What Does “Workers at Home” Really Mean?
I’ve been talking to some moms lately who wonder if it’s okay to contribute to the economics of their households.
A few biblical passages come to mind…
The Proverbs 31 woman had kids, and she sold belts and bought a vineyard from her own checkbook. Though well-to-do, she still contributed to the family income. Centuries later, when Paul described the ideal of older women teaching younger women “to be workers at home” (Titus 2), he was speaking to a culture in which about 85 percent of “industry” happened in the domicile. People knew no such thing as a factory worker and a stay-at-home mom. Both husband and wife shared the jobs of stay-at-home parent and worker. Both raised kids, taught kids, and participated in industry.
People did ironworks or basket weaving or meat curing or whatever at home. Dorothy L. Sayers more than sixty years ago—even before Second-wave Feminism—wrote Are Women Human? in which she noted that much of women’s restlessness happened after the mind-engaging work was taken from the domestic setting (international trade, equipment purchase, negotiation, people contact) and sent to factories. Couples began to see raising kids as women’s work rather than as a partnership (“moms parent, dads babysit”). On those few occasions when dads “babysat,” these inexperienced fathers found the job overwhelming. And people began to reason that women had some innate coping mechanism that made them uniquely suited to handle the whining and absence of intellectual interaction.
Often middle- and upper-class Christians say that the ideal is for moms to stay home, but that’s only half of it. The ideal is for both moms and dads to stay home. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re down on the floor playing with kids all day. Rather, they take their children along as they work, support the weak, and help the suffering.
We sometimes hold up Ward and June Cleaver’s set-up as the biblical ideal. We say “if only…” the church would return to “that wonderful time” when Ward headed to the office while June vacuumed in pearls and high heels… Truth is, when the whole family headed off to the factory, we needed child labor laws, and it became a mark of socioeconomic status for one parent to stay at home with kids. But that meant middle-class (mostly white) men went to the factories and left their wives at home all day. And The Industrial Revolution brought devastation to many families. The divorce rate skyrocketed.
Some today understand Paul’s admonition that “if a man does not provide for his own, he is worse than an unbeliever” as a proof-text for the man-alone-as-breadwinner model (1 Timothy 5:8). The verse even has six male pronouns in many English translations. Yet Paul used the gender-neutral “someone” and “one’s own,” not “he/his.” So: “If someone does not provide for one’s own… ” And in the context he was speaking of widow-care. Ironically, the passage is more focused on women caring for mothers and mothers-in-law than on men providing (see 1 Tim 5:16). Imagine a culture with no nurses. Who bathes the patient? Paul’s talking about the family vs. the church caring for the elderly and infirm.
Questions about women’s economic contributions tell us something about our culture: We are rich. We may think we’re poor compared to Bill Gates, but more than two billion people live on less than two dollars a day. And I doubt if a single one of them wonders if it’s biblical for a woman to contribute to the economics of her household.
Paul’s emphasis was on being workers at home, not on being workers at home.
Heather A. Goodman
Great thoughts, Sandi. I
Great thoughts, Sandi. I appreciate how this challenges us to think biblically about how to best raise families not through the woman but through the woman and the man. We’re concerned about the mom staying home with the kids, but we think nothing of all the activities (church and otherwise) that separate families most nights of the week.
Thanks for this, Sandi. I believe God created us all differently, and not every mom is called to stay home full-time, just as not every dad is called to work full-time. Every family needs to hear from God on this issue. 🙂
Good Topic, Sandi. While I’m
Good Topic, Sandi. While I’m a stay-at-home mom, I wish I could find the right part-time or at-home work for me to contribute financially to our household (in ways other than coupon clipping and bargain hunting). I grew up in a family where my mom worked part-time as a nurse, and that was perfect for us and for her. Most companies/organizations now view employment as all-or-nothing, either you work full time or not at all. That’s frustrating for a woman with a brain and an advanced degree. As much as I love my child, I don’t love spending 24/7 with a toddler (and she’s downright angelic), and I’m sure other moms feel that way, too. What exacerbates the problem is that the times you can get out of the house, it can end up being just more mommy stuff. Play groups (mommies), Bible study (more mommies), tumbling class, swim lessons (some more mommies), and so on. To get out alone with one of my single girlfriends or one who’s my mother’s age is a rare treat when we can focus on ministry, current events or our spiritual lives.
I’m sure it’s also frustrating to men who wish they could be at home more with their families, that the demands of their employers keep them at the office for most of the time … a societal ill that wonder if we’ll ever figure out how to remedy.
More Time with Dad
Excellent point about the
Excellent point about the entire family working at home. Sometimes I wish that boys could apprentice with their fathers still these days. I think that fewer fathers and sons would feel distant if they worked together.
Thank you so much for addressing the issue of women’s work in this blog. I was just talking about this topic with a friend of mine, and we marveled at how much the Industrial Revolution influences the way we read scripture, and apply it, today.
Skillful hands, strategic thinking, planning, and compassion are the marks of the Proverbs 31 woman. Those traits are played out individually, based on the God-given gifts each woman is given. Midwives in the book of Exodus used their professional skills to save lives. Esther wielded her royal status, beauty and prayer. Abigail employed quick wisdom and discretion. Mary had a willing and worshipful heart. The gifts of these women undeniably affected the welfare of their families and especially the men in their lives.
The ideal is that both men and women exercise their God-given gifts. Though their roles may change with circumstances (marriage, children, economic hardship or bounty, change of life, retirement, extended family issues), the family should work together.
Shared responsibility was the ideal, pre-Fall mandate given by God to the first man and woman. Why live under the curse if I
As a basically lazy person, I’m interested in how we focus on the location of rather than the admonition to work!
Good food for thought, Sandi
As a male, I agree completely. The institutional Christianity that I’ve experienced seems to focus so much on the wrong things. But this misaligned focus has an affect on men as well. Men are taught that they are supposed to do certain things and not do other things (you know, the woman’s work).
In our marriage, we found that many of the expected male jobs, she did better than me, and vice versa. For some time I though that I had been feminized, wasn’t living up to my Godly responsibility as a man, etc. Over time I learned that the expectations weren’t from God, but from a system, and I want no part of that system.
Also, I agree with your view of the Industrial Revolution being a detriment to men and women alike. There are times when I am able to telecommute. On those days, I work harder, feel more fulfilled, and get to see my wife throughout the day. I love it.
Thanks for addressing this topic!
Sandi, I’m so glad you engaged this topic. I’ve been thinking and praying about how to manage the responsibilities of writing, work and home when our baby arrives. Society and the church have lots of ideas about the “right way” for Christian women to raise their children and support their husbands. Very thoughtful post.