Tuesday mornings I have been gathering with a small group of women/mothers to study and discuss motherhood. This morning, more than any other, I realized how precious this group is. We are challenging each other, not just batting ideas around. We are trying to move to higher ground, to improve ourselves and our relationships with those in our families.
The book we have just begun is called "Raising up a family to the Lord." This week, in chapter one, a list popped out at me. It listed a number of ways of "helping fathers stay on target." (Which made us laugh, because while the book is not specifically written to women, we have often noted that we as mothers devour books and then our husbands "read" them through us!) I started the discussion on this list, because I struggled with some of the ideas in it.
One item firmly stated that the father is the "presiding authority in the home." "The mother is the helpmate, or counselor." Now, while I have acknowledged this concept in the past, I asked myself if I really believed it. I found myself leaning toward the next point: "The role of the father is inseparable from the role of the mother." Yes, that sounds more like the equal partnership in which I believe. So how to reconcile the two ideas? In what way should a father lead is household? Is the idea archaic? Is there any benefit or merit to it? CAn you have an equal partnership if one person is the head?
The questions tumbled out of my mouth, without any answers to follow. I let them hang in the air, gazing questioningly at my friends. What did they think? Interestingly enough, the women in this group are all very much like me - strong, leaders, and without a doubt the powerhouse in their homes. I have some friends who are softer, but none to be found in this group today. What did they think? We are all mothers who are staying at home with our kids, and so of course our primary work every day is to run the house. How can we not have the most insight into decisions regarding our children, family and homes when we are the ones here every single day?
We discussed it a bit, and then this thought formed in my mind: there are two things at play here - the family, and the home. Yes, as a stay-at-home mother, I am the head of my home. But my husband can be head of the family. We have come to fuse these two concepts, that home and family are one. But they do not have to be. I can run an efficient household, without subverting the authority of my husband as father.
I know this has been some strong language here: power, authority, head, leader. Certainly in some circles it might be viewed as anti-feminist and archaic. And while I strongly believe in the women's movement that allows us to stand out strongly as never before, I wonder if in craving that independence we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. So let me take a turn for a moment. In Shaunti Feldman's book For Women Only, she talks about interviews she did with hundreds of men. A very high percentage of these men affirmed that it was more important to them to feel respected than to feel loved. It is inherent to the make up of a man's nature that he longs to be respected by those around him. So imagine if a man was to walk into his home after long days away at work and feel like just another child, being told what to do and when, and how.
I catch myself more often than I'd like to admit falling into this trap. I nag about tidying, I instruct on child-rearing, I determine scheduling. The times when I make gestures of conversing are nothing more than paying lip service to the idea of equal opinions. What I really want is to convince him that my ways are the best ways.
Then we come to moments where we really want another opinion, and we get frustrated that our husbands are not really listening or contributing. Are we surprised? If we spend 90% of our time trying to tell them how things go, they probably aren't sure if we really want their opinion or not.
While men and women can (and should) have an equal partnership as parents, there is something to be said for the traditional role of mother as nurturer and father as leader. Generally, women have a more tender heart, more patience, more ability to soothe. Men are protectors and providers. The way I view a man as "head of the family" is not that he is ruling over his wife. I see it as a way to teach and guide his children and set them on a course of good character building. A mother's influence is gentle because she is there more often. A father's influence is stronger because he has less time in which to do it.
As we wrapped up the conversation, I posed another question that we left open-ended for each of us to consider on our own. In what ways are we subverting our husband's authority as father? In what ways might we be holding back some of the respect he desires? What can we do to shore up his confidence as the leader of our family? How can I successfully run my home without making my husband feel like another person I have charge over?