FAQ: Role of Husbands & Wives

HawkgrrrlMormon 35 Comments

We’ve explored some of the answers members have posted on the site in the church’s new profiles campaign.  So far, we’ve discussed member answers to questions about polygamywomen& the priesthood, and politics.  Today, let’s see what members had to say about gender roles.

Here’s the “FAQ:”  What is the role of the husband and the wife in the family?  I have a few initial concerns with this: 

  • Is this really a frequently asked question?  It seems to me that it’s something we apparently want to tell people, but it’s not necessarily the sort of thing anyone would ask us.  Isn’t it kind of like asking your boss what the company you work for does?
  • Why is this question listed in the “women” section of the FAQs?  It’s ostensibly about the role of husbands (last I checked, men) as well as wives.  Of course, there is no section for “men.”  Hmmm.

The fact that this question exists is already questionable logic, IMO. With that in mind, let’s proceed.  Again, the “official” answer is perhaps the least problematic (below, an excerpt), although it does link to the PoF (which I state below I find potentially problematic):

Both mother and father have a necessary and important role in the lives of their children. Parents’ work in the home will be more effective if their first priorities are God, each other, and their children.

A home that is safe, where children can grow mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, requires faith and the best efforts of the parents working together.

Answers I liked:

  • Equality.  Those that focused on equality in parenting with no role-prescriptive caveats.  Most of the answers did this.
  • Responsibility.  Those that talked about what parents’ duties are with regard to their children.  Many examples somehow lost the children in describing the role of parents.
    • We are here to build self worth in our families. We teach our children to be kind, loving, charitable, helpful, honest and clean. We teach them to follow the example Jesus Christ has given us.”  I really liked this one, also because this was the entire answer; nothing even potentially offensive or sexist. 
    • “To turn out children into the world who are capable, responsible, and morally inspired people. It is a joint effort.”  I love this one.  And it’s the entire answer.
  • Keeping it real.  Props to those who used personal examples to show their personal commitment to their very real marriages.
    • “My husband and I own a business together, so we share family and work responsibilities more than many Mormon couples. Because we have the same goals at home, we work together to make that happen.”  This is really the heart of the division of labor argument; the comment about goals was perfect, IMO.
    • “Individual circumstances sometimes require us to support and balance out our spouse in different ways. Husbands and wives work as a team. Sometimes my husband does the vacumning AND the laundry. A husband’s role as father goes beyond just providing, protecting, and presiding. They also play, discipline, change diapers, and do housework. A wife’s main role is to nurture. She cannot nurture other’s without personal nourishment. Her role may also extend to helping her husband provide for the family.”  I like that this contains personal examples and doesn’t exempt either spouse from anything that would have been considered traditionally the purview of the other spouse in a typical episode of Mad Men.
    • “But my wife is my greatest friend and companion. Knowing that I have been married to my wife not only “till death do you part” but for “time and all eternity” really makes a huge difference in how we treat each other and how we work through arguments. (yes we still have arguments from time to time… but knowing what this life is all about really helps us be as one more often than not).”  There’s some tenderness in this one that I like.
    • “I feel that spending quality and quantity time with our children is the most wonderful gift I can give to them. They are teenagers now. They are bright, talented, respectful, goal-oriented and fun to be around. They each have a fantastic sense of humor. Though they argue and annoy each other from time to time, at the end of the day they still love each other.”  Aside from a little Lake Woebegone effect, this is a nice heart-warming picture of a Mormon family.
    • “To me the most important role of a wife in the family is to love her husband, and my husband’s role is to love me. We work at that. We take care of each other, are kind to each other, are gentle with criticism or correction if it’s needed, and try not to take offense. I think that the best thing that parents can give their children is a strong and happy marriage. This doesn’t just happen, it takes commitment and a long-term vision, because life is hard and none of us are perfect at it. This perspective has seen me through short-term problems that otherwise could have ruined my marriage.”  I like this person’s focus on how happy marriages make for happy families.
  • Humorous.  I’ll give extra credit to those who gave a tongue in cheek response to this silly, silly question.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see any answers like this.
  • SAHMs by Choice.  Women have to own their choices.  Even though I’m not a SAHM, those who point out they are SAHMs who also add the caveat that it’s by choice win extra points in my book.
    • “My wife has chosen to stay at home and be with the children. This was the choice that she wanted and she is glad to do it.”  This is a nice contrast to those that say what women (in general) “ought to” be doing, as if personal choice is irrelevant.  When we act on shoulds and oughts and don’t own our choices, we will inevitably experience regret later.

