Should I work or stay home with my preschooler and then accept government welfare?
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“Should I work or stay home with my preschooler and then accept government welfare?” Ensign, Mar. 1978, 19–20

I’m a divorced mother with a four-year-old son. I know he needs me, especially this last year before he starts kindergarten. But if I don’t work, I’ll probably have to accept government welfare. I feel guilty about neglecting my son—and I am not sure about accepting government welfare. Can you help me?

R. Quinn Gardner, managing director, Church Welfare Services You are not alone in your concern. This current and complex problem affects many—one in every eight families in the United States today is headed by a woman. (Women Workers Today, U.S. Dept. of Labor, 1976, p. 10.) Many of these women are mothers like yourself with young children. What should the standard be for Latter-day Saint mothers who are in this situation?

Obviously, the young widow or divorcee has many needs, including the needs for adult company and recreation. To satisfy these needs requires that she leave the home and her children on occasion. As a general rule, however, when it comes to work away from home, Church leaders have counseled that whenever possible the mother should remain in the home. Especially is this true of mothers with preschool children. While she is at home loving, teaching, and guiding her young children she should use reasonable means to generate income from within the home. Sewing, canvassing with the telephone, perhaps a home mail-order business of her own are possibilities. Several good books are available on this subject of earning income while at home, such as Homework (Vera Judge, Deseret Book, 1977). She may also consider taking reputable correspondence courses to increase her talents and expertise so that, if necessary, when all the children are in school, she will be able to find more rewarding, suitable, and gainful employment. Only where absolutely necessary should the mother of small children seek work outside the home and then such work should be to the extent possible of a part-time nature.

Thus, as a young mother you should try as hard as possible to remain in your home where you should try to provide for yourself and your little boy. Where you cannot provide adequately, your immediate family—parents, brothers, and sisters—and your extended family—grandparents, uncles, aunts—should help you if at all possible. Where your family members are unable to help sufficiently, then the Church stands ready to provide you with assistance.

A faithful divorced sister with a four-year-old son is clearly included within the spirit and the letter of section 83 of the Doctrine and Covenants:

“Verily, thus saith the Lord, in addition to the laws of the church concerning women and children, those who belong to the church, who have lost their husbands or fathers:

“Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken; and if they are not found transgressors they shall have fellowship in the church. …

“And the storehouse shall be kept by the consecrations of the church; and the widows and orphans shall be provided for, as also the poor.” (D&C 83:1–2, 6.)

Of course, each individual’s circumstances must be considered as unique. The mother’s age and health, her children (how many and how old), her financial resources, her previous training and education, her personal interests, experience, and capabilities, and other factors will vary. But the general welfare principles remain the same: (1) the divorced or widowed mother with preschool children should stay in the home and provide as much as possible for herself and her children; (2) when she cannot meet needs and obligations, her family should assist; and (3) where both individual and family resources are inadequate, the Church is prepared to help.

Your bishop is empowered—indeed he is commanded—to actively seek out those who need help and to provide for their needs. To aid him in assessing and meeting those needs, the bishop has the Storehouse Resource System he can call upon. He has access to an employment system coordinated by Melchizedek Priesthood Quorums. He has the bishops storehouse from which he may obtain food and nonfood commodities. He has the fast offering fund out of which he may pay for rent and utilities. As approved by his stake president, he may call upon LDS Social Services where necessary. Deseret Industries stocks nonfood items that your bishop may obtain by using a bishop’s order. Normally the bishop will call upon the Relief Society president to assist in determining how to apply the resources in the Storehouse Resource System. I am certain your bishop stands ready to help both you and your little boy.

I hasten to add, however, that the Lord’s program to care for those in need does not end with the rendering of assistance. If commodities, money, and services were simply handed out, they could and would become a dole. When you receive such assistance from the Church, your bishop will provide you with work or service opportunities to match your ability and your circumstances. In accepting Church aid, then, you merit what you receive through work or service. You do not necessarily give full monetary value. Nor is this expected. The members of the Church, through their consecrated time and offerings, have given money and commodities to help you. You, in turn, give of yourself to help them.

By this we see that Church welfare is much more a program of giving than of getting. I hope you do not look negatively upon acceptance of Church assistance as long as you do your part and work to the best of your ability, giving your time and talents to help others who may have needs similar to yours. Receiving Church welfare assistance is as honorable as giving it.

Now the question will arise, “Does this mean that I should not accept government assistance?”

This is not a question that can be given a simple answer; there are many governments; there are many aspects of government welfare assistance that must be considered.

Perhaps the most important factor to be considered is the fact that the care of poor, needy, and distressed members of the Church is a primary duty given by scriptural commandment to the Church by the Lord. In other words, the care of “the poor, the widows, and the fatherless” in the Church is a province of the Church and its members. To the extent that bishops shift this kind of care from the Church to secular sources, blessings are lost—to both giver and receiver.

Stated succinctly, the Church’s policy on accepting government assistance is as follows:

“The responsibility for each member’s spiritual, social, emotional, physical, or economic well-being rests first, upon himself, second, upon his family, and third, upon the Church. Members of the Church are commanded by the Lord to be self-reliant and independent to the extent of their ability. (See D&C 78:13–14.)

“No true Latter-day Saint, while physically or emotionally able, will voluntarily shift the burden of his own or his family’s well-being to someone else. So long as he can, under the inspiration of the Lord and with his own labors, he will work to the extent of his ability to supply himself and his family with the spiritual and temporal necessities of life. (Gen. 3:19; 1 Tim. 5:8; and Philip. 2:12.)

“As guided by the Spirit of the Lord and through applying these principles, each member of the Church should make his own decision as to what assistance he accepts, be it from governmental or other source. In this way, independence, self-respect, dignity, and self-reliance will be fostered, and free agency maintained.” (The Presiding Bishopric, September 1977.)

To summarize then: First, decide to be where your child needs you most. Except in unusual circumstances, this will be in the home. Second, do what you reasonably can to support yourself while in the home. Where your own resources are insufficient, look to your family. And when that will not suffice, do not hesitate to seek help from the Church; it’s the Lord’s “own way” of providing for his Saints. (See D&C 104:16–17.) And as for government assistance, this decision must be made by you. It should be made in accordance with the principles the Lord has revealed through his appointed leaders, as has already been outlined.