In these troubled economic times, the question of having mothers work outside the home is a thorny one for Latter-day Saints. Some believe it’s out of the question. Others believe it’s unavoidable. Let’s see what readers have to say today.

Wow! This one is more than just a can of worms!

I am a 61-year-old life-long member of the Church (always lived in the mission field). I raised my children in the gospel, but for much of my kids’ childhoods, I was raising them as a single mother. In that case, of course, there is no choice but to work.

I do partially attribute my inability to spend a lot of time with them on their not being active as adults. They all love the gospel; they just aren’t willing to live it. They are all still wonderful people – high achievers, college educated, and kind and loving. However, I’m one of those “old fashioned” women who believes that a mother should not work, unless she has to – and most of the time, if her husband works, she doesn’t have to.

I know that will draw a whole chorus of howls, but the truth is, I did not always believe that. As a 30-year working professional, I used to think that smart women just “needed” to work; this made them better people and sharper moms. That idea has slowly changed over the years, as I have witnessed hundreds of children, how they turned out, and if their moms worked or not during their childhood years.

I cannot help but look at the simple facts. Part of my job is as a statistician, so I’m good at this, and I must not ignore the facts. In my own experience, at-home mothering trumps every time. The kids seem more secure, more developmentally on target or ahead, more calm and loving. In their adult years, the ones with stay-at-home moms did measurably better on most things – but the best, to me, was that the great majority of them remained close to the gospel as teenagers, went on missions, were married in the temple. I think that’s the most important measurement, by far.

Now for the ones who say, “But we can’t afford it,” you’d be surprised what you can afford. My husband and I used to babysit for a young couple near us one Saturday a month, so they could go to the temple. They had five children ranging from 18 months to 8 years old, and the mom had a master’s degree in Early Childhood Development, but she stayed at home. Her husband was a low-ranking military officer.

I remember well how much my mind began turning on these Saturdays. I’d go to look for something to cut the pizza, and they had nothing but one little paring knife – not even a bigger knife. No paper towels, no hot pads (they used a dish towel for both). No dishwasher, no microwave, and nothing but staples in the pantry – not even a chip or a cookie, ever.

There was very little clothing for the children. When one dirtied his jammies, I had to dress him in shorts and a t-shirt for bed (and the washing wasn’t behind – they just had very few clothes). I’d say 90% of the clothes all of them had (mom and dad included) were hand-me-downs or were original designs by “Will Good.”  Their little rental house had almost no furniture (they had been married 10 years) and no TV, no game consoles, nothing to entertain’ but books, mountains of them, that came from library sales at10 cents a book! There were very few toys (all old and well-worn), and many books on the gospel – those dominated their home.

There was no vacuum cleaner, Mom swept the carpets. They had one old computer, which they used for all communication. They didn’t even have cell phones, and the home phone was one of those $20-a-year things. They had one old car. I shook my head and tsked-tsked for weeks, until I understood something: this mom stayed with her kids 24/7. She read to them, they spent a huge amount of time outdoors, and every waking minute was concentrated on those kids! I marveled at the sacrifices they had made, doing without things that I never even dreamed I could do without. And in that year, I became convinced that almost any mother could stay home, IF she was willing to make huge sacrifices. If I could go back in time, and I had a good husband who made enough to survive, I would do the same. I would have stayed home. The evidence of differences it makes is too strong!

Susan A. Sandberg

Wow, Susan. Your letter was a real eye-opener. What things do we consider essential in our lives that really aren’t essential at all. That is definitely food for thought.

The Lord can make it possible for us to follow the counsel of our leaders, even when it seems like it might be an impossible problem. I have personally seen the blessings that have come to us from paying tithes and generous offerings to the Lord. When done in a spirit of gratitude, it truly does unlock the blessings of heaven.

However, the choices we make can have an impact, too, and the Lord does not infringe on our agency. Our oldest son and his wife are very economically frugal. They have a large garden, drive used cars, and are very careful with finances. My daughter-in-law bakes her own bread, does home canning, sewing, and they don’t buy anything they can make themselves.  They spend only $400 on groceries per month for 10 people (4 adults), but they eat healthy and have plenty. They will be debt-free, including mortgage, within a few years. They have a fairly large home due to the size of their family, so this is quite an accomplishment.