Answers that gave me mixed feelings:

  • Equality + Role Prescription.  Those that mentioned equality, but also prescribed what men & women should be doing (e.g. women nurture & teach, men protect & provide).  I don’t strongly object to these, but they just feel a little too specific, and as I said, the entire question is one that no one outside the church would ever ask us to answer, so these PoF-centric answers point to the “hidden agenda.”  Equal but different, as we learned with civil rights, is not really equal.  The majority of answers fit this description.
    • “They work together as equal partners, neither above the other in the marriage. We believe the role of the husband is to provide for, to preside over, and to protect the family. The wife is to nurture her children in love and righteousness.”  ‘Nuff said.
  • “Preside.”  Even when coupled with “equal decision making,” the word “preside” jangles (to me) and points to a “hidden agenda.”  To anyone outside the church it will sound like a throwback to “Leave it to Beaver,” and the word “preside” is nearly impossible to understand.  It makes me a little embarrassed for us.
    • “In all cases, husbands preside over the family. What this means is that they stand in for the Jesus Christ: their weighty responsibility is to direct the family as they feel He would if He were there.”  The WWJD religious twist is interesting here.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that “husband = Christ” idea before, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like it.  So, the husband is the only one who needs to be Christ-like?  And he interprets that for everyone else?
    • “The husband’s primary responsibility are to earn a living for the family, call the family to prayer and scriptural study, and preside over them in righteousness.”  Funny thing is, if those are all the examples of what “preside” means, it’s not exactly a great deal of power.  Why not use a more neutral term like administrative sperm donor?  (absolutely just kidding on that one!)
    • “The father is the patriarch and head of the household, but husband and wife should be equally yoked. They should make decisions together in love and kindness. Nothing should be handled in a dictatorial manner.”  The word patriarch is loaded for bear, and without all the caveats we attach to it will be a red flag to non-members who aren’t sexist.
    • “The husband presides, but does not dominate. They should act as equal partners, but as I indicated by the word “preside”, in God’s eyes, he is the first level of accountability in what happens in the family.”  Apparently, the buck stops there!  Wait, wasn’t Adam the quintessential buck-passer?
  • PoF link or quote.  It’s not terrible, but there are aspects of the PoF that would be misinterpreted or easily misunderstood (for example, the word “presides”) and/or offensive to people.  Role prescription, even when followed by an “individual circumstances may vary” caveat can still create problems.  There’s a (sometimes hard to distinguish) difference between what is timeless and what is outdated.
  • Ideal vs. Pragmatic.  Those comments that indicate how “blessed” or “lucky” someone is for having a traditional SAHM/working dad construct.  Not outright appalling, but also not a personal favorite.  I know there was some unhappiness in the b’nacle from SAHMs because they felt that the campaign highlighted career women rather than SAHMs.  My view is that variation should be represented without elevating one above another; what’s ideal to one marriage is untenable to another.  Can’t we just get along without being so judgmental?
    • “I am lucky. My husband is able to provide a good living for our family and I am able to stay at home with our children. I know this is not always a possibility, but I am grateful for my situation. I feel strongly that traditional gender roles create greater contentment and success in family life.”  It feels a bit like scolding those whose circumstances or choices differ.
    • “It varies from family to family, but basically if there are kids mom should be home with them if circumstances allow it.”  The use of the word “should” is always suspect.

