My Egalitarian Marriage to a Stay at Home Mom

My wife is a school teacher, and she is extremely talented. Yet when our son was born 27 years ago she left the classroom to stay at home. Our income took a 40% hit and we tightened out belts. Our daughter came along two years later and my wife’s work at home more than doubled. The opportunity to stay home with them was afforded by my own income, and was fueled by my wife’s desire to be with the kids full time.

After seven years, an opportunity came to return to work. Our youngest started kindergarten and the elementary school our kids attended needed substitute teachers. She started slowly so as to always be freed up by the time school ended for the kids, but slowly took on more and more until she eventually substituted practically full time. Some of her assignments were what are called long-term, meaning she’d cover a classroom for anywhere from one to eight months while a teacher was out.

Whether working at home or in the classroom, my wife exercised her God-given talents and desires.

Misrepresenting Desires

Desiring God Ministries recently tweeted this message with a link to an article on its website:

The tweet completely misrepresents the point the writer of the article was really making.

In her article Is It Better for Moms to Stay at Home?, Adrien Segal writes clearly and eloquently of her career running an advertising agency, her marriage and attempts to work part-time while her children were young, and her ultimate decision to work solely in the home while giving up pursuing her advertising career. In many ways her story parallels what my wife and I experienced. 

She then writes of the feelings of inadequacy she dealt with when people would ask what she did for a living: she found that muttering “I’m just a mom” was not as fulfilling as describing the high-powered world of running an ad agency.

Segal goes on to describe her path to understanding that this was the work God had put on her heart and she needed to not only pursue it but to revel in it. She also recognizes that not every mother has this opportunity regardless of desire.

Of course, I am not saying it is bad to work in the business world or in any job. Far from it! Jobs of all kinds are the wonderful way God provides for people all over the earth. And God calls many women to work outside the home — even those who have small children.

With this testimony to God’s work in her life along with with recognition that it is not the path God has for every mother, the text of this tweet from Desiring God Ministries linking to her post is inexplicable:

If we refuse to stay home because our career seems more important or interesting, we have not understood motherhood.

Nothing in Segal’s article suggests she agrees with this. Rather, she wrote of her own experience without attempting to provide a doctrinal position on motherhood and career. It’s as if whoever posted that tweet for Desiring God Ministries had an agenda to pursue regardless of the actual content of Segal’s article, and wanted to promote it regardless of her actual point.

I’d rather follow Adrien Segal’s example and let God bring me to a proper understanding of what he wants me to do in my family, my career, my life, and to do it all out of a desire for him.


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26 Responses to My Egalitarian Marriage to a Stay at Home Mom

  1. Hoping I’m not diverting too much from your point. Whether to work or stay at home is a choice. I made more money than my husband so when I left work to sahm we list 60% of our income. But I never hesitated when people asked what I did. We undervalue parenting in society. If you don’t watch your kids, you pay someone to do it. That qualifies it as a job. No one should ever feel bad about staying home with kids. No one should ever feel bad about continuing to work. Everyone should do what is best for the, in their given situation. Good post.

    • Tim says:

      I agree it can be a choice, but it can also not be a choice. Some people have to work to put food on the table. That’s been the norm for women and men for most of history. It’s only recently that we’ve seen this middle class phenomenon of families having the luxury of choosing whether a parent can stay home with the kids. In much of the world today it is as it has been for millennia: women and men work.This is the way we see it happen in the Bible too. There are no stay at home moms in Scripture that I’ve ever seen.

      And that’s one of the things that bugs me about the DG tweet. It assumes a choice is being made. This is a tweet born of privilege, not of biblical mandate.

      • We really cut down our lifestyle. We live in a city, so we don’t have a car. We have a 700 square foot apartment with one bathroom. Don’t wear designer clothes and redecorate our house too often. If we have money it’s spent on cultural type events. Some people truly need two incomes to get through day to day living. Others want two expensive cars, and spa like bathrooms. We get judged all the time by our modest lifestyle, especially by my inlaws, who say things like….you should get your teeth whitened….do you need me to pay for it? It’s all perspective of what we can and can’t live with.

