A response: What about Stay-at-Home Moms?

A reader posted to the blog, wondering what place Christian feminism had for stay-at-home moms. I got the comment in my email system, but now I can’t find it on the blog (my own technological stupidity, probably). But, since I wrote a long response, I thought I’d post it here, hoping the person reading–and others–might find my response useful.

The reader wanted to know, essentially, what a Christian feminists response would be to stay-at-home moms. She feels like feminists see her decision as demeaning, and that feminists discount her as “brainwashed” by male oppression. Her articulate response ends with the question, “Ain’t I a woman, too?” So this is my response on a hot Friday afternoon:

My first response is that of course you’re a woman; I don’t think feminists would deny you that identity, merely because you’ve made the choice to stay at home as a mother. Our culture—our specific evangelical culture, as well as elements of our broader culture—have perpetuated a myth that feminists denigrate those who make choices about staying at home versus working as a mother. I just don’t see that happening. Feminism has not “undermined the value” of motherhood, as The Flipside of Feminism claims.

What they would argue for is that women should have the right to make the choice to stay home, just as they should have the right to choose a different path in life, and that path should be honored as viable (and in the case of Christian households, as biblical). Working while the husband stays at home to care for children; finding creative ways to care for children while both husband and wife work; remaining childless; remaining single: there are myriad ways we can journey through life, and our choices still be honored by God–of course, if they are moral, ethical, thoughtful, etc.

Too often, though, the drumbeat from Christian culture is that God has given women certain roles, and men certain roles, and we darn well better fulfill those particular roles, no matter what our gifting is from God. How does a woman who feels called to a vocation as a minister fulfill that role, for example, when she’s really given no choice in the matter—when her church tells her that this cannot be her gift? How can a man who feels called to a vocation of stay-at-home fatherhood fulfill that role when he’s not given much of a choice—when he’s told to “man up” and go provide for his family?

Most days, I feel like I’m a pretty good mom. And I certainly believe my children are one of the greatest gifts possible to me; I cannot imagine my life without them. But I also think my husband’s a pretty good dad, and that the boys are a great gift to him. Thank goodness our choices allow us both to use our gifts of parenting, and our gifts at the university, in equal measure. We’ve made creative choices, and creative sacrifices (but not, I think, at the expense of our family) to make it possible to celebrate the gifts God’s given us, rather than saying I had to stay home because I’m a woman, and Ron had to go to work, simply because he’s a man.

I’m probably getting too far afield from your comments. The best essay I’ve read recently about this struggle is Marilee Jolin’s “Uniquely Qualified.” Marilee left a graduate school program to care for her two daughters, and she described what it means to make that choice, and still remain a Christian and a feminist.

As I’ve already written (perhaps ad nauseum), I think the Gospel message is about freedom and choice, and God’s grace extended to us, no matter the choices we make. I think that matters here, as well.