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The Guilt Factor in a Woman’s Work

By September 6, 2016 culture No Comments

Over the years, women’s rights activists have championed a society that embraced the voices, gifts, and talents of female persons. Their vision and determination produced profound societal change. Women gained rights in the marketplace, in politics, and in the home. Women have opportunities and access as never before.

With rights gained come new choices. We now have options for work and family that can be altered and adjusted for the family, for the person, for the season of life. But choosing isn’t easy. It’s rarely about choosing between a bad thing and a good thing. Sometimes it’s choosing one good thing instead of another good thing. The choice factor is where women have gained something in addition to options: guilt.

Years ago, a dear friend and I were catching up after a lengthy disconnect. She was adjusting to life with an almost-one-year-old son. I asked all the usual questions about the pregnancy, the birth, the first year of motherhood. She was sweet and honest about the joys and trials. And then, rather sheepishly, she added that although she intended to stay home once she had children, she actually went back to work after just six months. Being home all the time had been draining her in unexpected ways. Her husband grew concerned; he saw all vibrancy was fading and he recommended she return to her work, in some form. Life evened out for her with the new arrangement, and she actually felt more connected to her son by returning to her work. Despite the positive result, guilt was there, taunting her decision to work instead of stay at home.

Another friend has continued with her full-time corporate job after having children. She loves her job and her family. Everyone works together, as a family, because everyone works and everyone contributes to the good of the family. Things are good at home, but it’s tough for her to attend church functions for moms because the messaging assumes the women aren’t working elsewhere. She feels left out at best. Mostly, she feels guilty for liking the rhythm her family has adopted and feeling like she has to justify it to others.

Yet another friend has been working at home for the past 10 years. Her youngest just entered full-day kindergarten. It’s been about three weeks into this new phase of life, and she is already tired of people asking when she is going to “start working”—meaning, get a full-time job outside the home working for a company. She has a successful home sales business, but somehow that doesn’t suffice when the questions come. Guilt is pouncing on her left and right.

These three women benefit from the rights we’ve gained. But the rights haven’t eliminated the guilt.

I recently read A Woman’s Place by Katelyn Beaty, in which she details the proper definition of work as well as the struggles women face in the work they do. The way Beaty elevates the concept of work reframed my perspective on what I do with my days–whether that be working for pay or working to make my home better or working to shape ideas in my sphere of influence. Beaty says:

“While all of us risk turning work into an idol, I believe most Christian women today run another risk: missing out on the goodness of work, on the ways that God intends to bless them and others through it.”

All work is meant to advance the flourishing of society. For women, this may include mothering, starting an at-home business, or working part-time or full-time for some business or non-profit. And some of these choices may be necessitated or influenced by the financial needs of the household or the interests and opportunities of the woman. And because these decisions are complex, there are no easy answers. Women can support each other by seeking to understand the variables that make each situation unique. We can deflate the guilt that looms over us by asking questions and listening rather than trying to gain support for our choices by insisting our way was the right one.

I highly recommend Beaty’s book to all readers—male and female. In addition, Hannah Anderson and I invited Katelyn Beaty to our podcast, Persuasion, for a two-part discussion on her book and these issues. Links provided here:

A Woman’s Place by Katelyn Beaty
Persuasion Part 1
Persuasion Part 2

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