I am a member of an endangered species. If present trends continue, we may be come as extinct as the dodo bird; in most circles we have about as much status. I am a minister's wife who, by my choice, is not employed outside the home.
I left my last job nearly nine years ago, when the older of our two children was born. My husband, Andrew, was not a pastor at that time, and his net income from his fledgling small business was less than his present ministerial salary. We did not then (nor have we since) even consider the possibility of my working while there was a child at home.
Referring to the phrase "keepers at home" in Titus 2:5, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary says, "Textual evidence-favors the reading 'workers at home.' Mothers who spend a great portion of time outside of the home sometimes neglect family responsibilities. . . . To place them [children] under the guidance of a paid assistant does not fulfill the divine instruction here given." 1 No doubt, more progressive exegetes will tell me that this interpretation is as old hat as head coverings for women in church.
Oddly enough, Christopher Lasch, a secular historian of our -culture, has drawn conclusions similar to=those of the Bible commentator I quoted. No James Dobson, Lasch is generally supportive of the feminist cause. Nevertheless, he writes in the preface to his book Haven in a Heartless World: "The trouble with the feminist program is not that economic self-sufficiency for women is an unworthy goal, but that its realization, under existing economic conditions, would undermine equally important values associated with the family. . . . Feminists have not answered the argument that day care provides no substitute for the family. They have not answered the argument that indifference to the needs of the young has become one of the distinguishing characteristics of a society that lives for the moment, defines the consumption of commodities as the highest form of personal satisfaction, and exploits existing resources with criminal disregard for the future." 2
I still hold to the vestigial belief that in order to train up my children in the way they should go, I must give them a very large quantity of quality time. Many of today's experts, however, have evolved different concepts of children's needs. They advise me that early schooling and the experiences of being in child care not only are harmless but are beneficial to youngsters. Recent "scientific" studies claim that children of working mothers do better socially and academically. "A mother's natural protective instinct is now called 'smother love,' " says Christian writer Mary Pride (herself once an ardent feminist). "All the talk of 'smother love' and the charming 'independence' of day-care and latchkey children boils down to this: parents should not control their children's environment. It is their duty to hand their children over to others. . . . This is supposedly superior to good old-fashioned nurturing provided by Mommy and Daddy themselves." 3
In the twentieth century the helping professions—for example, medicine, psychotherapy, and social welfare—have gradually taken over many of the functions that were once mainly the responsibility of the family. This has tended to weaken parents' confidence in their own judgment. Dare they be so presumptuous as to go counter to the advice of experts armed with a handful of credentials? Never mind the fact that the experts' ad vice is subject to constant changes in medical and psychiatric vogue.
Theorists of future shock would lead us all the way down the road to letting experts train our children. These theorists maintain that "the family can no longer transmit values in an age of accelerated change, impermanence, mobility, and expanding options ('overchoice'). If industrialism demanded that the family be stripped down from its extended form, then superindustrialism, as Toffler calls it, requires a further 'streamlining' a reduction of the family to marriage. Parenthood, too important to be left to amateurs and dilettantes, will be professionalized by assigning children to special clinics or, if that seems too cold and impersonal, to couples specially trained and certified for parenthood." 4
Defying the experts
Despite the risk of being labeled an inept, smothering dilettante, I'm not ready to lay aside my understanding of the Bible nor my own experience and common sense and let the "experts" take over. Obviously I believe that it is best for my children that I remain home with them. But I must admit that an equally strong reason for my doing so is not so altruistic. The truth is I enjoy it. Learning with my son and daughters, helping them to pursue their interests, reading to them, and just being with them give me great pleasure. Here again I'm out of step with the new order. Penelope Leach, the British Dr. Spock, says, "It's become unfashionable to admit that you like being home with children." 5
Even though I scored in the ninety-seventh percentile of achiever personalities on a college aptitude test, my lack of professional status as a homeworker hasn't disturbed me much. An article from a recent Parents' Magazine expresses my feelings well. Writing of her decision to leave her part-time nursing job, Elizabeth Berg says: "At first, staying home, I was scared to death. It was because I knew that now, for the first time, I was totally dependent on my husband's salary. It wasn't that we'd be poverty-stricken without my income. It was that I felt that I was losing a lot of power, even individuality. There were also all those other, darker fears: my brain would turn to mush; I'd have no 'status.' ... So I decided upon an alternative answer to 'homemaking' when people now ask me what I do.. . . Brain surgery, that's what. Noninvasive brain surgery. Installation of important images. Creator of lifelong values. ... I don't feel that my mind will turn to mush anymore; I feel instead that there'll be time to fill it with what I need to nurture myself as well as my children." 6
Children's needs aside, a pastor's wife remaining at home can be helpful to her husband's ministry. There has been much discussion and encouragement of team ministry in recent years. When our present church district was between an outgoing pastor and an incoming one, they listed what assets they desired in a minister and his family. One item was team ministry (wife visible). What they wanted, later discussion revealed, was not a second pastor but a pastor's wife who would literally be visible not too busy with other pursuits to be at church and social functions, able to contribute where needed.
