What does the Bible say about moms working outside the home?

August 14th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 29 comments

What does Ancient Jewish wisdom aka the Bible say about moms? I am naturally a hard working professional however I am also a relatively new mom.

My husband provides, I stay home with my 1 and 3 year olds. If I did work we could make some upgrades.

This topic wasn’t mentioned in Business Secrets from the Bible. What do you say about it?

Amber T.

Dear Amber,

What does the Bible say? The assumption underlying the Bible’s prescription for life is that if each person fulfills his or her obligations, the society will prosper. The basic component of the society is the family, not the individual (though of course there are provisions for those who are alone). Together, a man and a woman make a unit where each of them and any associated children can physically, emotionally and economically thrive. The unit suffers if both husband and wife do exactly the same things, just as a business partnership where each partner does exactly the same as the other would make no sense.

To this end, in the Torah, women are not obligated with most of the positive, time-bound commandments. What does this mean? Women, like men, may not murder, steal or gossip. These are negative commandments. The Torah  obligates women to observe the Sabbath and eat kosher. But commandments that require one to be somewhere or do things in a time-limited manner, such as appearing at the Temple in Jerusalem (or today in synagogue) or even being forced to testify in a court case, are not incumbent upon women. The idea is that a woman is not asked to do anything that would conflict with her ability to care for her household and children. That is her primary responsibility.

Our culture’s message is quite different. Somehow we have turned work into a woman’s prime responsibility as well as painting it in a rosy glow of self-fulfillment as if we are all highly paid and stimulated CEOs of multi-national corporations. To this end, it is most important that our relationship with our children not be allowed to interfere with our training or career advancement. Our children are secondary to our professional aspirations. Hence the demands that government and business change until that is so. That’s certainly not how we see the world.

Here are some of the questions that we would ask you and your husband to consider. And we reject the idea that a husband should say, “It’s her decision,” about matters that impact the big picture of the family any more than a wife can say, “It’s his decision,” about those same matters.

  • Is this entirely a financial matter?
  • Are you being swayed by social pressure that tells you that being with your children is betraying your level of intelligence and training?
  • Are you feeling unfulfilled at home and if so, why? Do you know other young mothers or do you find yourself sitting in the park with nannies and babysitters?
  • How many hours would you need to work to manage those “upgrades” taking into account paying a baby-sitter as well as associated costs like wardrobe upgrade, more prepared food, travel expenses etc.?
  • How do the “upgrades” compare with being the prime influence in your children’s lives and being able to focus on your marriage?
  • Is there something that you can do that will either bring in some income without upending your home situation or that will provide you with credentials or education for the future?
  • Do you crave being a hard working professional or would you prefer to see yourself as a hard working professional wife and mother who does something else on the side?
  • What provides you with soul-satisfaction? What can you do to get more of that from an avenue other than career?
  • Do both you and your husband value what you are doing as a mother or do either of you take it for granted or disparage it?

The most important thing we think you and your husband should do is to picture your goals and dreams for the future, both for you as a couple and you and your children as a family. What is important to you in terms of who your children become? Whatever you do in the short-term should build towards that long-term vision. In that way, you will remain true to your responsibility where family is your primary concern.

Enjoy all the different stages of your life,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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29 comments

Dick Rabil says:

I think the woman in Proverbs 31 is a good model to consider as part of one’s vision. She was extremely diligent, industrious, and loving. Yet, she was aligned with her husband. Any thoughts regarding that scripture as a way to think through this isssue?

Susan Parnaby says:

Industrious, diligent and income generating. How could she save up for a field unless she earned enough so that she could save up enough to buy it? Yet we have gone through extremes. When my grandmother got married in 1932 she gave up her job because of the shame it would bring on her new husband if he could not provide for his new wife. At various times she ran small businesses from home. She never built them up like the Proverbs 31 woman did but it meant she was at home for my mother.

Times have definitely changed it brings shame on a woman if she does not have a job. In the UK if a family has such a low income that they receive a subsidy from the government the main caregiver of the children is expected to have a 16 hour job once the younger child is 3 years old. I deliberately said younger because the idea that there are no additional payments for any child after the second is slowly creeping in as the system is being “reformed”. This started taking effect earlier this year and there already stories going around about those who cannot see themselves ever being able to come off what is called Universal Credit aborting a third child.

