Mothers and Full-time Employment
During the past two decades [1960s and 1970s] we have seen a number of sociological changes that have left a definite impression, so much so that many have become the new standard. One such change has been the increase of the number of mothers with children in the working force. The acceptability of this can be seen from the fact that it is almost impossible to find on prime time TV any full-time mothers. The number of mothers in the working force, though not as numerous as the media would have us believe, has steadily grown to the extent that this relatively new surge is considered normal and healthy for society, mothers and even children. But is this really true?
Reasons for Working Outside the Home
The number one reason given for mothers working outside the home is finances. Economic conditions are such that by the time you come to the end of the money there’s too much month left rather than the other way around. Other reasons include fulfillment, personal growth and relief. After all, trapped in a house changing diapers and screaming at an unruly two year old is not the most appealing work. One will not find a conversation with an infant all that intellectually stimulating.
In reality, however, one or two deeper reasons may be at the root of why so many mothers are engaging in full-time employment outside the home: societal pressure and priorities.
Prime time TV is, intentionally or unintentionally, sending out a message which is neither traditional nor in keeping with reality. ... ‘Hey, moms! There’s something you could be doing now that’s fulfilling, exciting and important!—but it’s definitely not being a full-time mother.’
Take societal pressure first of all. Never before in recent history has there been so much pressure on mothers to work outside the home. I have already mentioned an almost total absence of the full-time mother on prime time TV shows (compare these with your favorites of years ago). Prime time TV is, intentionally or unintentionally, sending out a message which is neither traditional nor in keeping with reality (presently, only one out of three mothers with children under age six work outside the home full or part time). The message is this: “Hey, moms! There’s something you could be doing now that’s fulfilling, exciting and important!—but it’s definitely not being a full-time mother.” Feminists not only go out of their way to extol the “numerous” job possibilities with upward mobility, but also make sure we understand that full-time motherhood is less than honorable, even a slavery. Husbands can also be guilty of pressuring their wives into the workforce. Desires for that new boat, car, home, and other material possessions, or, as one husband told his wife, “My mother always worked while I was growing up, and so will you,” can cause men to pressure women who would rather stay at home during the growing up years of their children. And then you find some mothers who work outside the home telling (perhaps because of guilt) those mothers who don’t work outside the home how “fulfilling” life has become now that they have gotten out of the home (with no adverse effects on the family and marriage, of course). In short, there is not a woman in today’s society who is not receiving a good amount of pressure to discard the traditional and one-time highly honorable role of full-time motherhood.
No, full-time motherhood is not for those women who have followed the lead of power, prestige and money-hungry men. A different set of values is necessary.
Priorities also have a profound influence upon a person. Feminists have long been saying how unfair it is that men have had a monopoly on jobs which bring greater degrees of power, prestige and money. But notice the priorities—power, prestige and money. Selfish to say the least; more accurately, anti-Christian. If a woman highly regards any of these three feminist or chauvinistic (strange bedfellows) priorities, full-time motherhood takes a backseat. Motherhood, by its very nature, does not enhance the growth of these priorities. She may wield the voice and hand of authority over her young ones, but what is that in comparison to power over employees in some big business? Doing laundry is obviously not as prestigious as being a journalist, detective, or sitting behind a desk with your own secretary. And what about the astounding salary full-time mothers receive? No, full-time motherhood is not for those women who have followed the lead of power, prestige and money-hungry men. A different set of values is necessary.
Come Back Down to Earth
Nobody ever said that motherhood was an easy job, or that it would be prestigious, glamorous and immediately rewarding. But if we think about it, most jobs, for women and men, do not measure up to these standards. As a rule they are monotonous, boring, frustrating, and nice to take a break from. Even those people with the more glamorous and prestigious jobs longingly await Friday afternoon. The feminist notion that fulfillment can be found in a full-time career is a myth. As an erstwhile believer put it: “The sad and obvious truth is that a great many women are now finding out what men have always known—dead end jobs abound, most work eventually becomes boring; bosses, colleagues, and clients can be demanding, irritating and nasty; and it is just as easy to feel trapped and unhappy sitting in a posh office amid the trappings of success as it is standing in the kitchen surrounded by whining pre-schoolers.”
