The Lutheran Working Mother

Working Mom

by Pam Thompson

I always imagined that I would be a stay at home mom. My mom worked outside the home, in a community filled with housewives. There were times I thought I was missing out, not having my mom be a room mother, or hosting fun swim parties in the summer.

I attended college, earned a degree, and hoped for a good job to hold me over until I had children “someday”. Someday came quickly. Our first son was born a few weeks after our first anniversary. He was followed by three brothers and set of twin sisters.

I enjoyed my time as a stay at home mom. But, the truth is, six children are expensive, especially on a pastor salary, especially with college on the horizon.

During our son’s junior year of High school, we began to re-evaluate my career plans. I had often tossed about the idea of going “back to work” when the youngest was in kindergarten. At the time, our girls were three. Two more years may be too late to fund college–and our oldest was definitely college bound.

I began looking at job postings casually, and then more fervently. A few months later, I found the “perfect” job as a development director for a statewide non-profit. I had all of the qualifications, and I had plenty of volunteer fundraising experience under my belt from my stay at home mom days.

I did get the job.

We scrambled, and even punted a few times in making childcare decisions.

It was not always a smooth transition.

But it was right, it was right for our family, it was right for our community, it was right for the constituents I serve, it was right for my co-workers.

I found the biggest amount of backlash came from fellow Christian women. There are those within the Christian community who think that the only proper vocation for a married woman is that of wife and mother.  Anything else is a.) abandoning the primary vocation of wife and mother and/or b.) placing someone or something in the place of the husband/father.

This was hurtful. As much as I enjoyed being a stay at home mother, I always had a nagging feeling that I needed to be doing more. I felt like I could help our family’s financial situation. I am not a gifted homekeeper. I did not find satisfaction in neatly folded piles of laundry. . . . Though I tried. I found, that even though I was home with my kids, I was still not the great PTA mom that I wished my mom would have been.

I just felt like there had to be more for me. I threw myself into my Sunday School teacher duties. I planned church and women’s events. These outside endeavors helped, but still did not fill my urge to work.

And I realized that we women, even Christian women, can be so cruel. I had been fed the line, and began to believe it, that women only worked outside the home because they were selfish and were striving for more “things”. I was led to believe that were I to work outside the home, my income would be a “wash” after all of my working expenses added up. I was led to believe that I would have no time for my kids if I was working outside of the home.

My friends, this is simply not true.

My foray into the working world did NOT collapse my family. In fact, if has allowed my oldest to attend University without taking on student loan debt. It has sent a few boys to Boy Scout camp. It has helped pay for gymnastics for a few busy preschool girls, and it is funding tuition for a son to sing in the community children’s choir. Without me working,  I do not think we would have been able to do these things. Yes, these are not needs, they are wants, but they also have helped round out our children’s lives.

My foray into the working world has allowed us to re-roof the house, put on a fresh coat of paint and purchase a more fuel efficient vehicle.

Contrary to what the nay-sayers might think. . .I still don’t have a smart phone or a designer purse, or professionally manicured nails. For a few more months, a large portion of my take home pay goes toward child care.

I’ve been able to give more generously to church and others in need. I’ve learned to manage my time better, and to enjoy my time at home with family. My children have learned to pitch-in more fully to help run the household.

The children are proud of what I do, and volunteer their time at events that I help organize.

As I learn more and more about the doctrine of vocation, I learn that there is no command for a woman to only serve at home, and that it is not denying my vocation as wife and mother to also serve others outside of the home. While some women are perfectly content to be keepers of the home, we need to be careful not to make that a law.

Come to think of it. . . . I just may be getting closer to that “ideal” Proverbs 31 woman every day!

Photo credit: “Snuggling in the Sunshine” by Kirsten Jennings licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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Comments

The Lutheran Working Mother — 30 Comments

  1. The army of “Christian Soldiers” is the only army which not only shoots its wounded but eats them while still breathing. Yes they can be cruel. They can also be wonderfully loving. Sometimes the same people! I guess it is a measure of being human and fallen at the same time as being God’s beloved children.

  2. THANK YOU for this! I’m a stay-at-home LCMS Mom of 3 boys and struggling with these issues right now. I love my kids, but have a desire to go back to some sort of outside the home work (and the local Lutheran school we want to send our kids to ain’t cheap). I struggle with guilt on all sides of this issue and your post really came at the perfect time for me to hear a side of this debate I’m not hearing from others around me. Thank you!

