The debate over having a parent stay at home with the specific purpose of caring for children seems to be coming to the forefront right now, even on the secular front. Of course, in the LDS world, it never seems to go away, mostly because we are a family-oriented church and it is an issue that quite often is the center of a family's dynamic. In addition, one can always count on hearing at least one talk about the sanctity of the family in our twice-yearly General Conference...not to mention countless Sacrament Meeting talks and lessons in the various Priesthood and auxiliary meetings every Sunday on the subject.
This is where things get tricky. I don't want anyone to assume that my comments here mean I don't sustain the leadership of the Church or believe they receive revelation from Heavenly Father. I do. The issue is, I don't believe their revelation is a "one size fits all" message. If it were, why would we be entitled to personal revelation? The church is worldwide, and the situations of members in Argentina are going to be drastically different than those of members in Japan, or members in Russia, or members in Utah. In fact, the situations of members that live IN THE SAME CITY are going to be different. Human diversity is what makes life so wonderful! However, because of this diversity, it is IMPOSSIBLE for the leadership of our church to specifically tailor every aspect of their messages to every single member of the Church. Instead, they choose to focus on more broad principles that DO apply to all of us and hope that we seek personal revelation from Heavenly Father on the specifics. I think a lot of the members of the Church fail to remember this. I want to say this is why so many members of the Church apply such harsh judgments against those to whom we should feel the most affinity: our brothers and sisters in the gospel.
When it comes to matters of the family, the ammunition most used is definitely The Family: A Proclamation to the World, colloquially referred to as "the proclamation on the family" by many members. Specifically, the section discussing gender roles in marriage gets a lot of mileage.
"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation."
Here, and reiterated quite often in instruction from the general authorities of the Church, fathers are primarily given the responsibility of providing the temporal needs for their families while mothers are primarily given stewardship over the nurturing of children. Now, when one reads this passage it's easy to assume this is a mandatory requirement for having a successful family. Fathers should work, mothers should stay home. END OF STORY. This is the opinion so many members of our Church have, particularly if they happen to have that arrangement within their own families. And, for some unexplicable reason (maybe it's hubris; maybe it's genuine concern for the welfare of others; maybe it's pure nosiness), there are some of us who have deemed it their responsibility to call to repentance those who don't heed this "commandment."
Remember what I said before? The gospel isn't "one size fits all." Sure, the basic principles, doctrine, and ordinances are the same for everyone, but when it comes to specifics, we are allowed to determine our own courses through personal revelation from our Heavenly Father. Those people who criticize and belittle families with different situations from the "norm", whether by necessity or choice, infuriate me. They seem to forget the caveat near the end of the paragraph: "Disability, death, or other circumstances [emphasis mine] may necessitate individual adaptation."
IT IS NOT OUR PLACE TO JUDGE WHICH "OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES" ARE VALID.
We are only responsible for our own choices. We cannot fully understand the circumstances of others, so we cannot presume to know what choices are best for them.
Cole is one of five brothers, all married. We are all active members of the Church, and we all have very different family situations. Cole's oldest brother and his wife both work full-time. They have 4 children. Cole's second brother works full-time and his wife stays home. They have 4 children. Cole's third brother stays at home while his wife works full-time. They have 2 children. Cole works full-time and I stay home with our 3 children. Cole's youngest brother and his wife are both in school and (I believe) she works. They do not have children yet. The point here? If one based family success on the "cookie cutter" model prescribed by so many members of the Church, only two of these 5 families would be deemed successful. That is far from the truth. I look at our family as a whole and see parents who love their children and want them to grow in strength and righteousness. I don't know every aspect of their lives and what motivates them to choose the structures they have, but I know those choices were made deliberately, with the best interests of their families at heart. They allowed Heavenly Father to guide their choices through personal revelation.
This can apply to families outside of our faith as well. First of all, we cannot judge them by our standards because they don't subscribe to our standards. That's like trying to judge how well chicken is cooked using standards applied to a steak--it'll never measure up. Second, I'd like to believe that the majority of parents are just trying to raise their children the best way they can. No loving parent is "trying" to mess up their kids. If their family situation is working for them, be HAPPY!
There are times where a parent may be in a situation not because they want to be but because they can't see a way out. We were in that situation once. Cole and I both worked full-time, Kyle was 2 years old, and I was pregnant with Lucas. I hated working. I hated dropping Kyle off all day for someone else to watch him, and I didn't want our baby to share that fate. The problem was, we couldn't see how we could survive on one income. I felt stuck. Cole and I were talking on the way home from work one evening, and he cautiously suggested that I stay home anyway, since it was what I wanted. After punching the numbers (which still didn't come out the way we wanted), praying, and pondering, we decided even though it would be hard, the right choice for our family was for me to quit my job and stay at home. We made that switch and never looked back. Sure, money has never been plentiful, but I truly feel our family is happier and more successful because we made that choice.
The take-home message here is not, "choose to have your wife stay home with the kids even if money is tight, because it'll all work out." The message is "seek the Lord's guidance to find your ideal family situation. It probably won't be easy, but everything will work out for the best."
Whatever your family situation, you as parents are entitled to receive personal revelation from Heavenly Father. He loves each of us and wants our families to be successful, and He'll tell us how to do it if we ask Him. DON'T listen to the naysayers. If you're in contact with Heavenly Father, you'll do what is best for YOUR family.