Beyond Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry: Cultivating Personal, Academic and Professional Development (Part 2)

This is part two of a three-part series addressing this topic. To read part one, click here.

Beyond Motherhood

Motherhood is often considered the epitome of our existence as women, particularly in the believing community. While bringing new life into this world is a remarkable and profound gift, which offers a unique experience of bonding and child-rearing, it is also easy to lose ourselves in raising children, particularly if this is where we invest the majority of our time and energies. Pouring ourselves solely into motherhood may be rewarding for a period, but it is statistically probable that women have approximately 25 years of work they can engage in outside the home, both before and after child-rearing. As a result, this can lead us to neglect and devalue our self-identity, the people we were before having children, and who we are and what we can do after having children. Regardless of whether you devote yourself to caregiving in the home (part-time or full-time), cultivate and develop your identity and ambition apart from motherhood, and find ways to translate your interests into skill-sets that can grow over time.

As women marry and have kids, duties are often divided in such a way that women fulfill more domestic responsibilities, while men take on more breadwinning responsibilities. Within the Messianic community in Israel, many mothers actually work outside the home (but primarily on a part-time basis) as it is nearly impossible to support a family on one salary. Whether out of need or preference, we believe it is important for women to keep one foot in the work force. Even if this is only on an hourly basis, strategically apply your interests into work in order to continue to develop your skills, maintain earning power, and have a measure of independence outside of the home. When women slow down in their jobs or careers to accommodate marriage and motherhood, they fall behind their male counterparts who continue in full-time positions and advance in their careers; it is nearly impossible to catch up after three to five years outside the workforce, much less a few decades, without maintaining at least a part-time presence in the labor market.

If work beyond domestic responsibilities is not an option (by choice or circumstance), consider this season as an “investment interval” and find other ways to invest in yourself in order to re-enter the workforce or practice a skill once time permits. [1] For instance, engage in educational reading, enroll in (online or traditional) courses, or strategically volunteer in schools, neighborhoods, or the local government in positions that will help you build connections and develop skills.

We recognize that financial pressure can compel mothers to step out of the workforce, reasoning that the amount we earn barely covers the costs of childcare. While Israel provides free compulsory education for three and four year olds, good subsidized day-care, and better rights for working mothers than the United States, some conclude that it is still not financially worthwhile. At the same time, it is important to consider that the money earned does not just go to cover childcare or basic expenses in the present, but ultimately contributes toward your power to earn and advance in the future. [2] Furthermore, childcare should not be considered a mother’s sole physical and financial responsibility, as childcare allows both parents to work, not just the mother. As one writer notes, “If everyone benefits from childcare, everyone pays for childcare.” [3]

Although gender should not define our roles in life, the reality is that women tend to bear the disproportionate responsibility in caregiving and domestic work. Consequently, there is a need to discuss a more equitable division of household labor, while lobbying for policy changes that would not penalize women or men for engaging in this (generally unpaid) labor. Working mothers often return home to begin “the second shift,” namely domestic and caregiving tasks inside the home following a day at work. “Second shift” tasks can easily be divided between partners; while the exact division of labor in the home will vary according to family, it is important to periodically reevaluate these roles as personal, familial and professional circumstances change.

Likewise, one aspect of parenthood rarely discussed is the “soft bigotry of low expectations” toward fathers. While mothers are expected to devote a significant amount of time to childcare and household work, the moment fathers engage in these responsibilities, they are often unduly praised for their contribution. This in turn perpetuates the “halo dad syndrome,” whereby fathers who actively participate in caregiving are applauded for the very same work mothers are expected to routinely engage in. Men need a progressive movement of their own to freely partake in both breadwinning and caregiving without unwarranted praise or censure for their choices. [4] As women, we need to partner with men to break the stereotype of father incompetence that is detrimental to both fathers and mothers, as it reinforces a double standard in expected behavior and traditional gender roles.

In the upcoming post we will address our final topic — ministry. Suggestions for further reading are listed in part three.

[1] Anne-Marie Slaughter, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, 2016.

[2] Ibid., and Lisa Endlich Heffernan, “9 things I wish I’d known before I became a stay-at-home mom,”, 2015.

[3] Ester Bloom, “Let’s kill til it’s dead the myth that mom’s salary pays for childcare,”, 2015.

[4] Ibid., borrowing from Matt Vilano and Andrew Romano, borrowing from Michael Gerson. It’s also interesting to note that in The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, one of the most frequently heard regret from male patients was “I wish I didn’t work so hard,” as they missed too much of their children’s lives or their partner’s companionship. From Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, 2012, via Unfinished Business).