Short answer: being a working mom is NOT a moral question and it makes me crazy crazy when people say it is.

Full disclosure: I’m not a working mom. I primarily take care of our three kids. I make their meals and clean them up. I drive them to activities. I read with them and help them nap (protest nap). I semi-tidy the house. I would consider myself a simple stay-at-home mom. I wrote a few years back on how I came to the decision to be at home, as a lawyer.

I do work in the cracks and creaks between their busy days. I write this blog and sometimes get paid to write elsewhere. I sew organic baby clothing and sell it (when I’m not on hiatus like right now). I serve as Managing and Content Editor for Blessed is She, Catholic women’s ministry. I co-author a series of scripture studies called Waiting in the Word. These are semi-paid activities. Like a billion moms out there, I volunteer lots too in spare moments. I get to MC galas like the Radiance Gala for the Guiding Star Project and conferences like Finding Your Fiat next week in Illinois! I get to talk occasionally on SiriusXM Catholic radio with Jen Fulwiler. I get to do lots of non-mom related activities. And some weeks I do nothing but violin practice and baseball in the backyard. There’s a balance.

But when a woman in casual conversation praises me for giving my daughter the great example of “not working as a lawyer to show her what’s best” aka: being an at-home mom, I get really really defensive of the working moms in my life.

Being a working mom, a mom who helps support her family’s income or completely supports her family’s income, is great, if that’s what works for you. It is NOT a moral question of whether or not moms should work outside the home. These are not questions of right and wrong. These are questions of what’s best for you and your family.

Then I hear this a lot: well, she *has* to work, so it’s okay that she’s away from her children (gasp) for so many hours a day.

Like the need for the income excuses the wrongfulness of the action.

Again, not a moral question. I have friends who work because they find it more fulfilling than staying at home. There. I said it. And I consider that to be a valid reason to work. I prefer staying at home to working! Does that make me lazy or a non-contributor to my family? Nope.

For my friends who have to work, for my friends who like to work, for my friends who wish they could do something else than they’re doing, please, please know that you have an ally in me. And anyone questioning your commitment to your children based on the hours you spend with them during the day is not only rude but completely incorrect in presuming there’s a moral way to parent in this regard.

So to the lady who spoke so brazenly to me about my purported example given to my daughter, I can only say (now that I’ve recovered my breath) that I’m glad to teach my sons and daughter that making sacrifices for your family and making choices for your family depend on what’s best for you and your family. And that if she wants to be a working mother and an astronaut or a barista, more power to her. I’ll babysit her kids while she colonizes Mars or whips up hot cocoas (hopefully for me).

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33 Responses to On the Morality of Choosing to be a Working Mom

  1. Lacey says:

    Thanks for this!! I’m a mama of two (with another on the way!) and studying for the Texas bar exam. Some days I wonder why the hell in doing it, and other days I feel it’s good and important to pursue career related goals. It’s so hard enough to decide without confusing the decision with a moral one.

  2. Erin says:

    Thank you for writing this. It made me tear up with gratitude. I routinely feel the need to defend our decision that I work full time and my husband part time. It is horrible to feel judged for doing what is best for our family at this time. Thank you.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      It’s no ones business to judge!!! You and your husband’s only! I’m glad you’ve found what works for you guys!

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      I’m so sorry you feel so judged. Keep going and discerning what’s best for your family! That’s your job, not the judgers :)

  3. Yasha Renner says:

    The Vicar of Christ emphatically disagrees:

    75. This, however, is not the true emancipation of woman, nor that rational and exalted liberty which belongs to the noble office of a Christian woman and wife; it is rather the debasing of the womanly character and the dignity of motherhood, and indeed of the whole family, as a result of which the husband suffers the loss of his wife, the children of their mother, and the home and the whole family of an ever watchful guardian. More than this, this false liberty and unnatural equality with the husband is to the detriment of the woman herself, for if the woman descends from her truly regal throne to which she has been raised within the walls of the home by means of the Gospel, she will soon be reduced to the old state of slavery (if not in appearance, certainly in reality) and become as amongst the pagans the mere instrument of man.

    Pius XI, Casti Connubii 75 (1930).

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      Thanks for sharing this with us, Yasha! I haven’t read the entire encyclical but understand it has wonderful emphasis on the value of human life from conception and encouraging families who are struggling.

      • Caitlin says:

        Thank you so much, Nell, for this reflection. Truly a gift. My husband and I are expecting our second child, and I am working full-time at least until my husband completes his PhD in English Literature.

        Yasha, thanks for pointing us to this beautiful document- Casti Connubii.

        I think it is important to take the quote in context. The “this” to which Pope Pius XI refers is threefold:
        “This emancipation in their ideas must be threefold, in the ruling of the domestic society, in the administration of family affairs and in the rearing of the children. It must be social, economic, physiological: – physiological, that is to say, the woman is to be freed at her own good pleasure from the burdensome duties properly belonging to a wife as companion and mother (We have already said that this is not an emancipation but a crime); social, inasmuch as the wife being freed from the cares of children and family, should, to the neglect of these, be able to follow her own bent and devote herself to business and even public affairs; finally economic, whereby the woman even without the knowledge and against the wish of her husband may be at liberty to conduct and administer her own affairs, giving her attention chiefly to these rather than to children, husband and family.” (Casti Connubii, 74)

        There are important qualifications that he spells out here: Is the wife working 1. “at her own good pleasure”? – without regard to her husband and children 2. In neglect of the children and husband? 3. against the wish of her husband?
        The Pope is not simply referring to the wife working in general. I believe that Nell is talking about Catholic working moms who are doing so with the mutual discernment of their husbands, with consideration of what is the best for the family and with great attention to the needs of their children- not to the neglect of these.