The crazy thing is when these mothers do go out to work a large part fo the bill for childcare is picked up by the government. Everyone can have so many hours free per child depending on their age. If you are Universal Credit you send a government office paperwork that proves you have paid for childcare while you are working and they will give you 85% of it back. If you don’t have a job or prove that you are spending the same amount of time that they say you should be working then you simply do not get Universal Credit. You are stuck if you are on a low wage because you lose the standard payment plus any extra help they give you to pay the rent if you stay at home with a child under 3. OK for a 3 year the expectation is to work 16 hours a week but at 5 it goes up to 25 and at 12 up to 35

Many hate it but don’t know of an alternative. They and their husband are both in jobs receiving the legal minimum wage rate. The rules for getting help while starting a business under this system discourage many from trying. If after the 1st 12 months of trading you can make enough profit to live on every month then you can escape the system But after the 1st year you are penalised in a good month for doing well and in a bad month you are penalised for doing badly.

Being able to stay at home with the children and even to have more than 2 children is rapidly becoming the preserve of those earning good money in the UK. Have a low paid job and the government dictates your family size now the 2 child rule is slowly gaining traction as well as dictating how many hours both parents work.

Susan Lapin says:

This is a very scary scenario, Susan. I’m afraid that there is an entire change in behavior and attitude needed in a return to what used-to-be commonly accepted values. The government tinkering like this just causes new problems and this has been going on for decades so it is no surprise that things are very bad now.

MrsA says:

After 7 years in Surgery I changed my hours from full time to part time after my first child was born. It was an economic necessity that I keep working, but I had grandparent help on the days I went to work, so I knew my moral values were being consistently provided. 3 yrs later, After my second child was born, my husband was finally making a high enough salary for me to work “as needed” – both by my employer and for my own mental /emotional health. But after less than a year I was needed at home full time to take care of both my children and a cancer-stricken parent. I never returned to my former profession: I became a “full time mom”. At first, honestly, it was difficult to adjust -it took me 3 years to feel comfortable with my new “job” . Then, when people asked what I did for a living, I proudly told them my “job” was a full tim mom. If I got that disparaging “oh so you don’t work” answer, I would say “If you don’t consider 24/7 child care, teaching, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, gardening, accounting, volunteering…a job. Generally they would respond with- “that does sound like a full time job!”

Susan Lapin says:

Mrs. A., I (Susan) had the same difficulties quitting my job when I got married. There were reasons to do so that are too long to list here, but building our home needed one of us focused on that. Yet, the culture didn’t accept that as work, even though I was doing things that many people charge a lot of money to do. It was an emotional and psychological journey to be proud of what I was doing. Later, even when I was homeschooling six children I would still get the line, “Do you work?”

Monika says:

I stayed at home full time until our son was eight. Financial necessity required that I returned to work. I went into education so that I could keep the same hours as my son. With over 25 years in education, I saw the effects of dual career families, and children are paying the price. Thank you Rabbi for reminding us that we are better off when we put the family first and not ourselves. I believe that we need a shift in mindset away from a narcissistic trend to find joy and fulfillment in doing for others.

Susan Lapin says:

Monika, this is why I find it so exasperating when the focus is on getting better child care options so that mothers can work rather making it economically unnecessary for mothers to work.

Gregg says:

Your answer to the original question will exasperate the vast majority of the western world and, from what I observe and hear in private, from church pulpits, bible studies, etc., it will irritate most of the west’s Christians as well, women and men. I have noticed, however, that in America, when a couple puts their minds to it, they seem to find a way to raise their own children without the mother working outside the home and even on a very limited budget.

Thank you for your biblical answers to important life issues.

Susan Lapin says:

Gregg, we do know couples who arrange things so that one of them, usually the mother, can be home. But it is a constant fight against a society that manipulates things like insurance to be more expensive than they should be.

Trishia says:

When my children were small, I worked from home part-time doing small business bookkeeping for several local businesses…I had to just to afford groceries. I had one day a week where I would run around and grab the paperwork for the week ahead and do the filing from the previous week, and the kids joined me for this day…if it was more involved, I would hire a babysitter when needed. As my husband’s job has progressed, making more hasn’t kept up with increases in the cost of living and with healthcare costs increasing, I had to eventually go back to work full time. We homeschool our children and now that they’re older (teens), I work outside the home full-time for the health insurance benefits because we can’t afford the plans that my husband’s job offers, but I’m able to go in very early in the morning and leave early in the day so that I’m available to school the kids in the afternoon where needed (we rely on some very good curriculums) and in the morning the kids are responsible for getting their day started and work on their lessons until I arrive. There are many different ways you can make a job work if you must, while still being able to be there for your family, but by far, building your home is the most important and rewarding, IMO!

Susan Lapin says:

Trishia, you and your husband are heroes. May God bless your marriage and family.

