My late father was a stay-at-home dad. He was a man’s man, a strong individual right out of a 1960’s Marlboro advertisement. Yet he was broken by extreme physical suffering and the sun never set on the pain of his pieced-together spine and extremities. It was normal to me that my father was always in the home. However, he was not there by choice. When I hear of fathers opting out of employment to be at home full-time, I think of my dad who would have loved to have done the opposite.
What is a stay-at-home dad?
By one study from the Pew Research Center, the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled over the last quarter century. Any discussion of the phenomenon must take into account the variety of this broad category. Stay-at-home dads are not a uniform monolith. The reasons dads are at home vary according to some of the following:
· Ill, injured, or disabled (35% being the majority of stay-at-home dads)
· Out of work or laid-off (23%)
· In school, pursuing college or advanced degrees
· Retired from employment
· Home office/telecommuting
· Role-reversal, “Dad Moms,” or “Equal parenting”
It is the last category that deserves our attention here. The numbers are inconclusive but there is an obvious cultural change that is being felt economically but also amidst the broader evangelical landscape. One basic assumption is that gender roles in the home are interchangeable. One profile from the New York Times describes equal parenting as the following:
Equals and peers. They would work equal hours, spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home. Neither would be the keeper of the mental to-do lists; neither of their careers would take precedence. Both would be equally likely to plan a birthday party or know that the car needs oil or miss work for a sick child or remember (without prompting) to stop at the store for diapers and milk. They understood that this would mean recalibrating their career ambitions, and probably their income, but what they gained, they believed, would be more valuable than what they lost.
This egalitarian, if not utopian vision is not without its own set of problems. Al Mohler raises significant questions with the NYT’s piece but the underlying assumption that gender should not determine the division of labor in the home. The fundamental question for us, however, is whether such ideals hold up under the light of Scripture.
A Complementarian Primer
God has created husbands and wives to complement one another in their respective roles. This foundational aspect of creation is not a result of mankind’s fall into sin. In other words, these gender roles are oriented to being created in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27). Both men and women are equal before God in their dignity and their need for redemption. Together, they share in the glories of free salvation that is offered to all women and men without bias by faith through Christ alone.
One practical result among many is the Bible’s teaching that husbands and fathers should embrace their roles in a way that compliments God’s design for the home. Understanding that God’s design is not oppressive, smothering, or unconcerned with sin-induced inequities is basic to our assumptions but beyond my discussion here. I want us to consider how we might counsel believing men who are surrounded by a culture change that is altering God’s good design for them and their families.
Three Thoughts on Dads, Work, and Home
1) Lovingly serve my family
The greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:13). It should not escape our notice that the Apostle could not reduce the husband’s chief responsibility beyond “love your wives, as Christ also loved the church” (Eph 5:25). Whether home or away, without Christ-impassioned love we are nothing and talk of “work” misses the point. Loving your wife means loving who she is in God’s image, her created distinctiveness, her biblical role, and the children you raise together.
Loving Christ means we position our families around the centrality of His person and work. We teach them to love and serve others and to prioritize their opportunities so that God truly takes the position of preeminence in our family. We love our wives and our families so we read Scripture, we pray, we enjoy rich fellowship, we serve others, we pursue commitment to the local church, we invest in gospel work, and we set our schedules around priorities like these.
Serving with love means there is no room in God’s economy for the aloof, tyrannical, or disengaged husband. So we live with our wives in an understanding way (1 Pet 3:7) and do not provoke our children with sinful behavior (Eph 6:4). Fathers do many things but we must lead, feed, protect, compliment, and refresh our wives and children. We inevitably find that we do not measure up to such high standards, so we continually point them to Christ who carries all our burdens. With Paul, we say, “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
2) Lovingly model faithful work
Christian men are not called to be great but faithful. Christ is great and we point to Him in how we maintain and pursue our employments. Because the husband’s role is one of leadership (Eph 5:23), it follows that he will provide both spiritually and materially for his family. I do not believe that wives are strictly forbidden from being compensated or disallowed from all work (e.g., Prov 31:24, 27, 31). However, men are to be the key providers for the home unless forbidden by an exceptional circumstance. If her work is diminishing her responsibilities in the home or merely to provide a more comfortable lifestyle then there is room to examine your priorities.
God is concerned not only that we work but also how we work. We work with wisdom and humility (Prov 22:4; 24:3–4), honoring God with all our labors (Prov 3:9–10). We perform our jobs with the goal of pleasing Him regardless of fair compensation or recognition (Eph 6:7; Col 3:23–24). We are to honor our agreements and operate with a biblical ethic that places integrity and love before profits (e.g., Jam 5:12; 1 Cor 6:7). The practical goal of our labors is not to build wealth or merely avoid debt but to provide for the needs of our homes and the church’s ministries (1 Tim 5:8, 18; cf. 2 Cor 8).
3) Lovingly celebrate the work of motherhood
A significant oversight of the “stay-at-home dad” movement is that it downplays what God says is a good thing. Flattening biblical distinctions doesn’t make things more fair it makes them more confusing. If we are committed to God and His Word then we should not run from created gender differences but rather celebrate them, embracing them as God’s good design.
Doing so means that the wife is freed to pursue the craft of making her home into a lab for discipleship and the cultivation of love. Moms with children are called to give their best attention to their husbands and children (Tit 2:4–5; cf. 1 Tim 5:14). This is not a role that is inferior to a career. This commitment transcends temporal aspects of mere earthly employments. Kicking against this design is to dishonor the word of God (Titus 2:5).
By supporting your family through your employment, you are celebrating God’s design for motherhood. Your wife is freed to pursue her God-given calling and the imperishable fruits that it yields (Prov 31:30–31). To reduce a mother’s work to “doing dishes” and the like trivializes the investments that she daily makes into the lives of her family and those she touches.
Men, love your wives and children. Provide, nurture, protect, lead, feed, encourage, reprove, exhort, and serve together. Do not use family as an excuse to withdraw from others, especially the local church. Be careful of allowing your outside employments to consume your best energies. Reserve your best labors for your wife and children and then your church family. Get off the couch and serve your wife. If she’s behind, take up the slack. If she’s weighed-down, help relieve the burden. Don’t forget to play, pray, read, and rest together.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col 3:23–24).
Paul Lamey is an elder at Grace Community Church, Huntsville, Alabama, where he devotes his primary attention to the preaching ministry of the church and training leaders. He completed his formal training at The University of Mobile (B.A.) and The Master’s Seminary (M. Div. and D. Min.). Paul is active in training pastors at Samara Center for Biblical Training in Samara, Russia and also with Grace Advance in Los Angeles, CA. He writes for Christianity.com, ChurchPastor.com, and the Journal of Modern Ministry. He and his wife Julie have two sons and two daughters. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulSLamey.