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Should Baha’i mothers stay at home?

Here’s a question I hear a lot!  Let’s look at what the Bahá’í Writings have to teach us!

The idea of mothers not working outside the home makes sense when we consider the principle that the man has primary responsibility for the financial support of the family, and the woman is the chief and primary educator of the children:

With regard to your question whether mothers should work outside the home, it is helpful to consider the matter from the perspective of the concept of a Bahá’í family. This concept is based on the principle that the man has primary responsibility for the financial support of the family, and the woman is the chief and primary educator of the children. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

This doesn’t mean that these functions are inflexibly fixed and cannot be changed and adjusted to suit particular family situations, nor does it mean that the place of the woman is confined to the home:

This by no means implies that these functions are inflexibly fixed and cannot be changed and adjusted to suit particular family situations, nor does it mean that the place of the woman is confined to the home. Rather, while primary responsibility is assigned, it is anticipated that fathers would play a significant role in the education of the children and women could also be breadwinners. As you rightly indicated, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged women to ‘participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world’.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

The amount of time a mother may spend in working outside the home depends on circumstances existing within the home, which may vary from time to time:

In relation to your specific queries, the decision concerning the amount of time a mother may spend in working outside the home depends on circumstances existing within the home, which may vary from time to time.  (Universal House of Justice, Compilation on Women)

Family consultation will help to provide the answers:

Family consultation will help to provide the answers.  (Universal House of Justice, Compilation on Women)

In general, though, the task of bringing up a Bahá’í child, as emphasized time and again in Bahá’í writings, is the chief responsibility of the mother:

The task of bringing up a Bahá’í child, as emphasized time and again in Bahá’í writings, is the chief responsibility of the mother, whose unique privilege is indeed to create in her home such conditions as would be most conducive to both his material and spiritual welfare and advancement. The training which the child first receives through his mother constitutes the strongest foundation for his future development.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 148)

The primary responsibility for supporting the family financially is placed upon the husband:

Similarly, although the primary responsibility for supporting the family financially is placed upon the husband, this does not by any means imply that the place of woman is confined to the home.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

The mother is the first educator of the child:

The mother is the first educator of the child, and the most important formative influence in his development.   (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

This makes sense because the infant’s primary orientation is to its mother:

That the first teacher of the child is the mother should not be startling, for the primary orientation of the infant is to its mother.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 383)

Mothers need to be closely associated with children during their formative years:

The mother is usually closely associated with the baby during this intensely formative time when it is growing and developing faster than it ever will again during the whole of its life. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

It would seem preferable that children should receive their first training at home at the hand of their mother, rather than be sent to a nursery:

With reference to the question of the training of children; given the emphasis placed by Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the necessity for the parents to train their children while still in their tender age, it would seem preferable that they should receive their first training at home at the hand of their mother, rather than be sent to a nursery. Should circumstances, however, compel a Bahá’í mother to adopt the latter course, there can be no objection.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 149-150)

Spiritual training given directly from the mothers is the beginning of the process and the essential basis of all the rest:

Thou didst ask as to the education of children. Those children who, sheltered by the Blessed Tree, have set foot upon the world, those who are cradled in the Faith and are nurtured at the breast of grace — such must from the beginning receive spiritual training directly from their mothers. That is, the mother must continually call God to mind and make mention of Him, and tell of His greatness, and instill the fear of Him in the child, and rear the child gently, in the way of tenderness, and in extreme cleanliness. Thus from the very beginning of life every child will be refreshed by the gentle wafting of the love of God and will tremble with joy at the sweet scent of heavenly guidance. In this lieth the beginning of the process; it is the essential basis of all the rest.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 280-282)

This is a high and exalted position, and we are not allowed to slacken in our responsibility:

It is incumbent upon to train the children from their earliest babyhood!… It is incumbent upon you to attend to them under all aspects and circumstances, inasmuch as God-glorified and exalted is He!-hath ordained mothers to be the primary trainers of children and infants. This is a great and important affair and a high and exalted position, and it is not allowable to slacken therein at all!”  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Vol. III, p. 606)

Whatever children learn in that early stage of development will become part of their nature and leave its traces upon their whole life:

He is very glad to know that you attach importance to the training of the children, for whatever they learn in that early stage of their development will leave its traces upon their whole life. It becomes part of their nature.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 150)

If a mother fails to train her children, and start them on a proper way of life, the training which they receive later on will not take its full effect:

 So long as the mother faileth to train her children, and start them on a proper way of life, the training which they receive later on will not take its full effect. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 138)

A firm foundation must be laid in early childhood, because it is extremely difficult to teach the individual and refine his character once puberty is passed:

It is extremely difficult to teach the individual and refine his character once puberty is passed. By then, as experience hath shown, even if every effort be exerted to modify some tendency of his, it all availeth nothing. He may, perhaps improve somewhat today; but let a few days pass and he forgetteth, and turneth backward to his habitual condition and accustomed ways. Therefore it is in early childhood that a firm foundation must be laid. While the branch is green and tender it can easily be made straight.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Bahá’í Education, pp. 24-25)

If the baby is trained right, it will grow right, and if crooked, the growth unto the end of its life will also be crooked:

The first trainer of the child is the mother. The babe, like unto a green and tender branch, will grow according to the way it is trained. If the training be right, it will grow right, and if crooked, the growth likewise, and unto the end of life it will conduct itself accordingly.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 399)

We must attach great importance to this matter, and carry it forward with enthusiasm and zeal:

The beloved of God must attach great importance to this matter, and carry it forward with enthusiasm and zeal.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Bahá’í Education, pp. 24-25)

The time for pursuing a career is in the future, where there is no area or instance where they will lag behind; they have equal rights with men, and will enter into all branches of the administration of society:

In the Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh, women are advancing side by side with men. There is no area or instance where they will lag behind: they have equal rights with men, and will enter, in the future, into all branches of the administration of society. Such will be their elevation that, in every area of endeavor, they will occupy the highest levels in the human world.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

It is often difficult to do things because they are so very different from what we are used to, but Bahá’í children who see these things practiced in the home, will see it as natural and necessary:

It is often difficult for us to do things because they are so very different from what we are used to, not because the thing itself is particularly difficult. With you, and indeed most Bahá’ís, who are now, as adults, accepting this glorious Faith, no doubt some of the ordinances, like fasting and daily prayer, are hard to understand and obey at first. But we must always think that these things are given to all men for a thousand years to come. For Bahá’í children who see these things practiced in the home, they will be as natural and necessary a thing as going to church on Sunday was to the more pious generation of Christians. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights Of Guidance, p. 343)

It is in this context of mutual and complementary duties and responsibilities that one should read the Tablet in which `Abdu’l-Bahá gives the following exhortation:

O Handmaids of the Self- Sustaining Lord! Exert your efforts so that you may attain the honour and privilege ordained for women. Undoubtedly the greatest glory of women is servitude at His Threshold and submissiveness at His door; it is the possession of a vigilant heart, and praise of the incomparable God; it is heartfelt love towards other handmaids and spotless chastity; it is obedience to and consideration for their husbands and the education and care of their children; and it is tranquility, and dignity, perseverance in the remembrance of the Lord, and the utmost enkindlement and attraction.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 225)

How has this helped advance your understanding on this topic?  What would you add to it?  Post your comments below!