Few subjects in Christianity are more controversial than that of working wives. Many Christians feel that it is wrong for married women to be employed full time outside of the home, especially if children are involved. However, for many families, especially low-to-middle income families, the alternatives are few. Many mothers are required to work because they are single parents, but this article deals exclusively with mothers and wives of families in which both parents/spouses are living at home.
It is commonly accepted in our current American society that in most households the cost of maintaining and operating a home requires that both spouses work. It doesn’t take much arithmetic to determine that the costs of new homes, cars, food, private school, and clothing are beyond the income ability of the average one-income family. Currently, the housing expenses on the average new home would require almost 70% of the average husband’s income. So, logic dictates that two incomes are needed to maintain the average American family lifestyle.
More and more married women are beginning to accept the pressures of a job as normal. That is unfortunate, because wives provide a good family balance for their husbands, who generally have a tendency to work too much and too long. If wives begin to adjust similarly, then ultimately the family will suffer. Since many women are the primary organizers and planners in the home, these gifts may be lost to their families if they become burdened by the daily work routine.
Loyalties and priorities
When wives shift their need for approval from the home to their work, problems generally follow. There is often a mixed loyalty between the demands at work and at home. On one hand, a wife may sense a lack of closeness to her family as a result of the time spent away from home and the normal mental fatigue of work stress. On the other hand, she may recognize the need to dedicate even more time to the job in order to succeed.
Just as many Christian husbands/fathers abandon the important priorities —God and family —because they believe they must be a success for their families, many wives/mothers rationalize in the same way.
Because there are negative side effects of working wives/mothers does not mean that it is scripturally wrong for them to work outside of the home. The fact that many women choose to work outside the home is not the problem. The fact that so many women have to work outside of the home to maintain the family’s finances is the real problem. If the family is so overextended that the wife/mother has to work, then the family has too much debt and changes have to be made.
There are 4 priorities that should be prerequisite with regard to wives/mothers working outside of the home:
1. Desire. Nowhere in God’s Word does it say or imply that wives/mothers should not work outside the home. But the lack of prohibition does not necessarily mean that it is best for families. The first prerequisite of a working wife/mother is a desire on her part to work. When a wife is compelled to work by design or circumstance, resentment often will develop.
2. Husband’s approval. Many working wives are able to gain approval from their husbands by pressuring them. Although some husbands don’t actually agree with their wives working, they relent under pressure. This is not the approval that a wife should seek or desire. Pressured approval will eventually undermine the marriage relationship.
3. Disciplined children. The role of the mother as the teacher of her children is incontestable. The father usually provides the policy decisions, but it is his wife who establishes discipline and direction on a day-to-day basis. The successes or failures of children as individuals will, in great part, depend on the mother’s success or failure as their guide. The greater the trend toward women’s fulfilling their emotional needs outside the home, the more children seem to become undisciplined.
4. Confused authority. God’s Word establishes the husband as the head of the household. For the working wife/mother, the loyalties between job and family may get confused.
If both husband and wife feel the need for the wife to work and both agree that she should work, some very specific goals should be established for the wife’s income; otherwise, additional debt will result. At least once a year every working couple should reevaluate their goals and objectives, particularly the purpose of the wife’s income. A young couple would be well advised not to merge the wife’s income into their budget. To do so invites future disaster in the event of the birth of children, illness, or the husband’s job change.
They should learn to live on the husband’s income and use the wife’s for one-time purchases (car, furniture, or down payment on a home), debt reduction, or comfort and special occasion purchases (presents and gifts, vacation, or private school).
God’s Word describes the wife’s role as equal spiritually and dependent materially. She is her husband’s helpmate —supporter and companion. The husband is commanded to love his wife, care for her needs, and accept the responsibility for the family. If a wife’s working outside of the home doesn’t interfere with these biblical priorities, then the decision should be one of mutual consent. But if it does, then the marriage continuity must come first.
This article is an adaptation of Larry Burkett’s book, Using Your Money Wisely: Biblical Principles Under Scrutiny, published by Moody Publishers. This and many other wonderful financial concepts are found on the web site for Crown Financial Ministries at www.crown.org. We can’t recommend this ministry enough to obtain straight-forward, Biblical financial help and resources.