice not to feel as though everyone thinks I am a chauvinist and she is crazy.
But pity is not what we want. What we want is for the Christian community to act as if what we are doing is worth doing. And to respect it because God does.
Wally Metts, Jr., is an assistant professor of communication at Spring Arbor College (Mich.).
SPEAKING OUT offers responsible Christians a forum. It does not necessarily reflect the views of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
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