I find it hard to admit to people what I want not because I think it is wrong. It is because I get this feeling that I would drop in rank somehow if I did. Why does it feel like praying for others’ (or even my own) career advancement seems more important than what I believe is a God-placed desire to be a homemaker? I would like to define what it seems like I’m losing so that I can face it objectively.
Thank you for your timely question. Last week I was talking with a friend and new mom who was excitedly telling me that she’s going to reduce her work commitment so she can be home more with her infant son. I thought back to her baby shower where someone asked her about what she planned to do about work after her baby was born. She said she would take 12 weeks maternity leave, and then return to the ER where she’s a nurse, confident she’d be glad to be back.
“Were you surprised by how hard it was to go back?” I asked. She said she was, her husband agreeing that their original plan was in fact, not as workable as they’d thought. Thankfully her job is flexible, and she’ll soon be home much more than she originally planned.
Her story reminds us: You can’t know the future (James 4:13-14), whether you will marry and bear children and if so, how you will feel you should carry out those roles and responsibilities. Your feelings aren’t reliable guides after all. They change. And they’re easily influenced by many factors. But not knowing what will come is no reason not to prepare for what is likely. God made us male and female, and made marriage between us the norm, both for the purpose of being fruitful in bearing and rearing children and to point unbelievers to Christ.
Because marriage is normative for Christians (Matthew 19:1-12), it’s wise to look toward it through the lens of Scripture. What does God reveal about it? What does it means to be a wife and mother? What is required of Christian husbands and fathers? The more we study God’s Word before we marry, the better prepared we are to assume the roles and responsibilities implicit in it. And the more prepared we are, the less we’ll rely on how we feel about it on any given day.
Fundamentally, I think you’re feeling the tension between what the world values and what God does. The choice you’re facing is whom you will fear: the opinions of those around you, or God. I suspect one of the reasons you worry about dropping in rank is because you’re weighing the opinions of people around you more heavily than you should. Scripture tells us to fear God and warns us against fearing man. (See Carolyn McCulley’s excellent article about fear of man for more on this.) If your identity comes primarily from being a Christian, then God’s ideas about marriage and home life, as well as work, should outweigh any opinions around you. Scripture tells us how we should embrace caring for our homes, nurturing children, helping our husbands and more (for starters, see Titus 2:3-5, Proverbs 31, Matthew 23:37, Isaiah 49:15, Psalm 113:9), but even more important, it tells us to do all of this as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23) and with joy (1 Thessalonians 5:16). It’s the standard for understanding how we are to live in this world God made.
To say you want to choose homemaking and motherhood over career is to strain against what’s considered normal, and praiseworthy, in our culture. But ironically, you’re not alone in your desires. Multiple studies have been done showing most women would prefer to be the ones taking care of their babies, rather than having more resources to pay for daycare. One British study of 1,008 women found “three out of four new mothers would stay at home to bring up their child if they could afford to…. A traditional family – with a breadwinning father and a full-time mother – remains the ideal for the vast majority of women, the study found.” It helps to know you’re not alone in your desires and that much of the shame you feel stems from the dominant feminist messages in our culture.
But those messages don’t mirror reality. Danielle Crittenden writes in her book What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us,
This is maybe the greatest surprise upon becoming a mother. Before you have a child, and even while you are pregnant, you anticipate a certain period of mayhem immediately following the baby’s birth … But what isn’t familiar, especially to women raised to believe in the importance of their work, is just how much a child will dominate a mother’s mind. The woman with a slightly enlarged belly who announces that she plans to return to her office six weeks/six months/two years after her baby is born may genuinely believe she will be able to do so — and in many cases, she will do so. But what she is also revealing is how little she really knows about what is about to wallop her, hard. For until you are holding your actual baby in your arms … you can’t know how you’re going to feel when you become a mother. This surprise is motherhood’s greatest joy and its darkest secret: Suddenly you can’t stop thinking about your child (120).
Nor should you stop thinking about him — by design. God made mothers to be deeply invested in their children. Scripture asks rhetorically, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15, emphasis mine).
Still, even if everyone around you agreed that staying home is valuable, their beliefs are not the primary reason you should value homemaking and motherhood. If you are a believer in Christ, if you trust Him for salvation, then you should be most concerned about God’s design for you as a woman. We live in an age when most of the messages we hear sound something like this: “Women and men are equal; they should have every opportunity to achieve in the workplace that men do; to stay home with children is to waste your education, etc.” But to say all that is to imply that women and men are the same, that their desires are the same, and that women should be obligated to work like men do.
God made male and female, both in His image, and charged them both with the care and keeping of the earth. All this was before the curse of sin in Genesis 3. Work is good. We work because we are image bearers — God the Father and the Son are working (John 5:17). But work as God created it was marred by the fall. We must therefore pray for wisdom to view our work as God does, and to do our work as unto Him, for His glory and not our own. Rather than thinking of work as primarily how we leave our mark on the world, or how we self-actualize, or get ahead, or any number of self-seeking motives, we ought to see it primarily as an opportunity to serve.
After the fall, God cursed Adam and Eve’s areas of primary responsibility. For man, that was His work (Genesis 3:17-19) and for woman, her pain in childbearing (Genesis 3:16). We also know from God’s curse on the woman that the relationship between husbands and wives would be made difficult. Part of why women desire to work like men and to be like men, rather than embracing their God-given distinctions, flows from the curse.
I saw this at work in my desire to keep working after our first baby was born, at the same pace I did before he arrived. I was taking on both curses: that of increased pain in childbearing as well as the thorns and thistles added to work. It was a great relief when Steve recognized his responsibility to step up as the primary breadwinner so I could focus on my primary responsibilities in this season of motherhood: caring for our home and nurturing our children (see Titus 2:3-5). This didn’t mean the end of all my creative and income-generating contributions to our family budget (see Proverbs 31), but it did mean the end of the pressure to pay our mortgage and keep the lights on. It was a great relief.
What you desire is objectively good, even if it’s ridiculed. To own your desires now, before you’re married, is to run against the culture, toward God’s design. Women don’t just want these things because they’re sentimental; it’s part of how God made them. I would encourage you to pray like Christ did, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). As long as you have a job, that will include many work-related prayers. But that doesn’t mean praying for advancement at the expense of your hope for marriage and family. You can pray about both. And ask God to give you His perspective on your career and everything that follows.
Blessings in Christ,
Copyright 2013 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.