I recently received an e-mail from a young woman who loves her career but is getting married soon and wonders how her job will fit with her family. If she’s going to have kids one day and stay at home with them, then why bother building a career now? Is it even worth it?
This is a question that many women find themselves asking, so I decided to post a version of my response to her. I hope you will find it helpful.
This is a question that a LOT of women ask–what’s the point in working now, or even getting an advanced degree, if I’m not going to use it later on? In my opinion, the root of this question comes from observing a very narrow sample of what the Christian family looks like.
For many of us, when we look around our church we see families in which the father works and the mother stays at home. And as a result of our cultural surroundings, we assume that this model of family must be set in stone by Scripture. In reality, this model is more often determined by the family’s personal circumstances.
You see, this model is most typical of white, middle to upper class families. Once you depart from this demographic you will find that not all families can actually survive on the salary of one working parent. And those of us in a more privileged demographic may come to experience this first hand as a result of the economy’s recent turn. If the country’s economic situation worsens, we will see more and more families in which both parents must work because one salary isn’t enough to live on.
That said, we should be wary of ascribing spiritual superiority to families with privileged financial circumstances. Just because a mom is able to stay at home does not, by definition, make her a better Christian mom.
For another example in which life circumstance might lead a wife or mother to work, there may come a time when the wife is the only one who can get a job and her husband cannot. If your husband is having trouble finding work, your own career might be the only thing sustaining the family financially until he does.
In my own situation, I will have to be the primary provider during the first years of my marriage because my fiancé has another year of seminary, after which he will pursue a Ph.D. When the time comes for me to fill this role, I will be glad to have the education and experience to work a job that will support us both.
And for all you single gals, this isn’t a question you should really even be asking just yet. Instead of looking too far ahead, focus on what God has for you right now. Only God knows when your season of singleness will come to a close, so don’t waste this opportunity simply because you think your job skills will eventually go unneeded. The fact of the matter is that God wants to use you in your career NOW, so make sure you’re maximizing your time and energy for the Kingdom of God and get out there!
So in light of these arrayed circumstances, I would be so bold as to state that it is irresponsible for women to assume that once they get married they’ll have all their needs provided for. That mentality results from a culture of excess, but our country may be entering a time when such a scenario can no longer be assumed. We need to train ourselves to be ready in the event that we need to help provide for our families. Yes, the husband is the head so it is his primary responsibility to provide, but his wife should also be helping him.
Those are the practical argument for women building careers, but there are other aspects to consider as well. One reason the model for American Christian families is often so narrow is that it fails to be creative. There are numerous ways for families to allow both parents to work AND be in the home with their kids, but we don’t often consider them.
For example, I once interned under the president of a non-denominational women’s ministry who actually home-schooled her kids SO THAT she could have a more flexible schedule to work. Because she wasn’t bound by a schedule determined by a public or private school, she could decide when and how to school them in such a way that worked with her speaking and writing schedule. Ironically, she spent more time with her kids than a lot of non-working moms, yet she accomplished more than any woman I’ve ever met.
Now that’s not to say that we all need to home-school our kids, but I think it goes to show that when it comes to the family, we need to think outside the box.
I once a read an article by Nancy Pearcey in which she traced the history of the American family, and as a result of her research she found that prior to the Industrial Revolution the whole family lived and worked together. Unlike our current model in which the family is disjointed because the father goes off to work and the mother stays at home with the kids, EVERYONE worked on the family’s farm or business together. The mom and dad both worked, but they were with their kids throughout the day.
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution, which took men out of the home and placed them in factories, that we even see a model in which the man leaves his wife alone with the children. We’re so used to this model that we think it’s Scriptural and that it’s always been this way, but that’s not actually true. Prior to the Industrial Revolution we had a much more holistic picture of the family, in which the husband and the wife both shouldered the burden of providing financially and raising the children.
Reading Pearcey’s article challenged me to question the model that I had always come to accept. It caused me to search for alternative models in which the father is less absent from the lives of his children. My fiancé and I are praying through this as well, and seeking out what model would work best for us.
We both want to be ministers, and that may very well mean that I stay at home more so that he is free to pastor a church. But it doesn’t mean I have to step out of ministry completely. I may work some so that he has to work less, thereby freeing him up to spend more time with our kids than he might have otherwise.
But whatever the model, we want to make sure that we do it as a team. Yes, he will be the head of the home, but that means he has an even GREATER responsibility to be in the lives of our kids, rather than just leaving that role to me when he leaves the house every morning. He doesn’t want the home to simply be “my realm” but to instead be “our realm.” So depending on where life takes us, we’re going to try and think creatively about how to minister to and care for our kids first and foremost, while also honoring and maximizing one another’s individual gifts and callings for the Kingdom of God.
And that’s what I would encourage you to do–be creative, and don’t get stuck in the model that you see around you. Yes, honor Scripture, but even the Proverbs 31 woman worked, so you can certainly be a good mother and also have a job. Your boundaries should be Scripturally prescribed (God first, Marriage second, Kids third, and Work last), but within these parameters you can seek to build a family model as innovative as the infinitely creative God who made us.