Lots of church members, men and women alike, have strong opinions on mothers working outside the home. We have more letters than we can use, so don’t send any more of them! But this week and next week we have numerous thoughtful letters from Meridian readers who speak up on all facets of the issue:

I just returned to work after 20 years at home full time.  For every woman who looks down on working moms there are the ones who look down on the mothers at home.  

The first thing I would like to stress is that I do not believe it matters which parent stays home.  I have seen many high-quality stay-at-home dads in my wards.  The key is to have a parent at home.  

The next most ideal situation is to have another relative watch the children.  Paid strangers will never look after the children and love them in the same way.  This is the ideal and like the last topic, dating non-members, not everyone gets to have the ideal, but it is ideal for a reason.  It is the best possible situation for the children.  If we can’t have ideal we need to just accept it and deal like we do with everything else in life that is less than perfect.

In the many wards I have lived in, I have seen the difference between mothers who have to work and the kids know it, and ones who do it to maintain a lifestyle.  Children know where their parents’ hearts are, and that is the most important thing.  The ones who have parents who work for more stuff are the ones who tend to feel very rejected and be messed up.  I have also seen people live on nothing and truly sacrifice to keep a parent at home.

My sister worked and thought I had all kinds of free time.  When she quit to stay home, she called and apologized to me.  She said she had no idea how hard I worked.  Many women I have talked to have told me they work because staying home is too hard.  The hardest part for many is the total lack of status and respect.  

The place I saw this lack of respect the most (sorry, people) was when I had my first child in Utah. People were shocked that I chose to stay home even though my husband made plenty of money to support us. One man asked me why I bothered to get a college degree if I was, “Just going to stay home.”  

In my opinion, being a housewife is very much a profession.  I cooked my family’s meals and managed darn near everything – cars, insurance, house, investments, education, yard.  Taking care of children was just a part of it.  I hope to cut back on work at some point as I can already see our lifestyle suffering.

We have started a family business and this is just a sacrifice we are making at this time.  I am enjoying working very much, but there are trade-offs and claiming there are not would be nuts.

Having lived in some very affluent neighborhoods where two incomes were required to maintain the perceived necessities in life, I do believe that many women work for status and recognition, rather than income.  On the other hand, many women are also called on a personal level to work, and it is their right path.  This is so much like last month’s topic that I think anyone who makes assumptions about people’s reasons for going on the non-standard path needs to be shaken up.

When talks are given, very often there is truth in them, but anyone who is secure that he or she is doing what Heavenly Father wants will not feel threatened or upset by other people’s judgment or choices.  If we are deeply upset, then some part of us is feeling guilty and we need to get right with God about it.  If there is no justification, then we need to know the other person does not have all of the information and let it go.  For many of us who stay home, we just can’t imagine leaving our children and the deep pain that must cause on all sides.  I have known mothers who had to work (and I really mean no choice here), and for whom leaving their children was one of the most painful experiences of their whole lives.  

I had friends who worked in day care centers, and I was an au pair.  My friends who worked in day cares before having children have all stayed home, and likewise my fellow au pairs.  We saw the children attach to people who later left, and this caused intense emotional pain as bonds were forged and broken over and over.  

As the economy has worsened temple attendance has risen, more parents are staying home, and we are getting back to basics.  It is my hope that we will all learn to live on less so we can spend more time on what we value most, our relationships, be they with our children or our spouses of friends.  When I was a kid we could live on one income, but few people ever ate out and nearly everything was made at home from scratch.  One car per family was normal.  There was no internet and no one owned a cell phone.  Cable TV did not exist.  Houses were on average half the size of today so utilities were cheaper. A second bathroom was a luxury.  If we truly went back to the living standard of 40 years ago, we could all work a lot less and spend more time together.  

If we prayerfully decide which path to choose and get personal confirmation that we are on track, we can be secure that we are doing the right thing and ignore any critics.

Happy in My Choices

Thanks for your letter, Happy. I really liked the comparison between our lifestyles now and those of forty years ago. We who live in the United States and similar countries are so accustomed to what we have now that it may seem unthinkable to go back to the lifestyles that seemingly ancient time. Those advancements have come upon us so gradually that few of us stop to realize the price we have paid for the luxuries we enjoy now.

I think there is an analogy with the 89th section of the Doctrine & Covenants: The Word of Wisdom is not the only principle affected by the evils and designs of conspiring men.


There is more than one way to break down families.  There are social pressures, in which immorality has become normality today, and economic pressures, in which work does not provide a living wage for too many.  Both situations put stress on family life and childrearing.  Both are pushed by the adversary.