MrsS says:

It has always been my heart’s desire to be a stay at home mom. My husband feels that because I work part-time, this is good enough. We make just enough to cover our expenses and put a little away in savings each month. But the pressures and demands that even my part-time work puts on me take me away from my child and marriage enough that I feel like I am constantly missing things that my child or family needs. My husband is a Type A personality, so he gets frustrated with my missing dates or deadlines or being out of things around the house on occasion. He does not do housework, laundry, pay household bills, or yard work. I only have 5 years left with our only daughter at home, and my heart aches to be “just a mom and wife” for those five years, but he is not in agreement. I don’t know how to get us on the same page, or if that is even up to me. I’ve been praying for God to change his heart since our daughter was born almost 14 years ago. I never know what to do and I feel time slipping away.

Susan Lapin says:

Mrs. S., not being on the same page as one’s spouse in such a vital area and not being appreciated for what one does is terribly painful. I hope you and your husband find a way to communicate more effectively soon. Hugs.

MrsS says:

Thank you.

Carl Schleg says:

To ALL the MOMS who stay at home and those who work
YOU have the most IMPORTANT JOB IN THE WORLD, and YOU are doing GREAT!!!

James says:

Being a wife and mother must be the toughest job on the planet and was certainly much tougher in Biblical times, without the conveniences of electricity and labor-saving appliances. ‘Man works from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.’

Despite our obvious labor-saving advantages, females have it tougher today with more time to think, for insidious voices on many frequencies tell women of every age what to be, how to be, and to what they should aspire. We could start early with the glossy fishwrappers for young females, carrying schizoid messages on goals that are mutually exclusive, i.e., how to be a good little girl and a gorgeous, voluptuous sexpot at the same time. Fast forward into adulthood, and the woman is told she is no different from the man and has every right to the same employment, benefits and fulfillment as her husband. Moreover, the voices deem her inept unless she demands the same by returning to the workplace. And consider the factor of human need for status, wanting to have one’s cake and eat it, too: like buying a grandiose palace for a house and putting one’s family in hock for decades, to impress people we don’t like and who don’t like us. I know couples so driven to distraction by earning money that they have little time for their palatial mansions. Some women simply MUST navigate the workplace, no choices, like the army of single mothers. At this point I would ask the others and they should ask themselves, what are a woman’s motives in returning to the workplace, and once there, is she really happier? Thus I quite support and agree with the Rabbi and Susan.

Karen S Jones says:

Dear Susan ……I have been home 22 years now , first baby at 37 . I am happy here at home , but it was hard to adjust after working full time at “men’s jobs” for years .My husband says I was irritatingly INDEPENDENT when he married me at age 35 !!! We have opened our home to some children over the years whose parents often didn’t see the reason to come home much at all …women are told they still need “me time” after work time. Family time is where that comes from. Burning the candle at both ends, society seems bent on getting every Mom out of the home . Young women are left with no idea what they are to be doing at home if they can manage to be there. I try to encourage my 3 nieces who stay home , but one became overwhelmed with unruly tots and a destroyed house and went back to work….Two had no idea they are to be doing ANY training at all , and don’t believe in women cooking or cleaning . I think many young couples see this and find NO advantage to a Mom being home anyway.

Susan Lapin says:

Karen, how fortunate are those children whom you welcomed into your home. I feel sorry for your nieces. Staying home, in and of itself, is like going to an office but not knowing what to do there. Many women feel incompetent as mothers or homemakers and don’t have role models to emulate. Meanwhile, society is shouting advice at them and quick to condemn what they do or don’t do.

Fallon D. says:

Based on what you have written, if a mother is widowed with 5 young children and no life insurance money should a mother focus on investing in and raising her children and rely on welfare to make up any shortfall in income?

“The assumption underlying the Bible’s prescription for life is that if each person fulfills his or her obligations, the society will prosper. The basic component of the society is the family, not the individual (though of course there are provisions for those who are alone).”

Susan Lapin says:

Fallon, in a society run on Biblical principles there are many obligations to take care of the widow and orphan. There is also no welfare – there is charity, but that is very different. You are asking a question that doesn’t actually make sense in a Biblical society. And, yes, life circumstances are often not ideal and we need to play the hand we are dealt. However, keeping a picture of what would be ideal helps everyone, even those whose lives don’t match that ideal.

Fallon D. says:

Thank you for the reply. In my current circumstance I would like to continue to care for my children inside of the home and invest in them. I do not have other family available, do I seek Government assistance or try to find work outside of the home which means leaving my children?

Susan Lapin says:

Fallon, I am sorry to hear about the difficult position you are in. Please, please find a mentor who knows you and your children and the culture in which you live and talk this out in person with someone you trust and respect. It would be a disservice to you to try and guide you from afar and without knowing you. You sound like a responsible and caring mother and citizen. From here, what we can do is to pray for you to find clarity.

