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  • Stacey Sumereau

Can Catholic Moms Work Outside the Home? (Or, How Tim Gordon Made Me Spill Parmesan All Over A Pan o

This past week I watched the Matt Fradd Show featuring Tim Gordon (half of “TNT,” the pair who has broken much of the behind-the-scenes news on the crisis in the Church.) In case you didn’t catch it or the brouhaha on Twitter that followed, Tim alleged that he has indisputable Magesterial proof in his upcoming book that Catholic wives should not work or earn a wage outside the home. He didn’t say why, but he briefly referenced Casti Connubii and Rerum Novarum. Tim made some points that I think are worth considering and I agree with him on many points about feminism. If he can produce on heck of a watertight proof I’m open to being convinced about working mothers by his upcoming book. However, what his interview presented overall is a one-size-fits-all approach preceded by mocking chubby women and followed by a nasty bout of bullying and name-calling on Twitter (which his wife and brother joined in on.) Tim's approach is extremely off-color and off-putting. Even more disappointing to me is the condemning string of comments from uber-traditionalists joining him in decrying all mothers who work.

I have great distaste for extreme, fear-based, fire-and-brimstone approaches taken in the name of religion.

In the Old Testament God led the Israelites by setting down a structure of law-based practices, as you might a small child. However, the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Jesus called us to love God with our whole heart and for our actions to flow from that. Tim Gordon takes an Old-Testament approach, twisting documents from 1566 into his own interpretation and expecting people to keep in line with that. (Keep in mind, he hasn’t even presented his argument yet as his book is not yet released.) Tim and his wife keep posting a single quote from the Catechism of Trent on Twitter that forbids married women from “going abroad.” Okay, I won’t leave the country without talking to my husband about it. I won’t even go the next town over and leave the kids with no one to watch them (if you want to interpret “abroad” that way.) No problem. But to interpret that passage to say that the infallible will of God is that I not work? What gives?

If working outside the home were a sin then perhaps Tim’s forceful approach could be beneficial, like Milo Yiannopoulous’s or Jordan Peterson’s straight-talking when they take on Leftists. However, Tim is talking to the faithful who are already striving to do God’s will (he gained his following by reporting the crisis to the small percentage of Catholics who actually care enough to invest time into finding out the truth.)

To lay a false and heavy burden on the faithful who are already trying to live God’s will is doubly wrong. Mom guilt is real. The last thing mothers need is more polarization and judgement of those who don’t fit into his “good mommy” club.

So Tim, what about part-time work? What about working from home? What if grandparents, aunts, uncles, or trusted friends are available to care for children so a mother can work? What about the gifts that a woman can contribute in the workplace as well as the home?

Fortunately, Matt Fradd published a blog post soon after releasing his interview with Tim, expressing his disagreement. Matt effectively put the question of whether or not it is a sin for married Catholic women to work to bed, citing not only the texts that Tim referenced, but also more recent writings by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that clearly encourage women to use their gifts.

What Matt didn’t address, however, is work as personal fulfillment, not just as a source of income, which I want to tackle today. Women today are more highly-educated than any time in history; as a result, more women have also entered the workforce before getting married and having children. You can argue whether or not that is a good thing, but that’s a separate conversation. It is a fact that we have a generation of women who have mostly experienced a career outside the home first. Should those women be expected to stay home full-time in all cases?

I would say no.

God didn’t make all men to do one job; they can choose their career according to their unique abilities and desires. He didn’t make all women the same either.

Since Catholic teaching permits the free choice of a woman to work, she can still partake in the career she had before she became a mother, if she so chooses. I of course have a personal stake in this, because I was 27 when I became pregnant with my first child. I worked and was independent for five years after college. I went on Broadway National Tours. I starred in a reality TV show documenting my discernment of religious life. Then I got married and conceived on our wedding night. To say that motherhood was a shock for me is an understatement (not to mention that I had a second baby 364 days later, went through a horrible bout of postpartum depression, and that both of my babies are anything but easy!)

Throughout my journey into motherhood, using my acting skills in my ministry as a speaker while growing my podcast and working five hours a week for the Carmelite Sisters in dementia education has been a huge source of personal fulfillment. Parenting is an exhausting job and in the first few years there is very little gratification as babies are totally dependent. Serving constantly leaves me feeling depleted, and what I need to be rejuvenated is not just a bubble bath or exercise, but connecting with life outside my four walls in arenas that use my skills. I have had the pleasure of being an instrument for God-centered discernment in the lives of the young people I reach through my ministry, and the joy that it brings me to use my gifts cannot be quantified (although the money doesn’t hurt!)