My mother had to work part-time because of economic necessity, but she did not do so until we were all in school.  She eventually took a full-time spot after I left home, but she was able to do that at our high school, and our father worked from a home office, so we always had a parent available.

When the Proclamation on the Family was being prepared, people reportedly asked President Hinckley about various situations that would be exceptions.  He was said to have answered that the principles should be outlined clearly and then individuals would prayerfully adapt and apply them as they were directed because of their circumstances.  The statement of principles should not be riddled with those exceptions that might indeed be necessary and still righteous.  That hearkens back to Joseph Smith’s statement that he taught his people correct principles and let them govern themselves.

If the principle, the ideal, is for mothers to be at home with their children, then the desire would be to come as close to that as you can or to make that happen as soon as you can.  It is not staying home that makes everything perfect by itself, of course, but to be engaged, invested, and actively involved in your children’s development.  I was able to be a full-time mother, but our finances have been strained.  I still would not have had it any other way. I think we would have lost one of our children otherwise. 

It is possible to be very proactive and give your kids the guidance, the follow-up, and the care they need while being employed, but it is harder. Questions, choices, internalizing the principles we are trying to teach them – these things do not occur on a schedule and are easy to miss if we’re not careful. 

We should not quarrel with each other, but just keep each others’ backs.  We all need all the support we can get, no matter what our circumstances.  Let’s trust that we all love our kids and are doing the best we know how.  We can encourage choices by sharing the vision of what value there is in being home, without criticizing.  That’s kind of a good principle for life in general.

MJS

MJS, I really like what you wrote about watching each other’s backs instead of criticizing their choices. That’s something we can take to heart in many areas of life.

This is a subject that I have thought long and hard about, as I’ve been in both situations during my almost 20-year marriage.  I quit a great job to be a stay-at-home mom when my oldest was born.  My husband had just started graduate school, and it was a struggle, but I was determined to follow the prophet’s counsel to stay home if at all possible.

We were blessed with two more children, and when my youngest was about a year old, I had a strong feeling that I would need to go back to work, just out of the blue.   Three months later, my husband was laid off from his job.  After much prayer and pondering, I went back to work while my husband stayed home with the kids and finished writing his dissertation. 

I had always planned to stay home with my children and had never pictured myself as a “working” mom, but I know this was the best decision for our family at the time. I learned many lessons that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned.  My husband said being Mr. Mom was the hardest job he’s ever had, but he grew much closer to the children during that time.

Since then, I’ve worked part-time while my children are in school, and due to finances, have recently gone back to work full-time, although since I have older children, I am at work mostly while they are at school.  My goal has always been to be home, and we are still working toward that. 
 
For help on this subject, we have often referred to the Proclamation on the Family, which states that fathers are primarily responsible for providing for their families, but that mothers and fathers should help each other as equal partners.  Since every family situation is unique, we can’t and shouldn’t judge other families.

It can also be helpful to examine why mom is working outside the home. If it is just to provide luxuries, she may be working for the wrong reasons.

Stephanie in Arizona

The bottom line, Stephanie, is that even though you were determined to do one thing, you were open to personal revelation so that when a prompting that was contrary to what you had planned, you were able to listen to that prompting and bless your family. Not only are circumstances different from family to family, but they also change within a single family from time to time. We all need to be as open to personal revelation as you were. Those promptings are given to us to bless our lives.

I have found myself many times saying, “Why is it fair when a woman who has never worked outside the home will be able to draw her husband’s Social Security after he passes away?” A woman who works many years drawing a paycheck from an outside source is not able to draw hers and her husband’s when he passes on. She has to choose one of the two, usually the highest paying one. This was a huge trap for women and the family after World War II.

But, then when I see young mothers who want to stay home with their children I feel like all women should look at this Social Security issue as one of the reasons we have debilitating issues in American families today. I find myself telling young mothers, if you can stay home you will be blessed, your spouse will be blessed and most of all your children will be blessed.


When beginning a family, spouses should look at the pros and cons of whether to work outside the home while raising children.  If the preferred scenario is for mother to be home and father to work, you must sit down and crunch the numbers.  Outside work gives a social outlet to any mother, but that outlet can be filled with friends that are at home. Whether it is keeping in contact by phone or text or by getting out and walking with each other, your needs can be fulfilled. Children can exercise during walks as well, or shop together getting ideas for new recipes. 

In crunching numbers, take into account the fuel it will take to get to the additional job, many times in opposite direction from your spouse. What about the new wardrobe, childcare, lunches, and kitchen gadgets to make life faster for the time in between your work and your children’s extracurricular activities? Take into account the tax burdens for higher tax brackets and sales tax on treats, and fast food. Take into account how much time will be needed to keep up the house, cleaning, laundry, baths and relaxation.

