Updated: Nov 26, 2018
Is it okay to be just a mom?
Many of us women have been conditioned to believe that being a superwoman in every area of life is our ultimate goal. But what if you feel called to be primarily a mother? What if you feel like that is what you were made for?
The overlooked reality is that no one is “just a mom.” A mother may be a wife, daughter, sister, friend, church member, church leader, homemaker, missionary, educator, volunteer, listening ear, helping hand, reader, learner, thinker, artist, author, musician, mentor, language-learner, server of those in need, and many more.
She may excel in determination, integrity, sacrificial love, intelligence, selflessness, humility, quick-wittedness, creativity, and a nurturing heart. Whether in paid roles or not, within the home or outside it, the possibilities for her love and wisdom to change lives are vast.
But I know what the question is really about: Is it okay if I primarily invest my time and talents in the raising of my children? Is that a good enough use of my education and skills? Is it enough for God?
This discussion is not about how much a mother should work outside the home, nor is it meant to demean anyone in any life situation. I heartily cheer on every mother who is working hard to honor God with her life. I also champion the calling of deeply investing in our children for the sake of God’s kingdom. I am homing in here on the mothers who choose to make mothering their primary job, although it is looked down on in our culture. This is for the mother who longs to center her work on her family and wonders somewhere in her heart if that is enough.
If the outcome of raising children is not majorly significant; if the investment of parents is not overly important and can easily be simulated; if parenthood is a bottom-rung job requiring little skill; then perhaps it is a waste of an empowered woman’s education and gifts to stay home with her family. But I submit that raising children is a fundamental and vital commission in the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Historical norms and new ideals
In pre-industrial societies in the West, the distinction between work and home was much less defined. These days we may “bring work home,” but for many people in the past “work” was already in the home; the happenings of the home were the very definition of work. Labor revolved around making a home and providing for the family. The farm animals slept in the house. The family shop was the first floor or front section of the family home. Everyone, including children, participated in the life and growth and sustenance of the family. Generally speaking, very few men nor women “worked outside the home” in the modern sense.
This was not all a flowery ideal; many people worked under others in near-slavery conditions, and even for those fortunate enough to have a degree of autonomy, life was harsh and often stayed at the level of subsistence. Whether pre- or post-industrial, some people were actually slaves, so their work did not benefit themselves and their families could be brutally ripped apart against their will.
Industrialization initiated the increase of production outside the home realm, with cities exploding as people flocked there for greater earning potential and stability. This was as drastic a shift for human society as the shift from nomadic life to agriculture, and we are still undergoing and understanding these monumental changes; the whole system is still in flux for men, women, and children alike. Now there are often two dichotomous worlds, that of the home and that of the job, and enormous pressure for us to prioritize the work world over the home world.
Because of the newness of this way of life, we are still in the infancy of asking and answering important questions about what this means for us as humans: What ideas have we accepted about work and the family that need to be reexamined? Is the pressure that industrialization has put on the family a neutral thing? What does human flourishing look like? Can we do work and family in a way that honors God and doesn’t deprive women or men of who we can and should be? These are weighty, ultimate questions that bleed into the everyday questions: How do I spend my time on a day-to-day basis? What do I do with my children? Where do I invest my energy?
I bring up this brief historical perspective not to glorify the past or try to reproduce it, but because I want us to think more critically about the views we have absorbed from the current cultural air. Defining work almost exclusively as a paid job separate from home life is a very new cultural construct. Of course I am thankful for the many people who work hard in their careers to contribute to society. Most jobs will be outside the home by necessity, and I appreciate the benefits of modernization. I ask these questions to unmask the unspoken but unyielding ideals that drive our choices.
The call of motherhood
I do not want to be like the servant in Jesus’ parable who was given one talent (an enormous sum of money) and buried it to keep it safe instead of investing it for his master’s gain. The master was pleased with the servants who invested their trust responsibly and doubled his wealth, but he reproached the first servant and took away even what he had (Matt 25:14-30). Is being primarily a stay-at-home mother a good enough steward of God’s gifts?
You cannot read the Bible seriously and escape the vital importance of raising up the next generation to know and walk with God:
We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments... (Psalm 78:4-7a)
In addition to the obvious fact that we need people investing in children in order to have a next generation, we are called to intentionally teach and train our children to know and delight in God and his ways. The Bible does not relegate this work to people who are not skilled enough to secure professional jobs. It is seen as a central work of the people of God; when left unfulfilled, his people as a whole founder and turn away from him.
We parents are the first line of disciplers for our children, by our modeling and explicit instruction. Our children will also be loved and mentored by many other people throughout their childhood (and adulthood), and that is wonderful and essential. But the responsibility for their spiritual and holistic guidance into adulthood ultimately rests on us parents.
In a stirring and daunting charge, God’s people are instructed to make growing ourselves as disciples and discipling our children a part of everyday life, all the time. It is a comprehensive lifestyle:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
Negatively, we see a mammoth example in the life of King David of what happens when you do not train up your children. There is a gulf of difference between parenting practices of ancient near eastern kings and ours today (unless you happen to be very old-fashioned royalty), but the Biblical author repeatedly points out how his sons were never disciplined for egregious sin, never questioned when doing whatever they wanted: “His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?’” (1 Kings 1:6a). Three of his sons committed serious offenses against their siblings or father and were killed as a result.
The all-encompassing nature of the nurture, discipleship, and education (thanks to Clay Clarkson for these categories) of our children requires the skills and character we have gained in our education and life experience. And even more so, through parenting we will gain skills and character like never before. God sanctifies us in astounding ways through parenthood.
The diligent, creative, loving management of a home is more comprehensive than any other management job; we absolutely need to be talented in our character and perseverance. And whatever specialized skills we bring to the job will bless our families and our homes: our artistry, our medical training, our communication skills, our theological knowledge, our math and science expertise, our musical ability, our organizational skills, and so on.
We will make our homes better places for flourishing. We will ignite our children’s passions and curiosity. We will have conversations and interactions with people in our spheres of influence that challenge their thinking and living. We will produce things in this world that defy the status quo and enrich the present body of art and science. We will be part of extending God’s Kingdom to all corners of the earth.