“I just really like my work, but I like being home more too,” my friend shared with me over coffee one evening. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be with her kids or that she didn’t have a love for her small business, she just didn’t know how to navigate both well. And she often found her questions unable to be answered by the Christians in her life. She wanted work flexibility, and she wanted to be invested in the lives of her kids—and she is not the only one.
A study by the Institute for Family Studies finds that given the choice, many women would work part-time. In fact, in countries with existing paid-family leave policies, that number rises even higher. This turns the common dichotomy between working moms and stay-at-home moms on its head by revealing that many moms are actually more alike than different. They value parenting, but they also value some form of a career as well. In fact, the study finds that men and women both would change how they worked if the option were there to prioritize family, while still maintaining a career.
There is a lot to dissect in the study. The amount of women who prefer work flexibility is higher than the amount of men who prefer it. This is not surprising given what we know about the biological differences between men and women, and also what we know about how cultural expectations of men and women have long-lasting effects. Women often prefer more flexibility in the early years of their children’s lives because they are the ones who give birth, feed, and physically care for the children. Not to mention the recovery time that comes with giving birth.
Culturally, women still carry much of the parenting load in the home, which makes flexibility a more favorable option when the child rearing load is lopsided. But the study also highlights the fact that most families prefer a variety of options for dividing up childcare and household responsibilities, leading to the conclusion that what works for one family might not work for another family.
As a Christian, there are overarching principles to takeaway that can help us in understanding our fellow brothers and sisters as they work and parent. These principles may also help us as we live in community with one another in our local churches, allowing for freedom and nuance regarding our work and family life balance.
Christians are not defined by any one part of their lives.
The fact that most women have a desire to work outside the home to some degree shows that women (and men) are multi-faceted beings. Women can be mothers. They can be wives. They can be friends. They can be neighbors. They can be employees. Often, they fill these roles simultaneously. When we deny these roles, we impose parameters the Bible doesn’t put in place, and instead discourage women (and men) from flourishing.
Christians are created for work, and that work is done both inside and outside the home.
The study found that men and women both prefer to have flexibility regarding their paid work and unpaid work (work outside the home and work inside the home). This is largely owing to the reality that all work is created by God, and when we engage in this work we are imaging the God who created us to work (Gen. 1:27-28, Col. 3:23). There should be no competition regarding our work.
Work done in the home is part of what it means to image God. When you make lunches, do laundry, mow the grass, clean the toilets, attend class parties at school, or take care of a sick kid, you are imaging God. When you create spreadsheets, teach students, write articles, sell operating room equipment, or answer email, you are imaging God. The fact that our paid and unpaid work is so starkly divided in our society is not a commentary on who should be doing the work. Instead it is a revelation on what the Industrial Revolution did to our ideas of work when it took work out of the localized (homes and communities) and moved it into cities and factories.
What this study does is provide us with the freedom to divide care and work according to what works for our family, while also showing us that mothers and fathers care both about the home and the marketplace.
Work in the home and work in the marketplace isn’t necessarily gender-specific.
The numbers of women who prefer part-time or flexible work is higher than the men. As I already said, that seems like a given since we know men and women are different. However, the number of men who prefer to be flexible or more involved at home is not zero. It’s significant.
I used to feel guilty when my husband would clean the bathroom while I traveled for a speaking engagement. Or when he spent a Saturday with our kids so I could finish chapter edits for a book I was working on. But he has helpfully reminded me that he is a parent too. He is a member of this household too. We all have a part to play in helping each other flourish, both in our work in the home and outside of the home. So we should let the men help, and let the women work, knowing that each family’s dynamic looks different than someone else’s.
For the Christian, our policies should reflect our values.
We value life. We value family. We value work, paid and unpaid. We value human flourishing. All of these things are helped by paid-family leave policies that enable families to work in creative ways that meet their needs, not necessarily the needs of the person next door to them. If we value life, then our policies should encompass all of life—from the womb to the tomb (and everywhere in between).
As much as we would like to find a verse in the Bible that speaks specifically to how we work inside and outside the home, it simply isn’t there. Instead, we find a lot of principles that speak to loving our neighbor, raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, working faithfully in whatever our hand finds us to do, and exercising dominion over the world God has made (Mark 12:30-31; Eph. 6:4; Eccl. 9:10).
What this study does is provide us with the freedom to divide care and work according to what works for our family, while also showing us that mothers and fathers care both about the home and the marketplace. And we would do well to find a way to make those concerns become a reality for people in our communities.