It is not surprising when many times these calculations show it actually costs more to have the second income.

One of the hardest messages came from Ezra Taft Benson in 1981 October Conference: The Honored Place of Woman. Take time to read it. Here are a few excerpts:

 We must ever keep in mind that it is the design of Satan to thwart the plan of our Eternal Father. The plan of the adversary is to destroy the youth of the Church – the “rising generation,” as the Book of Mormon calls them (see Alma 5:49) – and to destroy the family unit.

I recognize there are voices in our midst which would attempt to convince you that these truths are not applicable to our present-day conditions. If you listen and heed, you will be lured away from your principal obligations.

I am aware that many of you often find yourselves in circumstances that are not always ideal. I know this because I have talked with many of you who, because of necessity, must work and leave your children with others – even though your heart is in your home. Solutions for you who are in a minority are not the same as for the majority of women in the Church who can and should be fulfilling their roles as wives and mothers.

It is a misguided idea that a woman should leave the home, where there is a husband and children, to prepare educationally and financially for an unforeseen eventuality. Too often, I fear, even women in the Church use the world as their standard for success and basis for self-worth. Too often the pressure for popularity, on children and teens, places an economic burden on the income of the father, so mother feels she must go to work to satisfy her children’s needs. That decision can be most shortsighted. It is mother’s influence during the crucial formative years that forms a child’s basic character.

President Benson loved the women of the Church. You have to make choices for your own circumstances, but the Lord does know what is best for your circumstance and will help you find that answer if you will ask him, with others in your life that will be affected by your choice.

President Benson came to this conclusion. “As I look at you tonight, I feel to say, “What choice spirits you are to be reserved as wives and mothers in Zion at this critical hour!” You are members of the only true Church of Jesus Christ on earth, and through your faithfulness with your companion; you may be heirs to eternal life in the celestial kingdom. That is your assurance!”

Please read the article. It is timeless in its delivery and the word of God from one of our very own prophets!

Led by the Prophets

Thanks for sharing President Benson’s talk with us, Led. It’s always great to get a link to an applicable talk to share with the readers.

Wives working outside the home? Here’s a solid answer: It depends.

Many years ago our family lived near my cousin, who had six living children, an accountant husband, and an ability to stretch a dollar until George lost his shirt. She made clothes for the kids, ground her own wheat for bread, made curtains for the dining room, learned how to repair the old washing machine, and shopped on Monday mornings at the Hy-Vee in order to get the boxes of wilted produce that were marked down to 50 cents.

The older children all had early morning paper routes, as did she. She even taught the children to read before they entered school. She felt it was her job to make a home for the children and make the money her husband brought home do its job well. Her children are all grown now, with successful families of their own.

I learned a great deal from her, and even managed to imbue some of her thriftiness into my own brain. But she was, and still is, a marvel of a woman, a true queen in Zion. I never did manage finances as well as she did, and I eventually had to go to work part-time when our younger ones were in school. My best friend had to work most of the time her children were young, as her husband was unable to find work that would pay enough to cover the bills.


She also was very thrifty and a very faithful woman, another queen in Zion.

In my case, I stayed home as long as I could, then worked just enough to make up the shortfall in my disabled husband’s income. The general authorities have always counseled the women of the Church to focus on raising their families before anything else, but it’s never been a hard and fast rule. Every family must decide for themselves, after counseling with the Lord, whether or not the wife should work outside the home. It is the job of every couple to make these decisions, and no one outside that family has any business either applauding or criticizing their decisions.

Although I admired my cousin for her resourcefulness, I also admired my friend for her courage. They both made the best decisions they could for their families. That’s all the Lord requires of us.

Rita Miller

Well said, Rita. We’re not all alike. We have different skills.   We also have different challenges. It is good to admire the strengths of others, but they might not be as effective in our own situations. God gives each of us the gifts we need.

Whether a mother has to work outside of the home depends on what her husband earns. Some women work even though there is no need to; they are bored at home and feel unfulfilled. Some men do force their wives out to work to pay for luxuries, although this is not usual in LDS households.

Most LDS women take a drop in their standard of living to stay at home as long as they can and endeavour to work part time if at all possible. High housing costs mean that unless one partner is a high earner, two incomes are needed.

Stay at home mums should be grateful for their blessings and not berate others for working. Many mums work outside the home and hate to do so, but have no choice.

Vim, UK

You’re right, Vim. There are so many reasons why people make choices that it’s futile to try to determine what those reasons are – much less, to judge them for it. The older I get, the more I realize that my own logic is faulty. I judge others at my own peril.