Answers I did not like:

  • (Unintentional) Sexism.  Even in attempting humor or light-heartedness, some of these answers came off tone-deaf to me.
    • “My wife’s role is to be perfect, which she does easily. Mine is to appreciate that.”  Actually I’m not sure if this is sexist.  It just makes relatively no sense.
    • “When people find out I’m Mormon, they automatically think I’m oppressed and considered to be beneath my husband. This is not true what so ever. Right now, because we don’t have any children yet, it is both our responsibilities to work hard and create a home. As I stated earlier, I am in school, working torwards a degree and my husband is the one who talked me into it telling me how important it was. Just because I plan on being a stay at home mom, doesn’t mean I don’t need an education. When the time comes, and we are blessed with children, my husbands (polyandry, anyone?) plans on working and will be the bread winner and I will stay home and be with our children as they grow.”  A few things:  1) if everyone else equates Mormonism with female oppression (which I question) then stating it makes everything you say afterward sound defensive, 2) the husband convincing the wife to get a degree as evidence of his not being oppressive is also (unintentionally) evidence of the wife being incapable of making this decision for herself, 3) I’m not sure anyone under age 65 uses the term “bread winner” any more, and 4) grammatical errors undermine credibility (“whatsoever” is one word, not three; “husbands” should say “husband”; “breadwinner” is one word, not two).
    • “The role of the husband is to honor his priesthood, provide for his family and protect them. The role of the wife is to nurture the family. She should also encourage her husband to honor his priesthood.”  Why is it OK to describe wives as cheerleaders to their husbands, but we never say that husbands should encourage their wives to nurture?  It just seems a little weird to say it one way but never the other.  To suggest men encourage their wives to be nurturing also sounds tone-deaf unless one is married to Susan Smith, in which case maybe it’s a fool’s errand anyway.
    • “This does not mean he “rules” over his family, but that he is the one who is ultimately responsible for his family.”  Whew!  I guess I’m off the hook then.
  • Unintentionally Humorous.  Sometimes the mistakes people make in writing these up are just funny.
    • “Right now my husband is going to school and I am working and we are both caring for our Son.”  They are raising Jesus?  Otherwise, why is their son capitalized?
    • “Husbands and wife work together in a harmonious manor.”  Like an English estate?  Are there servants?  Pip, pip, cheerio!
    • One answer is basically an entire General Conference talk (including a poem, scriptures, and quotes from church leaders), defending the PoF against supposed claims that the church teaches that women should be barefoot and pregnant.  Aside from sounding a bit defensive, it’s about two thousand words too long.

What I might have said in answer to the question:

  • I probably would not answer this question because it’s such a stupid question.
  • Parents jointly bear the responsibility for the children in their care, to raise self-reliant and well-adjusted adults.
  • Couples need to be flexible in how they approach their family’s needs as every family’s needs differ.
  • Maybe I would share a personal example of how we both nurture the kids, we both manage careers, and we want to raise kids who enjoy pitching in to help, even though they manage to argue their way out of chores every week and still earn an extravagant allowance.

I’m not sure saying anything else is really warranted in my opinion – and even that much is sort of obvious, isn’t it?  What would you say?  Did you like or dislike the answers on the site?  Discuss.

Comments 35

  1. It just seems a little weird to say it one way but never the other. To suggest men encourage their wives to be nurturing also sounds tone-deaf unless one is married to Susan Smith,

    It is considered insulting to say that a woman needs encouragement to be nurturing …

    Interesting thought though. Humorous. I’ll give extra credit to those who gave a tongue in cheek response to this silly, silly question and maybe we will get more of those here 😉

  2. I agree that personal example is key here (as in most of these FAQs — after all, we don’t want to read page after page of restatements of official positions, we want to see how it works in people’s lives).

    Where I live, people do wonder about the roles of men and women in Mormonism — we hear those questions from our fundamentalist Christian friends who are sometimes more strident that Mormons, and from our more modern dual-income couple friends wondering if the church requires my wife to stay home.

    That said, the “shared parenting” model is so obvious in nearly every non-LDS family we know in our middle class mid-western suburb, I’d have to assume that would get a “well, duh!” response.