        • maygrrl says:

          With respect, you’re still in a small minority in the world that can afford to eat and have a place to live with only one income. I’ve lived most of my life overseas in poor communities. The people I am around make around $1 per hour for labor. Mom AND dad absolutely have to work if there is going to be rice for dinner and school fees to be paid on time (most of the world’s poor have to pay for even public schools – free school is also a benefit of being in the wealthy west). If anyone stays home with the kids, it would be a sibling or an elderly parent.

          I’ve said a million times that if it is a theology that doesn’t work for a poor single mother in Africa, I don’t want a part of it. Western evangelicals of the Desiring God brand make stay-at-home-motherhood a measure of a woman’s holiness and a measure of her dedication to her family. Baloney. Stay-at-home-motherhood is an invention of modern wealth. It’s a joy and a gift (and also can be a lot of sacrifice as you indicated it is for your family), but it’s still a luxury.

        • Tim says:

          “Stay-at-home-motherhood is an invention of modern wealth.” Precisely. They make a theology out of modern economics.

        • Respectfully, please don’t criticize mine, or any parents decision to stay at home with their child as an invention of modern wealth. Having a child, and how to raise it is a persons choice. My original statement is that a mom should not be criticized for staying at home with their child. I realize that staying at home is a luxury. . Owning a home with 3 bathrooms is a luxury. Private school at 70m a year is a luxury. 500 a month to park your car is a luxury. Maintaining more than one home is a luxury. I think it’s wonderful that you have spent your life dedicating your time to help people that are less fortunate. But are you assuming I’m a western evangelical? Or that I belong to any organized religion?

        • maygrrl says:

          No. I was assuming you were Western. Your comment indicates that your family has had to sacrifice for the decision to have you stay home. I think that is admirable and also wonderful that you were able to make life work with just one income, even though it’s been challenging. “What we can and can’t live without” for you is teeth whitening, spa like bathrooms, expensive cars. That’s a really Western set of desires (and I am 100% with you that we can live without a whole lot more than we realize!). But for the vast majority of the world “what we live without” if mom (or dad) were to not work is dinner, education, and some sort of building in which to live.

          What I am trying to say is that the choice to be a SAHM (and I have been one, by the way) is a luxury that does not exist outside of wealth. And the West is very very very wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Because the phenomenon of SAHM is one that is new in the last 100 years of history as the world’s wealth has increased, it’s is absurd to link it to theology.

          There is nothing at all to be ashamed about if one is a SAHM. I think it’s a beautiful thing to do if it suits you. But we must not act like it is more righteous than any other decision. If we do, we’ve elevated the wealthy over the others because they have the ability to be righteous in a way that the poor do not. That doesn’t make sense to me.

        • I apologize if I came off as righteous. My intent was to say that in a western society, which I do live in, one may have the choice to be either a sahp or continue in the workforce. That is their choice. I am a firm believer in individual rites and choices, and this extends to everyone, about every subject. I can’t speak for other countries. I can only speak for my corner if the world. I hate when stay at home parents are thought of as stupid, ignorant or lazy, which even in a western society they are. I do not have a plan to end world poverty. I wish I did. But I don’t want to see anyone bullied, whether they have the ability to stay at home, or choose to remain employed outside the home. It’s no ones rite to question anyone else’s lifestyle. Ever. I can’t solve poverty. I wish I could.

      • maygrrl says:

        Not at all. 🙂 I agree with you that in places where there is legitimate choice, we should let people make their own without heaping shame and condemnation on them.

        I am pretty familiar with Desiring God, and they tend to do the opposite of that. They elevate SAHMs to a level of holiness that working mothers can’t attain. The tweet says “If we refuse to stay home because our career seems more important or interesting, we have not understood motherhood. ” It is this that both Tim and I are protesting because it cannot possibly apply to poor mothers who have no actual choice but to work. Their career IS more important than staying home. It has to be. They stay home because they’d like their kids to have a meal today. Obviously, there is a whole other conversation about women who DO have the choice (and I think we agree there), but I think just the mere fact that you can’t apply that tweet to poor moms makes the whole premise of it fall apart.

        My argument is with the tweet and “using” your comment to point out that your gift of choice is a luxury that Desiring God has no ability to acknowledge (because it ruins their premise of SAHM holiness). Sounds like we agree with one another.