Do you really like to open these things up?

Thirty years ago this was a subject that got a lot of folks in Utah all fired up. I was raised on a small farm in Bluffdale, Utah. Dad had to work at a mine and my mother also often worked outside of the home at various jobs. This gives you my background.

As a young married man with two small children I worked as well as went to school at the University of Utah. My wife also worked at the local grocery store. We faithfully attended church and were trying hard to raise our children correctly. On one particular Sunday we had a member of the high council attend our elders quorum and speak on this very subject. He stated (I am paraphrasing) that, “Mothers who work outside of the home are unfit to be mothers and need to repent of their ways.”

I was sitting next to the elders quorum president, whom I had known all of my life. I at that point rose from my chair and asked to high councilor to step outside into the parking lot where I was going to beat him to within an inch of his life. He had insulted my mother and my wife and I would not tolerate that and told him so. The elders quorum president then stood and stated that he had seconds after I was finished since his wife and mother had also been insulted.

The high councilor fled the room. We then adjourned and went home.

The next week we had the stake president speaking at our elders quorum meeting. He apologized for what had been said the previous week, apologized for the insults, and stated that the high councilor was completely wrong on all accounts.

We all live our lives in the way we deem best with the help of the Lord. We don’t dictate or belittle. We do the best we can with what we have and leave the rest to the Lord.

Steven Horrocks

What a great story! I’ll bet that was one high councilor who wasn’t so quick to give his opinions about sensitive subjects in a public meeting again!

And no, I don’t look for sensitive topics to open. They are suggested to me, one and all, by Meridian readers.

I don’t think there is a “should” or “shouldn’t” that applies to every case, but I have an opinion about its advisability, from my own experience as a mother of three who had no choice about working.

My husband was supporting five children from a previous marriage as well as our own three, then decided to quit a salaried job for his own unprofitable business.  Though I did everything in my power to be home as much as possible, there are two major effects on the family whose mother’s time and energy are split between major “jobs” (and don’t anyone let you believe motherhood isn’t a full-time job). 

The first one is that something and/or someone will always be detrimentally neglected – probably everyone and everything, because no woman can do justice to herself and two full-time jobs.  The other is that resentment toward the derelict husband/father, unless he is able (and willing) to pick up an awful lot of the inevitable workload and face time with children, will become part of the family fabric and have a devastating and lasting impact.


  As old-fashioned as it may sound, a mother’s place really is in the home.  There is no more important work to be done on earth, and when men value that work as much as the help with monetary income, so will women.

Experienced

I loved your last line, Experienced. That was so important. Thanks for writing.

I have certainly been on both sides of the coin on this one. The real issue is not working women, but working mothers. I will use the term, “working” for those who have a paying job outside the home. (We all know that mothers work hard in their homes. Let’s get over that and move on.)  Most would agree that childless women can and often should work outside the home. But when children come into the picture, the whole picture gets fuzzy.

I have friends and acquaintances who literally work out of necessity, sometimes because the husband’s income is literally insufficient, and sometimes because the husband can never seem to hold down a job, period. I know others who work because they want to. And then, there was this experience:

I vividly recall a visiting teaching visit many years ago. At the time I was a stay-at-home-mom, but my companion and the sister we were visiting both worked outside the home. The subject of working moms came up during our visit. Both of those two women stated that they were working because they had to, either to make the house payment, or because the one family had enormous medical bills. They said, “It’s not like we work so our family can have a boat or a motor home or something.” Since I wasn’t a working mom, I felt I had nothing to contribute, and I said nothing.

Well, the very next month – 30 days hadn’t even passed -, we returned to visit this sister, and there was a large motor home parked in front of the house. When we sat down together, our sister laughed a little sheepishly, and said, “Isn’t it funny how we were just talking about this last month, and here I have a new motor home, and you guys [indicating my companion] just bought a boat? Hahahahaha!”

I think my eyes may have bugged out just a little. And I have since learned that I should never judge another.

I live in a ward with a wide range of income levels. I do see a bit of superiority from the non-working mothers. I’ve also seen working moms who assume that a stay-home mom has plenty of extra time – enough to assign her more than what would be fair, based on her “abundant” free time. I see a lot of judging done. It is sad, it is hurtful, and it is unproductive. Can we just get over it, people?

Of course it should be a matter of prayer. Of course, it is an individual decision. Of course, everyone loves their children and wants the best for them. I don’t live your life, and you don’t live mine.

