I am the primary caretaker of my little e.e. Not only do I care for his physical and emotional needs at all hours (all hours), I plan on homeschooling him too. I love being a stay-at-home mother. Love it. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
The other thing I’m not giving up? The couple hours I work at a preschool. I put time, effort, and expense into being a professional preschool teacher. I hope to return to it full-time when e.e. is grown. It brings me a great amount of joy and surrounds me with an amazing community of families, female co-workers, and kids.
Because it’s only a few hours a day, I haven’t felt any friction between being a teacher and being a mom.
I never expected to hold down any sort of outside, paying job as a mother. A freelance writer, a self-employed worker, maybe. But outside, paying jobs with the sort of flexibility I wanted in order to be my child’s primary caregiver — those are few and far between.
Plus, I grew up hearing all sorts of false narratives about women’s careers. We’ll start off with one unique to patriarchy, and then look at a more ubiquitous one another time.
False Narrative #1: Working Women Bear the Double Curse
Vision Forum loved using this little whammy to relieve women who wanted to stay at home full-time and guilt women who didn’t.
“How many women do you know who have to bear the curse of the man? Try seventy percent of our culture. Did you know that women are bearing the double curse? This is a tragedy of enormous proportions! It is destroying the church. It is destroying the family. It is killing these women. It is killing them. And it is wrong. Totally wrong.”
— What’s a Girl to Do?, by Doug Phillips, quoted in this wonderful takedown
This idea comes from Genesis 3, where God doles out curses unique to Adam and Eve. For Eve, he multiplies her pain in childbearing. For Adam, he curses the ground, making it bring forth thorns and thistles, the harvesting and eating of which cause Adam to sweatily eat bread.
Clearly, a compassionate reading means that since only women experience pain in childbirth, only men should experience the pain of providing for their family. No woman should ever have to birth babies and provide for the family.
Now I’ll be the first one to admit that if this questionable interpretation brings about paid maternity leave for all women everywhere so that we don’t have to waddle around for eight hours a day on our aggravated sciatic nerves in the third trimester, then I’m all for this.
But compassionate as it appears on the outset, it’s rather ludicrous. Sure, we’ve all had jobs or aspects of jobs that feel like a great big cosmic curse. Of course, people look forward to retiring or wish for more free time or count down the days to vacation — even if we enjoy our jobs. We need rest and free time — and we also need work.
This is why women choose to work even when give options not to. We want to work. We enjoy working. Work gives us purpose as humans. We were created to work with the world, to explore it, to question it, whether it’s with quarks or figures or words or inquisitive young minds.
Women are no exception to humanity. We need work of some kind — purposeful, creative work that engages our minds and hearts.
That’s not to say that there isn’t purposeful, creative work that engages our minds and hearts at home or within the family. The majority of my day involves engaging work with my child, so I’m a testament to that! It’s just to say that not all purposeful work for women exists in the home.
And it’s also to say that not all housework is purposeful, creative, and fulfilling. I won’t bore you with the numbers of times I’ve gone to bed depressed because the only thing I accomplished that day was putting away the dishes and dumping a load of clean laundry on the floor. If that’s all working at home entailed, I would shrivel up in two days flat.
Being cooped up at home with nothing but housework? That sounds like a curse to me.
But it’s not a curse to walk into my preschool classroom to love, teach, play, and change diapers — just like it’s not a curse for many women to go to work each day and pursue professionalism and excellence in their careers.
Depending on a woman’s circumstances, goals, and interests, working full-time or stay-at-home full-time is either a curse or a blessing. I’ve certainly heard many women wish that they could financially afford to drop their job in order to be their children’s primary caregivers. I’ve also heard many women wish they could afford childcare so that they could pursue a career.
To characterize women’s eager desire to do purposeful work outside the home as a curse is woefully ignorant of what real women really want.
The twenty-first century West is not prehistoric post-Eden. For many people, careers are not simply for making ends meet, and even if they are, they involve little sweat and few thorns of a literal nature. But that’s often a privilege of the mid- to upper-class West — being able to choose a career based mostly on personal interest rather than on finances.
If I were to apply Adam’s curse to the modern day, I wouldn’t interpret work outside the home as a curse — I would interpret struggling to make ends meet as a curse. And it is. Working out of necessity, without choice, just to scrape together enough money for food and rent is indeed a curse. It breaks my heart to see older folks still working when they’d rather retire, spend time with their grandchildren, and take care of their health. It breaks my heart to hear single parents talk about the burden of parenting solo and bringing home the bacon solo.
Let’s save all compassionate indignation for the single parents and the elderly who are scraping by without support, but don’t pity me, a healthy, young, creative, energetic woman who earns a paycheck. It’s not a burden to me to help provide financially for my family.
Somewhere along the line, Christians got into their heads that the Bible calls men to be the primary financial provider. There is no verse that says this anywhere. The verse that allegedly bolsters this idea is often mis-cited as, “if a man does not provide for his family, he has denied his faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Almost all translations use the neutral “anyone.” Anyone who doesn’t provide for his family has denied his faith.
In context, that verse speaks about caring for the widows of one’s family, and the passage specifically calls out children and grandchildren to care for their widowed relatives. (Note the gender neutrality. Daughters don’t get off the hook because of their sex.)
Even more ironically, the only gender singled out and charged with the financial care of widows is female, not male: “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need” (1 Timothy 5:16).
Again, to be clear, Paul sees having children and managing the household as important work (1 Timothy 5:14), but he doesn’t exempt women, by virtue of being women, from financially caring for their family.
Of course, many men do feel sensitive about their role as primary provider, so much so that they feel shamed or resentful when their wives make more money than they do. There may be all kinds of explanations for this sociological phenomenon, but there is nothing in the Bible that supports this sort of rigid structure.
When I first got married, I was surprised at how much I cared about contributing financially. Some young women I knew quit their jobs and stayed home upon marriage, even before children were in the picture. That choice felt selfish to me.
For me, there was absolutely no good reason why I by default of my gender should get to pursue my interests at home while my husband worked his butt off to pay the bills. I felt just as responsible for making sure all our material needs were provided for, and I take great pride in bringing in an income, however small. (In theory, my income goes directly to savings, since Erich’s income covers all our bills. In reality, our paychecks all go to one bank account, and we don’t keep track of whose dollar pays for what.)
I don’t find that responsibility to be a curse, just as my husband doesn’t find it a curse to work all day yet care for his baby upon coming home. We’re a team, helping each other out in all the responsibilities of life. I love that there’s no room for resentment in our marriage, no room to feel like we’re alone in one particular responsibility.
Women are quite capable of juggling many responsibilities, and it’s not a curse to financially provide for the family.
For sure, it can be a real frustration to figure out a happy work/life balance. The American workforce is arguably detrimental to families, and there are many opportunities for that work/life balance to go awry. I don’t doubt that many women are unhappy with their current career situation. But those frustrations come not from work and not from shouldering the responsibility of providing for one’s family, per se; they come from the same cursed afflictions that people of both sexes experience — single parenthood, poor pay, less than ideal employment, not enough time with family, etc.
The bottom line: women’s paid work outside the home is not inherently a double curse or a tragedy of great proportions. It’s often an important, wonderful, productive part of our lives that invigorates rather than kills us, and brings many benefits to our churches and our families.