    • Pastor_Bob says:

      Each person/family needs to decide what is best for the unique situation that they are in.
      The perfect is one thing, reality can be different.
      “No one should ever feel bad about staying home with kids. No one should ever feel bad about continuing to work. ”
      is good.

  2. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    This is good, Tim. I saw that article too, and it was much more of a personal story of how one family navigated the work/home issue. But as is so often the case, DG turned it into an opportunity to spread guilt and legalism (with a sexist undertone). That’s actually quite a feat when you think about it.

    • Tim says:

      It was appallingly clever, how they took her well-written story of her own family’s experience and used it to further an agenda she did not write on. I wonder if she’ll write for them again?

  3. The tweet definitely doesn’t match the article. The article doesn’t really judge and is more of a think about it before you decide kind of vibe. Still both the tweet and the article only really present the stay at home option for the mother. Sometimes it makes just as much, if not more, sense to have the father stay home in certain situations. Really, her article can apply just as much to a father as a mother. I certainly understood a good deal of the struggles she mentioned.

    • Tim says:

      Right, She wrote about what worked best for her family. For some it’s the father staying at home, and for others it’s both parents working. And in too many families there is only one parent; for them, the discussion of whether one parent can stay home never occurs.

      Of course, all of this in in a society where the options are at least possible, even if theoretically. In much of the world and for almost all of history, this discussion never takes place at all.

      • Pastor_Bob says:

        Heard a story on the radio on the way home, the father/husband was the “room mother” and on field trips took the 6 rowdiest boys on filed trips and put energy into these kids. The person on the radio went so far as to say that evey class has about 6 who always fall into this category. He made a difference in these kids lives with his attention.

  4. Pingback: My Egalitarian Marriage to a Stay at Home Mom — Tim’s Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another | Talmidimblogging

  5. roscuro says:

    I think here would be an appropriate place for a quote from Dorothy L. Sayers, from her essay The Human-Not-Quite-Human:

    “The right of woman,” says Dr. Peck, “considered in the economic sphere, seem to involve her in competition with men in the struggle for jobs.” It does seem so indeed, and this is hardly to be wondered at; for the competition began to appear when the men took over the women’s jobs by transferring them from the home to the factory. The medieval woman had effective power and a measure of real (though not political) equality, for she had control of many industries – spinning, weaving, baking brewing, distilling, perfumery, preserving, pickling – in which she worked with hear as well as hands, in command of her own domestic staff. But now the control and direction – all the intelligent part – of those industries have gone to the men, and the women have been left, not with their “proper” work, but with employment in those occupations. And at the same time, they are exhorted to be feminine and return to the home from which all intelligent occupation has been steadily removed.
    There has never been any question but that the women of the poor should toil alongside their men. No angry, and no compassionate, voice has been raised to say the women should not break their back with harvest work, or soil their hands with blacking grates and peeling potatoes. The objection is only to work that is pleasant, exciting or profitable – the work that any human being might think it worth while to do. The boast, “My wife doesn’t need to soil her hands with work,” first became general when the commercial middle classes acquired the plutocratic and aristocratic notion that the keeping of an idle woman was a badge of superior social status. Man must work, and woman must exploit his labour. What else are they there for? And if the woman submits, she can be cursed for her exploitation and if she rebels, she can be cursed for competing with the male: whatever she does will be wrong, and that is a great satisfaction.

    People who long to return to an era when women stayed home often have a picture of the women of Jane Austen’s or Charlotte Bronte’s books, which depict women of the upper class. We only need to read Dicken’s Hard Times or Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton or Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables to see that working class women worked in the factories of the Industrial Revolution as much as men, not to mention their employment as servants and farm workers on landowners’ estates.

  6. Pastor_Bob says:

    This bothers me:
    ““Stay-at-home-motherhood is an invention of modern wealth.” ”
    I find this an insult to those who make the decision, wealth not being an issue.
    My mother was home for her elementary aged children – period.
    My father worked, she made the home WORK and work it did.
    Many families sacrifice the the big dollar things to make sure the children are well nurtured, and mature into responsible adults. IF they can one parent is home when the children come home from school. I know a single mother who sacrificed her time and earnings to be at the school to greet her children.

    Luxury of wealth my foot!
    This is a sacrifice of LOVE and determination.
    There is a pervasive feeling that wealth is to be disdained, that those who earn more are doing something wrong. Thus all of say “give back” as to suggest that something needs to be returned. If there is NO dishonesty, we are to GIVE -period.

