It’s a term most of us are familiar with and it’s something that can permeate through lots of parenting choices, from the style of discipline a mum might opt for, even to taking time out of the chaos to have a coffee. But the guilt seems heightened when it comes to paid work.
While many women must go back to work for financial reasons, many mothers want to do paid regardless of financial necessity. Yet across both those groups, women often still feel torn, and Christians are not exempt. Whatever a mum decides, she may still feel like she’s failing someone or something—God, her duty as a mum, her duty as a woman, her children, her family, herself. Regardless of the reason for returning to work, many mums will find themselves weeping in her car in the carpark after leaving her baby in daycare for the first time.
The ‘working mum’ is undeniably the norm in our world. In Australia, 25% of families with children under 4 have both parents working full time. This increases to nearly 80% for parents for kids aged 5-9. In each age bracket, the percentage of families in which only one parent works is no higher than 30%.
Just over a quarter of families in Australia are single parent families. Nearly 50% of single mums work full time when their children are under 4, while 75% of single mums with kids aged between 5 and 15 work full time.
Is there a difference for people attending church? There doesn’t appear to be. The NCLS data for 2016 showed that nearly 50% of church attendees were in some form of employment with 8% in the home and caring for the family. Those employed are relatively evenly split between men (52.5%) and women (47.5%) and so there doesn’t seem to be a gender bias in the employment statistics for church goers.
So how can churches support mums in paid work? When the writer of Hebrews tells his readers not to give up meeting together, it’s with the view to encouraging one another “and even more as you see the day approaching” (10:24). Our church community is about helping each other finish the race. And where better to amplify this support than in the times of uncertainty and vulnerability that a big transition represents?
Our community is meant to be close, even familial. This is a deeply involved and active relationship. God planted us within this new family. Our church community is the place where we can grow and flourish as Christian disciples and become strengthened in each new season. Here are a few ideas of ways we can support working mums.
1. Acknowledge maternity leave. It’s a small thing that’s oddly profound to invite a mum to daytime Bible study for however long they are on maternity leave. Acknowledging this situation can be comforting because it helps her feel seen and understood at a time when she is potentially feeling vulnerable and unsure. It shows that you don’t now automatically expect her to be out of paid work forever, and this can be a small way of helping to lessen that feeling of mum guilt.
2. Support the back to work transition. Lots of women go back to work after six months or within a year. Employers often will only hold her job open for 12 months. Others may have to go back after 12 months or will otherwise lose their accreditation and have to re-train. Whether she wants to go back work or has to, there is grieving. Transition management involves acknowledging her situational change is both practical and emotional. It could be helpful to meet up with her in the run up to her return to work to pray with her and help strengthen her emotionally as she talks it all through. And something as simple as sending a message to let her know you’re thinking about her, once she has returned to work, will likely help her to feel encouraged and supported. A lot of this just boils down to being proactively present and empathetic, acknowledging that this new season will be a big adjustment for the whole family.
3. Help her to keep connected at church. As a mum transitions back to paid work, there will be a period where she needs to acclimatise and get used to her new normal—whether it’s her first child or her fourth! Make sure there is an ongoing discussion about what church engagement might look like in this new season. For example, when might work for her to be in a Bible study group? When she has found her feet, are there in-service serving opportunities that would help her to keep serving without being too much during a working week? Does she need a prayer partner? Single mums may need particular care as they transition to paid work. (I’ve written about some practical ways for churches to care more generally for single mums here.)
4. Provide and recommend resources. Mums are always searching for good resources! Books, blogs, podcasts, conferences—most mums love hearing new ideas and what has worked for people. Keep an eye out for resources that will particularly serve working mums. The annual seminar of Mothers Union Sydney in February on ‘Work and Rest in the Light of Eternity’ is a great resource to recommend. It includes a talk specifically on Christian parenting as a working mum, and the seminar can be attended in person, livestreamed, or accessed online later which is handy for working mums! And it’s free.
There is a wonderful opportunity for our church families to be a part of the journey back to paid work, as together we live out the community of fellowship that God made us for. This transition to work provides opportunities to strengthen the mum, fortify the family and reinforce the connections between a family and their church. And overall, it provides our churches the opportunities to be God’s hands and feet in enhancing a mother’s relationship with God, to the benefit of the whole family.
 ‘Labour Force Status of Families’, Australian Bureau of Statistics, June 2022 (accessed 23 January 2023).
 ‘Employment changes things: “Time strapped” people with less time for volunteering and participating at church’, NCLS Research, February 2018 (accessed 23 January 2023).
 ‘Attenders in employment have distinctive characteristics’, NCLS Research, July 2019 (accessed 23 January 2023).