Does My Family Need a Second Income?

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Guest Contributor

“Will you stay home?”

This is the question I ask when I meet a postpartum mom wearing her weeks-old baby in a Moby Wrap or Ergobaby carrier. Whether the answer is yes or no, I’m glad for every opportunity to talk with new moms about what it will cost them to return to the workplace.

They’ve already thought about what it will cost them to stay home: half or more of the household income, typically. What’s less common is awareness of the price of leaving their baby in someone else’s care so that they can return to the office. I’m not talking about the monthly daycare bill. Whenever we leave our newborns in the care of another, we are sacrificing much. Some moms simply are forced to make that sacrifice. Single moms in particular suffer this way, but a husband’s disability, unemployment, or laziness might force you out of the home (1 Timothy 5:8). I am writing for mothers who can stay home, even if it means altering their budget, career, or lifestyle.

Counting the Cost

In her honest article, “The Ugly Secret of Working Moms,” columnist Starshine Roshell says the tension between work and home — and the inevitable guilt it causes — is an “ugly secret.”

She writes,

From the moment I became pregnant with my first child, who graduates high school this month, I’ve had the unshakable sensation that I’m faking big chunks of my life, playing the part of a competent and confident mother and professional — but in fact always shortchanging someone their due.

She gives examples of the sorts of routine tensions she experienced:

Arriving late to work after delivering a forgotten lunchbox to school, darting out of a too-long meeting to arrive at the school awards ceremony 30 seconds after they call my kid’s name, emailing with the college counselor when I’m supposed to be watching that IT training, or grinning robotically through my son’s trumpet-lesson story at the dinner table when my mind is on that proposal I need to finish by morning.

The feeling of mommy guilt when missing childhood milestones or of always being behind at work and not measuring up aren’t the worst parts of it. In all the clamor to empower women to pursue their careers, we seem to have forgotten about the needs and desires of children.

Has anyone ever asked babies and toddlers what they want?

Choosing $acrifice

But I have to work! say moms who are torn, wanting to care for their children but feeling the financial pressure to go back to the office. The “Ugly Secret” article feeds such logic. Rochell says, “Our economics have evolved to the point where we have to have two working parents.” Most often, that means working outside the home. This is the very assumption that gives rise to so much turmoil and mother-guilt.

But is it true? It certainly can feel true. Depending on where you live, whom you befriend, and what you watch and read, it may seem like you have no choice — you must work, even if your husband has a stable job and can sufficiently provide for the family’s needs. It’s the difference between sufficiently and lavishly, between needs and wants, that adds so much pressure to our decisions. But for many this is a faulty assumption, not least because it often makes the additional income the supreme consideration. Of all the things Jesus could have warned us about that would compete for our allegiance to God, he warned us about the pursuit of financial comfort most. He said,

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Because we are needy, we are naturally tempted to become greedy and to make money most important. When we feel like we don’t have enough of it, fear grips our hearts. But Jesus told us why we can fearlessly refuse to bow to mammon: If God is our Father, we have everything we need (Matthew 7:7–11; Romans 8:32). He said he will never leave us nor forsake us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

Money matters, certainly. But money is not most important.

I have seen many couples step out in faith after the birth of a child so Mom could stay home to care for their baby. Some figured out ways to live on less. Some saw husbands get promotions. Some found part-time and flexible work from home. Some saw practical needs met through friends and relatives. Whatever their unique circumstances, all of them witnessed God’s faithfulness as they stepped out in faith and trusted him — not the economy — to meet their needs. They are living what Hudson Taylor called “lives of faith [that] are the great mirror of the dependability of God.”

This is not a call to irresponsible living — of throwing out budgets and living lavishly on credit card debt. Rather, it is a challenge to resist an unbelieving mindset that knows nothing of the faithful provision of a loving heavenly Father. He created man and woman, blessed us with the creative power to procreate, and gave us the responsibility of nurturing those newborns and bringing them up in the fear of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

There is much that community, church, and even government can do to support moms in this work. But none of those God-given institutions can replace her.

The Challenges Ahead

Doubtless, single moms are reading this, and they feel hurt and guilty. You have been forced out of the home and into the workforce by sheer financial necessity — not by greed, but by need. You would love nothing more than the option to stay home, and now another article heaps on more guilt and grief.

First, God’s promises to provide for you as his own daughter are as real and reliable in your circumstances as they are in any other family. This world and your situation are not as they should be because of sin, but God is as strong and faithful and for you as he has ever been.

Second, we as the church are called by him to step up and carry your burdens in more creative and meaningful ways. If the expectation is for all moms to work, there will be no one available to help those women parenting alone. Who is better positioned to help them than stay-at-home moms? We give away our margin for volunteering when we head to the office — a loss of epic proportions.

I also might offend moms who would rather not be challenged to think outside the comforts of a double income. This is my concern here. Can we be honest enough, and secure enough in Christ, to face both questions? The first question — What is the cost if you don’t return to work? — is a fairly easy one to tabulate in terms of financial sacrifice. But this second question — What is the cost to your family if you do return to work? — is less easy to calculate, but more important, and demands even greater thought, consideration, and prayer.

What I am calling for is a serious step of faith to at least consider the costs in both directions. Stepping away from a second income will require creativity. It is countercultural. The supports that formerly made this option possible — even normal — have all but vanished. It is more difficult. But it is possible! Rather than sacrificing your children’s regular access to your love and care, consider the privilege of sacrificially investing in the children God has given you to love, teach, disciple, and train.

Open and Honest

The apostle Paul encouraged young moms to focus their loving attention on their homes, presumably because such a priority was not a given in first-century Ephesus (Titus 2:5). Every generation finds ways to entice young moms to leave the vocation of the home. Today, we are told working moms are better for economic growth and better for Wall Street. But moms who welcome financial discomfort in order to care for their own children are better for children.

Rochelle is right: between these two poles emerges the “ugly secret” that finite moms will never measure up to the expectations of being a clearheaded and undistracted employee and, at the same time, an invested and caring mother. As believers, we openly and honestly admit the tension, but we can’t stop there. Christian moms are called to infinitely more than being fully invested, caring mothers. We are called to lead our children to Christ.

Scripture is clear that this is an everyday, all-of-life investment of teaching, training, and discipling when we play in the park, drive to a friend’s, sit down for lunch, tuck in for naps, and everything in between (Deuteronomy 6:5–7). Dad is not exempt from this calling, but Mom has a special nurturing opportunity here.

Regardless of what the culture says, staying home is, and must be, a legitimate option to pursue. Are you expecting or in the season of raising children? Look to your faithful heavenly Father and ask yourself: What are the costs if I return to work?