"Homemaking is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government, etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? ...The homemaker's job is one for which all others exist." -- C.S. Lewis
"If you want to change the world, go home and love your family" -- Mother Teresa, speaking to women
Let’s talk about moms with young kids in our society today.
The first requirement for being good at any job is showing up. The problem is that a lot of moms with young kids are not "showing up" for the job of motherhood. They have decided to prioritize career above motherhood, and so they outsource the bulk of childcare to daycare workers. These moms still spend time with their kids, but kids get the leftovers. To use Katy Faust’s phrase, these moms are putting “us before them” instead of “them before us” — they are putting adult desires over children’s needs. They are doing what they think is best for their own interests instead of their children's interests.
The reality is that there is no substitute for mothers being at home with their young children. Sure, not every mother in this day and age will have that opportunity; sometimes our own sin or a providential hardship can put us in a less than ideal situation and we have to trust God to compensate as we seek to make the best of it. But today we are so confused about family, sex, marital roles, and so on that we do not even know what the ideal is. We have lost sight of God's beautiful design for family life in general, and motherhood in particular.
This includes a lot of so-called conservatives. I regularly hear political conservatives jumping onboard for stronger maternity leave policies, as if this were some kind of pro-family position. Other nations have much more generous "family welfare" programs than the U.S. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to expand maternity leave in length and scope? I would say “no” because those maternity leave policies further marginalize motherhood. They do not support motherhood, they subvert it. Maternity leave treats motherhood as a brief interruption to what is really important in a woman’s life, namely, her career. Maternity leave assumes a woman will get back to work as soon as possible and hand her children over to be raised by strangers. In fact, most maternity leave policies require the mother to return to work very early in her child's life in order to receive the benefits.
There is a lot to disagree with in Erika Komisr’s book Being There (including some of her political proposals), but she also gets a lot right. Relying on science, sociology, psychology, and a good deal of common sense, she argues that mothers need to be fully devoted to their children for at least the first 1000 days of the child’s life. I would lengthen that time to at least 5 years, if not much more. But the main argument that Komisar makes is that motherhood (at least when children are young) is not the kind of thing that can be outsourced or easily combined with other vocations. It requires undistracted devotion to the child’s nurture and development. The results speak for themselves. Children who get more time with mom in those early, foundational years have better relational bonding abilities, fewer behavioral issues (because moms will discipline in ways daycare workers won’t and can’t), fewer emotional issues, fewer neuroses, and are overall healthier and better equipped to grow into mature, productive adults. In short, motherhood matters. No daycare worker can do what moms do. Even close relatives are not the same as mom. And the reality is that both mother and child know this. The mother knows this, even though the feminist environment in which we all live pressures her to deny it and to justify outsourcing the nurture and care of her child so she can get back to the office. The child (even as an infant) knows when he is with a stranger rather than with mom, and as Komisar shows, this can cause irreparable harm and trauma to the child if it goes on too long or happens too regularly.
Of course, if moms are home with their children, they need to make sure they are really there. A mom who is physically present with her child but emotionally absent is not going to help very much. A stay-at-home mother who lazily scrolls through Instagram while putting her children in front of the television is not going to be much use. Mothers have to really mother -- which means nurturing, teaching, interacting, and disciplining, among other things. Over the years, I have heard a number of husbands who work hard so their wives can be home with their children complain that their wives spend way too much time on social media during the day and way too little time actually caring for the children and the home. This ought not to be.
I once asked my kids during one of our dinner table discussions if they were glad to have grown up with a mother who was with them at home, and who was always available when they needed her during their growing up years. Or as I put, "Aren't you glad your mother was not a career woman or a feminist?" My kids were thankful. I am too. The mother who gives herself to homemaking for her husband and children is giving her family a wonderful and irreplaceable gift. She is laying a solid foundation for her children to build their lives upon.
In the aftermath of COVID policies shuttering the country’s economy, President Biden lamented on Twitter that “nearly 2 million women in our country have been locked out of the workforce because they have to care for a child or elderly relative at home.” The political left sees mothers at home with their children as a social catastrophe, a great injustice. They want women in the office or the factory, not at home with the children. The answer to this "problem" from the left is an expansion of government into more and more of life, e.g., heavily subsidized daycare, public preschools, etc. The state took over paternal roles starting in the 1960s when welfare programs displaced husbands/fathers as providers. Now the government is seeking to displace maternal roles by taking over the care of children from infancy onwards. But Biden’s whole way of framing the issue is morally repugnant. Why glorify wage slaving over caring for our most vulnerable and needy loved ones? Why treat women who are home with children instead of in an office as if they were suffering an unbearable fate? Why such disregard for motherhood, for children, and for home?
If our society is going to flourish, we must see how praiseworthy the devoted and diligent stay-at-home mom is. She is not "just a mom." She is one of the keys to a healthy civilization, as she nurtures the next generation, and passes on the baton of truth and wisdom. As she fills her home with love and glory, she fills the world and the future with love and glory. We simply must recover the vital importance of motherhood. We must recover the sacred bond between mother and children. We must see the glory of a mother raising her own children in her own home. There is simply no substitute for mothers.