It has made me realize that a family can nickel and dime their way to prosperity just as they can nickel and dime their way into poverty.

There are even more imperative reasons than finances that couples should consider before a mother makes the decision to work outside the home.  There are very negative influences constantly bombarding our children, which can be more easily dealt with by a mother who is at home than when both parents work.

Obviously, most single parents don’t really have a choice about working versus staying at home, but when the question is about both parents working, I have seen the difference a mother can make in her children’s lives when sacrifices are made so that she can be at home guiding her children through their daily challenges.

There are eternal blessings that come by following the counsel of our leaders, and the Lord will make it possible for us if we are willing to do our part. We’ve been taught that the Lord never gives us a commandment without providing a way for us to accomplish it. It may take faith, sacrifice, and a change of heart, but it is possible for mothers to stay at home despite the challenges of today’s economic climate. Aren’t our children worth it?

Louise Erekson
Chantilly, Virginia

Love what you said, Louise, that, “A family can nickel and dime their way to prosperity just as they can nickel and dime their way into poverty.” I should have that plastered on my computer. Thanks for your letter.

Members should be understanding that each family has a unique situation and need.  My husband and I raised five children and did all we could to be financially self-reliant.  My husband worked very hard to support our family, while I ran a home-based business. 

As our children got older we decided that I would work part-time outside the home.  This transition eventually led me to a full-time position, with a great deal of responsibility, at a large corporation.  This experience was crucial.  Little did we know that my husband would be diagnosed with brain cancer and pass away seven short months later.  Because of my work experience outside the home, I am confident that I will remain self-reliant.  Had I stayed home all these years, my future would be very different. 

We should be focused on what is needed within our own homes and not judge others for doing what is best for their family.


Thia, thanks for sharing your experience.  It’s all so individual, isn’t it?  Thanks for the reminder.

I feel that a woman working or staying at home is a choice that is between each husband and wife and the Lord.

I come from a ward where there are some who stay home and some who work. I am fortunate enough to stay home with my children, (one of whom is disabled). However, my husband and I have not been without our share of financial difficulties.  I have fasted and prayed about my decision, and know it is right for my family.

Another friend of mine recently returned to work after her husband’s business fell apart.  She too fasted and prayed about her decision, and eventually returned to work. Then, I know several wives who must work due to unforeseen circumstances.

Still, others choose to stay home because the cost of childcare is more than they could earn – especially with this economy, when jobs are scarce. I believe it is a totally private decision, and should not be taken lightly.

Staying at Home

I agree that this is a decision that should not be taken lightly, Staying. Thanks for pointing out that this decision may vary from family to family.

I have done both. When my children were very young I stayed home. It was financially hard. I used to take in people’s ironing to make ends meet (up to 20 hours a week). Considering that before children I was in commercial finance, this was a huge step down. But I loved it as I loved being at home with my children.

As they got older I ran my own business at home very successfully for several years, which helped us a lot financially. It was great because it was mainly evening work so I was with the kids during the day and my husband was with them in the evening (and they were mostly asleep). I ended up giving this business up when my children were school age I found it interfered with their homework times and they needed me at home more at that time than before. I was led to a great job that was part-time and mainly during school hours. It was brilliant for my children and I loved it.

Last year things got very tight financially, and we realised I needed a job with more hours. This was something we prayed about a lot. At the same time I had put my hand up to do early-morning seminary but was not chosen for the job. I could not understand why because the person who was given the calling was not as keen as I was. (In our area, seminary is a role they usually get volunteers for, and this person did not volunteer).

Once that happened I put more effort into looking for a job with more hours. I was knocked back from several that looked promising (and great school hours) and could not understand as the prospective employers had made it look like they really wanted me. Then an amazing job came up at my children’s school (doing their financials). I could not believe it could be so good, and was scared to apply because it looked too good. I did apply and got the job.

Working in my children’s school has been an amazing experience for me and my children. But what was interesting was the week I started this full-time job the stake called me to the seminary position (the other person had to move out of the ward) I had volunteered to do earlier that year. I was confused. How could I do both? Then I received an amazing bit of revelation: The reason I was not given the calling earlier was because I would have stopped looking for a full-time job and Heavenly Father wanted me to do both that job and the calling.

