I’m an Egalitarian and a Stay-at-Home Mom

Meredith Miller

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Credit: CNN Living

credit: CNN Living stay-at-home momI had no intention of being a stay-at-home mom.

I didn’t think it was what I wanted to do.  I like working and enjoyed the years I spent in my twenties building a career.

I got a new job toward the end of my pregnancy, one that put me in the exact place I wanted to be in my field.  My husband was excited to be a stay-at-home dad.  We felt grateful to be able to choose to be a one-income family with an at-home parent.

Making this choice was pretty easy for our family.  Our commitments to mutual submission and mutual respect made us feel good about this next step.  In short, being egalitarians allowed us to pick the less common work-family dynamic without much thought beyond wanting to.

Then that job fell through.

In the aftermath, we tried to be intentional and wise about what came next.  We found ourselves saying ‘no’ to opportunities that we would have expected to say ‘yes’ to.  Many of those were chances for me to return to full time work.

We learned a new rhythm for our day-to-day lives with our infant son.  We each had some contract work, and adjusted the schedule of any given day to get it done.  Some days I worked seven hours.  Some days I didn’t work at all.

Slowly, bit by bit, a sense crept over me:  I wanted to stay home with my son.

Strangely, that desire was more difficult to say ‘yes’ to than the desire to start a new job with an eight-week-old at home. The job opportunity made me feel excited and engaged with my sense of calling.  Motherhood and fatherhood are no less of a calling, and yet choosing to invest more ‘on the ground’ time in parenting felt a bit like a betrayal.

I have wanted to be a pastor since I was 12. I studied theology in college and then went to seminary, and I loved it.  Before having a child, I felt solidarity with working moms and, honestly, little affinity with stay-at-home moms.  In the end, being honest with myself won out – I wanted to be, gulp, a stay-at-home mom.  At least for the next little while.

What should go without saying, but must be said, is that God invites each of us to honor Him with our lives.  As parents, we prayerfully discern how to honor God in our parenting and what that means for our careers.  There is no single correct answer for all mothers, or for all fathers.  The point is to use our giftedness to serve Christ and His Kingdom – in our families, our churches, and our communities. And that fact is what helped me own what I wanted.

I became a stay-at-home mom precisely because I am an egalitarian.

Egalitarianism reminded me that there is no set path I have to take because of my gender.  I just need to steward the life and gifts God has given me.  If I do that while spending the bulk of my time at home, that is okay, just as it would have been in an office.  I fear this may sound like I didn’t appreciate my husband’s desire to be home himself.  It happens that being home alone with an infant didn’t fit him after all. Switching roles was another way we lived out the freedom to be ourselves and not conform to a gender-based mold.

I am new to being a stay-at-home mom, since our family made these choices just a few months ago.  I am also still working on contract.  But in reflecting on this transition I’ve noticed some myths that make it difficult for egalitarian women to feel at home, well, staying at home.

Myth:  If you are a stay-at-home mom, you call your kids your ministry, and opt out of any other ministry settings.

Truth:  Raising children is a ministry that mothers and fathers share equally; an extension of the family covenant begun in marriage.  But everyone who follows Christ is also part of the family covenant begun at the table in the Upper Room.  We have obligations to both families. Since God created them both, God will create avenues for both covenants to be honored in service.  We don’t make an either/or choice between ministering to the nuclear and church families.  It’s a both/and.

Myth:  If you are a stay-at-home mom, you disengage from understanding your strengths and gifts and using them for the Kingdom of God.

Truth:  I can point to a lot of stay-at-home moms who lean into their giftedness as much as any other believer.  For some, the schedule flexibility even allows them to do things they couldn’t in a traditionally scheduled job.  I can also point to stay-at-home moms who check out and claim being at home as an excuse.  But there are Christians who check out all over the place, blaming their schedule or their job.  This is not a ‘mom issue.’

The Kingdom of God is not created from an office any more than it is created from a pulpit or a living room.  It is created in all places at all times by people who live out the love of Jesus in their words, attitudes, and actions.  Putting a workplace on a pedestal as the place where “real ministry happens” is a damaging perspective that leads us away from lives of constant obedience.

Myth:  Stay-at-home momwho claim to be egalitarians are just soft complementarians.

Truth:  Perhaps some are. The problem is that this implies that egalitarianism prescribes work outside the home for women, not unlike the way rigid complementarianism or patriarchy prescribes homemaking.  The great freedom of egalitarianism is that it prescribes nothing to men or women on the basis of their sex, and invites us instead to understand who God uniquely created a person to be. Then we help that person honor God with their life.

I realize now that believing these myths made me feel like choosing to be home might betray my theological training and sense of ministry calling.  I also realize, in a way I didn’t before, that egalitarian theology brings freedom to all aspects of life together, not only in church, but also at home.

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Your turn: Meredith points out that we have obligations to both our nuclear family and the Church-at-large. How do you balance these dual obligations in your own life?

For more on how to integrate your gifts and calling with the needs of a family, read Helen Lee’s excellent book, The Missional Mom and Jody Fernando’s recent post, Living Between the Mommy Wars.

 

Meredith Miller

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19 Comments

  • HOORAY! So glad to hear another person discovered that the joys of being a SAHM include ministry outside the home as well! What I’ve come to find is that life is full of seasons…if I embrace them as they arrive, instead of trying to have them all at once, life is much richer, fuller and meaningful. I’m also a much saner, kinder and all-around likable person. 🙂

    P.S. Just another reason to protest Easter arriving in the stores in February and Christmas in October. HAHA

  • “Stay-at-home moms who claim to be egalitarians are just soft complementarians.”
    First, it’s insulting to say that any human being is “just” anything. Second, this response shows that we still judge everything on the basis of patriarchy. If she stays home it must be because she holds a certain set of beliefs. We have a long way to go.

