Worse Than An Unbeliever, a Guest Blog from Sonny Lemmons

October 10, 2012

Today, I’m starting something new – a series of guest posts centered around the subject of gender roles in the church and family.  I’m not headshotgoing it alone though.  I’ve asked some fantastic guests to help me out.  The series will conclude with a big book giveaway (well, the giveaway is big, not necessarily the book).  To kick things off, I’m featuring Sonny Lemmons.  At the birth of their child, Sonny committed “career suicide” by becoming a stay at home dad.  Worse, in the eyes of many in the church, he abandoned his God-given duty to go to work and earn a paycheck.  So, is Sonny a “man fail” for taking care of his kids?

There are many things I’ve received over the past three years from strangers once they discover I am a stay-at-home dad: high fives, smiles of approval, and the occasional cup of coffee or cookie – all freely given by people who see me interact with or hear me tell stories about my kid. But then there are some Christians, fellow believers, who condemn me sight unseen because of how my wife and I are raising our son.

They will know we are Christians by our love. …as long as our love lines up with one interpretation of the Bible, incomplete though this interpretation may be.

Financial Vs. Emotional Costs

Like every other couple we knew that had kids, we assumed that once Ashley was off maternity leave, we would put Malakai in day care. The facility we were going to place him in was literally across the street, and we could financially afford it, although it meant almost the entirety of one of our paychecks was going to pay for extended daycare. My wife and I both worked in higher education, so “normal business hours” was a phrase that only made us laugh. It wasn’t until after we sat down and realized that emotionally we couldn’t afford to only spend maybe 2-3 waking hours a day with him that we started to rethink daycare as an option.

Turn the Heresy Up to Eleven

Because my wife’s position included a place to live as part of her compensation package, we decided that it made more sense for me to leave my job. Ashley was already making more money than I was, and it had never been an issue for us. Although some pastors and theologians believe I as a man am supposed to be THE provider, the reality is that I was simply one financial provider in our marriage. To some Christians, this already placed me behind a biblical 8-ball, failing to fulfill the spiritual obligation I held to lead in every aspect of our relationship. The fact we were going to invert our “biblical” roles as mom and dad pushed our heresy to eleven in the eyes of many.

Our families, while supportive of our decision for one of us to stay home, were taken aback that I would willingly put aside a work ethic that had me at one point literally sleeping on the couch in my office just so that I could be available in case of an emergency. One of my professors from grad school told me I was “committing professional suicide” by leaving my position, as it would leave an unexplainable gap on my resume. And then there were the voices from the church who called me a failure, or who stated I would be unwelcome in and even evicted from their congregations.

What Is a “Helper?”

But Christ stated the greatest commandment was to love God and love others, which leaves little room for putting oneself first. Many religious leaders have forgotten that although Eve is referred to as a “helper” to Adam (Genesis 2:19-20), God uses this exact same term to refer to Himself (Psalm 70:5). We have mistakenly relegated the ideas of “to care for” and “to provide for” to gender-specific roles within a relationship, forgetting we are to help one another in everything. Too many  people are quick to quote Ephesians 5:22-23 as the biblical litmus test for marriage without bothering to turn back a few pages to Galatians 5:22-2 to see how they are to live out life.

By providing a positive, loving, nurturing, and at times a goofy example of what a marriage of equals can look like, I believe I am honoring my responsibility as a husband and father. I love that Malakai gets to see me tear down the altar dedicated to my career or to the expectations of me as a man. There are far too many men who contribute financially to the stability of their families and yet leave bankrupt hearts and memories in their wake as they head off to yet another weekend seminar on how to be a Godly man.

Staying home does not mean I am staying out of God’s will.

Visit Sonny at his blog, Looking Through the Windshieldbut first: does the Bible tell men they must work outside the home?  Dads, do you ever wish you got to see your kids more?  Stay at home moms, do you ever wish you got to go to work instead of stay home?

34 responses to Worse Than An Unbeliever, a Guest Blog from Sonny Lemmons

  1. I loved this post! Years ago, my husband stayed home with our two boys while I worked. Since he worked at the church, he was able to work on his stuff at home. And since daycare was not really something I wanted, it seemed like the perfect fit.

