Mar 14, 2011

‘Working it out’ – Should mums return to work after children come along?

A. Why we need to think about this topic

Lots of churches and Christians avoid discussing this ‘hot-button’ topic in the church. It’s one accompanied by strong opinions (and emotions). There is also a real danger in discussion of a polarising parties in the church and wounding other Christians. But here are 6 reasons why we have to talk about it;

1. It might be a difficult conversation but it’s one that the whole church needs to have together.  The alternative is individual women seeking to resolve their theology and their feelings in one to one conversations between friends.

2. It’s an issue that involves the men too!  Husbands have a responsibility to lead. For them to opt out is for them to abdicate their responsibility to lead as heads of the home. Whether or not wives return to work is the primary responsibility of their husbands. A whole church conversation helps the men and reminds them of their responsibility.

3. It’s an issue that needs to be worked through in advance. It’s not just a topic for couples who already have children but for those planning the future. For example, the key factor in whether or not a wife returns in my experience is economic. Can the family function on one income?
For some couples, the decision is made for them in the house that they buy and the mortgage that comes with the house that locks a couple in for 20-25 years. Some bills can’t be deferred but must continue to be paid. Couples with kids can help couples without to anticipate where they might be in a matter of a few years.

4. It’s an chance for the church family to learn how to listen better, discover how it’s possible to graciously disagree and an opportunity to put into practice practical support and encouragement, one couple to another.

5. It’s a discussion in which all sides feel guilty. One author has written
One interesting trend I have noted as a pastor, counselor, husband, and friend is that in general, whether mothers choose to work or stay home, they feel a level of guilt associated with the decision. Moms that work feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children and moms that stay home feel guilty about not using their college degree or their professional skills to contribute to the family finances.’

6. It’s an issue in which surprisingly little has been written to help us think it all through. The quote above is from a short article – literally the only piece I could find on the topic. Unless we shed light on the topic together individual couples we will be leaving couples to think it through on their own.

In future posts we’ll answer the following;

1. Why do women return to the world of work after their children are born? (see
2. Biblically speaking, should women return to work and what criteria should we apply is assessing that decision? Are some reasons biblically justified and others not? (see
3. What part should husbands play in this debate and in their role as parents? How should they do their paid work differently when the kids come along? (see
4. How do we support mothers who do go back to work, as a church family? (see
5. How do we support mothers who don’t go back to work, as a church family? (see

Purely for the purpose of this discussion we will use the word ‘work’ to means ‘paid work’. Wives who stay at home work extremely hard but it’s too complicated to keep switching terminology.


  • Nancy Pearcey has written on it in more socio-historical aspects, in Total Truth. Helpful background. Can lend if you don’t have it.

    • Thanks, that would be great. I did have a copy of Total Truth once upon a time but it went walk about a while ago. I promise to return it!

  • wow – you really do like courting controversy!

    “For example the key factor in whether or not a wife returns in my experience is economic”

    Or might it be because they are highly educated in a system that raises expectations of achievement that includes but is not limited to the raising of children

    50% all of 1st degrees were awarded to women in 2009 across Western Europe and North America and that rises to 60% when we look at the figures for PhDs. If the expectation is that they then marry, bear children and cease work, this may have an impact on the working population talent pool.

    “Whether or not wives return to work is the primary responsibility of their husbands.”

    ….that could do with a little further explanation, as at first glance it appears to bear no relevance to the 21st century culture we live in?

    • Hi Helen

      glad you’re obviously enjoying the posts. I completely agree with what you are saying about the fact that women are outperforming men educationally etc. and the stats are really helpful in showing that. ALL i meant by my comment, as I’ll go on to say in a later post more fully, is that for lots of couples (at least in our church) the biggest single factor in whether to take a break from paid work and the length of that break is economic. So we have couples who say to me we don’t have a CHOICE, economically, because we need to pay the mortgage. All other factors in the decision are usually options but the need to pay the bills isn’t. In my later blog I’ll contrast ‘choose to work’, ‘have to work’ and ‘chose to stay at home’.