  3. I greatly enjoy this series. The “answer the question they should have asked” is a common technique. (BK Packer explicitly encourages it in Teach Ye Diligently) Its the reason why Institute manuals bug me so much. Anyway…

    I feel like the Church has a hard time helping its members to understand the answer to this question, so it’s no surprise that when the answer is packaged for non-members, the darts are all over the map (sorry for the mixed metaphor).

  4. As if the pontification didn’t get thick enough in the semiannual “Fifth Sunday” combined meeting where the subject seems to always be “can’t you idiot’s handle your funds and pay your tithing????”…..

    I would agree profoundly with the statment “Couples need to be flexible in how they approach their family’s needs as every family’s needs differ.” AMEN, SISTER!

    Since there are so many factors affecting labor, whether it be gainful employment, child rearing, or household maintenance, it’s difficult to prescribe every choice and get on the soapbox and proclaim, “Thus saith the Lord, this is how you do it…”. But it’s amazing how many members get on their self-righteous high horse and weigh in with their two cents!!

    For example, I do more of the cooking even though I work and my wife doesn’t. Though I don’t rate my culinary talents high, I am better at it. However, I’ve actually had a bishop (not too long ago) proverbially question my manhood, deeming cooking to be the wife’s role and wonder why I would do it. The better cook in the family is my son-in-law, and since we live close to our daughter and her family, we provide the ingredients and he cooks it up (since money is tight for them, it helps them out too).

    It’s a given that the husband will seek employement and/or business opportunity to the best of his abilities. Sometimes that just doesn’t cut it, in spite of good faith efforts to live within one’s means. Under that circumstance, neither husband or wife should be looked down upon if she seeks employement outside the home. And what if she actually finds fulfillment in her career? WHAT OF IT? Yes, some self-righteous jerk pontificate from the pulpit about a wife and mother getting all her personal fulfillment from being a homemaker, but, financial needs notwithstanding, what about her desires? Should they be circumscribed to being only a homemaker if she wants something else? Is it wrong to do something else as well? I say it ain’t….

    I can be “nuturing” as well, but at times I find my best “nuturing” comes from applying foot to rear end and doing a reasonable “R. Lee Ermey” (the kind you can see on his “Mail Call” show, not the uncensored “Full Metal Jacket” version).

  5. “Of course, there is no section for “men.” Hmmm.”

    Men, in general, do not constantly obsess about themselves. We are about solving other people’s problems.

  6. Jeff’s #5 made me laugh out loud. I saw immediate truth in it, and almost as immediately felt guilty for seeing it!

    Seriously, I know you think the question is silly, but there are plenty of feminists out there who are loaded for bear over this issue. Maybe reading people’s answers won’t help things (in that sense, maybe the question is silly), but you can be sure that the “women” section would be the first place they head.

  7. Post

    Martin – I suppose that’s true enough that feminists may be worried about the role of women in the church, BUT plenty of these answers are not very feminist-friendly. And honestly, what a bizarre question to ask! No one needs to tell you what your role is as a parent, do they? And is it really going to change your behavior if they do? (unless you are raised in the church, that is)

  8. I don’t think the “dyed in the wool” feminist is part of the target audience. Either semi-feminists or FINOs are probably the best the Church can really handle.

  9. Post

    Gline – Personally, I think the PoF is very useful for cultures that have a traditional male patriarchal oppressive setup (e.g. many Latin American “macho” cultures fit this description). It gives minor concessions to men in those cultures who would otherwise feel a loss of status, yet requires them to not be abusive, domineering or controlling and to take family responsibilities seriously. That’s all good and well for those cultures. When read from an already enlightened viewpoint in which men & women have been raised from birth with an expectation of equal partnership, it feels like a tether to a bygone sexist era.

    The other point I would make is that if the roles prescribed are roughly equivalent to those that occur naturally in the animal kingdom (with notable exceptions like seahorses), must we say it?

