When my babies were born, I fully intended to stay home full-time with them for a variety of reasons. However, a year after my first child was born, my husband accepted a job that involved a 25% pay cut, making it necessary for me to work just to pay the bills. It wasn’t exactly how I’d planned it, but I was surprised to find that I loved working and that leaving home actually made me a better mother when I was there.
What began as a paycheck slowly grew into an accidental career in academia that I grew to love. Over the years, I thrived in my position, and my university was flexible with my family commitments, while at the same time supportive of my professional development. I had a stellar boss, and she was helping me strategize future steps and potential advancements. My job fit me to a tee and the room for growth in my position was exciting. It was really the perfect set-up, except for one glaring piece.
Our interracial and intercultural family was living in a tiny rural midwestern town with hardly any diversity and it was sucking the life out of us. My South Asian husband was crumbling under the cultural isolation, rural racism, and lack of access to quality curry. Given strained racial dynamics in our local community (we lived 20 minutes from the site of the last public lynching in America), we didn’t feel it was wise for our children to be some of the only biracial children in the local schools. Having grown weary of being stared at, we’d also developed a coping mechanism of leaving the house as little as possible. Overall, we were withering as a family.
So when my husband received a job offer in Southern California, the choice was clear. In our situation, a move to a more diverse area would significantly benefit our marriage and family as a whole, so the priority of my own career in the mix landed a distant last. I gave up a budding career and professional network that I loved and restarted the career I had spent years slowly growing.
While it may appear that we were subscribing to traditional gender roles when I let go of my career to follow my husband across the country, the real story is rooted more deeply in our understanding of loving one another from a place of equality and mutual submission.
I grew up being taught a model of marriage that promoted the man as ‘head of the household’, but saw a completely different model lived out in my home. When I’d ask why both parents seemed equally in-charge, the response was that it was ultimately the big decisions in which the man would use his role as “Head” to decide, and that the woman would submit unquestionably to his decision. But this never happened in my home, because if my parents couldn’t agree together, they waited until they did, or they didn’t do it. My husband and I had found the same in our own marriage, but we had discovered the gift of words like egalitarian and mutual submission to help us work out the dance of marital partnership, instead of feeling like we were always breaking theological rules.
This was our “big” decision, and from our understanding of mutual submission, we knew that it had to be made together. The weight of uprooting ourselves, leaving family, and moving 3000 miles away required an equal strength and commitment from us both, and we knew it was a decision that wasn’t fair to sit on the shoulders of just one of us.
One of the guiding principles my husband and I have operated on throughout our marriage is that we make our decisions for the good of the whole. Given my type-A personality, I used to function as though our marriage was “The Me Show”. As my husband and I matured in our relationship, however, I began to see that it wasn’t true equality if I ran the show – it was just reverse patriarchy. The equality in our relationship was beneficial only so much as it sacrificially considered the other, and understanding this equality was what taught me how to submit not as a subordinate, but as an equal. This dance of giving way to one another was about to take a new turn, and we both knew we’d need to learn some new steps.
Even though the decision to leave my career had been clear, it still didn’t make it an easy transition. Full-time work in my field is nearly non-existent in Southern California, so I was only able to find part-time contract work, and redeveloping my professional network is slow-going. The slowness has meant that I take a back seat and watch for a while, cheering my husband on to walk boldly and faithfully in his strengths.
Ultimately, this has been a gift as I have had time to help cushion the transition for us all, given a lighter work schedule, but it was painfully humbling to transition from an established reputation in a position of leadership back to anonymity at the bottom of the ladder. What I didn’t see coming when I walked away from my career was how my professional downgrade would give me the opportunity to actively live out Jesus’ call to seek the good of others.
Sacrificing my own advancement so my husband and children could thrive also meant that we could all walk on more equal footing together. In the process, I’ve learned that sometimes sharing power equally means stepping back, loosening grips, and standing in the shadows for a while. There may very well come a day when it means stepping forward again (perhaps we’ll move for my job someday), but for today, I’m learning to sit quietly and enjoy the scenery while I wait.
Your Turn: What model of decision making do you use in your marriage? How do you see mutual submission played out in marriage?
Here are some books on marriage and family presented from an egalitarian view:
Balswick, J. & Balswick, J. (2005). A Model for Marriage: Covenant, Grace, Empowerment and Intimacy. Intervarsity Academic.
Gottman, John & Nan Silver. (2000). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown Publishing. (Gottman does not write from the Christian perspective, but his work is well-researched and effective.) http://www.gottman.com/
Lee, Helen. (2011). The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home and in the World. Moody Publishers.
VanVonderen, Jeff. (2010). Families Where Grace is in Place. Bethany House. Grand Rapids.