Rebecca says:

I am in a similar circumstance as Fallon. About 5 years ago, my husband passed away. I am a mom of three children. I have been able to barely survive by working part time and receiving government assistance. We live in a very poor part of town and job opportunities are scarce, so I am thankful for the job that I have, although I primarily live paycheck to paycheck. Additionally, this part of town has a high crime rate, which is why I am also thankful for this work opportunity as it allows me the time to “invest in my children” by making sure they do not succumb to the negative environment we live in and that they are put in a position to live a life much better than our current situation.

With this said, I am also aware that we should consistently grow as individuals. On the one hand, I feel that by maintaining this job, living paycheck to paycheck, and accepting government assistance, I may be giving up on my personal growth and simply settling in my current situation. On the other hand, I feel that my purpose should be to ensure the success of my children and although our situation is not ideal, we are pressing forward and my kids are molding into the people that I want and knew they could become. For example, recently, my oldest daughter was accepted into college with a full scholarship, and my two younger children are in the top of their classes. I truly believe a major part of their success was my active involvement in their lives and ensuring they do not fall to the temptation of crime or negative of that nature.

So in summary, is my acceptance of government assistance versus personal growth inconsistent with biblical principals.

Susan Lapin says:

Rebecca, I don’t hear any inconsistency in what you’re done. You have accepted responsibility for your family using a combination of methods and you have worked hard to ensure that your children are an asset to society and have chances for better lives. It sounds to me like you have much of which to be proud and I pray that the coming years, as your children mature, reveal blessing to you.

Gus says:

My comment is that in God’s eyes which is all that matters, as a family how loving your children are is a reflection of how well you did as a Mother and Father. That meaning the role YOU chose as a mother and father. And in my view can only be accomplished by the love of God; with His help and guidance. He gives us all that we need only if we know of or ask of His knowledge and guidance or as the love of His people have been taught by the Torah. In my opinion it is extremely hard to gain that kind of love and faith unless you have lived it or been taught it by your fathers and mothers. It took me 55 years before my eyes were opened and understand that we will never be rich enough, we will never have enough money. That it is all about Love and Faith. In richer or poorer till death do us part. A husband has his place just as a wife has her place in an marriage in order to build and maintain that Love for one another and your children. God and Jesus is a good example of a perfect family. With out the love and faith Jesus had for God He would surely not been able to complete His mission and we as His children would surely not have the love we need to have good loving families today as it was in Noah’s time before the flood. Sorry for the long comment. I got carried away.

Amber T says:

Dear Rabbi & Wife,

First of all, thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom by answering my question.

Second, “Business Secret From the Bible” has become one of my favorite books. So much I have recommend it to all my like minded friends and connections (Believers and unbelievers). Your book is nothing less than excellent.

Third and lastly after sometime in prayer and also reading your answer. I believe G-d is allowing me to more deeply understand my role as a mother. Also, as
You mention we are Partners it makes no sense for both of us to do the same.
On the other hand, I find great joy mothering my kids. Therefore, raising emotionally spiritual and physical healthy kids is definitely a priority.

So, rosy glow of “success” sold/Targeted to young women is great. But, it can wait.

Meanwhile, the focus is and will continue to be marriage, raising quality kids and home endeavors (For G-d glory!). Then, If I can also slowly do something on the side never neglecting my primary role as a wife, mom, home keeper then I’ll do it. Otherwise, the upgrades can wait. As you say in your books “Relationships” always are greater than money.

And in all honesty I would love to keep on having a good relationship with my munchkins! (who by the way need mommy 24/7!) Im sure you & your wife remember those toddler years.

Thank You for allowing me to unfold these thoughts.

Much Love to this amazing community!

-Amber T

Susan Lapin says:

We’re so glad that our answer played a small role in helping you sort out your feelings, Amber. If you are getting joy from mothering your kids, then you are blessed if you can do so. And, as you say, there are so many stages of life and the one where we have little children is fleeting. Thanks for writing.

Fallon D says:

So Rebecca based on what you’ve said, I should probably seek Government Assistance and be there for my children as much as I can. Mrs. Lapin I know you’ve mentioned to seek someone in my area but Rebecca’s circumstance is similar to mine and her methods were applauded. I have a part time job but am in no way making ends meet and will be foreclosed upon soon. Welfare (Government Assistance) seems like a viable option. Do you agree?

Susan Lapin says:

Fallon, I can only answer based on what I’m hearing from both you and Rebecca, but it sounds to me like you are the ones that government assistance was actually meant for. You are willing to work hard and look forward to being able to support yourself again, but circumstances right now have you needing temporary help.

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