While I love my children and I will do whatever it takes to secure their well-being, I didn’t leave behind who I am the day they were born.

But, you might say, what about the welfare of the children? Don’t children need their mothers at home? Yes, and no. Yes, children absolutely need the presence of available parents in their lives. Parents should put the welfare of their children before their careers. They must be willing to sacrifice their ambitions should a situation call for it. Parents should carefully discern together what God is calling them to, and how they should arrange their lives for the holistic health of everyone. The children hold the trump card when it comes to the question, “how much work is too much?” Parents also have a great responsibility to ensure that their children are well cared for if they will be with a babysitter. I also believe that mothers should receive only encouragement and support if they choose their children over their careers. It’s sad to me that our society pushes women to be in the workplace, as if staying home is an inferior choice. With all that being said, there is a wider conversation to be had about the words “available parents” and “present parents.”

You can’t limit God’s will to one definition; part of the beauty of the communion of saints and of God's will is that he has called each of us to our own unique, wildly diverse path.

Follow me here for a second…

I see a lot of grandparents bringing young grandchildren to public play areas. Many of them are part-time or full-time caregivers of their grandchildren, and it’s clear they adore they mutually adore each other. When I travel to speak, I leave my children with my in-laws and they are treated like royalty. Every time we play car and I ask them where they’re ‘driving,’ the answer is the same: “Nana an Bampa.” It’s a win-win-win. In the presence of their loving grandparents they receive care from people they and I trust, and I get to use my skills which not only brings in money for the family but also is deeply fulfilling on a personal level. I return refreshed and ready to give of myself again to the household tasks. Same with part-time daycare: I put my children in daycare eight hours a week with a lady in our former parish. Each time I picked the children up they were eating a home-cooked feast quietly (a feat I could never get them to do at home!). Although she wasn’t in our family, their babysitter always kissed them goodbye with an “I love you,” and my children were so glad to see her and the other children and play with new toys.

Take another example: My friends Annie and Mike are both full-time youth ministers at neighboring parishes in proximity to their home. Annie is pregnant with their fifth child and she homeschools the school-aged ones. Mike plans the coursework and teaches it to the teens on Wednesday at his parish, and on Sunday Annie uses the templates he has already created and teaches it to the teens at her parish. In the summer they lead a joint summer camp for both parishes. Annie spoke glowingly about the satisfaction she gets from ministering to teens and how the teens have “adopted” her daughter as their little sister. Again, a win-win-win. The kids have a present mother AND father, they have sufficient income to give the children they have generously accepted from God a good life, and they have creatively carved out a life where they get to spend a lot of time together and use their gifts.

In another instance, my friends Maddy and Mike are a nurse and a teacher, respectively. Maddy discerned for TWO YEARS before starting a master’s degree that would allow her to take on nursing shifts that would give her more time with her family. She said her first priority was giving them more time together as a family, and she clearly prayed with Mike for a very long time before taking it on. Maddy worked and studied part-time while raising their first and through her pregnancy with their second child. Mike spoke enthusiastically about how his wife’s work experience and studies had helped grow her confidence in the way she mothered the children and took care of the house. And he also took on an active parenting role to share the responsibilities. Maddy has not been working since her son was born in order to give the family time to adjust. She’s not using her Master’s degree yet because she’s putting her children first.

I also know many strong Catholic families where the father is the sole provider and the mother is happy to stay home full-time. I fully acknowledge the societal bias that discourages mothers from staying home with their children, and I want to be the first to encourage mothers not to not feel guilty, but rather to be perfectly content in their calling to devote themselves to their children. “It’s easy for me and I love it,” one of my mom friends said the other day. A few years ago, I would have felt guilty hearing that, because most days my parenting is anything but easy and many days my teeth are gritted with frustration from start to finish. Hence my seeking an outlet as well as extra income by engaging in my part-time work. But that is her calling, and I have mine. As the old saying goes, “to each his own.”

Examples like these speak to me how the prayerful discernment of parents together can lead to a healthy outcome for the family as a whole. God most definitely calls us to sacrifice for our children and put them first, but how every family does that will look different. Can you work part-time from home? Cut back on hours? Take your children with you on business trips? Form a babysitting co-op with other mothers in your area? The Holy Spirit is endlessly creative, as are the ways that he can use us to build up the Kingdom.

Our loving Father in heaven wants us to use the gifts he has given us. Not necessarily all at once, and perhaps not all the time, but yes, we are absolutely called to use them.

So you’re probably wondering when I’m going to talk about the second half of the title, right? I was lost in thought about these things while preparing my children’s pasta. The brownies still tasted great though.

#discernment #workingmom #fulfillment #women #marriage #motherhood

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