Should a woman accept a job that will require her
to be away from her family for significant periods of time?
While different circumstances may demand different decisions, the reality is that a mother is irreplaceable in a child’s life. Especially when children are young, the role of the mother can’t be over-emphasized. If the mother isn’t there for significant periods of time, the children unfortunately suffer.
In a pinch, and for short periods, a father can step in and do some of the caretaking, but, at the end of the day, Hashem gave an instinct to women to be nurturers – to be the ones who develops the children. The center of the house is the mother.
Therefore, to accept a job that would affect her ability to be a good mother would be to put something in front of her primary role in life.
Especially in our times when identities and roles have becomes so confused and there is so much noise and static in the world at large, it’s important for us to reemphasize and refocus on the way Hashem created families and the way families function best.
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz
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I would like to re-phrase the question: Should a man or woman accept a job that will require being away from family for significant periods of time? Men, as well as women, have responsibilities to be present for their families.
For many centuries, it was assumed that men are responsible for earning a living and therefore must be away from home as much as needed for their work. It was assumed that women are responsible for the home and therefore must not be away from home and children for significant period of times.
But in modern times, perceptions and realities have changed. Until recent decades, few women had the opportunity to attend university, attain high-level employment, or assume leadership roles in political or communal life. Today, women have vastly greater opportunities and possibilities. Women, as well as men, want to fulfill their professional and personal goals.
That being said, professional responsibilities must not be allowed to undermine the stability of the family. We want – and need – men and women to recognize their primary responsibility to raise healthy, happy, Torah-true children. Each family has different dynamics, different needs, and different ways of addressing their challenges. It is not easy to balance family and professional responsibilities – and yet, it must be done.
Each woman and man must evaluate what is best for self and family. Sometimes a woman or man must sacrifice professional opportunities for the sake of family responsibilities. Sometimes a woman or man may accept a job requiring significant commitment if that is deemed best for the family.
Each person must weigh contending factors, come to a harmonious understanding with husband or wife, and be sure that the interests of children and family are paramount.
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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As in any issue, many factors determine the proper Torah response. There is no monolithic answer to any question in the real world. Among the relevant factors are the answers to the following questions:
- Is this employment necessary for the financial upkeep of the family?
- How much time will it entail?
- What are the number and ages of the children?
- Are there any special-needs children that necessitate the mother’s presence?
- Does the woman need this job as a necessary outlet for her mental wellbeing?
- What other sources of assistance to the family – e.g., cleaning, babysitting, etc. – are available to offset the mother’s absence from the home?
After considering these factors and any other relevant conditions, an answer for that specific situation can be given. No issue in real life is simple, black and white, with one generic fit-all-directive or solution.
— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator
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It is interesting that the question about being away from one’s family for a long time was asked only about a woman. Raising a family is the responsibility of both parents. The Rambam begins the laws of Talmud Torah with the obligation of a father to teach his sons. (When children are young, the role of the mother is greater.)
In general, it is important that parents spend meaningful time with their children. Balancing work and family is a challenge. Particular circumstances may require a parent to travel for work which will reduce their availability to their children, but modern technology can help insure that they remain in regular contact.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at
YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary
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To arrive at a meaningful answer to this question, I did the most obvious thing. I asked my 10-year-old daughter how she would feel if her mother spent more time at work and away from home. Her worried expression was all the answer I needed.
When I asked her why she felt it was important for her mother, rather than her father, to be more at home, she explained to me all the different issues children are likely to confront while growing up, which, as she put it, “Mommies can deal with far better than Daddies.”
It occurred to me that she’s right. When Judaism describes the woman as the “akeres habayis” [the home’s foundation], it uses that choice term very deliberately. A foundation is critical for a home; it forms and provides stability to it – and that is the role of every Jewish mother.
That isn’t to say she shouldn’t be a career woman, but that should never be at the expense of the great responsibility with which G-d tasked her.
When Indra Nooyi stepped down as the CEO of PepsiCo, she reflected on career lessons learned in a special ‘goodbye’ letter to employees. She encouraged her staffers to set goals, listen openly to feedback, and pursue lifelong education. Most crucially, she told them: “Think hard about time.”
Nooyi was PepsiCo’s first female chief executive and boosted revenue 80 percent during her tenure. Still, she said there are times she wished she had prioritized family. “I’ve been blessed with an amazing career, but, if I’m being honest, there have been moments I wish I’d spent more time with my children and family.”
The hand that rocks the cradle really does rule the world. We must not lose sight of that. Ever.
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue