Should Christian Dads have Full Time Jobs?

In some Christian environments it is sometimes a question whether or not women can carry full-time jobs. Few today would say that it is completely and always wrong for women to work. Few would say that only men can work and women must be homemakers. But it is, in some minds, not an ideal.

In these contexts women are sometimes discouraged (even if in the most subtle of ways) of pursuing a full career.

Women who do pursue a career are (again, every so subtly) treated as if they are selfish, self-centered, neglectful.

A lot of guilt is laid upon the woman who is thinking of working regarding the needs of their children: Your children need the care of their mother, especially at early ages. How could you abandon them that way? 

I take some issue here. For one, only among affluent suburbanites is it possible for this to be a question. The working class doesn’t really have the privilege of deciding on ‘roles.’ Both parents usually have to work.

I am also worried about this, however: Where are the dads? 

Why is it okay that men are allowed to commit themselves to a full-time career and only be a small part of their kids’ lives? Why is this never questioned?

Aside from the fact that I think this situation is unfair to women, I fear that it perpetuates a pervasive cultural problem of neglectful and absent fathers. The good work being done to bolster Christian fathers is doomed from the start until some of the underlying issues are addressed.

Women are, from a young age, taught to desire to be a mother. A good mother. It is central to their identity from early days. Why haven’t I, a man, been just as encouraged to desire fatherhood? Sure, there are plenty of books and sermons about why it is important for me to be a good dad. Many Christian organizations have worked hard to encourage men to be better fathers (Promise Makers, Focus on the Family, etc) and have, in this light, been often ahead of the rest of our culture in championing the importance of fatherhood.

But fatherhood is not a calling nurtured in me from a young age. It is talked about, but the level of weightiness is different. It is assumed that being a good dad is something I work around being a “bread winner.”

I am one who believes that Christian men and women should consider that family is a vocation that not all are called to, so the whole issue of whether or not we Christian children should be taught from a young age to have motherhood and fatherhood at the center of the identities is something we should critically analyze.

But regardless, for those of us who are called to be parents, why isn’t my desire for a career questioned just as much as it is toward women? Why am I let off the hook for loving work and career? Why aren’t I seen as selfish or neglectful for doing the exact same thing that many women want to do?

Is it okay for men to have full time jobs at the expense of spending more time raising their children?

Why aren’t men held to the same scrutiny as women when it comes to balancing work and family?

I want to be deeply invested in the lives of my children, if I have any. I want to spend time at home with them too. Why isn’t this encouraged more?

I hope for more fathers who take so seriously their vocation of fatherhood, and who also takes seriously the gifts of their wives, that they are willing to consider creative ways to be deeply invested in their kids and home and more equitably share these vocations with their spouse. Many men, sadly, choose to pursue career and success and workaholism and leave the ‘homemaking’ to their wife. Career-oriented women are too often buried under these guilt-laden labels. But we ignore that many many men quite seriously need this same critique and have for a long time.

Again, it is economically complicated for most families to avoid two working parents. And even where this is not necessary, it is difficult for two parents to work part-time. One full-time parent is usually economically required even for the wealthier among us. So this is ultimately, a moot point for many.

But instead of laying more and more guilt upon one gender, why don’t get to the deeper issue? The underlying problem is that the modern split between work and home (unique to the post-industrial world) has made it hard for parents to balance work and parenting. This is a burden that both genders face. How about we consider if there could possibly be some ways to creatively liberate men and women to be equally good and involved parents, and also feel free to use their God-given gifts for the world and for the Church? This is a project we should attend to if we are Christians who take the Creation Mandate seriously. We want men and women to imitate, to some degree, the life of the garden. In the garden male and female cooperated together in their God-ordained vocation of nurturing and ordering and filling the cosmos under His law and grace.

But in all things, let us begin with grace. Let us begin with understanding. Let us begin with humility as we approach the difficult circumstances, different situations, and complicated questions that the people around us face and not look down from a place of judgment. It is easy to lay down easy Biblical ‘laws’ when we do so from place of relative privilege. Many of us are in no position to judge, really. Let us also encourage husbands and wives to respect one another, and hold one another accountable, in love and grace. We need more marriages where the partners are able to have honest conversations about these tough modern questions in love and grace. We need marriages where the partners believe in the importance of the other’s gifts for serving the mission of Christ in the world and Church, while also holding each other to their commitment to the mission of Christ in their home and for their children.

Let us be slow to lay down the law, and quick to uphold grace–especially where it is needed most–in growing healthy Christian families who are faithful to serving the Lord wholly in whatever station they are in. This is a glorious thing that needs as much encouragement, support, and grace as the Church can give.

(photo credit: jakarachuonyo on Flickr). 

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One thought on “Should Christian Dads have Full Time Jobs?

  1. Well… since you’re raising the points… I wouldn’t be a fellow theologian if I didn’t comment on them 🙂
    The first idea that I want to comment is the idea of work-home balance. The second is the idea of a split between the two.
    The idea of a balance between A and B in most cases is a rhetorical case only. In reality, I think, it boils down to sacrifice, i.e you sacrifice work (and hopefully income) to spend time at home, and vice-versa. With a limited time and energy, a man (or a woman) can only do so much in a day. Sometimes it will be work-related, sometimes it will be home-related but it always gets to sacrificing one for the sake of the other. Balance, as seen by many, I think, is mere wishful thinking. Balance is more an idea of a reclining Buddha under a palm tree, dozing off in a morning (or afternoon) siesta, not caring about the world. But for us followers of the man who challenged the powers that be, life is more a thing of dynamic turbulence than a tranquil… staleness of life.
    Now let me chew the idea of a split between life and work. I work from home for the past 6 years. I’m in IT, web development and marketing, and I run my own gig, looking for my own clients and growing a team of programmers and designers to push the projects faster. So from my perspective, there isn’t really a split between life and work. On the contrary, working from home meshes up the two so much that you’re always working and never working. Technology, for those who want to leverage it, has enabled us a lifestyle that has never really been so possible. While workers in factories are hard-pressed to work long hours, and drive to and from work for at least an hour… there are hundreds of thousands of IT/Design/Consultants who work from home, in their PJs.
    This has created a possibility for dads to be quite engaged in raising their children. And flip it the other way, this has also enabled stay-at-home moms to work as well. Granted, working from home for your own clients (i.e solopreneureship type of life) enables people to work as much as they want, when they want… and most of the times it’s not pulling 8-hour shifts.
    This brings me to a scary conclusion. The root of the problem of biblical manhood, womanhood and family(hood) is the economic pressure, partly created by greedy owners, and partly by incessant consumerism. Then people get stuck with debt and suddenly mom and dad pull full 8 hour shifts while the kids are raised by stranger-teenage nannies.
    So the “christian thing to do” would be to move past the pre-served options and build their own world, their own options, their own lifestyle. I’ve tried it, and for the past 6 years, it’s working OK. Each year I experience biz growth. Now with a 8-month old son, life is great as I get to spend plenty of time with my son, and make enough money so my wife doesn’t have to worry about life. From this position, I dont have to “chose” between life and work. I don’t have to live a dual life as a dad and a biz owner. I get to do them all basically from the same room. And the pressure of poverty is also a non-issue as I am the one who sets my hourly wage, not somebody from somewhere… some manager that doesn’t see me for months on end.
    Hope this adds some spice to your ideas. 🙂 Next stop, we have a chat at the lake, sipping coffee for hours… the way proper theologians do theology 😛

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