3 Reasons I Work for Money

I’m joining the Patheos posts on the Mommy wars, including Rebecca Cusey’s Beyond the Mommy-Wars Bumper Sticker,

“Can you cut your trip short and come home?” came the woeful voice over the phone on the first day of my 3rd business trip this spring.

“No, I can’t,” I said, “I’m sorry.”

“But I NEED you,” said the child. “You’ve got to come home and discipline (sibling’s name)!”

Enter a gazillion opportunities to feel guilty with even more judgments.

Tina Fey writes in Bossy Pants,

“The topic of working moms is a tap dance recital in a minefield.”

So join me as I kick-ball-change with trepidation. . .

First, I want to acknowledge that all mothers work (with the moms in The Nanny Diaries a rare exception)—carrying, bearing and raising kids takes WORK, and most of us are completely exhausted by it.

But I’ve also chosen to work for pay outside the home throughout my entire 16-years of mothering.  Here’s why:

1.  The money. Let’s just admit that those who can entertain the choice to stay home have the means to stay home.  There are plenty of working parents who wish they could stay home.  Many, if not most must labor to financially support their families.

With our first child, health issues meant my dream of children and my husband’s dream of graduate school collided.  So we did both.  He was willing to take out mega loans if I wanted to stay home with baby.  I wasn’t.  I worked 30 hours/week for family healthcare and to pay our living expenses.

After our 2nd child was born, my husband graduated and got a job with benefits.  Since then, he’s earned the greater proportion of our family income, but my income has still been more than helpful.  It enabled us to buy a ramshackle home in our community, send our daughter to preschool, and go out on cheap dates.  It allows us to give more generously.

2.  Because I want to. I enjoy working outside the home and ministering to those outside my family and neighborhood. . . a lot. I like working with men—which comes naturally in ministry but not as naturally in the mom world.  Work gives me chances to grow and learn and bring back interesting stories to the family.

Over the years, work’s been a place to experience my strengths—especially as my weaknesses have been so exposed in motherhood. (Despite begging God for the fruits of the Holy Spirit almost every morning, especially patience and self-control, I’m still waiting on those darn fruits.)

During the young kid years, when I often felt lonely and misunderstood in the mom world, my work colleagues also became my safest community—they let me be a struggling mother AND a gifted and valued fellow minister, fully dimensional in a way I often didn’t feel permission elsewhere.

3.  Because I think God has called me.  I was tempted to put this reason first so I’d look more spiritual as if I’ve just been obeying God all along, but I think God gives us choices and if I had wanted to stay home, I’m sure Jesus would have blessed that as well.

Over the years, I’ve sensed God’s invitation to work outside the home.  I bring something unique to the places God invites me to go, and to the people He graces me to meet.  Through both paid work and parenting, I’ve felt something of Frederick Buechner’s famous quote:

“Your calling in life is where your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.”

I’m hugely passionate about my kids but my kids aren’t my only passion.  Work and writing are ways I live out my other passions and try to meet some of the world’s needs.

As my child tried to convince me to fly home, or if that didn’t work, feel guilty about it, I resisted both the shortened and the guilt trip.  I said, “You have a perfectly capable parent at home who can help you with everything you want from me.”

The next day, I checked in and sure enough, my husband not only capably dealt with the kid chaos, but did a better job than I would have.

Now that was great work!

How have you balanced parenting with a calling inside or outside the home?

Why have you made the decisions you have made?  What’s good about your decisions?  What’s challenging?

Why is this topic one that feels like tap-dancing on a minefield?

  • dorothy greco

    I love point #3. While I wish everyone had the freedom to make such a choice, I realize not everyone does. I am grateful that somehow we’ve managed to navigate the financial needs with our inner promptings and needs of the kids. I would like to massage your sentence – “Let’s just admit that those who can entertain the choice to stay home have the means to stay home.” Technically, we couldn’t afford for me to stay home as long as I did. The only way it’s worked for us is that we’ve had to make many sacrificial choices: from maintaining old vehicles, to nixing music lessons, to buying second hand clothes, to taking in ESL students. As we now try to figure out how to pay for our oldest sons’ college, the thought has crossed my mind several times, “Maybe I should have gone back to work sooner!” But regret only holds me captive. I just wanted to put out there that if there’s an inclination/longing to stay home, a way can often (admittedly not always) be found to make it work. Hope that’s not sounding too contentious Kathy!

    • Kathy Tuan-Maclean

      Hi Dorothy,
      Not at all contentious Dorothy–it appears to me that many (if not most families) that have a parent stay home pay some sort of financial price and must cut corners. All I meant to say was that in doing all those cost cutting measures, those families are able to make it work (albeit with sacrifice), while there are families where it’s just not possible due to low income, single parenthood, etc. Thanks for responding and taking my article seriously!

  • Jen Hollingsworth

    Thanks for this piece Kathy. I appreciate the conversation. I love my job, that has never been in question. My husbands desire for joy in his occuption has been a constant question in our 13 years together. Regardless, combined, we have never made enough money to have one parent at home – not to mention that I’ve also had tons of free childcare and help through friends and family supporting my calling. One thought I might add to the conversation is that there are benefits to my kids seeing me follow Jesus in this way. Even though it takes me away from them from time to time, they are seeing me follow Jesus. These seem to be less tangible benefits and not often found in Christian parenting guides. There are benefits to my husband who knows more and does more to care for the kids than his more traditional counterparts. It has pressed me to believe that while I am loved, desired and needed – I am not indispensable or somehow needed by my children more than they need Jesus.

  • Greg Jao

    Yes! And, as a man who works in ministry with (and often for) incredibly gifted, deeply called, sometimes conflicted moms, I’m grateful for women like Kathy. Their contribution and presence in our work adds incredible richness, depth, insight and gifts that the church needs.

  • Miriam Cheney

    “Let’s just admit that those who can entertain the choice to stay home have the means to stay home.”
    I suppose that’s true in the majority of cases. In the conversations I’ve had with moms who work outside the home and those who are at home, it seems the question always comes back to where the Lord invites us. I keep asking if I can contribute, somehow, to our finances. He keeps explicity saying no. Which ever path we’re on, it’s a journey of finding our sufficiency in Him, regardless of how that might look to others.

    • Kathy Tuan-Maclean

      Absolutely Miriam!

  • DEF

    We have five children. Watching my hudband work three jobs to keep me home with them broke my heart. I happily went back to work, but have had to make sacrifices both at home and in my career. I bring a lot of work home to be able to be home for homework, dinner and bedtime hours. I believe it shows my children the homework never ends. They see me having to juggle my time and commitments. And they see me give up sleep to make sure I meet all my commitments. They know they are my most important treasures but they understand and are behind me and my work because they know children need me and my passion to protect them. I am a child abuse detective. My children have seen me cry and worry for the chilren I represent and they watch me as I jump back in the ring every day to keep fighting for children…..I definitely believe that God puts us where we belong. I would have been hapoy to stay home with my children, but I’m so glad he has put me exactly where I am.


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