    However we wanted one more kiddo, but after I miscarried, we realized it was probably best to reverse the situation again since the stress of work seemed to play a factor into my pregnancy. So we did and all was fine. {And a year later successfully had our third child.}

    Thing is, I appreciated that my husband was willing to step into a different role and allow me to work outside of the home without it threatening his ‘manhood’. It DID, however, cause quite a bit of ‘conversations’ that amused me. {Well, I wasn’t so amused at the time.} I was amazed at the ‘looks’ we would get when people {and, yes, even Christians} found out that I was working and he was ‘not’. {ha!} Isn’t that amazing?

    I think in our society, we consider those who raise kids to be people who ‘don’t work’, and in our society, not ‘working’ is equivalent to being lazy. {Sort of.} So people didn’t know how to view our situation. It was quite interesting to watch. So…I applaud your choice. And who cares what anyone else thinks. What a way to show honor to your family.

    • Susan – I’m glad you guys had such a relatively positive experience. For the last few months, I worked PT at a church here in town as the Interim Minister of Students. While I was thankful for the chance to stay involved in ministry, I did so with the understanding that HE was my priority. Most of the church staff was understanding and supportive, but some were offended (yes: offended) that I was not willing to work past 30 hours a week (being paid for only 15), and someone asked me once if I could “just put him in a room somewhere to nap” while I did extra work. Needless to say, I had a less than kind response to this person.

      I’ve had a lot of SAHM mom friends express exactly what you mentioned: if you work, you contribute to society. If you don’t you’re a moocher. It’s a double standard – some people don’t look at me like such a freak if I say I work from home, although the money I contribute from writing gigs is miniscule. Then some people chastise me for doing something that could take time away from raising him, although I do almost all my writing on nights, weekends, and when he naps.

  2. How easy is it for people to forget that when the scriptures were written life was very different than it is now. Dad did not go off to office or factory for 40 hours a week. Work roles fell along physical abilities. Dad did the heavy lifting jobs, farming, herding, building, warring. As he got older or gained wealth he could hire servants and then become the merchant. He often had to travel to do business. That meant that someone had to be taking care of the home front. That was Mom, raising the children, managing servants if they have them, gardening, cleaning, crafting needed items, selling. Still hard work but not necessarily needing the physical strength of a man.
    Now many of our jobs don’t have the same physical requirements, yet it is tough to break from generation upon generation of behaviors.

    • And people have forgotten that in those days, men stayed around their families – emotionally if not readily immediately physically. Once men left to go to the office or factory, they began to find and identify themselves by what they did and found worth in something outside of their families.

      Even almost all the “perfect family” sitcoms of the 1950s showed when dad came home, he did not immediately engage with his family. He separated himself with a newspaper and pipe, only spending meal times with his family.

      Life is never exclusively black and white.

  3. This was a nice post to read since my husband’s been a stay-at-home dad for some time–our boy is six years old now and we’ve got another on the way. Unlike other folks, I can’t really say that it’s something that we put a lot of thought into–I’m now a doctor and he’s an artist, so we knew pretty early who would be making more money and even before we got married he told me that he wanted to be home with the kids.

    We haven’t really gotten much flak about it, other than my grandpa making some remark about what a “cushy deal” my husband got (as if he does nothing while I’m at work!) We don’t really go to a church that makes a big deal about gender roles, so that hasn’t been an issue.

    This arrangement really helped me when our son was born. I was in residency at the time and only got 6 weeks of maternity leave, both for financial reasons and to keep from falling too far behind with my training. Residency was stressful enough–I think if I had to put my then 6-week-old in daycare on top of it, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. Instead, it was a lot less stressful for me knowing that my baby was with the best person in the world to care for him.

    The only “drawback” I’ve seen with this arrangement has been on my end–at times it’s been a little difficult for me to adjust to the “breadwinner” role. I think a lot of women aren’t really tought how to adjust with being the sole financial support of our families–I know I wasn’t. I do okay, but occasionally I have moments of stressing out over “If I lose my job my family will starve!” Men have been dealing with that for years, but women haven’t.

  4. Sonny (and Matt).

    Thanks for this post. One of my great friends is also a stay-at-home-dad, and I have nothing but the highest respect for him.

    We need to get to a place where we can celebrate families for doing what’s best for the family, where we don’t hold 21st century families to 1st century gender roles. We can do that AND be biblically faithful.

    And we need to change our rhetoric to celebrate staying at home parents (mom OR dad) as an actual, equal level of contribution to the good of society.

    • JR: First, it was awesome to meet you in ATL last week (that was ONLY a week ago…?). And you’re correct – it’s all about the balance of equals, in marriage, in society, in everything. We’re too focused on saying who’s right than we are on doing what’s right. Not every mom is cut out to stay home, nor is every dad is cut out to stay home.