        John Paul II summarizes beautifully: “Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery”, to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.” (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women, 2)

  4. Shelley Knoll-Miller says:

    Great piece. The more I read you, Nell, the more I appreciate your insight. You’re a breath of fresh air. Thanks.

  5. Ashleen says:

    Thank you, you have no idea what this means to me and many others.

  6. Ashleen.bagnulo@gmail.com says:

    Thank you so much for this. It means so much to me and so many others

  7. Once, a friend of mine was dropping her kids off at school after just having a baby. She mentioned something about her maternity leave ending too soon (or something along those lines) to another mom who cut her off saying, “Oh I could NEVER go back to work. I just LOVE my kids too much.”

    Any my blood turned to fire.

  8. Sara R says:

    Awww this is so sweet and great! I especially love the last paragraph – what a great way to put it!!
    I had a friend ask me why I would choose to work and give all our money to daycare instead of staying home. What she doesn’t know is our financial situation – ALL our money does not go to daycare or I wouldn’t be working. It’s a mixture of needing & wanting the income, wanting to build that extra 401k retirement and enjoying the company that I work for and have been with for almost 14 years now (I was with them 9 years before I started having children). I have a great flexible job – my family is happy, my children are happy and it’s what’s best for us. I think that’s all that matters to any family! You are the best :)

  9. I heart you, Nell. So wonderful. We moms are all just doing our best.

  10. Colleen Heubaum says:

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this, NELL. Bravo!

    In my eighteen years of parenting, I’ve “done it all” … worked full-time outside the home (at times with the help of daycare, and at times with a nanny), worked for pay at home, worked part-time, been a full-time homemaker, and now am a home-schooling mom. The only thing I can say without equivocation is all situations have their challenges, and all have their joys. Each situation and choice was right for me and my children and my marriage in that season of life, and I would not change any of it. For that I feel blessed.

    After all these years, what truly shocks me is the judgement and absolute “moral certainty” that we women lay on each other, in an unwitting attempt to justify our own choices and to soothe insecurities we have about “doing it right.” “Well, you know, she WORKS …” “She’s JUST a stay-at-home mom.” “When do you plan to get a REAL job.” It makes me sad, and at times it makes me mad. But usually I can the insecurity through the snide and just say a prayer for that person … even if I wanna smak ’em.

  11. Justina says:

    “Again, not a moral question. I have friends who work because they find it more fulfilling than staying at home. There. I said it. And I consider that to be a valid reason to work.”

    IDK Nell, I usually feel you’re spot on, but not with this. That statement, that attitude in general, is just coming across as really selfish to me. Love is spelt SACRIFICE, and I feel like you really missed the mark with this post.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      From my experience of talking to many moms, there is a percentage who has tried staying at home. They’ve given it a good shot. They felt unfulfilled and dry. Not about being a mom, but about 10 unabated hours with their kid(s). It turned them bitter, depressed, and came close to ruining their relationship with their kid and their spouse. When they returned to work in one form or another, they felt they could breathe with both lungs. Their kiddo was happily situated wherever and the family functioned again. To tell them that that’s selfish is short-sighted, I believe. Not everyone has the temperament or support system to stay home, and most people can’t afford full-time help to ease that unbearable burden for them.

      I always appreciate your opinion! Sorry this one didn’t speak to you.

      • justina A says:

        I know, I’ve heard and seen it myself. But again, where is The Cross in that line of logic? No need for apologizes Nell, just happy we’re keeping it real!

        • Natural Mama Nell says:

          I’m pretty sure they still suffer their crosses–thankfully, not through crushed marriages or abandonment of their babies, though! And it’s a thin line for many to answer the Church’s call to be open to life while staying physically and emotionally sane :) Hey, I LOVE when we can keep it real and talk it through. Clarity over agreement any day! Thanks for being here.

          • Olivia says:

            Something else to consider in this discussion…what about the father? If it’s selfish for a mom to go to work, then isn’t it also selfish for a dad to be away from his kids? I rarely hear anyone questioning dads in this way, which is crazy because dads are just as much parents and caregivers as moms. All of this judgement about moms who don’t stay home and not a peep about dads going to work! Drives me crazy. That kind of sexist outlook hurts moms and dads equally.

          • Natural Mama Nell says:

            When I ask my husband how he feels about being away from the kids all day, he wishes he could be with them more! Ideally we could both spend lots of time with them, so we make the best we can with the time we have.

  12. Rachel says:

    This is a powerful and important messages for all moms to remember. More important than the issue of working vs staying home, it’s about moms supporting moms and women supporting women. I work because it helps me support the lifestyle I want to provide for my family, and I work because I like to work. I also love my kids without end and know they love me too. I don’t expect to have it all, but I do expect respect for trying hard to make it all work. Especially from other women. It’s so defeating to be questioned about being a working mom, or a stay at home mom. Being a mom is the most difficult and rewarding job, no matter the circumstance. How do we do it? But by the Grace of God. And the fact that He made us super awesome. Moms and women unite. It takes a village.

  13. Dominika says:

    Thank youuuuuuu. I’m currently staying at home, and I have yet to discern if that’s something I want to do for the long term but hearing other moms talk about it as though it were a moral issue drives me crazy too.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      That’s just so silly. Hope you’re able to clear out those noises and figure out what’s best for your family.

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