I wrote a long post about this topic in a notepad file. I'd written about 1,000 words and it looked hopeful that I might get to the point someday when my computer crashed trying to watch a Netflix movie. Ah well. Back to the drawing board -- and perhaps I can stop the rambling on other topics (such as women's role in the military or what femininity really is) and just answer the question for myself.
I have heard it said recently, on a few blogs belonging to Protestant housewives, that wives should not work. Period, end of discussion. If you're a woman and married, you are undermining your husband if you work outside the home. It is his role to go out and earn a living, and yours to stay home. If you are terribly bored at home, they suggest crafting or volunteering. And if your husband is unemployed, they suggest "putting extra effort into being frugal" as your contribution.
I'm sorry, I just don't buy that one. If you are married with no children, I don't see anything important enough going on at home all day that you have to be there. The housekeeping and chores do take time -- but not all your time. And I think that a man can be a provider even if you are bringing home a paycheck too.
Now, I have to add a caveat. I have discovered (firsthand) that a man does not like to be unable to take care of all the family's monetary needs himself. He may feel guilty or inadequate. There's also the concern that the couple will have children and the second income may disappear -- the man is going to want to be ready for this by taking care of the bare minimum of expenses himself. However, a woman's salary could go toward paying down debt, getting through a rough patch, or saving for something important (like a house). Not to mention that having the man's salary cover all expenses is just not an option for many families. It would be nice, but it can't always be done.
For a childless couple, whether the wife should work, and how much, is a judgment call. First, how much does she want to work? Does she have a strong pull to some career or other? Second, does the family need her to work? If it does, she'd better do it, even if she doesn't want to. It makes me angry to hear of women who happily sit at home, spending hubby's money on luxuries, while the husband is struggling to make enough for each month. In an emergency, we pull out all the stops and do what we don't want to. Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you get out of this.
Now, taking care of a home, even for just two people, can be a bit more work than is easily done in the evenings. Part-time work may be a good option. I know I really like that I get home at 4:15 (usually) so that I can get dinner on. (Can being the operative word! Some days I admit to just settling for sandwiches.) Personally, I'm not much in favor of working more than you have to, because I think the truly important things in life happen at home. But some people are very fulfilled by having busy lives, so to each his or her own.
What goes above for childless couples is the philosophy I've followed myself. I planned to work after we got married, even when it looked like we were going to be all right without it, so that we could pay off our loans. Also, I wanted to continue to use my skills and contribute to the world a bit more while I had little else to do. I didn't really want to sit in an apartment by myself all day, waiting for John to get home. And I knew I wouldn't actually finish my novel if I was home all day ... I would probably just surf the internet and make fancy dinners. It didn't seem quite fair to me. When John's job turned out not to be paying all our expenses, I was very glad that I'd made plans to work already. We have, so far, had plenty to live on, and the only reason we are so painfully frugal is because we're saving for the (very uncertain) future.
My objection to women in the workplace comes up when kids enter the picture. I told John long before we were married -- perhaps long before he was even remotely interested in me -- that I intended to stay home with my children. I have been a nanny, a teacher, and a daycare worker. I know firsthand that kids simply don't get what they need from substitutes. They learn, from an early age, to play their different "care providers" against one another. They lie. They have emotional breakdowns. They feel lonely. They have separation anxiety, which is considered "normal," but which I don't think kids should have to suffer. And, sadly, the parents often don't realize any of this. I decided, while working these jobs, that I could only see myself using daycare if I ended up a single mother somehow. As long as my kids had two parents, one of us was going to be staying home and taking care of them.
Why should that person be the mother? Well, John says mothers are better at it. Mothers have a special ability to empathize, to multitask, and so forth. I am not sure this is universally true, but in my experience, the moms do generally do it a little better. When the mom works, usually she takes over the minute she walks on the door. Not to mention the really practical considerations -- during pregnancy, and when children are very young, it's extra hard for the mom to be outside the home. Believe me, I know! Nursing mothers have an especially rough time ... and we all know (I hope) that nursing is better for the baby. It sort of makes sense for the person with the equipment to be the one who's around all day.
Now, we don't all have ideal situations. I think kids do better with Mom around all day long. But, what if Dad's income isn't enough? What if Mom has a PhD and Dad has a high school diploma? Well, we make the best solutions we can. Dad staying home and Mom working is an option -- one that gets better the older the kids are. And in a tough situation, the parents can work different shifts -- like the dad works normal days and the mom has a part-time weekend job. Then at least there is someone at home with the kids. That means there is less time to be together as a family ... the couple doesn't get a lot of couple time. It's always going to be a trade-off when you have several full-time jobs (raising the children counts as a whole one) going on in the same house.
However, I still believe strongly that the parents should be the ones who take care of their children. I also think that society should make it possible for the mother to stay at home full-time and care for her children. We should stop expecting all families to be two-income households. Now, I don't have a solution for how to undo an economy based on two wage-earners per family. But I would like one. Just today I read an article about how the poor are likely to be obese, in part because they don't have time to shop for or cook healthy food. And we all know that lower-income children have more behavior and learning problems. What if we could give them all their mothers back, letting them be in the home full-time to cook them healthy food, to help them with their schoolwork, to keep them out of trouble? Well, it's a bigger problem than I can fix. It would require higher wages, an end to divorce and unwed pregnancy, and a sense responsibility among the dads.
Meanwhile, I can at least arrange my own life according to my philosophy. John agreed with me that I should quit work when I have the baby. (This decision is made easier by the fact that a. the school year is ending, and b. I don't make enough to pay for daycare and do much more than break even.) Unfortunately, we don't have a solid plan for how we're going to make that happen, but we're working on it. One way or another, we're going to make it work. We have savings enough for the summer, more or less. John has many "sticks in the fire" in terms of applications for different jobs. And, if all else fails, I'll follow my own suggestion of taking up a part-time job during John's off-hours. I have experience nannying and tutoring. (It is even theoretically possible to do these with a baby, if necessary.) I have a couple of ways I could try making some income from home.
Okay, that did go long. But at least it mentioned the point. The summary: Wives without children should work if necessary or if they want to. Wives with children should stay home with those children, if possible. Someone must stay home with the children in any event. Real life is far from ideal, but we do the best we can, keeping the good of the children at the forefront, even if it entails sacrifice.
How's that for an answer?
In other news, I feel huge. I am due in four and a half weeks. Pray for baby and me!