    • Hi Sandy, Thanks for your comment! I agree with you. I believe that patriarchy has tried to position itself as so normative that another framework, such as egalitarianism, would feel out of place or defensive. I think that is actually one of the subtle evils of it.

      I stand by the myth though. I do think that there is a cultural myth that the only women who stay home by choice secretly or not so secretly believe it’s what they are ‘supposed to do’ as women. What I believe you are seeing and rightly critiquing is the ways that we put one another in boxes in order to validate our own choices.

  • I think it’s all in the heart rather than the specific and different contexts in which we find ourselves. There’s a saying: the devil doesn’t care if you fall over backward or forward, as long as you fall. The sense of that is that he wants wrong for you wherever you are… and sometimes we make choices that are based on old mindsets… if you had to stick to that decision you made all that time ago before you had your boy, just because you made it then, then that would be falling over one way or another.

    I think that what God requires of us is to do what He’s saying NOW about NOW, and let the past opinions and the future visions take care of themselves. If it feels right to you at this stage, that’s all that matters.

  • It’s funny. I was a complementarian when I had my children, and I experienced the opposite. I thought I wanted to be a SAHM and was upset because one income wasn’t enough to keep us off welfare, so all I could have were three-month maternity leaves with both kids. But it turned out that though I loved and enjoyed my babies very much, I really didn’t enjoy my maternity leaves and was extremely happy to return to work. I realized that the only reason I wanted to be a SAHM was because I thought the Bible taught that it was God’s best, and I was upset that He wasn’t providing for my family to have His best. I came to understand that me working outside the home WAS His best for our family. I did cut my hours to part time while the kids were small, but I have gradually increased my hours back to full time as the kids grew. And then my husband’s plant got shut down and there was a mass layoff. Without my job we’d be up a creek! And thanks to egalitarianism, I found the freedom to stop looking at it as just a job, a source of income, and embraced it as a career.

    I’m so glad I came to embrace egalitarianism and the ability of each human being to simply be who they are, without being squeezed into gender boxes!

    • Hi Kristen, Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your story. Even in that tiny snapshot, I see how you listened to yourself and to God about who you uniquely are. And that is what I most want people to experience in Christ as they parent.

  • Thanks so much for this wonderful piece. I’m an egalitarian SAHM also, but now I’m at the other end of it (finished having kids and they’re –almost– all in school now) and ready to jump back into a career. I can remember gazing down at my 12-week-old firstborn and thinking to myself, “Thank God I don’t have to leave my baby today.”

    My challenge is being married to a decisively complementarian spouse. He has been quite happy with me at home with the kids and has tried to get me to homeschool them full-time, to garden and can lots of fresh food, all sorts of things that are the opposite of who I really am and what my gifts actually are. Now that I’m job-hunting, well, you can imagine for yourself the reaction.

    Keeping in mind that I answer to God is key. “You’re in charge here,” I tell God. “You’re in charge of this job hunt and everything.” It takes the burden off my shoulders and helps me feel less pressured in my relationship with my husband. Thanks again. So helpful for real life.

    • Hi Terri,

      Reading this portion of your story made me a bit sad, just because I know how challenging it is to be at odds with your spouse of a major issue (whatever that issue is.) Like you say, you are responsible to God, a God who gave you all your strengths and who wants to see you, your husband, and your family thrive. I pray that you all find a way forward that feels like a ‘win’ all around.

  • Egalitarians experience freedom in the Church, in the Home and in Society, because Christ has set us free. Why choose anything else?

    • Your comment was a little tongue-in-cheek, so to provide the obvious tongue-in-cheek response — because as believers, we don’t “choose” positions, we submit ourselves to God’s word, and God’s word defines certain roles within the church and home based on gender. And our allegiance to God demands that we don’t ignore His word or try to explain it away.

      • Sara, I would not agree with you that the Bible “defines certain roles within the church and home based on gender”. I have found that the English translations of the Bible sometimes give that impression because of the addition of male pronouns that aren’t found in the original text (for example in the qualifications for elders). Just because we don’t agree with complementarian interpretations of scripture doesn’t mean egalitarians “ignore God’s word or try to explain it away”, or that we are not upholding allegiance to God – that is a very unfair accusation, and I don’t see how you could possibly think it is tongue-in-cheek.

  • Great post! This goes along with the same idea that the cultural idea of feminism does not mean that all women should work outside the home and need a man, but instead that women should be able to choose the way the live their lives. Thank you for your honesty!

  • Yes! Love this!
    “The great freedom of egalitarianism is that it prescribes nothing to men or women on the basis of their sex, and invites us instead to understand who God uniquely created a person to be. Then we help that person honor God with their life.”

    I feel sometimes in Christian culture, we get so caught up on specifics, and try to create an exact formula of what it means to live out ministry. We take some ideal that someone created for their lives, and try to cram it into our lives and make that work for us. But God is a creator. He makes our lives unique and our desires, passions, and circumstances all unique. So rather that trying to look at some example and trying to perfectly align our lives, marriages, families to that. We should constantly be asking “What unique story is God crafting here?” And then we allow that story to be fully guided by God..wherever that may lead..whether to church ministry, being a CEO or a stay-at-home mom.

    Kind of all over the place there but hopefully my thought process made sense! Thanks for sharing Meredith.

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