Being a stay at home Mum is not more ‘noble’.

michelle o

As far back as I can remember, my dream life has included an old Edwardian house with a massive back garden, 2 very cute children, and a very tall husband with kind eyes. The recurring image is generally of us, in the garden, him making mud pies with the kids and me pouring glasses of homemade lemonade into tiny plastic cups for them. It’s all very idyllic and archaic. Nowhere in this image is me hurriedly pouring the lemonade with a pair of A and E scrubs on, kissing my husband on the cheek and grabbing a child in each arm to hug them as I rush out the house to work.

The probability is that my future life is far more likely to be similar  to the second image, than the first.

The working mum isn’t a really a ‘thing’ anymore, is it?
Not many people raise their eyebrows  at the idea of a working woman having a couple of little ones at home. In a lot of circles, it’s assumed that you will go back to work after pregnancy, possibly take a year or two at the most.
All except conservative Christian (or other religious) circles.

Recently my denomination voted against women being ordained as ministers. It was a controversial vote mostly split along cultural lines. Many of  those in the West tended to be more in favour, and non- Western countries tended to be opposed to it. I haven’t studied it enough to make any informed commentary and so maintained a fairly neutral position although my natural tendencies lean towards being pro-ordination.

Aside from discussions about ordination, I was interested in the conversations about the different roles of women and men in the home and society. I’ve found Christian men have much more of a tendency to be in favour of my 1950’s daydream than other men. In fact, one of the women who spoke against women’s ordination stated that despite her current leadership position in a church organisation, that (loosely quoting from our denomination’s most important female leader) ‘her highest calling will be when she is a wife or mother’. Although I agree with the quote she used in it’s correct context –  I found it firstly, dismissive of those women who will never be called to be a wife or mother, and secondly, rooted less in sound theology and more in Victorian idealism.

The idea that your most important life work is to love and influence your immediate family is one that I subscribe to – but this is equally true of men and women. Interestingly enough, this argument is never used to prevent married men from occupying positions of leadership or demanding jobs even though the Biblical imperative to take care of your home first is actually directed at men and not women.

The concept of men going out to work and women staying at home is fairly modern concept. In times past, especially the time period  in which the Bible was written, men, women and children often worked alongside each other in the family business, women sold their wares at the market, and the concept of a ‘stay at home mum’ vs ‘working mum’ was non-existent. Women often worked from home, or took their children with them as they worked outside the home. Everyone pitched in to make enough money or produce for the family to survive – the family was a working unit.

My Mum worked in a demanding and fairly high powered job  for most of my childhood and I don’t feel like I missed out because she wasn’t “there” as much as she would have been if she had stayed at home. Like most Mums she’d managed the art of being ever present even in her absences. Sometimes she would bring me into work with her during school holidays and seeing her as a black woman in a senior management position was extremely empowering for me. I would sit at her desk in her office, spin around in her big chair and pretend that I was the boss.  I have no doubt that a major part of my confidence and success came from seeing my Mum at work. Also, I was fortunate enough to have great nannies who looked after me and my brother and my experience of the world was enriched by my time with them – I consider them to be part my family.

If I’m honest, if  I ever do have children  I do want to be at home, at least when my children are young. I’m even warming to the idea of home schooling. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a stranger spending more time with my children at a young age than me, even if my own childhood experience of that was great. But if I am called to work outside of the home, that does not make me less ‘virtuous’ than if I stay at home.

I refuse to believe that God wanted me to get a medical degree simply to pass time while I wait for the right man to whisk me off my feet and provide me with an expensive set of cooking utensils to facilitate his fabulous career. I’m also very confused as to why women who are significantly more intelligent, innovative and able than some men shouldn’t share this with the world but instead should feel some sort of moral burden to stay at home, concocted from a hodgepodge mixture of Victorian ethics and misused Bible texts, instead of discovering the cure for sickle cell. Lastly, the idea that being a stay at home Mum isn’t a job in itself, is insulting. If a woman stays at home both parents are working – one is working inside the home and one is working outside. Both are equally viable choices that families should make for themselves – without being made to feel guilty for either.

What do you guys think?

4 Comments

  1. January 8, 2016 / 1:04 pm

    I’m a stay at home mum by choice. It wasn’t a moral burden at all, if anything many people are still surprised that I chose that road. I even think that in some circles, being a working mum is the norm, and stay at home mum become the exception who people look down upon. The discourse of woman has something to do with this, and funny enough many women are forced to return to work even when they don’t feel ready to leave their children into someone else’s care. Mothers should be able to make the right choices for them and their families without societal interference. And that’s kinda hard these days… hope I made sense 🙂

  2. January 8, 2016 / 4:42 pm

    Totally agree with you. Someone asked me recently if I’m ready to settle and my answer was NO. I know I’m running out of time but I have things at the moment on my plate that wouldn’t allow me to juggle a family with the same. My idea is to at least get half of those things done before I think of settling and having kids. And while I would want to be a working mum and equally advocate for that, I would also want to have ample time to be with my kids and husband.
    My mum worked in the government and sacrificed a lot to ensure she was in our lives despite working. When I was in nursery school I remember her working half day on fridays 50 kms away so that she could make it in time to pick me up from school at lunch time. We schooled halfway. When I joined primary school at least she now worked closer in town and the school van would drop me at her office at lunch time every Friday until I grew older and stopped schooling halfday on Fridays.
    We are the typical Africans in an African setting but for some reason my mum managed to balance work with us. Overall she was more involved in our lives than my dad with whom she separated with eventually.
    I would want to be able to do that for my children and would fancy even more if their dad too made an effort to do so too. I don’t believe on sitting on my talents just because I have a calling or so to being a mother and wife in my future life. I believe equally working while carrying out the same adds value to my life. I would also want to give my children the impression that aside from parenting, it is also important to have a career, build your life and achieve your dreams. God put all of us in this world for a purpose.

  3. January 12, 2016 / 5:15 pm

    You are so right to point out that the staying at home Mom is not such a traditional concept after all, especially in our African society, where women were doing quite a hard work out there farming. Apart from the need to use your gifts and brain (and nowadays, you can perfectly do so from home anyway), one of the rational behind women working, though, is the need to be financially independent so as not to find yourself helpless in case of divorce or death of the breadwinner.

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