  10. No mention yet of the biblical model for marriage:

    Ephesians 5,
    “22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
    25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. 31″For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

  11. That’s because in today’s world, the “Bibical model” is so politically INcorrect that even the LDS Church chooses not to teach it it. (e.g. the PoF and the GD lesson manual here

    I’m not saying that verse is wrong. I’m just saying that in my marriage, a sudden emphasis on this passage would cause WAY more hassle than it’s worth. I suspect that that’s true of most marriages. Women today have not learned to submit righteously to their husbands, and husbands have not learned to put a wife’s needs above his own. So it would be a disaster.

    (This concept is actually taught in the temple, but it’s still so contentious that the covenants made there are often ignored.)

  12. It is that “biblical” model that is so popular among my evangelical friends. Despite HG’s (14) suggestion that it’s a tether to a bygone era for more enlightened viewpoints, I think the Proclamation on the family tries to nod to the teaching in Ephesians while tempering (or defining) it.

  13. #16 Lets just throw out the whole bible then because its politically incorrect, and its really WAY more hassle than its worth.

  14. Post

    #18 – the Bible contradicts itself frequently for the same reason; views change or are interpreted differently at different times. And the “Biblical” model for marriage is certainly corrupted. Paul himself (and by that I mean the words attributed to him, many of which clearly are not his) goes from reverring to hating women from epistle to epistle. The lack of consistency points to a deeper problem with the text. I have no doubt God gets it right. But clearly, man (even the men who wrote the Bible) often misses the mark.

  15. In that the church is building a social media site, I think this is meant to be a retention tool, not a conversion one. Lots of businesses use social media to appeal to their already existing base.

  16. #22:
    Hawkgirls claims are completely unfounded:
    1) She claims the bible is full of contradictions, yet doesn’t state any.
    2) She claims that Paul (or whoever wrote the scriptures) goes from revering to hating women (yet has no examples).
    3) She claims the bible lacks consistency (again with no proof).
    4) She claims the bible “often misses the mark” (no proof).

    I’m not going to get into an off-topic defense of every “supposed” contradiction within the Bible. It is powerful enough to defend itself.

    Perhaps if the LDS church would finally accept the Bible as the Word of God we could have an honest discussion. But, if it is only as good as far as it is, “translated correctly” and it takes a back seat to other standard works why should I even bother?

    Sola Scriptura
    Sola Scriptura

  17. Post

    Ephesians – not going to get into a threadjack on that. Suffice it to say you are a Biblical literalist, and there are plenty of Mormons who are, too (practically anyway). I’m just not one of ’em. But that’s not the topic of this post.

    Bart Ehrmann outlines many basic contradictions in his books for those who are interested. Also, most scholars agree that Paul didn’t write Hebrews (that it was misattributed to him). 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus are considered by most scholars to be pseudepigraphic (fictionalized letters written later under Paul’s name to clarify/reinterpret doctrinal points). Scholars disagree as to whether Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians were written by Paul.

    I respect your right to Biblical inerrancy. I just don’t subscribe to it. And it’s not the topic under discussion here.

  18. Eph, if I translated “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father except by me” as “I sell Amway, the truth and the life; no man grows feathers except by me,” would you still accept that as the Word of God?

    Of course the Bible — and every word ever written by the hand of man — is only correct insofar as it’s translated correctly.

    One of the great Protestant martyrs, William Tyndale, got burned not just for translating the Bible, but for translating it in a way that downplayed the Catholic Church’s doctrine that sacerdotal authority was an essential part of Christianity. Translating scripture correctly is absolutely a critical part of understanding scripture, and no serious person thinks that every Bible translation is equally accurate.

  19. #25 said, “no serious person thinks that every Bible translation is equally accurate”

    The copies of the original biblical manuscripts are “equally accurate”. If anything is translated incorrectly it can easily be determined by looking at the original language Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic.