I have always put the family first and worked around them. I could have earned a lot more money for years by going fulltime, but at that point in my life it wasn’t right. When it was right, Heavenly Father let me know. He then sustained me with both a very demanding job and a very demanding calling.

Whenever I have worked or quit working, it was done with much prayer and fasting. I do my job to help pay the bills, but I also enjoy my job, it isn’t just a paycheque.Being close to my children and understanding their life at school has been a huge blessing that has come from this job besides having a paycheque.

I also don’t think you need to work so close to your children for it to be the correct choice for you.  Each family has different financial, spiritual and emotional needs that make the decision right or wrong for them. Everyone can receive revelation from Heavenly Father as to what the needs of their family are.


One thing I appreciate your pointing out, Elissa, is that the needs can change as circumstances in the home change. What may be the right answer for your family now may be different next year.

I’m speaking as a single female here, not as part of a couple.  I agree with Mary’s statement that, “My theory is that each family’s situation is different, and no one should be judged on what they feel they must do.”

Nobody can see what’s behind the scenes in somebody else’s household.  Each family must decide for itself whether both parents will work outside the home or one will stay home.  We shouldn’t belittle or berate somebody because she chose (or has to) work outside the home, or chose to stay home with the children.  In some parts of the country, it’s economically easier for a parent to stay home with the children.  In other parts of the country, that extra paycheck is needed just to survive.

Jody Carlson

Fairfax, Virginia

Good point, Jody, that geographical factors may come into play. It blows me away to see how different the cost of living is from one state to another, and that’s just in the United States. When you take the whole world into account, there is a huge range of different economic factors that come into play.

I cannot say what is right for another.  The Lord works in mysterious ways with each of us according to our wants, needs, stage of development, and perhaps a myriad of other incalculable factors.  I cannot think of a single conference talk where a general authority has stated that this is a desirable situation (to have women with children working).  Rather, I have heard them state that the husband/father’s primary responsibility is to be the breadwinner, but there are situations where this does not work and the Lord will not judge them for circumstances beyond their control. 

I believe that the general authorities are firmly establishing the father-as-single-breadwinner model as the ideal, knowing that there will be many who (for whatever reason) cannot live up to that ideal.  That creates scenarios where others interpret and/or judge the choices of another, most often without a complete picture of what is really going on. 

So often, it seems, we have good brothers and sisters judged for being less diligent or less faithful because the sister is working instead of being a full-time homemaker.  I do not believe that the Lord would have us do this one to another.  It certainly doesn’t foster feelings of love and kindness between those who should be aspiring to live the celestial law.

Aaron M

Thanks, Aaron, for reminding us that judging others takes us away from the unity that God has commanded of us. That’s an important thing to remember – not just in this topic, but in all topics.

In my ward on Mother’s Day we were treated to a talk by a brother who tends to run a bit pompous and self-righteous. He berated the mothers on Mother’s Day for working outside the home. Several months later the nephew of this same brother was the youth speaker. His remarks included the following and I quote as nearly verbatim as I can without any exaggeration: “Do you follow the prophet? Does your mother work outside the home?”

Interestingly enough, the wife of the brother who spoke on Mother’s Day paid his wife to work in his grocery store as the director of the bakery department. The same wife often took the opportunity during testimony meeting to express her gratitude for not being a working mother. And as a similar head scratcher, the mother of the youth speaker was the manager of the local municipal aquatic center. Hmmm.

I was released two years ago from serving in our Relief Society presidency. It was my privilege to assist the bishop and the Relief Society president with helping families in need. My assignment often was to assist the family with increasing the amount of income for the home, which included helping the mothers and fathers both obtain employment or better paying jobs. We worked with our stake employment committee to assist with training these people to find word. And we sincerely rejoiced when they were able to find work and be self-sustaining. I cannot imagine the pain of coming to sacrament meeting a few days after receiving an order from the Bishop’s Storehouse and being berated over the pulpit by ward members in a talk or a testimony because you either are a working mother or you have a wife who works.
I think we need to look at the entire picture. In my opinion, husband and wife counsel together, and pray together, and consider the words of the prophet carefully. Then if they have made a decision that has been endorsed by the Holy Ghost, embrace that decision and never look back.
As far as the working mother question goes, to me this is a fair standard. We know the prophets give counsel on having children. Would we feel so free to criticize our ward members and feel free to admonish them about when to add a new baby to the family, or to tell them they have more than enough children? So why do we feel free to criticize others for their decisions about working outside the home?
A Mother in Zion Who Works outside the Home

Zion, I am still shaking my head over the stories you related. It’s so easy to see the flaws in others and not so easy to see them in ourselves, isn’t it?

