Parenting...to Stay at Home or Not?

This is a topic that has been weighing on my mind for quite some time, and can kind of be considered a continuation of my rant in yesterday's post. I feel like I need to get all of the thoughts that have been churning in my brain out so they stop giving me a headache, so, lucky you for being on the receiving end.

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."
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.


Devri said...

When I was a missionary in Florida, we were eating dinner at the home of a wonderful member family. We were asking about their background, you know, those typical get-to-know you questions. The wife explained that she used to work and then Pres. Benson came out and said, "Mothers, don't work for selfish reasons. Come home and raise your family." or something like that. So, she talked about it with her husband, and she quit her job and has been a stay-at-home mom ever since. Good for her. Way to have faith. But then she said, "I can't believe how many women in the church do not have the faith to follow the prophet and come home." I was FURIOUS! My mom, who struggled for YEARS to figure out a way for her to stay home with her kids, going back and forth, and finally, out of necessity, is the main breadwinner in our family, and has been since right after I left home (I'm the third of 6). I watched her struggle with this decision all my life. Through no fault of their own, my parents have been struggling with medical debt my entire life. It's not their fault that their son had cancer, or that they had children born with medical things. And I was SO ANGRY with this woman for flippantly saying that my mom had no faith. How dare she?! She is the one that taught me the gospel that I was, at the time, preaching to "world". I'm still a little mad about it. But I was a missionary, so I bit my tongue and...

What we really need to do is just cut each other some serious slack. You are so right. I really feel like if we are seeking revelation and living worthily of it, we will be led by the Lord to do what is best for our family--and that is different for every family in the specifics.

Scott said...

Jessica, you are spot on in your observations. My mom has been working with the same company since before she was married(30 years now) and is the main breadwinner. She has told me that even in California she has had to walk out of Relief Society meetings when this topic would come up because of the comments that were said, and she was not the only working mom in the room.

Kim gets frustrated when people ask about occupation and say oh your "just" a mom. It feels disrespectful .

Oh and we are super excited for your girl (and we called it when you were describing how "different" this pregnancy was). They are lots of fun(see our post when Beth was born [Oct 2011] about girls in my family for breaking a line of boys)

FerneClan said...

Alright here is my 2 cents......
I choose to stay home with my children when daughter#2 came along. I missed so much of daughter #1 that I felt I needed to make up for it with my last two. I have now been home with my children for 13 years. I am ready to jump back into the work force. I nearly (fingers crossed) have my BA complete at UVU. When I go in for interviews in my field of study I get"well it must have been nice to be able to stay home" and then I never hear back after I leave. UM don't be made at me for staying home. This is the first time in 13 years I have had a new ish car, 8 since I had a new ish van. I don't have the best house on the block, wish I did, and my children get most of their clothes from hand me downs and DI. There are "gives and takes" every where.
I can cook dinner, balance a check book., break up a knock out fight, balance everyone's schedules, manage my bills, go grocery shopping for a family of 5-6 on $200 a month. Clip coupons till I never want to see another coupon, get everyone too and from school, but trying to get back in the work force has been a pain in the..... get the idea. Fires me up! "Oh you're just a mom", "must be nice to stay home", "What do you do all day" "you have all the time in the world" comments make my head spin.
Okay off soap box!

Jessica said...

Devri: What a hard situation! I'm not sure I would have been able to keep my mouth shut if I had been in your shoes.

The problem with her comment is her assumption that all moms work for "selfish reasons", as Pres. Benson said. How are we to know what is "selfish" for someone besides ourselves?

My guess is she probably didn't have a lot of close contact with working moms. Anyone that has a relationship with a working mom wouldn't say such unkind things.

Scott: That breaks my heart about your mom! I wish there were a way to make people understand how hurtful such comments can be. Unfortunately, you can't force people to hear anything they don't want to hear. If I'm ever in a meeting where a hurtful comment about working moms is made, I'm committed to saying something. Maybe that's the only way we can raise awareness.

I've never gotten any comments about being "just a mom," but that's probably because I still live in Mormon central. :) I have heard of one family member express concern that I'm "wasting my intelligence and education" by being a mother, which, to me, is just as hurtful. I don't feel like I'm wasting my time raising my children to be righteous, faithful, strong, intelligent people.

Andrea: I'm sorry you're having such a hard time with job interviews. The annoying part is, I bet any of the interviewers who are male and married have a stay-at-home wife! It's so unfortunate that our skills and talents go unrecognized because we don't receive a paycheck for them. And anyone that asks "what do you do all day?" would probably cringe if they heard an honest answer. :)

FerneClan said...

Actually all the interviewers who made the comment were women.

Jessica said...

That makes sense too... they were upset that they never got that opportunity and they're taking it out on women that did.

Melinda said...

This topic brings up a couple of thoughts. First, people say stupid things. We all do it. Sometimes people just don't realize how what they say sounds to other people. I think all we can do is try to not be offended by the stupid things people say. I don't think people are trying to offend you. And maybe we could all be more thoughtful about things that come out of our own mouth.
Second, it is not our place to judge anyone elses circumstances. I'm sorry but I believe children deserve to be raised by their own mother. That being said, I also understand that not everyone can make it on one income. It makes me sad to see a mother drop her children off in another's care for material reasons, because they want a new car, or a trip to Hawaii, or to buy all of their children's clothes at Gymboree. I think each couple has to honestly look at their affairs and see if its possible to make it on just dad's income. Yes, you may not be able to eat out much, or go to movies, or vacation, or shop at fancy stores. I think the sacrifice of giving up such things should be worth raising your children. The prophet and apostles have advised mothers to stay home and raise their children when circumstances allow. I don't think that means they are denying our right to personal revelation. But I also find it hard to believe that our loving Heavenly Father would tell any mother she should work unless it was a true need for her family. We decided early in our marriage that I would always stay home with our children and I have. We had some really tough years and times when I don't know how the bills got paid but we got through it. I firmly believe that we were blessed for following the prophets counsel. I agree with Devri that we all need cut each other some slack, on both sides of the debate. Don't judge and don't be so easily offended.

Jessica said...

Melinda: I completely agree that we should try not to let the hurtful things that others say offend us. However, I think when you hear the same things over and over again, it becomes less easy to shrug them off, even if offense isn't intended.

And the point I was trying to make WAS that Heavenly Father would never tell a mother to work outside her home unless it was the best decision for her family. We don't get to decide what valid reasons are for working outside the home in any situation but our own. My point was that we should assume any mother, especially in the Church, is just trying to do what's best for her family and try to be a little more aware of the things we say that might be hurtful.

FerneClan said...

Oh heavens can you imagine if we all; including myself took time to hear what comes out of our mouths. We may never see a tear fall again or have our heart ache because some ignorant individual thinks we need to live each of our lives there way. Now that would be nice!

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