What’s Really Important
In all this talk of fulfillment, personal growth and, even (at times) economic need, something is mysteriously missing—the children. What do they need to be fulfilled in life and personally grow? Can it be done when they are left at a babysitter eight hours a day? Or when day after day they are left to fend for themselves as they come home to an empty home after school? Is it true, as some assert, that children become more independent and assertive if raised in various child care settings? And, finally, will a mother have enough time and energy at the end of a work day to give proper attention to a child along with other necessary chores? Of all those who could raise children, nobody can have more genuine concern and love for their behavior, their values, their spiritual development, their learning, their mishaps, their hurts, their smiles and laughter than a mother. This is the way God designed mothers, and this is the way he designed children. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born?” (Isaiah 49:15). It’s no coincidence that more and more studies are discovering and concluding that the mother-child relationship is absolutely vital to healthy development of children. Our children are immensely complex and their needs vast. We dare not, if at all possible, entrust their development to anyone but ourselves.
A Word to Fathers and Husbands
Several things should be said to fathers and husbands to prevent complacency on their part. ... You have one wife and your children have one mother—take good care of her.
Several things should be said to fathers and husbands to prevent complacency on their part. First, being a father does not mean watching the mother fulfill her responsibilities at home. Fathers, more than ever, must be involved in the raising and teaching of their children. God gave children two parents for a reason. And it is going to be the father more than the mother whom God holds responsible for the outcome of the children since he is the designated head (read also 1 Samuel 2:27-33). Family first, dad, and not your job! Second, and very importantly: Remember, husbands, the pressure your wife is receiving from society. If your job was ignored and even belittled by society, you would want out too. The mother of your children may very likely not receive recognition, praise and support for her role from society, so she better receive it from you, and not just a token compliment once in a great while. Finally, consider the burdens your wife experiences simply because of her responsibilities as a mother, and give her some relief: take her out for a date, play [with their children] while she has a night out, take over the household chores once in awhile as she reads or relaxes, get the kids ready for bed. You have one wife and your children have one mother—take good care of her.
A Final Word for All
What has been said so far puts truly economically burdened families at a disadvantage, not to mention single mothers (who have the most difficult job in the world). If mothers are forced into full-time employment outside the home they need our understanding, compassion and support, for it is Christians who are especially compelled to help the needy (Isaiah 58).
Full-time motherhood is full time, and the responsibilities can be almost overwhelming. But it does not last forever. Soon all that is left of motherhood are the memories—memories of tears and toils, but also joys and laughter. The burden may be great, but the rewards are even greater, for we see our children become adults who know and follow their Savior. Motherhood has been called the most noble occupation in the universe. That may be an understatement.
The Biblical Perspective
The Bible places the development of children, especially spiritual development, in the hands of the parents: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” (Proverbs 1:8; cf. Proverbs 22:6). And because of the importance of this work, parents must supply both quality and quantity time in dealing with their children: “Impress these commandments on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). But the word of God also very wisely recognizes the unique and highly honorable role the mother has in the care and nurture of children: “The older women can train the younger women to love their husbands and children ... to be busy at home ... so that no one will malign the word of God (Titus 2:4,5); “So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.” (1 Timothy 5:14) From these passage we cannot conclude that it is absolutely wrong for a mother to work outside the home, full or part time (the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31, for example, was involved in real estate, v. 16). But they do imply (as does Proverbs 31) that her life more directly revolves around the home and thus the care and needs of children.
From: Lutheran Sentinel, April-May 1986; republished by permission of the author.
Rev. David Thompson is pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Audubon, MN, where he lives with his wife Jenna and their children. He also serves as a member of The Hausvater Project’s Advisory Network.