It all goes back to what Aaron said in the last letter. If we’re going to have the unity that God commands, we need to refrain from judging others. And for pete’s sake, people, don’t use Mother’s Day and Father’s Day talks as an excuse to trumpet your personal agenda!

It all boils down to that word “need,” and our perception of what a “need” is.

Our neighbor lost his job. He has a son planning to go on a mission, and his wife just found work. They “need” her to work right now.

I just lost my part-time job, we just had our ninth child, and our income is less than $50,000/year. We’re short each month about $200-300, even though our budget is bare-bones. I “need” to find another part-time job.

Our friends have two full-time jobs, three children, and the family just flew to a tropical paradise this last week in January because they “needed” a vacation.

That’s how it all gets tricky. The Church has counseled us for years to evaluate our needs and wants, but one person’s “need” is another person’s “outrageous luxury” that could have paid off someone else’s medical bills from the past year.

That’s where prayer and honest, deep-down evaluation come into play. We have to search our hearts and ask, “Am I working for true needs, or to afford some of life’s little enjoyments, because we feel we deserve’ to have some fun?”

Here’s another thought: There are only so many jobs to go around now. Ask anyone searching and they’ll tell you the prospects of finding work are grim. But what if a family who can get by well enough on one income, while they have two, quit one of those jobs? Wouldn’t that then free up that job for someone who desperately needs it to put food on the table?

What if my friends, who went to that tropical paradise, gave up the extra job that paid for the trip so that my neighbors with far greater needs could have that work? Sending someone on a mission and making the mortgage payment seem more necessary than taking a cruise. Moms’ second jobs just may be taking away dads’ first jobs.

Those of us who have been through the temple know about the law of consecration. Wouldn’t giving up truly unnecessary jobs be consecrating them to those who need the work?

The decision of whether mom should work or not may be better made when we stop thinking about what we want and consider instead, “Does someone need this work more than we do?”

Trish Mercer

Trish, the idea that somebody’s secondary job may be taking work from someone who actually needs the income had never occurred to me. Thanks for a real eye-opener.

This is the bottom line on women working outside the home:

  1. Marriage was instituted by God to produce children (if possible), tothem up to be a righteous people, uphold the law and be taught correct principles; who in turn will marry, produce children and raise them to be a righteous people by being taught correct principles.  This is His plan.
  2. God, who knows psychology much better than any of us mortals, has said that in order to do this the correct way, is to have the mother in the home (if at all possible) to teach her children by example andThere is no substitute for this.  Those children who have mothers who die, or who go to work, or whatever takes them out of the home, will eventually have to compensate  themselves later on in life for this absence.  Christ’s atonement will help make up for some of these losses that were unavoidable.
  3. We have been told over and over again by our prophets, who speak for God, that our families and children shouldnumber one on the list, priority over everything else.  Parents may have to make huge financial sacrifices for this to happen, but it is possible with the help of God.

Non-Working Mom

You make good points, Non-Working Mom. We just have to be careful not to judge people for what we perceive to be incorrect decisions. Sometimes the decision isn’t as black-and-white as it seems, as I constantly have to remind myself!

Should women work outside the home?  Sometimes?  Never?  The answer is personal revelation.  God is smart enough to give each of our own unique set of circumstances and challenges.  It therefore follows that He can give different answers to different people to fit those circumstances and challenges.  And it is incumbent upon of us to remember, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Val in Canada

You said it better than I could, Val. God is infinitely smarter than we are.

That’s it for this week. We’ve got all the letters we need on this subject, because I still have a mailbox full. If you would like to suggest a topic for a future column, however, please write to me at [email protected]“>[email protected]. Remember, people, do not use the form on this page to reply to me, because your letters will more than likely get lost. Send an email to [email protected]“>[email protected], with an appropriate subject line to let me know your letter isn’t spam. I can’t use all the topics that are suggested, for one reason or another, but I’ll consider anything you send!

Until next time – Kathy

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;

that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”

Henry David Thoreau

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