I have a question about the merits of being a housewife. I say “housewife” as opposed to “stay-at-home-mom” because that’s what I’m really talking about. On Boundless, you have often raised the subject of how important/beneficial it is for women to be at home once they’ve had children, but I would like some advice on the possibility of being a “stay-at-home-wife” prior to the arrival of babies. It seems to be an odd concept for most people I have talked with.
Just to give you a bit of background into my situation: I’m a 22-year-old female, I’m getting married in five months, and I’m in my last semester of university, studying for a bachelor of engineering (which has been fully paid for by scholarships). I’ve never been career-minded, as such, and have always desired to be a wife and mother (although I’m quite academic and have worked hard throughout my school and university years). I’m at university despite this because it seemed wise to gain some form of qualification so that I could provide for myself if needed. In addition to this, when I started out my degree, I had no marriage prospects, so it seemed like the right choice.
Now that I’m in a situation where I’m soon-to-be married, I’m a bit unsure about whether or not I should be launching into a career. To be honest, I’m not excited by the idea of a full-time career. Whenever I talk to people about it though, they seem to think it’s an odd notion and can’t understand what I would do with my time if I weren’t working. My fiancé, on the other hand, is very supportive and would actually prefer it if I wasn’t in full-time work. He is in full-time work, with a secure job, and although his salary isn’t huge, it’s large enough to support our simple lifestyles.
I’m confused about whether my motives behind being a housewife are pure and godly or selfish and lazy. I don’t consider myself to be lazy. I guess I can envision myself tending to my home and garden, helping out with volunteer work at church, doing some sewing and other crafts, and maybe getting a part-time job. I’m worried that with a full-time career I would arrive home at the same time as my husband at the end of each day, tired and worn out, and that I would be lacking in energy to then tend to my home and cook meals (although if we were in that situation I’m sure my husband would help out).
Are these desires a bit too idealized and old-fashioned?
Do you have any thoughts on the situation? I feel very torn and unsure of the distinctions between what society expects, what I desire and what God desires. I truly want to make the right decision and to live a life that is pleasing to God.
I love this question because I suspect most readers will do the same double take I did. It sounds positively archaic to graduate from college, get married, and gasp, stay at home before even having kids. But the more I’ve thought about your situation, the more I applaud it. Yes! You can be a stay-at-home-wife at great benefit to you, your husband, your marriage and your future children.
You are in such an enviable situation it’s hard to imagine it’s even possible any more. And yet here you are: Your future husband is supportive of you having the kind of flexibility most women only dream of. Increasingly women in full-time work are reporting a desire to cut back their hours (and those who can, do) and work more like women, with time and flexibility for all the varied dimensions of themselves (wife, friend, daughter, chef, gardener, citizen, author, painter, seamstress — the list is endless).”The Pew Research Center’s most recent survey found that only 21 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 say full-time employment is the ideal situation for them.” From “What a Mom Wants.” (I know, I know. Many of you are likely screaming at your computers by now. Remember ladies (and gents), I’m answering a question from a college-educated woman who wants to stay home but feels like she doesn’t even have that choice given the pressure of our society and culture. I am not telling a woman who wants to work outside the home that she can’t. Though I do believe strongly that there is much to be learned from the humility and servant-mindedness of this writer and I wish I had known her back when I was a newlywed looking for a job.)
It’s always perplexed me that we women so often willingly take on both curses. Yes, we are to be industrious and fruitful, but not in the same way men are. It’s not our ideal role to go out and be breadwinner AND homemaker. Proverbs 31 suggests strongly that the external ventures of the wise woman were in addition to (and not at the expense of) running her household well (and she was far from selfish or lazy). Titus 2 is clear about the primary responsibility of godly women:
Then they [the older women] can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. (vv. 4-5)
Women who work full-time outside the home alongside their similarly employed husbands are certainly, undoubtedly busy when they’re at home. It’s just that what time they have there is limited and often stressful. I know because Steve and I both worked full time when we got married. And we were often too tired at the end of a day of work to, for example, make much of a meal for dinner. Many nights we just crashed for a post-work nap, only to wake up even later, eat a bowl of cereal, and go back to bed for the night. Our townhome was more like a hotel room than a bustling center of industry.
It wasn’t always like that. There was a one-month period of time when Steve was working full time while I looked for a job. It was a sweet season of having time to pray, time to clean, time to walk and meet neighbors. I spent each afternoon preparing for his homecoming. I cooked gourmet meals. I ran errands during the day so we had evenings and weekends to be together and explore our new city. It felt idyllic. I had time to miss him during the day. I was eager to hear about his work when he got home.
Had that season lasted longer, I could have joined a women’s Bible study, volunteered in the community, made rich friendships with older women, and more. But it was short-lived. It just felt so weird. I assumed going to work was the right thing to do. And we figured two incomes would be the only way we could pay our bills and have the lifestyle we wanted.
Reading your e-mail, I now wonder if I was wrong. At a minimum, I think I missed out on some opportunities by going to work full time when a job opened up. I certainly was in line with the cultural norm. But as Steve said to me today when we were talking about this column, our society has gone from women-working-outside-the-home being an option, to it being the expectation. And that’s where I think we err.
You’re right, it is an odd concept for most people these days. But it didn’t used to be. When most of our grandmothers and their mothers and the generations of brides before them got married, they were just what you’re considering being: Stay-At-Home-Wives (SAHW). It’s not that they didn’t work — any woman who takes care of a husband and a home will tell you just how much sweat and toil that takes — it’s just that they didn’t work like a man. Meaning, they didn’t work 40+ hours each week, in an office, for a paycheck.
They didn’t add dollars to the household budget, but they added incalculable value. Think about the single bachelor who married back then and found himself empowered by a woman who was managing the home front while he went out to slay the dragons (or kill the deer Pa Ingalls style, or punch the time clock). It was a true division of labor and there were and are many benefits to organizing your marriage and homelife that way. (I was just reading Boundless contributor Megan Basham’s book about all the benefits to both husband and wife when the wife makes her husband’s career her priority, too).
I’ve heard many newly married couples, who both work 40+ hours each week, compare their relationship to that of roommates. And they don’t speak of it with affection. That and they get used to double incomes. Both are potentially hazardous to their relationship, especially when everything changes with the arrival of the first baby.
Given your desire to be a mom and your robust to-do list for the time when your husband is at the office, I think staying home is a wonderful idea. And if you’re a good steward of that time, it has every possibility of being a God-honoring way of life. Who cares that it’s old-fashioned? (New fashions aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be). Who cares what other people think? Your responsibility is to God and to your husband. And if he’s supportive, that’s what matters.
I say congratulations on your upcoming graduation, your upcoming marriage and your upcoming season of adventure.
May God richly bless you,
Copyright 2009 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.