  3. Thank you for this piece. As my wife already commented, it comes at a good time for us. The Doctrine of Vocation is one I as a male have fought for years to understand/live by and now my wife is doing the same as our kids grow older. Thanks again for telling your story.

  4. Great article. It made me think about how my mother working outside the home allowed me and my two sisters to attend Lutheran schools with their high tuition.

  5. I think it is good to both affirm that the Christian woman has the freedom to work outside the home, while also affirming the importance of Mom inside the home. The mother who does tedious, unpleasant housework for her dear (often ungrateful) children and husband, imitates the humility of Christ who died for the who died for us all while we were still in our sin. The mother who dedicates her life to teaching her children the Gospel imitates Christ who dedicated His life to preaching the Gospel rather than fame. Sometimes work outside the home is necessary and enjoyable, but ultimately our work, whether in home or outside of the home should be done to serve those God has given us to serve. It’s a confusing issue for many women in this era of feminism who simply insist that women don’t hurt their children when they put them in a day care 40 hours or more a week from week 6 of life onwards. Can it be denied that God naturally formed a mother to be with her child at all times for the first year of life? And I think in the first formative years it is important for the parent to be the primary person raising the child, as a child can get very confused by conflicting viewpoints (even within the church). However, as written in the post, there are also financial needs and other concerns to be addressed, and a Christian mother prays continuously that the decisions her husband and she make together in their freedom always work in conformity to scriptures and in support of the Christian faith of the child.

  6. All mothers work – some get paid with coin of the realm, some don’t. We have a very large family, and after the economy went south a few years ago I worked full-time and my husband took over the household. Our youngest 4 children are boys, so this has been especially good for all of us. We homeschool because my salary will not stretch for private school no matter what we gave up. Flexibility is key, along with ignoring the clucking experts on the sidelines.

  7. It is very sad to me that anyone would consider this post that speaks about mothers working outside the home and “getting closer to the ‘ideal’ Proverbs 31 woman every day” as a good way to launch the new Sisters of Katie Luther website. I truly hope this does not exemplify the direction this group will take.

  8. Thank you for this timely (for me) article! As a unwilling participant in becoming a single mom entering the work force again is something I have no choice in and seeing how this can be a blessing for many sure makes the pill a lot easier to swallow and even maybe even something to look forward too.

  9. Necessity is necessity. There is no need to make virtue out of it. No one finds existential satisfaction in folding laundry. Duty is duty, and entails both privilege and sacrifice.

  10. The God-given role of a mother is to take care of her kids. While I completely agree that sometimes this means the mother going to work outside the home, I fail to see how paying for a son’s college necessitates putting little children in daycare. God clearly gives mothers the duty to care for their little children. I don’t see him commanding us to pay for a grown man’s tuition.

    More than this, this article seems to suggest that working outside the home is an extra vocation outside of the vocation of mother. But that is not Luther’s doctrine. Rather, whatever the mother does to care for her children, including making money, if necessary, is part and parcel of her vocation as mother. Talk about finding fulfillment outside the home, as if the job outside the home offers something that being a housewife can’t, is completely foreign to Luther’s doctrine of vocation.

  11. There’s nothing wrong with a smart phone or splurging on professionally done nails now and then either if you are so blessed. :-)

  12. Pam, I have known you as a both a stay at home mom and a working mom and you are an example for all women. Thank you for being a role model. I admire your bold words and living example. God Bless You!

  13. Thank you for this! I’ve wanted for years to be a stay at home mom, and just this weekend my husband and I decided that I need to be looking for a job due to our life situation. Our first daughter is due in just a couple months, and I’m already feeling guilty for working–excited though I am for the jobs I’m applying to. It was a difficult decision to make, and this post is so comforting! I’m bookmarking it for days when I’m struggling.

  14. I’m a working mother because I have to. I wish the author would have expanded on why she felt the need to work. The article makes it sound like she’s putting her happiness and career above her children and I don’t want to jump to that conclusion.

  15. My husband pointed out this article to me and so I thought I’d check it out. I appreciate your comments Pam as I too am a mom who works both in and outside the home. My two youngest children were in daycare full time until I was laid off from my job 10 years ago. That life changing event was so difficult, but we felt it to be part of God’s plan, not ours. This lead to moving to a different state, and to different jobs. I am now blessed to be able to work within a school district calendar, allowing me to spend school breaks, weekends, and three months each summer exclusively with my children. I felt a calling while still in high school to become a therapist– my vocation if you will. After college and marriage, I was blessed by the vocation of motherhood . With a lot of prayer and through the support from my husband, I feel I am able to find a balance between both of these vocations. God placed an amazing Christian woman in our lives to help care for my children during the day so that I was able to serve other children and their families who have special needs. Now that all of our children are in school, I no longer need my daycare provider and she is able to bless other families too– in her vocation as a mother and daycare provider. God has given each of us talents and abilities to share — in whatever way that He calls us to do. So, I’ll continue on this path as long as it is His will. Sisters, I encourage you to do the same in however you are called!

