Updated: Sep 17, 2021
The discomfort people feel about a man being a stay at home parent seems to have developed as a result of three different factors: we've allowed economic structures to reshape our understanding of the family; we lack knowledge of the family throughout history; and we have accepted imperfect labels of what it means to be a father or a mother.
Often we allow our understanding of economic structures to shape how we view the family. But it’s impossible to do this without reducing the family. This is because all social structures stem from the family. The family is the original human structure, designed by God to reflect His Trinitarian nature. An incredibly simplified but accurate understanding of the family is that it reflects God through the husband (God the Father), wife (God the Son), and child (God the Spirit). God is the original source, and God created the family as the original structure. Just as a servant does not command his master, so too is it ridiculous for the economy to instruct the family.
A husband is the head of his wife (Eph. 5:23) and thus, the head of the family. After hearing this, most of us imagine an authoritarian CEO, sitting on his throne of dominance, and wielding control over those beneath him. But if that’s how we imagine fatherhood, then we will fail to understand God’s Fatherhood.
The family is the original human structure, designed by God to reflect His Trinitarian nature.
People ask me how I feel about not providing for my family. When they do so, they imply that “providing” consists entirely (or at least primarily) of providing economically. But to be the leader of the family is not necessarily to be the biggest wage earner. That only makes sense if you apply the corporate structure to the family. The head of the company makes the most money, so the head of the family should make the most money. But for the Christian family, money is just a means to love and serve God.
It’s impossible to completely separate history and economics. But despite being interwoven, looking at them individually can provide us with deep insight into our discomfort with stay at home dads.
Unfortunately, many people have relegated history to the status of the simple keeper of the past without any regard for its implications on our present day. The argument that “well, that’s how it used to be”, is used as if the lessons of history hold no water in a contemporary discussion. But since fundamental morality is universal, we would be willfully ignorant if we chose to ignore or reject history.
Historically, a father’s role was not primarily to bring in a paycheque. That’s a very modern idea. It has been said that Saint Joseph had the privilege and the duty to teach the son of God about God. Historically, it has been men leading their families in prayer and worship. But in our modern era we often paint religion and education as exclusively under the purview of the mother.
We are first and foremost sons and daughters of God. Once we understand and embrace that as our identity, everything else will flow from it. We will see our spousal life as one in which we are called to imitate Christ, and our parenting as a reflection of God's Divine Fatherhood.
Unlike our modern image of a stay at home parent, historically both parents contributed to the economic survival of the family. Long before mom had her Etsy shop, she was working in cooperation with her husband to provide financially and materially. It wasn’t until the late 1940s that the modern idea of the stay at home mom was born. The perfectly dressed wife who can cook and bake and raise perfect little children had some unintended consequences. The isolation and expectations led to a high rate of women turning to alcohol. We still see remnants of that era in the “pinterest-perfect” activities and “mommy wine” culture. Even a brief glimpse at history will show us that the old, traditional idea of a stay at home mom isn’t as old or traditional as we think.
In Canada, maternity leave first began to emerge in 1921, paid leave in the 1970s. In the States, it wasn’t until 1993 that employers were required to hold a woman’s job during maternity leave; and employers are still not required to pay her during that time. Modern history is filled with examples like these of motherhood being disregarded and success being relegated to monetary gains. And this disregard for the feminine genius has often made it necessary for men to be the primary wage earners.
MOTHERHOOD and FATHERHOOD
Many Catholics are uncomfortable with stay at home dads because they associate this family structure with the modern idea of gender fluidity. But I reject those heretical ideas and I’m still able to be a stay at home dad.
We need to start defining motherhood and fatherhood in ways that are consistent and universal. While things like breastfeeding and giving birth are traits and experiences that are exclusive to women, they aren’t universal for mothers. And while smoking a pipe and growing a beard may be popular among men who read G.K. Chesterton, neither smoking nor facial hair are universally masculine.
Motherhood is the way that all women are called to emulate the first person the Divine Trinity, and fatherhood is the way that all men are called to emulate the first person of the Divine Trinity. And how each one of us lives out our role as mother or father varies depending on our state and station in life.
In the Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II explains how the family unit is a reflection of the Divine Trinity, and so too is each individual a reflection of God’s Trinitarian nature. We are each son or daughter, husband or wife, and father or mother. These characteristics are part of our design and possession of them is not limited to those who marry or raise children.
Once we understand how each of us is a reflection of the Trinity, we can properly view mother and fatherhood as emulating God the Father.
People often want to hear, “men are supposed to provide financially,” or “moms can work if they want to.” But such simple answers disregard the deeper truth. We are first and foremost sons and daughters of God. Once we understand and embrace that as our identity, everything else will flow from it. We will see our spousal life as one in which we are called to imitate Christ, and our parenting as a reflection of God's Divine Fatherhood.
We’ll see that we cannot allow things like economics or politics to dictate our understanding and application of morality.
We’ll realize that history is not as clean and organized as we were taught in school.
And we’ll begin shaping our families in accordance with God’s divine will and not based on fragile structures that emerged from the family and are subordinate to the family.
Tim Lucchesi is the Director of Love Worth Chasing, a ministry inspired by St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body. The mission of Love Worth Chasing is to help people discover their dignity and empower them to repair and strengthen their relationships. More importantly, Tim is a Beloved son of God, a husband to an amazing woman, and the father of two. Tim loves cheesecake, superheroes, and tacos.