When my children were little, I stayed home. When my youngest started preschool, it became necessary for me to return to work. I was fortunate that it was a family business, and I had much freedom to bring my little one to work, where she had a “playroom” with toys, entertainment, and a place to nap. When our “caboose baby” came along (12 years between siblings), I went back to being a stay-at-home mom. Now, with her in preschool, I am back working at the family business, and she uses the playroom.

In my experience, I must say that the best days are the ones where I get to stay home all day. Second to that are the days when I go home early, in time for the teenagers to come home from school. They might not need me physically. But emotionally, intellectually, spiritually – I am needed at home by my teens. I am a homebody, and I’m lucky I get to be home as much as possible.

My experience may not be someone else’s. I’ve seen childhood flee so quickly with my older ones, and so I treasure my caboose baby and my time with her. But I know better than to judge others. And my family and I are not perfect. But we’re progressing.

North Idaho Mom

North Idaho, it’s not just stay-at-home moms who are given lots of extra assignments because everyone assumes they have plenty of free time. Even women without children who work at home are considered fair game for every extra assignment, because “they aren’t doing anything.” Even as an unemployed writer, I don’t have time to just sit around watching television and eating bonbons, or even doing craft projects or writing letters. Time gets away from all of us, and nobody should ever make assumptions about another.

Our last letter today tells a story of how important it is to pay attention to one’s own circumstances, instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all philosophy:

You pose an interesting question.  Obviously, everyone has to choose for themselves.  For instance, my sister is a young widow with two small girls.  I’m sure nobody would even think of judging her for working outside of the home. 

Since everyone’s situation is different, I thought I’d just share my story with you. 

My husband and I were a young married couple with a daughter aged eighteen months.  Both of us had nothing more than a high school diploma, and my husband was blessed to get a job at a commercial hardware warehouse.  We squeaked by for quite a while.

Then, an opportunity came for me to work full-time in a records department of an insurance company.  As it turned out, I would be making $2.00 an hour more than my husband, and it had wonderful medical benefits!  We felt we had to take it.  We found what we felt was decent daycare for our daughter, and I officially went to work.


  

The extra income was a dream!  We weren’t in the lap of luxury or anything, but at least we weren’t wondering if we were going to make the rent each month.  Things seemed to be going along just fine, for a while. 

I think I first noticed a problem one Saturday, when I had to call up our babysitter to ask her if my daughter liked oatmeal.  I thought to myself, “I’m her mother.  I should know my child’s food preferences!”  I also had to call and ask how long I should expect her to nap. 

Little things like that started to weigh on my husband’s and my mind.  It seemed to come to a head one January morning.  We had had a two-week family vacation for Christmas, visiting my sister-in-law in Seattle.  It was a wonderful time of being together as a family.  Then, the day came to go back to work.  As we pulled up to drop off our daughter, she started to cry, saying she didn’t want to leave us.  She didn’t want to spend the day with “these people;” she wanted to spend it with us.  She was now 2 1/2, and I remember thinking that she was too young to have to deal with this. 

She kissed Daddy goodbye and I took her up to the door and kissed her goodbye myself.  When I got back to the car, I found my husband sobbing.  It was tearing him up inside as he was thinking the same thing I was thinking – we needed to find a way for me to stay home and raise her.  We both agreed she needed the comfort and security of being home with her mother.  Of course, we had no idea how we were going to do it. 

At the time, my husband was just regaining activity in the Church, so, we decided to make it a matter of prayer.  As we prayed, we got the impression that staying home with her was the right thing to do, so we then started to inquire of the Lord just how we were supposed to do that.  A couple of months later, it was announced that there were to be nationwide layoffs at my company, and that there was to be a pretty great severance package to go with it.  As we prayed, we felt that this was part of the answer to our prayers.  By now, I was pregnant with our second child, and we became more determined than ever that this was the right thing for us. 

On July 6, 1992, I was laid off from my work.  We expected it and felt good about it.  What we didn’t expect, however, was that on July 7, 1992, my husband was fired from his job!  What?  Wait a minute! Wasn’t Heavenly Father looking out for us?  The answer is yes; yes He was. 

A friend of ours from our ward had heard my husband was looking for work and encouraged him to apply with his company.  He started working there in September, (two days, by the way, after we were sealed in the temple as a family). As it turned out, he would be making a lot more than he did at his old company.  Between my husband’s higher income, and not having to pay daycare costs anymore, we were able to make it!  I’m so grateful that when we saw no way, the Lord provided one!

Eve Ellsworth

Yucaipa, California

What a great story, Eve! It is a great reminder that the Lord looks out for us, and that He loves us, and that He cares about the details of our lives. Thanks for sharing it.

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

“Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value.”

Albert Einstein

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