  16. No, we should not make whether a mother stays at home or works outside the home a law. But I agree with Mr. Heidenreich.

  17. When I read your article, it seemed a sort of self-defense for your past choices, rather than a Biblical treatise on the vocation of womanhood outside the home. My take-away from the article was “We did these things, and it was good, because it helped,” rather than any pointing to Scripture or examining the Doctrine of Vocation. You say, “[I]t was right, it was right for our family, it was right for our community.” I’m not at all trying to be snarky, but how did you know that? What if God had other plans in mind for your family– not necessarily any of these, but perhaps some: bearing up under the cross of poverty, different choices for schooling and extra-curriculuars, moving rather than repairing a house, etc? You also say, “Without me working, I do not think we would have been able to do these things.” Perhaps not, but God could have provided in other ways, too. We are able to do a few extra-curriculars though my husband’s salary has not been raised in over 5 years (though our family has doubled in that time!), not because I went back to work, but because it has been a gift from some relatives, and also my husband has sought to gain extra income from publications. Also you write, “While some women are perfectly content to be keepers of the home, we need to be careful not to make that a law.” That may be true that some women are perfectly content, but I don’t know a single SAHM who is!=) Perhaps because of our different roles in society, we view this differently, but I think the opposite is true: most SAHM are struggling with the difficulty of it, and are encouraged by society and the church to get out of the home. The “law” is not that a woman must stay at home, but it is Scriptural that she be busy doing the list of good works in Titus 2. I personally cannot do all of those things while being employed. I would not be able to be there fully for my husband, much less my children. In your 4th to last paragraph, you mention all of the things you and your family have learned due to your employment. I would posit that those are all items every single Christian needs to learn and work at, and they actually have very little to do with one’s employment, in or out of the home. I definitely don’t stay at home because I like folding the laundry (um, when is the actually time to DO the laundry?=) or because I like to polish the silver and knit doilies! Most days, I’d prefer to coach the college debate team, apply to be the director for the new pro-life pregnancy center in town, or teach birthing classes, rather than kid-wrangle. But, I don’t go do that because I believe there is a Biblical mandate that women first and foremost serve their families in their home, and through following that Biblical directive, I will find true joy. The post comes across as a defense for your own choices, an encouragement for any woman who is not content at home or has financial struggles to follow in your footsteps and reap all of the benefits you have, not a Biblical post about how to weight the benefits of a mother leaving the job of SAHM and keeper of the home (the Biblical status-quo) to find employment outside of the home. I definitely am not trying to be one of the Christian women you write about who backlash against you (and just want to reiterate that I have been blessed by your advice in the past!), I just think it would more helpful that if you believe women can and do have a calling outside the home, you should defend it from Scriptural passages, rather than an absence of Scripture, or Scripture’s supposed silence on the matter.

  18. For those women who are commenting that this article is “helpful,” can you further explain what in particular you find helpful about this article? Is it just that you also work, or are considering working, and it makes you feel better about it? Or does it somehow help you understand Scripture better?

  19. Marie, through your sugar coated commenting, you’re doing the very same thing Pam talked about in her article–you’re bringing her down. Who are any of us to say what was right for Pam or for anyone else’s family? I’m sure not, and neither are you. I stayed at home until my children were all in school. When I went back to work, I worked in a daycare my youngest daughter could attend. Now I work full time. Does that make me a bad mother? NO WAY. Does God frown on me because I work outside the home? Heavens, no. God has given us all talents and gifts to work for Him. We have NO RIGHT to judge other people on their actions they take for their own families. Pam wrote this article to help moms who are struggling with guilt when they have to go back to work. Some moms may have guilt because they WANT to go back to work. That’s FINE! We do what is right for our families, and other moms have NO RIGHT to judge. No one is going to Heaven or Hell because of their parenting choices, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is from God.” Ephesians 2:8