  5. “There are far too many men who contribute financially to the stability of their families and yet leave bankrupt hearts and memories in their wake as they head off to yet another weekend seminar on how to be a Godly man.” Amen. Amen. Amen. We have too often prioritize tradition and theology over family health and wholeness. Reminds me of how often Jesus spoke against outward rule following prioritized over love and self-sacrifice.

    Thank you for being vocal about how your role is a good fit for your family. Perhaps it will give others who are afraid of church pressure the strength and courage to make the same choice.

    • Stephanie: The quote you pulled from my post was one that after Ashley read it, her eyes went wide and she said something I doubt Matt would approve of me posting here. :) She agreed with what I wrote, but the reality is the church does spent so much time and energy on trying to educate men and women both on a PORTION of what they are are called to be instead of telling and empowering them to simply go and BE the man or woman – husband, wife, or parent alike – they are called to be.

    • Stephanie, I’m reminded of that Blaise Pascal quote: “We are complaining about the ants at the picnic when the bears are eating our children.”

  6. If I were to work full-time, I’d make almost double what my husband does. I’ve got one more degree than he has and am in a field that just pays better. Although he’ll joke about the ‘toilet salesman’ (he’s not really) who’s married to the ‘rocket scientist’ (that one’s true though), it has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence or ability….it’s just what he’s good at vs. what I’m good at. But when it comes to who is more suited to work outside the home, he wins that one hands down. I was stressed out by 9-5 when I was single. I honestly don’t know how full-time working parents do it. I guess the house doesn’t get as messy since you’re there less time, but the laundry is at least the same. Anyway, when our first came along, I finagled a part-time, mostly from home position which I eventually transitioned to another (better) company. I go into the office two afternoons a week. I miss lunch with the kids, naps, and the post-nap grumpiness. The rest of the week I’m home with them and it’s awesome.

    But I’ve applied twice now (unsuccessfully) to be an astronaut. If that ever happened, my husband would stay home and I would go to work full-time. I’m pretty sure he’d hate it, but the house would probably be cleaner than it is with me at home.

    • Oh yeah, that’s the other hitch about being a mom working full time–if the house is a mess, it’s still my fault (at least based on implied comments from my mother-in-law.) Mentally, I still have a tendency to hold myself to my mom’s standards, who was a SAHM and had Martha Stewart-level habits when it came to cleaning the house. I don’t have the time, and my husband…well, let’s just say he has other priorities.

      I’ve been thinking of breaking down and hiring a cleaning lady, but right now I’m too embarassed to let one see my house!

      • The disparity between the sexes when it comes to housework and children is something most professional women have to face. Men seem to have the ability to compartmentalize in a way that most women don’t. When they’re at work, they’re not thinking about the laundry or the baby with the runny nose, so they can be fully engaged. This does give them an advantage in the workplace. It’s also less stressful because it feels like less of a juggling act for them. For whatever reason, women have this identity with their home — and their kids– that is difficult to shake.

    • Melissa: I was a music major as an undergrad, my wife and I both have dedicated our careers to education, and now I’m finding out I that people like my writing, so clearly neither of us have ever cared to make money. Ever. :)

      But I gotta be honest – the cleaning of the house/cooking/etc. has been something I have struggled with internally. Ashley has NEVER said word one to me about the state of our house, but I always feel pressure to make sure the place is clean and dinner is ready roughly when she comes home, simply as a way to honor her working all day. Of course, sometimes this honor takes the shape of pizza I’ve ordered, but still… :)

      • I’ve been a SAHM off and on for all of my babies lives. Full time until my youngest was in 2nd grade. Then, one year of full time + work that made me (and my family) miserable. Since then, I’ve been a substitute teacher so that I can work when I want & stay home when I want. The problem that I deal with is this: now that my kids are in school full time, I’ve lost my ‘validation’ of being a SAHM. “What do you do all day”?
        “Well, all the things that you hire other people to do” We almost never eat out because I am an amazing cook! But I have N.E.V.E.R. had a consistently clean house because I hate to clean! So, all that to say there is even pressure in the SAH world from other SAH’s.

  7. Who cares what Mark Driscoll thinks, anyway? 😉

    • Lucie: Sadly, while I don’t care FOR what he says, a great many people still care ABOUT what he says.

