Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Let's end the Mommy Wars

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Aug. 23, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell Two debates about women’s place in the world seem to perennially rouse discussion: the Mary and Martha story in Luke’s Gospel, and whether mothers should stay at home or go out to work.

A new study by Pew Research Center shows the divide between employed and at-home mothers has grown wider over the past decade.

In 1997, 38 percent of at-home moms said mothers working was a bad trend. Now that has increased to 44 percent. While working mothers who believe it’s a good trend jumped from 19 percent 10 years ago to 34 percent today.

It happens my daughter and I are part of different study touching on this same topic, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. That’s a mouthful, describing a scientific look at more than 1,000 families and how their kids developed in different types of childcare. It analyzed children in a parent’s care at home, care by a relative, in-home daycare and daycare centers.

I agreed to participate in the study when Monica was born. Over the next 16 years, researchers observed her periodically at a laboratory at the University of Washington. They also made visits to our home to videotape us together, test Monica, and interview me. As Monica grew older, they also surveyed her school teachers and conducted health examinations. The results of the phase of the study, covering from birth to 4-and-a-half years, coincidentally, were released at the same time as the Pew report.

There were a number of findings, but the bottom line, as I interpret it, is that the environment in the family has more impact on a child’s development than whether a mom stays home or goes to work. (With the exception of children in poor families with low standard daycare.)

Researchers observed the extent of “cognitively stimulating experiences” provided by the family: for instance, whether there were books in the home, or frequent library visits. They also measured parental attitudes, the sensitivity and mood of the mother, and how content she felt about her life. These factors were consistently more important than whether the mother worked or stayed home fulltime.

The Sunday after I saw these results, the Gospel told of the disagreement between Mary and Martha. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, while Martha works in the kitchen. This debate usually gives way to the notion that women should strive for a life of both contemplation and action. How true. But rather than being helpful, this often provokes more guilt in women. Just as the varying arguments about working women, it places another expectation on mothers.

It’s past time to move beyond “shoulds” and talk about what is helpful to parents raising children in these challenging times.

What is important about Jesus saying “Mary has chosen the better part” relates directly to her choosing what she believes is right, and doing it despite what others think. Mary has begun at the feet of Jesus, a place of love and acceptance that calls her and empowers her to become the person God created her to be.

We, too, can begin at the feet of Jesus, the One who loves and accepts us just as we are. The One who knows we’re trying our best, even when we yell at the kids, the One who forgives us when we neglect our child’s needs, the one who comes after us when we’ve given up on ourselves, the one who challenges us to do better next time, and the one who gives us the courage to do what we know in our heart is right.

Each day – each moment, really – we can turn to the One who loves us beyond questions of employment and home, beyond debates of Mary and Martha, and beyond the expectations we fail to meet. We can trust in the One who sends the Spirit to empower us, each in our unique way, to bring God’s vision alive.

© 2007, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at

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