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).