Some pastors' wives I know, especially those whose children are older and no longer their primary responsibility, are finding great satisfaction from their choice to work alongside their husbands rather than to seek outside employment. Some wives choose to participate more fully in a team ministry. Some have a gift for giving Bible studies or for leading or helping out in seminars or other evangelism. Others counsel or do secretarial work. This is not to say that a minister's wife who works can't contribute to her husband's ministry; but, especially if she has children at home, in trying to function in all three worlds, she is demanding a great deal of herself. Obviously the ex tent of her involvement will be limited by the number of hours in a day.
My husband and I feel that there is even a place for our family in ministry. We have often made visits to interests and conducted Bible studies with our children along. Young children can serve as "icebreakers" when the minister is visiting a home for the first time. When we have given Bible studies to families with youngsters, ours have occupied the other children in order to free the parents' attention. Because I'm not bound to a work schedule, we have always been able to attend camp meetings and junior camps and assist in the programs.
Surviving on a single salary
You are probably wondering where I get the money to put where my mouth is. For my species to survive in an environment of limited economic resources re quires some adaptation. Lest I provoke a flood of letters from irate nurses and secretaries, let me assure you that I'm not prescribing a lifestyle for all pastoral couples. Many will not share my convictions about a wife being home. While others may have similar ideals, they may have greater financial responsibilities (such as educational costs) than we presently have. Nevertheless, I'll share how we get by on a single salary.
The most important factor has been our practice throughout our marriage of staying out of debt. We pay interest only on a house mortgage. We enjoy the convenience of credit cards because we do much of our purchasing from mail-order companies, but we keep our monthly balance paid up. Andrew maintains and re pairs the older vehicles we drive.
We are not, however, ascetics, nor are we totally immune from the lures of our materialistic society. 7 Although we never borrow to supplement our income, we are sometimes guilty of dipping into our savings to spend more than we should.
If you are already in debt and desiring to get out, you may be wise to consult a financial advisor. The accountant who prepares our tax return each year has saved us a great deal of money—I'll concede that in this area some of us need the help of the experts.
Some years I do some of the typical money savers such as sewing, gardening, canning, and furniture finishing. Usually though, our do-it-yourself projects are items most of you could live without—such as the $1,800 drawing machine Andrew built for $500. Then there was the wooden swing set the kids and I wanted. The slick toy catalogs had them listed at $475, and Andrew built one for a mere $400! (In all fairness, that total did include purchasing a drill press.) These projects, by the way, were done on vacation time—no trips to Hawaii. Getting by on a single salary does take some adaptation.
Both my husband and I have a taste for better quality clothing. But we're fairly content to wear a few good wool blazers for several years, preferring that to having a closet full of bargain items. Besides, we usually move before the congregation gets tired of looking at them.
We've discovered that some companies give ministers discounts. For example, this year we purchased both a computer and a lawn mower at well below retail prices. And our local department store owner gives all of the ministers in town the same discount that he gives his employees.
If you are searching for a way to stay home, a source of income worth considering is a home business. There's been somewhat of a renaissance in home entrepreneurship in recent years. More than 2 million Americans are home-based in their work. Maybe those quilts that get you compliments at baby showers or those beautiful dry flower arrangements you do for church have a wider market. Granted, a little home enterprise may not generate the same income or be as dependable as a regular job, but you can usually set your own hours and decide how much of your time you want to invest in it.
Not only could your children be at home with you, but, like many people, you could include them, even small ones, as helpers in your venture. What great training! During his seventh year our son had his own little business. Spending only about one hour every two weeks making carob-peanut candy for two natural food stores netted him more than $100.
Another source of help not to be over looked is the Lord. Few of us hesitate to urge new converts to step out in faith when they are convicted about tithing and Sabbath work. I believe that if you are convinced that you should be home, God will show you ways to ease your financial burdens.
I have heard that some denominational administrators are interested in preserving my species. They are investigating the possibility of remuneration for ministers' wives involved in team ministry on a regular basis. This could prove to be the solution for wives who desire that situation but need extra income to meet academy, college, or other expenses. In the meantime, some pastors will continue giving their support to Save the Home workers, a worthy nonprofit group.
1 The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary
(Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub.
Assn., 1957), vol. 7, p. 365.
2 Christopher Lasch, Haven in a Heartless World
(New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1977), p. xvi.
Mary Pride, The Way Home (Westchester, 111.:
Crossway Books, 1985), p. 115.
4 Lasch, p. 137.
5 Quoted in Ann Banks, "Penelope Leach: The
Expert's Expert," Parenting (March 1987), p. 46.
6 Elizabeth Berg, "Why I'm at Home," Parents'
Magazine (April 1987), p. 123.
7 The Culture of Narcissism (New York: W. W.
Norton and Co., Inc., 1979), Christopher Lasch
gives an incisive description of the economic spirit
of the age to which we all succumb: "In an age of
diminishing expectations, the Protestant virtues
no longer excite enthusiasm. Inflation erodes
investments and savings. Advertising undermines
the horror of indebtedness, exhorting the
consumer to buy now and pay later. As the future
becomes menacing and uncertain, only fools put off
until tomorrow the fun they can have today" (p.