Few topics ignite more indignation, confusion, and fighting than the stay-at-home parent. For the mom, she can be either praised for her sacrifice or looked down upon for her seemingly mindless work. Especially in our Christian subculture, the stay-at-home mom is often elevated to saint status, leaving women outside of that category feeling less than responsible or sacrificial.
In the debates about who should stay home and why it matters, though, the value of stay-at-home work itself is often lost. But this work points to a God who brings order out of chaos, who lays down his life for those he loves.
Privilege of Stay-at-Home Work
I feel privileged to stay home with my boys and do not take this gift for granted. I recognize many do not have this opportunity, though they may long for it. I also recognize that my cultural context (Western, middle class) affords me the freedom to make this choice.
The cultural persona of the stay-at-home parent (especially moms) is of play dates, craft time, and helicopter parenting. Moms today have an endless supply of Pinterest boards, Facebook posts, and Instagram pictures—all asking if they are mom enough. As a stay-at-home mom to young children, I am in a constant mind battle over how much time I spend with my kids. If they read by themselves or play with their Legos, am I neglecting them? If I let them cry while I make dinner, will they be scarred for life?
But I don’t think that is what being a stay-at-home parent is all about. Of course, engaging our children is an important part of parenthood. We all should care about spending time with them and loving them well. But there is something more to being a stay-at-home parent as a primary vocation that unites parents across cultures and across economic lines.
Parenting as Work
My home is my work right now. My children are my work right now. Of course, they are so much more than that, but they are not less. The Christian stay-at-home mom shouldn’t see her role in light of the cultural expectations of motherhood, but in its biblical expectations. We are to teach and train our children to fear the Lord (Deut. 6:2). We are to love them and raise them to understand authority (Prov. 4:1, Prov. 6:2). We are to sacrifice our lives for their good (John 15:13).
But we are also to train them how to work. For centuries, children learned the value of work from the trades of their parents from early ages. We are their first living example of what it means to work for the glory of God, which means that even the endless amounts of laundry are telling a story to our children about the value of work.
For the Good of the World
Toys scattered everywhere. Laundry piled high. Homework littering the kitchen table. Dishes always in need of washing. Every day, the stay-at-home parent is given the opportunity to bring order to the chaos that is the home. While it seems mundane and meaningless, this seemingly small endeavor is an opportunity to show your children that God is a God of order. God brings order and beauty out of the chaotic world.
As his image bearers, we are tasked to do the same thing—from cleaning the bathrooms to running a company. Because of the differences in our personalities, some find this easier than others. We are not God, so we will never bring full order out of the chaos that is housework. Regardless of whether you stress over or shrug off a messy home, keep in mind that God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). A heart that desires faithfulness matters more to God than a home that is always neat and tidy.
Staying home with my children is also an opportunity to love my neighbor, both in the home and outside of the home (Matt. 22:39). By teaching them, loving them, and caring for them I am preparing them to go out into the world and do the same. This culture-shaping is irreplaceable. As I foster relationships with my kids, I am teaching them that community matters. As I serve my sons, from infancy to adulthood, I am showing them what it means to sacrifice for another. From the earliest days, when we train our children in ordinary things, like sitting still during story time or brushing their teeth, we are helping them see what it means to live in this world.
In the most difficult moments of raising my kids, I am reminded of Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” In due season, we will reap the benefit of our labors as stay-at-home parents—for the joy of our kids and for the good of the world. By building into my little family, my work is contributing to our society in ways that may seem small, but will—by God’s grace—bear fruit in the coming years.
Stay-at-home parents can feel like their work is a thankless and ordinary endeavor. I once heard someone say that the very God who does such routine tasks as raising the sun each morning calls us to daily work in the ordinary and routine. There is much encouragement for the stay-at-home parent in this pattern. We can work with purpose and skill, whether we are in the home or out of the home, knowing that in Christ every labor to which we set our hearts is never in vain.