Working to be a good (future) mother

“You do not have to provide for your family. And if you did, you would not say it that lightly. You would be ashamed if your husband could not provide enough for you.”

That was my father’s response to my lighthearted assertion that I could not take time off from work because I had to “provide for my family.” My father was making a silly suggestion that I simply act as if I did not have a job and randomly take time off whenever I was inclined. I was not inclined to explain that ::gasp:: my job is a real job and I would like to keep it. It is not the career of my dreams, but it works rather well for now. So I alluded to a verse that my parents had me memorize as a child: “if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8).

My father was not buying it. No, men are responsible for “providing.” Women are… well, he did not say what women are responsible for. So I jokingly mis-cited the “Proverbs 31 Woman” as having merchant ships and asked him whether he was going to say that my stay-at-home-maker-extrodinaire sister did not provide for her family.

The conversation went away from the topic, but it was a reminder of how differently I was raised. My parents (and their entire community) sincerely believe that men are financially responsible for the family, while women are domestically responsible for the family. And, don’t ask about how one is supposed to clearly separate those, okay?

Actually, do ask. Because that is the best way to understand how I ended up seeing things differently. You simply cannot separate “responsiblity” into neat little chunks. If one insists that wives are to “support” their husbands only through working at home then one nececesarally denegrates work done at home by making it its own category. It does not matter how much we praise the work that women do at home, when we say that domestic work is the ideal way for women to support their family, we end up devaluing both domestic work and women themselves.

My husband’s income is currently higher than mine. But we would both like it if I earned more. My husband does not enjoy the structure of the traditional workplace. I thrive on it. My husband has amazing creative projects to pursue. I.. well… um… uh… I guess that I would read more if given the time.

I want to work both because I like it, and because I want my children to have a father who is actually able to parent. Men who work the sorts of jobs that require “supportive” wives, do not parent. They earn money for their children, they may even show up for ballgames on the weekends, but they do not parent. I want something better for my children. I want them to actually know the fabulous man I married, not some father figure who is distant and lacks life in the ways that matter to children.

I hate the fact that  idealization of motherhood and separate spheres for men and women has deprived so many children of real fathers.

Do you think that I am wrong? Is it good for women to pursue their creative projects (including motherhood as a project, as it often is) while men puruse successful carreers which support their families? Or do you agree that something is wrong when we assume that women should be flexible to do as they like while men must follow a certain path or else be labeled lazy?

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11 thoughts on “Working to be a good (future) mother

  1. Kathleen

    I agree with you. I see my job as a ministry and a vocation that I was called to, and I don’t want to give it up. However, when I have children I know I will feel like spending all my time at home with them. I’m lucky that I have a job where I can adjust my schedule to my needs. When I have children I will probably end up working three days a week, 12-hour shifts. And when I work on the weekends, my husband can take care of the kids. I think it’ll work!

    1. Rae Post author

      Working 3 12-hour shifts with children sounds killer, but I know you can do it. It is more than I would want to take on, but I am very thankful that there are people like you!

  2. Michelle

    To me, it just seems more logical to have some general defined roles in the home. It doesn’t mean that everything is set in stone, but certain things come more naturally to the different sexes. From the title of your post I assume you don’t have children yet, but I’m sure you realize that only women can breastfeed their babies. This is not a stereotypical or discriminatory statement, it’s a fact. It’s the way God made it. From that fact it flows naturally that a woman would be the one to stay home with the children (Many woman try to refute this and go back to work. They then feel guilty, but instead of realizing they may be neglecting their duties as a mother they blame “society” for making them feel like they should be at home. If anything, though, society today puts no pressure for the woman to be at home but usually praises her for being outside of the home). Since this new mother now has the home as her work environment it also makes since that she will take on many of the domestic responsibilities in the home. It doesn’t mean the husband doesn’t help out at all. My husband does a lot of the chores around the house but the basic day to day domestic work that keeps the household running smoothly tends to be my responsibility.

    As for fathers not being good parents when their role is defined strictly in their job outside of the home, I would agree with you. But I don’t think the wife needs to work also in order to avoid this. I think a lot of it has to do with what one views as his priorities in his life and families learning to live on less income. My husband is a pilot and as such he is gone about three days a week. We choose for him to work the minimum amount of hours required of him at work so he can be home with us most of the time. Unfortunately we know other pilots that are gone 5 and 6 days a week (this includes nights too). They work so much because of financial choices they and their families have made and much of the time the men that are working more also have wives that work outside of the home. It seems that when a woman works outside of the home she is less likely to see her work in the home as a valuable contribution to the family budget, when in fact if taken seriously it can be just as important as the money the husband brings home. Regardless of how couples divide the roles in the home, both parents are, well, parents and neither should be neglecting their roles as such; that includes mothers.

    I think a lot of moms mistakenly try to categorize their lives too much as though household chores, work, parenting, etc. are separate things that need separate time slots. In reality, a mother that really understands her role realizes that eveything overlaps. Parenting should be taking place at all times not just during a special hour where you talk or spend time with your children. No matter what I am doing I try to involve the kids. They are only three and one but they want to be with me. My oldest likes to help with my cooking and cleaning, folding the laundry, etc. and the baby just enjoys being in the same room with us. I avoid just plopping them down infront of the TV while I go take care of my “role” in the home. I also have hobbies and projects I enjoy, many have naturally developed from my job in the home but some are outside of the home as well.

    You mentioned that you thrive on the structure of the traditional work place. I can totally relate to that. I think many women struggle with this when making the switch from the work place to the home. Unfortunately, I think many women don’t allow themselves enough time to transition and figure out what works for them before just giving up and saying they’re not cut out for being at home. I too thrive on a very structured routine, so I had to realize that I was now my own boss in a sense and came up with a very structured routine for myself to follow. I now have a master schedule that I use where pretty much every part of my day is planned. I have had to gain a lot of discipline to follow it since there is no one to hold me accountable but now that I have the discipline, I love it.

    That was a really long comment, but you asked for opinions! God Bless!

    1. Rae Post author

      Thanks for sharing your view! It is funny that while we probably sound very different, I suspect that we would agree on most practical choices. I think that it is wonderful that you and your husband prize his involvement with family over money. And I can’t imagine how hard it must be for women who feel compelled to return to work full time right after having had a baby! Of course new fathers are also often miserable trying to devote their lives to their careers while also living with sleepless nights with a newborn. I guess that I am just dreaming of balance overall, and recognizing the relative value of all contributions to parenting.

  3. kaitlyn

    Hm. While I do think that Ephesians sets up some clearly defined roles for men and women, and I do believe that it can be highly beneficial for the woman and male in a relationship to have their specific “roles; I do not think that has to be a negative thing.

    For me, personally, my greatest goal is to be a mother and a wife. I truly want my life’s work to be providing everything I can for my husband and children (God willing). However, read that last sentence again– could that not be said for a housewife, a Mr. Mom, and a working mom? I cannot see any distinction that would make that false.

    I love that you mention you want your children to know the man you married. That will stay with me for a very long time- how very true!

    1. Rae Post author

      I sometimes think that Ephesians might be better when kept conceptual rather than applied literally in a cultural context completely different from that in which it was written.

      I completely agree with you on your greatest goal. I can’t think of a higher one. :-)

  4. Kacie

    I totally relate to that struggle! I am putting my husband through seminary now, helping him reach his dream vocation that he is uniquely gifted for.

    In the last three years I have intensely struggled with my own disatisfaction with work, desire to find a career that I am uniquely gifted for, and in general a lot of job angst. It’s odd because people are okay with that from me because I don’t have kids yet, so it doesn’t bother them that I work or that I am paying for Isaac’s school. Most people really don’t understand, though, why I struggle so in this journey to find my vocation.

    I say again and again when people ask for greater detail in order to understand, “Okay, picture a guy that’s graduated from college, working an entry-level job and really struggling to find the career that will be fulfilling and truly use him to glorify God by using the unique skills that God has given him. We see that all around us, and we encourage those guys to not settle for second-best, but to really reach their full potential. Okay. That’s me. Yes, I am female, but I have the same desires and longing to be fulfilled in a work. ”

    *sigh*. It’s still a struggle to help people to understand. And I have no idea how to work motherhood into it. I will in a few years, and I would like to find a way to work my career into a part-time thing while I mother, and then pick it back up full-time when they are out of the house.

    1. Rae Post author

      That is tough. It is sad that you have to tell people to picture you as a guy in order for them to understand you as human! But hopefully you will have more freedom to figure out your vocation once your husband is done with his school. Of course you are right that motherhood will then complicate things, but I can hope that at least some things will be easier while others get harder, right?

  5. Trena

    Great post. I would love to stay home full time with my daughter. But in order to do that my husband would have to work a full and part-time job. And well, then he wouldn’t have time to be a father and a husband. So I decided to work part-time to help support our family. To me, it is more important to have a husband and father for my daughter then a full-time mom.

  6. Lerin

    What Michelle said! Wow, I could not possibly collect my thoughts so well this early in the morning.

    Yes, I think balance is very important. My husband has had the drive in the past to work extra jobs, and he did for a bit. When he really learned how I feel… that I would MUCH rather him be home on evenings/weekends than have cable, vacations, new clothes, a new car, etc… he stopped taking on the jobs. It can be hard in our materialistic, consumer-driven society to stand against that with a loud NO and live within our means, but it is absolutely necessary for a happy family. We are abundantly blessed that we actually CAN pay all of our bills for necessities on just my husband’s income. I know that isn’t true for everyone. But no amount of money would ever replace the hours he is here with us… or the hours I can spend in my true vocation as wife and mommy at home.

  7. Kacie

    Yeah, I really do get the struggle of building friendships in a new place! We met weekly with my community group here in Dallas for a full year after we moved here before it really started to click into place as deeper, intimate friendships. It is worth the time, but the initial lonely times are difficult!

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