Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we answer the anonymously submitted question, “Should Latter-day Saint women work outside the home?”
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I already feel the heat off your torches and see the glint off your pitchforks.
But before the lynching begins, allow me to explain a bit of background.
I am a stay-at-home mother of five beautiful children, aged 4-15. My husband works extremely hard for me to be able to do this because it was something I wanted and it is what we felt was right for our family. I write for LDS Daily because I enjoy it and find it fulfilling. I have had other work-from-home jobs both for my own fulfillment and to help carry the load when money has been tight. I wanted to be the primary caretaker for my children and so I chose this path. It hasn’t always been easy either financially or mentally. I have made sacrifices to be at home full-time, but I do feel like it has been the right decision for me and for my family.
That being said, my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all worked full-time outside of the home while they raised children. I respect working mothers and know something about the sacrifices they make. I have seen how they, too, often put themselves last while every other demand is met—including demands from their employers, families, church, and other obligations.
My wise sister-in-law who has yet been unable to have children insightfully observed that all motherhood is challenging.
Raising children full-time at home is hard.
Raising children while working outside of the home is hard.
Pregnancy and bearing children are hard.
Not being able to bear children is hard.
It’s simply hard.
So, before I begin the meat of this article, please understand that I am myself in the midst of that hard and I believe firmly in the need for women to support women—no matter our differences or challenges. We need each other. We need love and support free from judgment. We need to trust each other that we are all doing the best that we can, whatever our circumstances.
President Spencer W. Kimball taught often about the need for the nurturing of mothers in the home. He wrote:
Some women, because of circumstances beyond their control, must work. We understand that. We understand further that as families are raised, the talents God has given you and blessed you with can often be put to effective use in additional service to mankind. Do not, however, make the mistake of being drawn off into secondary tasks which will cause the neglect of your eternal assignments such as giving birth to and rearing the spirit children of our Father in Heaven. Pray carefully over all your decisions.
Although these words were delivered in 1979, the truth remains, but it should be carefully parsed and understood. President Kimball explained that some women work of necessity while others work to use their God-given talents to bless others. He is also correct, however, that if we have children, we have a weighty responsibility to them—an eternal assignment. We must be prayerful in our decisions regarding what is the best way to raise and nurture them.
President Kimball also taught,
Too many mothers work away from home to furnish sweaters and music lessons and trips and fun for their children. Too many women spend their time in socializing, in politicking, in public services when they should be home to teach and train and receive and love their children into security. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 319).
As mothers, we must be particularly discerning to recognize why we may want to work outside of the home. If it is for the sake of “sweaters and music lessons and trips and fun for their children,” then perhaps the outside work is unnecessary.
Inside the Church, it is becoming increasingly common that mothers are expected to work outside of the home. Some of this is obviously due to the state and current expense of the world. Many families are struggling to make ends meet requiring mothers to work outside of the home. But some others are working outside of the home simply because it is increasingly the expected cultural norm. Cultural norms are not a good way to determine what is best for your family (whether Church or “worldly” cultural norms). These decisions need to be made thoughtfully, humbly, and prayerfully.
Social science has also found some benefits to having a parent at home full-time, such as in the educational performance of the children. According to one study, “Researchers found an increase in school performance all the way to high school-aged children. However, the biggest educational impact was on kids ages 6 and 7.”
Additionally, children cared for at home (versus daycare) are less likely to experience behavioral problems including, “higher stress levels and aggression as opposed to those who stayed home.” Parents at home with their children get to monitor the children’s influences and be more involved in their day-to-day lives.
There are very real reasons why children are benefitted from having their mother at home.
Still, there are also reasons why the family may not feel it is best for a mother to stay at home. There is some indication that mothering at home in a modern, isolated world can cause significant mental and physical health risks for stay-at-home mothers.
“Women who stay at home may face reduced social networks, financial dependence, and greater social isolation (Stone 2007), all of which may place a strain on health. Additionally, the differential rewards for paid work outside the home and unpaid work done in the home (Moen 2001) may reduce the self-esteem of mothers who stay at home, placing them at increased financial risk and creating uncertainty, which may strain health.”
As a stay-at-home mom, the noise, the overstimulation, the loneliness and isolation, the constancy of the demands, the thanklessness, and the financial strain can all take a toll. We absolutely cannot judge one another for choosing one of these paths over another. We cannot know our sister’s circumstances or needs.
Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, current Young Women general president “was a working mother until she was expecting her third child.”
Sister Reyna I. Aburto is the second counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society. “She has [also] worked in the language industry for more than 25 years, balancing work, family and Church responsibilities, and now owns a small translation business with her husband.”
Sister Ruth Lybbert Renlund is a former president and founder of a Salt Lake City law firm “where she practiced plaintiff civil litigation for 20 years.” She was also assistant attorney general for the state of Utah. Prior to earning her law degree, she taught high school English and debate.
And Sister Camille Johnson, current Primary General President, “has worked as a lawyer for more than 30 years at the Snow, Christensen & Martineau law firm, where she recently served as firm president.”
These women are stalwart women of faith. They have also been actively employed in the workforce, outside of the home, while raising children—some for many, many years.
Sisters Marjorie Pay Hinckley, Patricia T. Holland, Donna Packer, Frances Monson, and many, many other women of faith have stayed at home with their children. Their contribution is incalculable.
I don’t bring up these working sisters as a justification for the women who feel called to stay at home, but whose personal preference is to work. If it is best and right for you and your family for you to stay home with your children, then no amount of public expectation or pressure should weigh in at all. What one sister (or auxiliary president) is doing has no bearing on what is right for you.
Likewise, I don’t bring up the examples of stalwart women of faith who have stayed home with their children in order to bring guilt to any woman who feels it is her responsibility to share her talents outside of the home.
My dear sisters, it comes down to this. Where is the Spirit directing you to give your time, energy, and talents? Are you keeping your covenants? Are you worthy to have the Holy Spirit with you? Then you and your spouse (if any), working in tandem with direction from the Lord, must decide whether or not you work outside of the home. The women listed above prove that worthiness is not predicated on where you work.
Don’t make the mistake of leaving the home if it is right for you to be at home.
Don’t make the mistake of staying at home if the Lord is calling you to serve Him and His children in another way.
And above all, don’t judge someone else for doing the best they can.
Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.