16 June 2016

Not just another post about the Proverbs 31 woman

I recently engaged in a Facebook debate about the role of the woman in a Christian home.

Can I just say, "Wow"?

I admit I had to disengage pretty quickly, as I don't actually enjoy arguing with people I consider friends, and I could tell there would be no resolution. Our worldviews are just so completely different that resolution is impossible. This frustrates me, but I said what I felt I needed to say, and I can't change people's minds for them.

But it opened my eyes to other viewpoints and perspectives.

Basically, the article posted said that mothers are the first and most important defense against totalitarianism, and that as we see more and more mothers work outside the home, we will see an increase in Big Brother and government oppression. It further stated that this phenomenon tending toward totalitarianism is planned and implemented by "social engineers."

In other words, people are out there, plotting the totalitarian takeover of America by telling women they don't have to stay home with their kids and can instead work outside the home.

Wow. Just wow.

I don't go in for conspiracy theories generally, and this one is a whopper. I just... wow.

Okay, so the comments on the post were that dual-income families and single parents are contributing to the societal deterioration because we are not raising our children. Further comments quote Titus 2 and tell me God wants me to stay home with my kids and take care of my household. Another choice comment is that feminism is to blame, and that offering a paid maternity leave is bad because it encourages women to work outside the home.

Again, just wow.

I am not a biblical literalist. (Shocker.) But I tend to think that if you take Titus 2 to mean women should not ever work outside the home, you should also never wear jewelry, never braid your hair, and never speak in church. I know women who do follow all these guidelines, and I respect that. If you're going to take any passage in the New Testament as law, you really have to take them all, don't you? I've been accused of "picking and choosing" bits of the Bible to follow and believe, but isn't that exactly what's done by believers like the person who posted the article? If we're going to take the Bible as literal law, we have to do it in its entirety.

The article and posted comments imply three very important statements with which I contend:
  1. A mother working outside the home is never God's plan or ideal, 
  2. Working moms can't raise virtuous Christian kids, and
  3. Feminism is the root of all kinds of evil.
First, let's be clear here: I do not believe that a working mom should ever neglect her children. But that word "neglect" means different things to different people. As a single mom, I see my first priority as feeding my children and providing them safe shelter. Next probably comes sufficient clothing, and then education. Thus "neglect" means not meeting one of those four primary needs. Someone from a different point of view thinks that I neglect my children because I have them in after-school care. A third person might say I neglect my children in sending them to public school. We've all got differing ideas of what's important. But we can probably all agree that--using our differing views of "neglect"--we don't think a working mom should neglect her children.

That being said, I can't possibly imagine a God who would say every woman needs to stay home with her children, or that managing a household means not working outside the home. Having grown up in West Africa, among people who farm and/or herd cattle for a living, I'm inclined to think I have an inkling what the culture of the Old Testament may have been like. Women do not stay inside with their children. They work out in the fields, and so do their kids. Women carry small children on their backs. Girls as young as six or seven are put in charge of the babies and smaller children while the mama hoes and digs and plows. And on market day, that mama goes into town to sell her wares. A good African mama is not one who sits at home with the kids and waits for her husband to bring home money for food. She gets out there and makes her own money. This, to me, sounds like the Proverbs 31 woman. She is a do-er. She not only teaches her children at home, but she teacher her children in her actions outside the home. She is hard-working and productive and earns a living to prosper her family.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not knocking women who do stay home with their kids. My mom was home with me, and I am grateful to have had that privilege. Stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) can be just as productive and hard-working. But can they earn a living wage? Probably not. Some, of course, get involved in Mary Kay or Tupperware or Thirty-One or whatever and can earn money from home. That is awesome. But we can't all do that (or want to do that).

I don't believe there is anything in the Bible to suggest God doesn't want mothers to work outside the home. I don't see any verses, in reading my Bible, that say being a SAHM is the only virtuous option for a Christian mom. I see that the important things are to meet the needs of the family and teach your kids biblical values: kindness, purity, diligence, respect, self-control, and a host of others.

As a single mom, I have to work. I do not believe in begging for food or for money when I have a good mind and body and the ability to work a paying job. I'm grateful for compassionate charity I've been given, but I am perfectly capable of working to meet my kids' needs. In my own situation, I would feel irresponsible if I stayed home with the kids and let other people meet all our financial needs. I lived with my parents for nearly a year, and that really was too long. Some single moms can work from home or have enough financial stability from family to stay home with and/or home-school their kids. I don't. And so I work.

