I have been a Stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) for 6 years now. When I first became a mother, we lived in an area that was highly academic and career oriented. I didn’t know many other SAHMs and I always dreaded the question, “So, what do you do?” whenever I was out in public. People often had no idea how to respond to my choice to be a full time caregiver to our children, making no income. They would look at me like I had ten heads. Sometimes I would get further questions like, “So… you just… stay home? Like, all the time?” “When ARE you going back to work?” or “Oh… so, what was your degree in?” I often felt ostracized, misunderstood, unsupported and alone.
(^ For the record, my degree is in “Human Services.” So I suppose you can say that I am using my degree after all, seeing how I am serving humans all day!)
Thankfully over the years, I’ve developed more of a support system, feel less alone, and generally less bothered by the opinions of others (probably because I’m just too tired 😉 ).
But now that we have lived in different cities, expanded into different groups of people, made new friends, and visited many churches, I’ve also witnessed the other side: the subculture of White American Christianity that applauds the SAHM while silently (or at times, not so silently) disapproving of mothers who work outside of the home. My heart breaks over the fact that my working mom friends have often felt the way that I did – ostracized, misunderstood, unsupported and alone – in the church.
I’m going to be bold here and say that being a SAHM is not THE biblical choice for mothers.
First of all, it’s not even a choice for everyone. The idea that anyone can choose whether or not to work outside of the home is a privileged one. I love what Jen Hatmaker says – “If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true.” We must be careful not to choose a theology that only works for a certain socio-economic group.
Second of all, mothers in bible times were not SAHMs. At least not in the modern sense of the term. “Do I stay home or do I work?” was not even a question to be considered, until the Industrial Revolution.
In the book “The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home”, Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank talk about how “back in the day” every mother worked, and every mother stayed home. As a matter of fact, both parents worked and both parents stayed home and raised the kids. Before transportation evolved, everything was a local economy. You had to work all day to feed your family. If you didn’t go get the water or milk the cows or kill the chickens (or whatever it was you did, I don’t know), then your family didn’t survive. Everyone worked. You had a lot of kids, if you were able, and that was additional labor. You lived and worked with extended family and a tight knit local community. Almost everything was done from the home. The Industrial Revolution brought about the first jobs outside of the home. These jobs were mostly available to men so, by default, women ended up staying home because someone had to take care of the children during the day. Then when the war happened, they needed more workers in the factory since men were going off to war. So they started marketing to women. When women started working, we needed someone to take care of the kids so public schools and daycares were started. And thus began the infamous “Mommy Wars.” Do you stay home with the kids? Or do you go to work?
The point is that we are finding ourselves in a unique time in history. It was not always the case that you would decide whether to work or stay home – everyone did both.
Proverbs 31 sings the praises of a woman who “watches over the affairs of her household”, but also? She works. And some of that work is done outside of the home, contributing to the local economy.
“She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers…” (v. 13-19)
“She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.” (v. 24)
And finally, the work of working mamas is valuable. I love what Jen Wilkin says in her article “Christian Subculture and the Stay-at-Home-Mom”:
“While the Bible prioritizes the home, it does not command women to work there exclusively. Can we acknowledge the possibility that some women are actually called to work outside the home? That they actually choose to work out of the conviction that their contributions in the workplace are needful? We may think that their contributions inside the home must always command the majority of their time, but at what cost to our culture? If we were to remove the culture-shaping voices of Christian women from education, politics, medicine, law, media, board rooms and non-profits we may find we have taken our point beyond where it intended to go. I wonder if that positive influence might be missed in damaging ways.”
God does not only choose men to work outside of the home. The role and voices of women in the workplace are important.
I believe there is value in the work inside of the home (obviously), but there is also a need for women in the workplace. Our different roles keep the world moving forward.
Whether a mother works in the home as a full time caregiver or is employed outside of the home, I think one thing can be said for all of us: we need support.
So let’s support all of the mamas around us – not just the ones on the same path as us. Maybe instead of asking her “What do you do – do you work or stay home?” We can ask “How are you doing?” – ready to lend a listening ear and perhaps even a hand to help. Maybe we can be in this together and re-create a modern day version of the village that it takes to raise children – one that is not divided by lines of employment. I am thankful for all of the many blog posts, Christian books, and church programs that are designed with SAHMs in mind – I have definitely benefited from them. But as the church, let’s also be faithful not to neglect the working mamas. Those who are not available for a 10am weekly bible study or weekly tea and playdates. Are we doing what we can to make sure they have the support structures they need as well?
Let’s do our best not to point to a particular employment status, but to the Savior who deserves glory in each and every time of employment – inside and outside of our homes.