    Each family receives words similar to this, “I will look at your financial picture, look at options with you, explore other options, your needs will be evaluated, your budget reviewed. With this suggestions will be made, but the ultimate decision is yours to make. If you have carefully reviewed all of the information, and prayed over it all, I will support you fully.” yes, I mean it and do it.

    Each family is unique. God blesses us based on many things including our obedience.
    Note the word OBEDIENCE, since our ways are not always His ways.

    • Tim says:

      Bob, there’s no denigrating of wealth per se, just a recognition that the modern notion of staying at home while the other spouse works is a recent phenomenon based on modern western economics. The comment quoting Dorothy Sayers captures well how tiix came about.

    • Terri says:

      SAHM is a function of money, and saying so honestly doesn’t insult/attack those who choose to be SAHPs. Outside of wealth, every SAHP situation I know of has involved sacrifices on the part of the family, especially the SAHP individually. That’s not a point of argument; we all know it’s true and acknowledge it to be true.

      Saying that stay-at-home parenting can’t be an across-the-board righteous/sinful decision because of money is a truthful admission that poverty means there is no choice as to whether to work for money or stay home with children. The choice isn’t there. No one is objecting to the choices of others–just to the insistent moralizing of that choice as if everyone has it and as if it’s genuinely immoral for one parent (nearly always the wife in this thinking) to go to work. If it can’t apply to the world, then it’s situational and not a universal rule of righteousness versus sin.

      We cannot moralize economic necessity unless we’re willing to say it’s a sin to be poor. I’ve seen some who are. You don’t seem like one of them, though.

  7. Tim, I really agree that the original post doesn’t reflect the article, and that stay at home moms are largely a luxury of wealth in the west.

    At the same time, though, I think there is something missing from the discussion.

    We naturally balk at what Desiring God does by commanding that all women stay at home. The Southern Baptist church does not treat women’s issues well, to say the least. But this is one area where I think Christian egalitarians perhaps do a disservice. We are making this into a gender issue–where women are being pressured into being stay at home moms, and that’s wrong.

    What people don’t seem to be talking about is the children. I do believe that children do best when they are raised by a consistent caregiver who loves them–ideally a parent (I don’t care which one, and my husband and I took turns at different junctures), or perhaps a grandparent/aunt/close friend of the family. Research has shown that day care centers are not ideal places for raising kids, and that being home with an active caregiver who thinks that staying at home is a calling is best.

    Now, it’s a HUGE privilege to be able to do that. But I agree that many do have that choice and still say that they need two incomes. You can raise a child in an apartment. You don’t need two cars. You can move to a cheaper community. You can make that choice. I stayed at home with two kids when we were still below the poverty line. My daughter plans to as well.

    No, in Third World countries you can’t, but here you can–usually. Not always. But many people who say they have no choice can. And saying that it’s a luxury to even have that choice perhaps takes the responsibility off of parents to look fully at their situation and ask, “what is best for my children here?”

    Yes, it’s a luxury. But if we have that luxury, then shouldn’t we at least consider what is best for the kids? If God has blessed us with that luxury, then isn’t it incumbent on us to be good stewards of it?

    I don’t believe that we should pressure anyone to do anything, because I do believe that God calls different families to different things. And in my daughter’s neighbourhood, there are more stay at home dads than stay at home moms (in my family, too!) So I don’t see this as a gender issue but a parenting issue.

    So let’s not leave children out of the discussion. Ask yourself: would you rather be in a daycare center, or home with your mom or dad? Most of us know what we would answer. So I just think kids need to be included in this discussion, not just what moms want. It’s really not a women’s issue.

  8. Vanessa says:

    And then there are single mothers….

    I went through a divorce from my serial cheating, abusive ex-husband. And while I was once a SAHM that homeschooled my children, I found myself dipping my toe back into the work world and returning to work full time. (And I am forever thankful for my college degree, as I realize I am in a much better position than many, many single mothers.)

    I don’t have a choice: I HAVE to work to support my kids.

    People and organizations like DG who make sweeping generalizations shame women like me who may want to stay home but have no choice – or women who are truly fulfilled when they work, regardless of marital status.

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