      Case in point: after a guy I went to high school with, someone I had not spoken to in 20 years, found out I was a SAHD, he took it upon himself to send me email after email about how I was acting outside of God’s will for my life. I wish I could say this was one isolated incident, but man, have I taken some hits for being a SAHD from Christians.

  8. I used to have a completely “feminist” view on gender roles. But I’ve since concluded that men and women are wired differently, and men are generally more suited for the work world, while women are typically more suited to stay at home with the kids. However, I think it’s sad that any of us has to be put in the position of justifying our choices to anyone.

    I understand the benefit and necessity of accountability, but accountability works best with people who are truly involved — your spouse, for example. Ultimately, we are accountable to God, and thankfully, not the entire Body of Christ, for our actions.

    Do we sometimes get it wrong? Of course. But we’re all trying to find our way. And often times that way is not always clear to people on the other side of the fence. Heck it’s not always clear on this side of the fence. The Body of Christ would do well to offer humble counsel where appropriate and leave the judging to the Judge.

  9. I’ve never understood the relevancy of employment or profession as it relates to the Bible. I would like to first clarify that my husband has been the primary caregiver during the hours of 7:00am and 6:00pm for the last 7 years and has recently begun establishing his dream of owning a tattoo studio in the hours after I’m home from work. Though my income in our primary source. I think that there are plenty of society driven ideas about what a “Man” looks like and it rarely has any usefulness in real life. I’m no less a woman, wife and mother as a result of my employment outside of the home and my husband is no less a man, husband and father as a result of his participation in the raising of our children during regular business hours.

    He’s not a housewife. He’s not a Mr. Mom. He’s a Dad and a darn good one. He has a gift for cooking, but I know plenty of women and men that don’t. He is the head of our household, spiritually and otherwise. Regardless of the source of our income, he is the primary steward of that income. I think it’s ridiculous that this is even an issue in or out of the “church”, but especially inside the church setting.

    Personally, I believe that I, as the mother, have a natural inclination for nurturing that can make up the difference of my absence, where my husband gets the benefit of spending quality time with our children that, perhaps, simply could not happen if he worked outside of the home from 8-5pm. There’s a decompress thing that I believe men do in the evening that women just don’t need. For our home, this scenario works. It was incredibly difficult for the first few years. It’s against his nature to stay at home all day, but he balances out that with activities outside of the home, including his motorcycle and tattooing, plus time spent with friends.

    I believe that so long as you are in the will of God for your life, it can work, even if, perhaps especially if, it doesn’t look like what everyone else is doing.

  10. You have hit on something we have puzzled about, knowing at least one godly stay at home dad, but struggling with the whole concept. It sounds right, but goes against our old fashioned grain. My husband just can’t feature every doing something like that, although he loves his family as much as any stay at home dad. I wonder whether the hang-up is that those of us who came to adulthood in the 60’s still smart from the first lies of women’s lib.

  11. I applaud your decision. I have actually known several SAHD, including, at one time, a BIL. I totally respect their decision. Now I know a stay-at-home grandpa who homeschools his four grandchildren. In all cases, it was purely pragmatic: the wives made more money than the husbands. It sounds like you are getting involved in stuff that meet your need for adult interaction during the day. I wonder, though, when people ask you what you do all day, have you ever been tempted to reply, “I watch soap operas and eat bon bons.” just to see the look on their faces? I have :-D.

  12. So glad you chose to share this piece of your life here with us. I know you will make a huge impact on others in your sharing. I think you and your wife made a wise choice. For your hearts to be questioned is irresponsible at best.

  13. As I am not in a more conservative / complementarian tradition, it had not occurred to me to read 1 Timothy 5:8 (the verse you quote in your title, and so the presumed scriptural context) to mean that men must work outside the home, or even that the male head of household is the one responsible to providing for the family — although I was aware of this as one of the justifications Focus on the Family et al use for turning the nuclear family into some sort of idol.
    Instead, I had always assumed that it was a corrective, reminding Christians that it is still important to provide for our families in the midst of our ministries to the least, the last, and the lost.
    A post I wrote in 2010 on that theme: http://jerusalemtojericho.com/2010/05/18/no-worse-than-an-infidel/

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. God Never Said That | The Church of No People - October 15, 2012

    […] heard from Sonny Lemmons, a stay at home […]

  2. No Straw-feminists Here | Reasonable Conversation - October 16, 2012

    […] The feminism I know includes Stay at Home fathers as well as Stay at Home mothers. […]