For me, it's not a choice. But for so many women out there, working is a choice, and they continue to work outside the home. Why? Because they enjoy it. Because they need to pursue a calling in life. Because they crave adult conversation. Because they want to use their intelligence to build up not only their kids but others as well. Because they have a dream. Because they like having extra spending money. Because they want to share their gifts. All sorts of reasons. Women have dreams just as much as men do and should be equally free to pursue them. If saying that makes me a feminist, I'm gladly accept the label. People are different. Are all women called to get married and have a few babies? No.

Whoa. Okay, so this is not the view of the very conservative Christians out there, but it is my firm belief. I know several amazing women who have either never married or married but never had kids (whether by choice or not). Do these women sometimes feel unfulfilled? Yes. Do they feel unblessed by God, or that they have somehow missed God's plan for their lives? No. Some of my greatest Christian heroes in history are unmarried women.

So, to the second point. Can working women really not raise virtuous kids? Hmm. I'm not sure where this thought really stems from, but I'm pretty sure of a few things.

First, quality of time is more important than quantity. Period. A working mom who spends a little bit of quality time nurturing her kids is probably giving her kids just as much love and attention (and "virtue" lessons) as a SAHM who spends much of the day cooking, cleaning, and otherwise taking care of the home. Truth.

Second, while we as parents are definitely responsible for our kids, so is the village. This has kind of gotten shoved to the side in American society generally, but in much of the world, it's still a true thing. I believe it should be true here as well, but particularly in the Church. I give my kids love, attention, and life lessons, but I'm not the only one who can do that. I rely on my children's teachers, Sunday school teachers, and other community mentors to pitch in as well. And at certain ages, kids learn better from people who aren't their parents. While I may be the best person--in many ways--to raise my children in a positive Christian manner, I am not the only one who can or should do so.

And third, the way in which a child is raised does not guarantee anything--positive or negative. While I do have influence over my children and their choices, they are still free agents. And at some point, I have to let go of at least some of the responsibility. Some of the kindest, most compassionate people come from broken homes. And some of the sadists and sociopaths come from whole ones. I will do what I can to teach my children good qualities, to show them hard work, to model respect for all people. And I'll let God do the rest. But I believe in my heart that my children will be strong, kind, and resilient because of all we have gone through together and all they have gone through individually. Going to school and being in day care around children of other ethnic groups and socioeconomic backgrounds has already taught them lessons I could never attempt to teach them myself. They are richer for it.

Finally, feminism. As a college student straight from a conservative high school, I hated feminism. I insisted I was a complementarian, arguing that women and men have equal worth but not equal roles in society, especially in the family. As I've grown up and now have to wear the pants for our little family, I've definitely left that way of thinking behind. I am a feminist. I want equal pay for equal work. I want paid maternity leave to nurse my newborn. I want to be able to choose to bottle-feed if I want to, gosh darn it! I want to be treated respectfully as an employee and as a person--not just because I'm a capable wife and mother, but because I'm a unique child of God. Feminism is not intended to destroy the family. It doesn't tell women they shouldn't stay at home with their kids. It simply empowers women to realize that staying home or not is a choice, and the decision to work outside the home is as valid as the decision to remain in the home. (Granted, some women can't work outside the home, and some women can't stay at home, but the principle is still sound.)

So I choose to be the Proverbs 31 woman who works hard (including outside the home) to benefit her family, and I pray that one day, my children will arise and call me blessed.


  1. Although a 70-plus dad and grandpa, I appreciate and resonate with your thoughtful perspective and Proverbs 31. Quality kids time on behalf of us males also is important. Too many times, I've been an absentee dad or grandpa, but thankfully it all seems to be working out. Now I'm grateful to see the quality time both my son and my son-in-law spend with their kids (as do the busy moms). And as the kids grow, I've enjoyed their love and ability to freely engage with their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Jim! I'm so glad that in the absence of my kids' dad most of the time, my dad has been able to spend time with my kids. When we lived in Georgia, there were other men in the church community who stepped in to model godly manhood for Timothy, and I regret we haven't found anything similar here yet. But I figure as long as I'm taking the kids to church, where they can (hopefully) see men of God in action, I'm doing my best!