      The second quote about the men also needs more explanation. If Ephesians 5:22 and following mean that men cannot abdicate responsibility to lead in the marriage then they cannot abdicate this decision (especially if it is an economic one) to their wives to feel they must make alone. In a culture in which the women feel that they have to be able to do everything and often feel guilty when they can’t men can’t sit back and say ‘isn’t it hard being a woman’ they have to share in the responsibility and decisions. More to follow…

  • Hello Neil,

    I have to say Neil – your blog is intriguing.

    I have followed the Christian Faith all my life – and this includes 4 years studying a BD.

    I have yet to come across anything in the Bible that would suggest there is a broad principle that women should not be able to return to work.

    Sure – I could find some verses – or even some passages – that seem to support this kind of idea.

    However, I think this use of scripture is similar to the kind that Jesus encountered during his time in wilderness. Jesus didn’t seem to appreciate this kind of approach!

    I think the key is the ‘Meta-Narrative’ – take a step back – view the landscape – who is this God – who are we – and what does the big picture tell us….

    In this case – I think the big picture is one of equality. Masculinity and Femininity are represented equally in the person of God and there are no justifiable reasons for us to make distinctions that would lead to any form of discrimination, subjugation or control.

    If a women wants to go back to work – then a key issue is to what extent is this the ‘right’ decision in terms of the impact on the way it enables the individual or the couple to exercise their duties to God and the people around them. God wants us to be whole and well-functioning human beings. We need to ‘weigh up’ the various issues in each situation and ask whether the decisions we are making are obstructing or enabling this.

    So for example, maybe the man should stay at home and take care of the children as this enables the family to function better.

    I say it’s messy and grey all the way.

    Now Neil – please don’t start quoting individual scriptures to me – talk to me about the meta-narrative…

    • Hi Stu

      Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and then set out a good reply. I will say for now it might be best to hold on until the next post because I won’t be saying women shouldn’t return and I certainly don’t thing that the Bible justifies in any way men controlling women.

      I agree that it’s messy and I hope the next post will help clarify my views


  • Hi Neil,

    I owe you an apology.

    I have ‘jumped right in’ and made a load of assumptions about what you might say without giving you a chance to actually explain yourself.

    In the past – I have come across a lot of blogs/discussions where people present what I would call ‘pre-conditioned pseudo-Christian views’ that have more holes than a piece of swiss cheese that has been attacked with a hole punch!

    I assumed you were doing the same.

    Where’s the grace in that? My sincere apologies.

    I look forward to your post.

    At least you are in good company – as Rob Bell seems to be currently falling victim to precisely the same vice.

    I have just pre-ordered a copy of his next book. Looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

    Grace and Peace.


  • Very interesting so far and I look forward to the future posts!

  • As scripture contains an equal number of parenting injunctions to Dads as to Mums, the notion that home/parenting responsibilities are primarily the female domain are culturally distorted readings of the text. It is too easy to assume that scripture is actually commanding what it is only actually observing. So, if the women in Titus are faced with two options, either being busybodies, or useful at home; the latter is commanded. What it does not provide is a warrant to limit women to those options! That bit is observation.

    Likewise, the assumption that headship must always mean financial provision is based on a string of extra-biblical assumptions,which may well be wise in many circumstances, but by definition cannot be held to be universally authoritative.

    Driscoll (in)famous commented that Dads shouldn’t be primary child carers as it would involve them hanging around in playparks with young Mums which would be “weird”. While the fact that the workplace is equally temptation loaded is obvious, a mire profound point is this: who is befriending the growing crowd of non-Christian Dads who bring their children to our church’s parent/toddler groups? Over a third of the people at my kids primary school gate are male, this is the reality of our mission field today.

    Martin Luther had a word for Dads who didn’t get involved in the centre of parenting, where dirty nappies get washed: “Fools” . But I guess he lacked subtlety!

  • please tell me how to find the follow up posts!…

    • Thanks for reading the blog. Probably the easiest way to find them is to scroll down the categories bar on the right hand side and click on parenting. it will bring up 3 pages of parent-related posts. The follow up posts you are looking for are at the top of page 3 ‘why do women return to work and should they’ and at the bottom of page 2 ‘Husbands stop ducking the issues! Should moms go back to work when the kids come along – part 3′ & ’13 questions for churches on supporting women who go back to work and women who don’t’.

      Hope that’s helpful.

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