My wife has a wonderful heart for service and gives of her abundant talents wholeheartedly to our parish and the Church locally. The trouble is, she takes on way too much and seems to have little left for the family. Am I being selfish to want this “stay-at-home” mom to do a little more staying at home?

Tom: We have always chuckled at the notion of the stay-at-home mom. Just because a woman doesn’t bring home a paycheck doesn’t mean she’s staying at home!

For those of us fortunate enough to be married to intelligent, talented women who are willing to sacrifice a career in order to take on the daunting and rewarding task of child rearing, there remains a constant tension. As rewarding as loving and educating our children is, a degree of tedium and isolation can creep in. Our wives need an outlet for their creativity and skills outside the home, in the “adult” world.

I recently spent four days at home with the kids while Caroline was out of town and quickly realized how necessary those outlets are. When we guys head off to work each day, using our skills in a variety of settings with our peers, it can be easy to forget that our stay-at-home wives may not have this natural outlet. They have a need to seek out or respond to invitations to plug in to the community. This also serves as a witness to the children of the need to be a family of missionaries, seeing ourselves as a domestic church that places itself at the service of the larger body of Christ.

If we husbands pick up the slack at home and do our part, we can assist our wives in achieving this balancing act.

Caroline: And with any balancing act, the more you take on, the harder it is to maintain that balance. There is an old saying that 10% of the people do 90% of the work — and that 10% is under a lot of pressure! What often happens is that one volunteer task leads to another and another, as word gets out that you are a hard worker who is reliable and does a quality job. Soon you find yourself justifying your every activity by saying, “If I don’t do it, nobody else will, and the work is necessary.”

We once heard a very wise priest give a talk on discernment, and we have never forgotten his urging: A need is not a call. There will always be pressing needs, and it may seem like no one else can do it but you. But that doesn’t mean God has singled you out to do it. Our first obligation is to our families, and, if the family suffers because of our volunteer work, that is a good clue that it isn’t in God’s plan for us.

Spend time in prayer with your wife discerning these opportunities. Urge her not to be afraid to have the courage to speak up and say, “No, it isn’t fair to my family to take on yet another task.” Certainly encourage her and enable her to find her outlets, but ask her not to let them become overwhelming.

The McDonalds are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.