But this is not just a "culture war" issue in the way we usually think of the culture war. The war on motherhood does not merely come through political channels; according to the apostle Paul, it is demonic. Motherhood is not only the site of a political battle, it is the arena of a great Spiritual battle. Motherhood is not only hotly contested in Washington, DC and other centers of political power; it is involved in the great cosmic conflict in heavenly places Paul described in Ephesians 6:10ff. For the Apostle Paul, faithful, productive, and devoted mothers in the church are a crucial witness to the truth of the gospel. In Titus 2, Paul instructs older women in the church to mentor younger women, teaching them to
be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things -- that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. (Titus 2:3-5)
To be sure, a small group of Christian women are called and equipped to live lives of celibacy/singleness, and thus will not have family. Others who do marry will sadly not be able to have children. These will be "spiritual mothers," but not physical mothers. However, most women should follow this pattern Paul lays out here, embracing their domestic vocation as wives and mothers, learning to love their husbands and children. Paul specifically says women are to be trained in the art of homemaking -- what we might call the skill and craft of managing a productive and well-ordered household, under the oversight of their husbands. When women cheerfully fulfill this calling to wifely and maternal nurture, the gospel is magnified. But when Christian women reject it, as Paul warns in this text, the Word of God is blasphemed. In other words, faithful and content Christians wives and mothers, who obey their husbands and raise their children, are essential to the mission and witness of the church. When they wander from these roles, the mission of the church is hampered.
In 1 Timothy 5, Paul gives similar counsel to the young women in the congregation. Here he is speaking specifically to younger widows who might wonder whether the premature death of a husband indicates they should seek to live the rest of their lives as singles. Some apparently were even taking vows to that effect. Paul's instructions are specifically to these women, but can easily be generalized to all young Christian women:
But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith. And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not. Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some have already turned aside after Satan. (1 Tim. 5:11-15)
Paul says younger women who pledge to singleness will have a hard time keeping their vow; nature is a powerful force, and nature will compel them to want a husband and children. And besides that, Paul says, women who are not busy caring for their own houses often go from house to house as busybodies. They get sucked into gossip and end up talking about a lot of things they have no business discussing. Their idleness gives the adversary, Satan and his minions, an opportunity to speak reproachfully against the church. Thus, Paul instructs younger women (again, especially widows, but the instructions can be generalized) to get married, have children, and devote themselves to the domestic arts. Whereas in Titus 2, Paul focused on how Christian women devoted to their household tasks serve the mission of the church by keeping the Word from being reviled, here he situates the calling of the woman on the field of Spiritual battle. Those women who reject marriage, children, and the household arts have turned aside from the truth and gone after Satan. 1 Timothy 5:14-15 are definitive proof that feminism is Satanic; its Satanic impulse is seen in how it turns women away from precisely those roles Paul commands them to pursue. Feminism is Satanic because it is one of the ways Satan uses his sway to frustrate God's design for humanity (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-15). You could say that Paul aims to "smash the matriarchy." Paul's desire is that young Christian women would build up the church and fight against Satan by doing precisely what God designed them to do, namely, serving joyfully as wives, mothers, and home managers.
This is not to say a woman can do nothing that takes her outside her household, especially as her kids get older. Rather, the point is that her life is to be anchored to the household, in such a way that she can be truly described as a "homemaker." Building a productive household is no easy task, and requires a wide range of gifts and skills. It has been said, "Paul does not teach a woman's place is the home but he does teach her priority is the home," and that is exactly right.
Finally, something of an addendum. One thing I have noticed over the years that contributes greatly to this problem is conservative parents (especially conservative dads) who inadvertently raise feminist daughters. Some very conservative dads today raise their girls as if they were boys. They encourage them to be ambitious, disagreeable, and assertive. They insist on a college degree (and often a post-college degree) that will prepare them for a demanding career (and will probably require many years in the work force to get a decent ROI on that degree, especially if student debt is involved). They encourage their girls to play sports that require physical aggression and risk severe injury. They want their girls to be strong and independent, often in just the same way that boys have traditionally been trained to be strong and independent. They tell their girls to take care of themselves financially so they won't have to depend on a man. They are taught to seek respect for themselves more than they are taught how to show respect to a man. In short, these dads, by what they praise and by what they teach, whether intentionally or not, masculinize their daughters into "girl bosses." It is no surprise that when these women get into their twenties and thirties, they find it hard to connect with a prospective suitor, and if they do marry, they have a hard time being happily married, largely because they have a hard time embracing a feminine demeanor and the domestic roles that are crucial to a thriving marriage and home life. This is not say there are no sports girls can play (some sports are fully compatible with femininity). Nor is it to downplay the importance of education for girls; girls should most certainly pursue academic excellence, and that can include going to college if done wisely. But it is to say that parents should seek to prepare girls for what is almost certainly going to be their central vocation in life, namely, being a wife, mother, and homemaker.
For further reading:
For further listening: