Some Christians have spread harmful teaching that women must be wives and mothers to be honoured, or that it is dishonourable to forego having children. Motherhood is highly esteemed, and there is no other option for women. Women are given a 'complementary' subservient role with no authority or power and are subject to their husbands in all things. Those taking this view may say that only those who believe in this complementary viewpoint are Christians.
I want to affirm that those who believe all people are equal can be awesome mothers. If you are a single mom, a woman with a career, in a relationship that requires a female breadwinner, or in a couple that requires a double income, you have come to the right place. Egalitarian Christians know that all believers are subject to God's authority, not man's, and only God is our Lord. Egalitarian Christians know that you become a Christian by grace, through faith, not by obeying your husband. Egalitarian Christians know that following Jesus means loving, respecting, and serving one another, regardless of gender. Let me share stories of motherhood in three egalitarian marriages: my parents, myself and my daughter.
At first glance, one may think my mother was traditional. She stopped teaching after her fourth child, had dinner ready when dad got home, did the dishes and housekeeping, did bookkeeping for the family farm, sewed clothing, gardened, canned, froze vegetables, cooked for large groups, and contributed to the church bazaar and women’s groups.
But that is only half the story. My mother was an equal partner in their marriage and in their jointly-owned farm. She became a community leader, advocated for farm safety, and recruited and trained Girl Guide leaders. She campaigned and was elected as a Trustee of the Board of Education and was a voice in negotiations about teachers’ salaries and other administration and leadership issues. She also became a church representative at the regional and national level, and she became the first layperson to be chair of the region for her church denomination. She supervised student pastoral interns, giving feedback and advice to men and women who were preparing for ordination. She spoke from the pulpit to large groups about church policies, theology, fundraising and mission work.
It helped that her partner believed that the Bible tells women and men to serve as equals. My father was not threatened by my mother’s notoriety. Yes, he was traditional in some ways, being the disciplinarian and focused on establishing his sons in farming. But in a non-traditional way, he encouraged my mother to go out and develop her skills in leadership and public speaking. He took it with good humour to be known as the “husband of” in some church circles. His wife was excelling in her chosen fields, and he was proud of her sermons and successes.
My parents encouraged an equal education for both their daughters and sons. We each got our driver's licenses as soon as we could and got part-time jobs earning our own money. My father talked about the necessity of girls having an education and their own income. He shares stories of local women who were divorced or whose partners were unemployed, disabled or died young. He wanted us, as daughters, to be financially capable of taking care of ourselves. He encouraged my interest in a business major, because the school had a leading reputation, and it could provide good career potential. As a woman, I was in the minority in business school, and this remained the case when I became an investment broker and life insurance agent. When I graduated during a recession and began a career in sales, he helped me buy a car and shared sales strategies that he used when selling seed corn.
My husband also encouraged me in my field, even though it took some years to build my business. He grew up in a home where his parents both worked as teachers, both cooked, both cleaned, both planned vacations and both made financial decisions. My husband was thrilled when my business grew and I was the higher earner. We were both thankful to God for it. My husband was not threatened by my professional financial expertise, and he was proud of my success and professional awards.
I felt I was helping people by providing financial planning. However, I never considered that being a businesswoman would preclude being a mother. I desperately wanted to have children. I thought my life would be meaningless and empty without them. After several years, doctors identified no clear cause of our infertility. We were in our 30s when we began an adoption application and learned that we were already too old to be accepted by some agencies and countries. In addition, my unpredictable commission income and my partner’s short-term contracts were a disadvantage in our application. Our application to foster children was denied, citing our “naivety and lack of experience.” I felt depressed and hopeless. Finally, fertility treatments were successful; God blessed us with twins, and later a third child. The experience gave me a lasting empathy for those who feel hopeless and gratitude and appreciation for our three daughters.
Being self-employed, I did not want to lose the business I had built, and I did not have income from maternity benefits, so I continued working at reduced hours. I did not consider the cost of spending time with our children; it was a joy and a reward to be with them. Our daughters had a loving neighbour babysit them when their father and I worked in the daytime. They learned independence and social skills by being with a small group of other children with their babysitter.
My husband appreciated being in charge of our daughters when I visited clients in the evenings. His masculinity was not threatened by doing diapers, childcare or housecleaning. When I cooked, he did the dishes. If we were both too busy to clean the house, we hired a cleaner. We limited the children’s after-school activities to what we could manage, each of us taking turns driving them to programs. We each volunteered to lead programs and accompany the children on school trips.
I was providing an inspiring example to our three daughters by being a working professional. They could see my accomplishments, watch me overcome setbacks, and celebrate my successes. We encouraged them to pursue an education and a career to suit their gifts. We gave our daughters the values of working hard, thinking about ideas, voicing their views, and respecting everyone.
We now have one grandchild, and his mother continued to pursue her education and career after his birth. Our son-in-law's parents were divorced and he was familiar with seeing his single Christian mom as head of the family. My daughter and her husband helped the church set up and take down chairs, prepared congregational breakfasts, and my daughter was an elder at their church. Our daughter and her husband shared parental leave so that each could have several months to bond with and nurture the baby. Neither was penalized in their career for this leave. During Covid, my husband and I each babysat our grandson one day per week, not as a sacrifice but as an opportunity to build a relationship and watch him grow. I believe it benefitted our grandson to see both male and female caregivers. Both men and women must model the fruits of the spirit: compassion, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-24). Our grandson benefits from knowing that both his mommy and daddy work and have something of value to contribute to society. Now our grandson is in part-time daycare and enjoys being friends with other children and learning from them.
Are you called to have children?
We are proud of our three daughters, whether or not they have children. My struggles with infertility made me critical of those choosing to have fewer children or no children at all. Our youngest daughter corrected me by pointing out that it is neither selfish nor unselfish to have children. The Bible recognizes that some are called to remain single for assorted reasons (Matthew 19:12, 1 Corinthians 7:8). Neither being a mother nor being child-free is a higher calling. Believing that life would be meaningless without children was harmful to me, and increased my pain at infertility. It would have been healthier to realize that God gives our lives meaning and purpose, with or without children. Each of us is gifted, equipped, and called differently, and our calling may change at various life stages. We have gifts that differ according to God’s grace, regardless of gender; they are prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, generosity, leading, compassion, and cheerfulness (Romans 12:6-8). The church needs to honour those who are single or child-free just as it honours those who are parents. Let’s not define motherhood narrowly as those who work only at home. Parenting is a relationship, not a career alternative. All parents are full-time parents.
Highest Calling for a Woman
Being a mother is not God’s highest calling for a woman. When Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the womb that carried You and the breasts at which You nursed!” (Luke 11:26-28 NASB). This statement reduced the mother of Jesus to her physical reproductive organs, and Jesus corrected that idea by replying, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and follow it.” Jesus does not honour women for their wombs and breasts; he honours women for hearing and following God’s word. That is the highest calling of all.
Elaine Ricker Kelly uses her experiences as a woman in business to inspire and empower women at home, church and society. She was an investment and insurance advisor for thirty years, has three grown daughters, and is passionate about writing to encourage girls and women in leadership. Elaine R. Kelly lives near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with her husband and lap dog. She and her husband have hiked the 900 km Bruce Trail and enjoy hiking, nature, tennis, music, history and culture. Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold is on sale at Amazon. If you live local to me, contact me for a special price on a bulk purchase.
Books by Elaine Ricker Kelly:
Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold - biblical fiction offering hope and healing to anyone who feels forgotten, belittled, or out of place.
The Sword: A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role - provides 104 flashcards with an objective, memorable look at the rationale for diverse views on gender roles.