  20. Essie, Titus 2 verse 5 is a great one, though I readily admit that it doesn’t necessarily exclude work outside the home. Here is a statement my husband has written that summarizes my beliefs about what Scripture and the Confessions have to say: http://www.hausvater.org/faqs/84-women-working-outside-the-home.html I hope that clarifies what I believe. Certainly I agree that no one is going to heaven or hell because of parenting choices, Lord have mercy! But, certainly there are lots of places in Scripture where we are called upon to discuss, admonish, exhort, and sometimes even judge one another for the benefit of the body of Christ. Pam, the author, and I have discussed this topic elsewhere, and although we disagree, neither of us has called one another’s faith into question and have encouraged one another in mothering in countless other ways! Pam certainly has the right to discuss this topic for other mothers publicly, and I have the right to respectfully reply why I disagree. I thought that was taking place. I apologize if you think I implied that you or anyone else was a bad mother or was somehow leaving Jesus’ fold because of employment.

  21. Proverbs 31: 15-16 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
    She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

  22. Unfortunately, this site has already become what I most dreaded and anticipated it would – a site of “I think’s” with little to no Scriptural basis for discussions. This is why I absolutely refuse to participate in women Bible studies. Young ladies, please, refrain from sliding into this pattern! Go to the Word for your lives and there you will find all that you need. A few older women gave advice. Advice which, if you are wise, you will heed. THAT is their godly calling, according to 1 Tim.5:14. Essie, Proverbs 31 describes a woman’s job at home. Read the entire chapter. Do I believe some women are under hardship and must work outside the home? Yes. That is their cross to bear. That was not God’s intent. Read the Genesis account of the fall. We must get Genesis straight or we will be forever confused on gender roles.

  23. Is a married woman with children working outside of the home committing a sin? If it is as sin then I think we should be conscience bound to dismiss all married Lutheran School teachers with children. If it is not a sin then it is a matter of the freedom we have in Christ and a decision a woman and her husband should make. There is no was to discern the will of God in what particular vocation you should pursue. Unless you say it is the will of God that all woman everywhere work exclusively in the home, it is a matter of choice.

  24. Andy,

    You write, “There is no way to discern the will of God in what particular vocation you should pursue.” Yes there is. If God gives you a kid, for instance, and you’re a woman, then your vocation is mother. And your duties are clearly defined in Scripture. Above all, you need to care for your children. In certain circumstances, that means getting a job outside the home. That does not mean we should encourage mothers to find fulfillment outside of the home and give in to discontent with homemaking. Rather, it means that sometimes caring for children demands making the sad sacrifice of giving hands-on care of your children over to others – hopefully temporarily – so as to be able to clothe, house, and feed the same children by making money outside the home.

  25. If what you are saying is the truth then all Calls to teachers with children under say six should be revoked. How can the church call a woman to fulltime churchwork if it is against the will of God?

  26. Andy,

    Are you suggesting that all calls to all female teachers are to mothers who not only put their kids in daycare but also have no exigent circumstances that require putting their kids in daycare? That would be a silly premise.

    That being said, no mother should abandon her children to daycare if she can manage her household without doing so. That includes parochial school teachers.

  27. Andy,

    The absurdity of parochial school teachers having calls which need to be rescinded is a sad commentary on the state of vocation in the LCMS. We can only say with any confidence that God has called us into vocations that

    A) We are already in. (You have a call to be a husband because you have a wife, if you are unmarried, you have no claim to the vocation of husband)
    B) That God has actually instituted. (Discussions of vocation would be so much better if they started with the table of duties)
    C) You would be morally bankrupt for abandoning. (If a woman quits her job as a parochial school teacher she has done nothing wrong, if a woman abandons her vocation as wife, she is an adulteress.)

    If we leave vocation in the broad category of, “Whatever you happen to be doing that isn’t inherently immoral,” we make it entirely useless as a doctrine.

  28. Libby, your comments on vocation are insightful, especially the table of duties point. My husband and I have felt for some time the fast and loose way “vocation” is defined sometimes (by Lutherans) is irresponsible. I wish someone would write more about this topic.

    Not saying Pam did that explicitly. I do think if she had said her husband counseled her to return to the workforce for the good of the family (vocation as wife), and emphasized how her income clearly helped her children (roof and tuition), her working being part of her vocation as wife and mother, she would have gotten a less negative response.

    Im not sure why anyone is surprised by all the arguing. We are a spinoff from BJS, right? ;)

  29. How is

    “We can only say with any confidence that God has called us into vocations that A) We are already in.”

    Different from

    “Whatever you happen to be doing that isn’t inherently immoral”?

    To Workers of All Kinds: Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. Eph. 6:5–8

    If you choose to take a job it is your vocation to do it whole heartedly in a God pleasing way.

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