At Work

Is Homemaking Part of God’s Economy?

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When I was a mostly-stay-at-home mom, I really questioned my value to the machinery of our economy.

What was I contributing to the GDP? If I was not generating much dollar value in the marketplace, what value did I have to society?

I would regard my counterparts in the professional world with some envy—not because I didn’t enjoy being home and raising my boys—but it just didn’t seem like society placed much value on this endeavor.

Do Stay-at-Home Moms Act as a Drag on the Economy?

Writer Suzanne Venker speaks to this distorted perception of the economic value of stay-at-home moms. Not only do they not add anything to the economy, according to some, they actually hurt the economy because they represent “untapped potential” and “potentially large losses to the economy.”

This twisted take on the role of moms not only ignores the real work women do in the home but adds guilt to the mix. And, of course, it challenges a woman’s call to serve her family, a call equal to vocational calling in God’s economy. It just so happens that these two equal,  secondary callings (to family and vocation) overlap in this season of life.

It’s not hard to see how a mom, or stay-at-home dad even, can fall into faulty thinking about serving family with all the misleading press. In addition, almost the entirety of our education points us toward a professional path.

Despite how society implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) undervalues the role of mom, I knew in my heart, I was doing the right thing. I never wanted to juggle work and volunteering at school, work and cheering on my ball players, work and spontaneous “teachable moments,” work and shopping for healthy food, work and getting a tasty dinner on the table for us all to share as a family. You could not have paid me enough to miss any of that stuff.

But it’s taken some time and distance from my mom role to fully appreciate its value—from an economic standpoint, to society, and to God who designed me, at least in part, for this most noble work.

Real Economic Value to What a Mom Does

One estimate puts the dollar value of the work that a stay-at-home mom does at $113,586 annually. There’s no denying that if you were to outsource your job as a mom and homemaker, you would need coverage for many tasks—loving caregiver, household manager (food shopping and prep; cleaning; managing household business; yard maintenance), transportation provider, tutor/school support and liaison; moral education provider….to name a few.

The $100K+ salary figure may not even fully reflect the money saved by families with a stay-at-home mom: less eating out because there’s more time to cook, less expenditure generally on childcare (after-hours meetings or travel) and material things kids need because a stay-at-home mom has more time to make or provide them cheaply (think costumes and birthday party décor).

A mom who stays at home has a relative comparative advantage when it comes to delivering most of the service she provides for her family—she’s the most cost-effective and loving vehicle for meeting those needs. While we may be able to outsource dry cleaning and cooking, it is near impossible to replace a mother’s love.

Value to Community and Society in What a Mom Does

Making a home, or homemaking, is important—not just for your own kids, but for others as well. When you think about homes that are the most inviting, they are probably places that are comfortable and where you are greeted warmly and perhaps offered something good to eat or drink. That doesn’t just happen. Someone, usually the mom, has to create this atmosphere and that takes thought, time, and effort. Making an inviting home for your family (and others) lets them know you love them and want them to gather there. It helps our kids to feel loved and secure, fueling their sense of dignity and worth. When we do this, we reflect the love of our Father for us.

Moms who stay home also tend to be able to volunteer more, hence contributing to community—church, school, others. I, like many stay-at-home moms, volunteered regularly in a reading program in elementary schools, was a room parent, led a cub scout den, produced school newsletters, coordinated fundraisers, chaperoned field trips, and led a military spouse organization. There’s also more time to make a meal for that family that’s facing a crisis or illness; there’s just more time to invest in relationships and caring for those in need.

What would become of our civic life and institutions if all moms with school-aged children were all of a sudden not able to serve these causes because they had full-time jobs? Such work requires the commitment of an “army” of “stay-at-home mom soldiers,” writes Lisa Enlich Heffernan, who left her full-time career to become a full-time wife and mom.

All of these things broadly fall under something else we are called to do in the Bible: hospitality (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9).

Value to God in What a Mom Does

The idea that the work a mom does is just like any other kind of work and matters to God is perfectly summed up in the follow-on verse to 1 Pet. 4:9:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (emphasis added; 1 Peter 4:10)

The gift a stay-at-home mom has to steward is time and energy; time and energy to keep her hand on the moral input her children are receiving, to set standards of behavior, to love, to invest in relationship, to make a home.

At some point while my boys were in elementary and middle school, I discovered this wonderful passage in the Psalms:

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table (Psalm 128:3).

Notice that the fruitful vine is “within” the house. That doesn’t mean a wife can’t work outside the house, but just that her work within the house is fruitful and valuable. Her children will be healthy offshoots of the fruitful vine. It paints a beautiful picture of flourishing within a home.

So, take heart (John 16:33)! Be encouraged. Just because what you do as a stay-at-home mom doesn’t make the news or get quantified in some tangible way, you have great value to our economy, our society, and, most importantly, to the God who made you. Keep bringing a little more of his kingdom through your work at home.

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  • Robert Black

    Thanks for making this important point about working in the home. That national measures of GDP (gross domestic product) ignore work at home is an error in the measure, not an error by those who chose to work outside the market. GDP is the market value of total output. The output of those who don’t work for a market wage or salary can have great value to those benefited by the work, but the value of this work is not counted in GDP because no market transaction has occurred, and so no market wage or salary has been paid. Similarly, when economists say that people in a low-GDP nation live on less than $1 or $2 a day, they are likely quite wrong: market income ignores the value of goods and services produced and consumed at home. As a result, GDP per person will underestimate consumption per person because subsistence farming, gardening, and work in the home are not market transactions. Here is the point: feeding your family is valuable! And yet GDP ignores the value of non-market work.

  • Joe

    This is a timely piece. Thank you, Anna! Timely for our society that values short-term goals and material gains more than what is beyond the mundane. Unfortunately, many of our women are unsung as they choose to be a stay-at-home mom. It’s not glamorous in the lens of career-advancement and there seems to be little or no real economic value attached to their noble service.
    It’s good this article was written and I think we need more work done in this area from the academic field of things.

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