Who decides whether moms return to work and how should dads do their work differently?
In my experience as a pastor it’s the women who worry about whether or not they should return to work after kids come along. It’s women who feel guilty (whether they do or don’t) and it’s women who talk about it, a lot. And the men? Well I can’t remember having one conversation with a Dad about his views on the matter!
What does this say about the dads? If men are to lead in the home and manage their households well and if men and to love and service and cherish their wives then they can’t abdicate responsibility and delegate it to their wives.
Husbands, whether or not your wife goes back to work is not your decision alone but it is your responsibility alone. Are you playing your part and praying your part?
Four questions then to the dads
1) Husbands are you leaving your wives to make the decision?
2) Husbands are you supporting your wives once the decision has been made. Are you affirming it as a JOINT decision? Are you anticipating and dealing with the guilt your wife is no doubt feeling?
3) Husbands might you be the one responsible for your wife going back to work because you want her money to support a lifestyle you want? Or are you ready to sacrifice, financially to protect her place in the home.
4) Husbands do you know you wife? Do you understand her desires and capacities? Are you speaking the gospel into this situation to ensure that gospel thinking is driving the decision?
How men should do their work
The question of how to ensure that the family thrives isn’t just about the wife’s work but how the husband does his work too. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy for mum to give up work to be available for her children but for Dad to be no-where to be seen. For wives to sacrifice their working lives but husbands not even to change their working patterns when raising the same children.
So 10 reflections for the Dads on the way you work when kids come along.
1. Are you an absentee father? Children need their fathers as much as their mothers. A wife at home is not an excuse for a life at work.
2. Agree a time (if at all possible) when you’ll be home that day. It gives something for your spouse to work towards. Don’t think ‘just another half hour at work’ without also thinking what impact might it have on my wife.
3. Do you get home from work to see your children, play with them, ask them about their day and most importantly read the Bible and pray with them? You need to take the lead in spiritual matters.
4. How do you sacrifice in your work for the sake of your wife and children? Do you think they notice?
5. Are you quick to share responsibilities in the home when you return? Do you look for ways to help out? Do you ensure your wife gets at least a short break from the kids?
6. Are you pro-active in asking your wife how her day has been? Do you take a genuine interest?
7. Do you take a genuine interest in how the children are?
8. What about the weekend. Is your job Monday to Friday but your wife’s job Monday to Sunday? Do you give your wife a break by taking the children out for a morning, day, etc. on a Saturday?
9. Do you lead in the marriage in spiritual matters by praying with and for your wife in her new role?
10. If your wife works for money might you consider dropping a day a week at work to care for your children?
A. Why do women return to work after children?
In the following list I’m not trying in any way to pass comment on the reasons women return to paid employment, merely to identify them.
1. Financial necessity
For many the option of choosing to stay at home is not open to them. Economic necessity means at least some part-time work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. In parts of the world it would be beyond the wildest dreams of any family to survive on a single income.
2. Financial improvement
For others work is a choice but a choice in which economics plays a big part. It might be possible to live for a few years on one income but going back to work is about ensuring a better quality of life for a family. It’s about having enough not just to pay the bills but to enjoy a nice holiday, etc.
3. Missing the world of work (maybe even a grief over loss of independence)
Someone described stopping work to look after a baby as a form of grief; the loss of a life, of a world, in which so much energy, time and commitment had been given and so many rewards had been received. For some it feels as if a life has ended and it’s not too strong to think of those first few months at home as a grieving over a loss of independence.
There are friends at work you don’t see any more and then there is the enormous challenge of leaving something you’re good at to do something you don’t feel very good at.
The goal for some women is to re-enter the work-place and resume the career ‘as soon as’.
4. Escaping the isolation of caring for a baby
‘When I became a mother I found myself for the first time in my life without a language, without any way of translating the sounds I made into something other people would understand.’ Rachel Cusk writes in ‘A Life’s work’.
Someone else commented:
‘I went to a dinner party on Thursday. And I had nothing to say. I was out of it. I couldn’t talk about the only things that mattered to me.’
Raising children full-time at home when everyone else is out in the world of work can be an isolating experience.
5. The embarrassment of staying at home ie peer-pressure
It’s inevitable that people will start to ask ‘are you coming back to work’ even before the birth. In a culture (see below) that has created the expectation that mothers will work it can be a little awkward to tell people you’re not.
6. The cultural expectation is that women should have it all.
Good bosses desperately want to keep good employees and do their utmost to keep women in work.
The culture creates favourable terms to ensure women can work (and thus fosters the expectation)
The law protects a woman’s right to return to work after the birth of a child.
‘Policy makers urgently need to face up to the fact that the values underlying much social policy may not match the desires of women not the extent that they have assumed.’ Professor Geoff Dench
7. The battle to prove that you can have it all
Almost the definition of the modern woman is to have it all. Those who choose to give up work to raise children feel that they are not
B. Should Christian wives go back to work?
1. The bible’s model of a godly woman or ‘an alphabet of wifely excellence’
The wife of Proverbs 31 is a purposeful, energetic, wise, successful, strong, capable wife.
She cares for the family, she earns an income.
‘Wise daughters aspire to be like her, wise men seek to marry her, and all wise people aim to incarnate the wisdom she embodies, each in his own sphere of activity.’ Waltke
There is nothing unbiblical or sinful about a mother working alongside her duty to her family.
This woman works in a way that keeps the priority of being a wife and mother.
2. The priority for wives
teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
i) The primary Christian duty of wives and mothers, according to Paul, is that they should ‘love their husbands and children’.
Love, as defined by God’s love is measured in sacrifice and service.
ii) Busy at home – John Stott comments: ‘It would not be legitimate to base on this word either a stay-at-home stereotype for all women, or a prohibition of wives being also professional women. What is rather affirmed is that if a woman accepts the vocation of marriage, and has a husband and children, she will love and not neglect them.’
iii) Such a biblical understanding of womenhood should bring:
- Blessing to the home
- Fulfilment to the wife
- Honour to God
iv) Our culture of ‘liberation’ works to undermine God’s priorities and replace it with a secular agenda
- Feminism makes the mistake of equating equality of status with equality of role.
- Feminism encourages women to forsake their calling to care for husband and children in pursuit of self-fulfilment in a career outside the home.
3. What is the Biblical principle that should be at work in the decision?
“In what way can I best love those God has called me to love (especially my husband and children) as I love and serve Christ? By working outside the home or by working inside the home? By working part-time, full-time or not at all.”
Key conclusion: The answer to this question will be different for
i) different families
ii) in different situations and circumstances
iii) with different gifting and capacities
iv) and even for the same family in differing seasons of life.
Our natural inclination is to polarise the debate by reducing everything to a simple ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ view on moms going back to work.
What we need to recognise is that in our churches there will be a spectrum of positions. A scale shall we say between 1 and 10 in which 1 is a decision to choose to work (there is no economic necessity no need other than a self-motivated decision to seek a career) and 10 a decision to choose to stay at home (again a situation in which the income of a wife plays no part) and then a 5 represents the woman who willingly or unwillingly has to look for paid work to pay the bills.
For the most part it won’t be obvious to us where any couple sits on this spectrum and that usually means that we are not in a position to judge the motives of those who work and those who don’t.
In the next post we’ll consider:
What are the dangers in women trying to hold together the world of work and home?
What part should husbands play in all this?
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 http://wp.me/p1i2hG-k8)
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 http://wp.me/p1i2hG-k8)
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 http://wp.me/p1i2hG-kG)
4. How do we support mothers who do go back to work, as a church family? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-lE)
5. How do we support mothers who don’t go back to work, as a church family? (see http://wp.me/p1i2hG-lE)
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.
When was the last time someone was interviewed at church about the work they do who was not in some form of full-time ‘Christian’ work? I have to confess as a Pastor I can’t remember the last time we heard from someone up at the front of church.
What message does it communicate when we fail to take an interest in the work of those in our churches. It seems to me that at least three of four things become imbedded deeply in the collective consciousness of the church.
1. The only work God is interested in is gospel work
2. The godly thing to be doing is being in paid Christian work everything else is second best
3. There is a sacred/secular split to our lives. Some things we do are important (sacred) and others irrelevant (secular). Unfortunately the vast majority of our time is spent doing things that don’t matter to God!
The problem is that as a Bible-believing Christian I don’t believe any of those things.
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free – Ephesians 6:7,8
The problem is that unless I take steps to correct the assumption that most of what I do doesn’t matter to God the way we do church communicates that in practise that’s what we do believe.
Mark Green, in an article for the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, gives some great advice on how in just a few minutes each Sunday for a month or so you can change the culture of the church to show that work matters to God.
Why not try, he suggests, interviewing a member of the congregation for just a couple of minutes focusing on questions about what Continue reading »
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