  20. Jeff, what I mean is that the church appeals to the most enlightened individuals in sexist cultures like Spain, Mexico, South America, etc. The people there who are out of sync with the sexist norms of their cultures find the church aligns with their values. The PoF elevates thinking in those cultures. OTOH, it seems that in a place like the US where the majority of the rising generation expect gender equality, the PoF appeals to (or doesn’t offend anyone) those who still cling to sexist days of yore (or were perhaps raised during the aforementioned time period). Yet it’s possible that something written for a more enlightened culture would fail to appeal to those accustomed to truly sexist societies. If that sounds a lot like the rationale for PH ban (waiting for society to catch up), maybe that’s an accurate parallel.

  21. #28, Hawk, you give me a lot of things to comment on. I recognize the so-called machismo culture in the Latin world, but it is also heavily dominated by a matriarchal structure as the men are too busy being macho to properly take care of their families.

    A proper reading of the PoF does not support a sexist culture unless you read it on a very shallow basis. I’ve not ever heard that type of reading from those who might “benefit” from that view. Even from some of the old guys who might have more sexist tendencies. In contrast, I usually hear it from those who just plain do not like it because it doesn’t fit THEIR world view.

  22. #26: “If anything is translated incorrectly it can easily be determined by looking at the original language Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic.”

    Right. Because there can never be any reasonable difference of opinion about the ancient meaning of a Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic word.

    As an exercise (there’s a point to this), define the following word: “Scan.”

  23. I frankly think we could use a little more sexism, at least if my wife’s reception the other day, upon commenting that maybe a woman shouldn’t sleep around, was any indication. She got dogpiled about how sexist she was being, because of course it’s every woman’s inalienable right to be as much a playa as we men supposedly all are.

    Nature, I think, says otherwise. So much of modern culture seems dedicated to rationalizing away the laws of the universe, including that mean old law of cause and effect. We all have the right to Define Ourselves, and if reality gets in the way, well dammit, someone needs to pass a law and prohibit reality.

  24. Post

    Jeff 29 – I don’t think that I’ve merely read the PoF superficially to conclude what I did. But I do view it sociologically more than anything else, which is why I see it the way I do. My comments are not an indictment of it, but an explanation of why I believe it rankles those who view the sexes as equal and don’t like role prescription.

    Thomas 31 – fair enough, but if PoF is just describing nature, why bother?

    I do want to make the caveat that sexual equality doesn’t have to mean interchangeability. However, my husband is no less nurturing than I am (admittedly I am a hard case). Nor can it be said that I am not responsible for providing for our physical and spiritual needs, regardless his responsibility. Both partners need to be 100% responsible (in theory at least) for meeting all their children’s basic needs. Role prescription limits that responsibility. I would expand it.

  25. Hawkgrl

    So often we look at the church or the family as a business – a business that cares about status and position. We should look at what is better for the church or the family. It is often asked with amazement how can a woman can work outside of the home and fill her role within the home. “How does she do this?”. The better question is “How do the children do it?”

    I am grateful for many things in my life, but without question the thing I am most grateful for is having a mother at home. She was there during the crossroads of my life. I can say with confidence this is the reason for my success; and, the success of my siblings. President Hinkley stated in conference that ‘One barrel of wheat at your home, is better than five at the storehouse” Likewise, one mother at home with her children is better than five in the work-force.

    The roles outlined in the proclamation on the family are of God. They are not old fashion, they are not out of date, they are the fabric of our society.

  26. Re # 15 and the whole Ephesians discussion.

    I have always viewed these passages not as wholly defining the roles of each spouse but rather challenging them to do what is often most difficult for each sex.

    How many women have you known that never lost an argument or conceded anything to her husband? This is the relationship where the mans testicles are carried in his wife’s purse. So by following this council she could learn to submit when she is wrong on something.

    How many men have you known that shunned their family for their own self love? There are few single father homes and many single mother homes. Mothers don’t typically have a problem loving their families but too many men never learn to let their families be first in their lives.

    I also don’t know what specific problems in Ephesus concerning this doctrine prompted Paul to council in such manner in the first place. (I also think that if Paul knew when he was writing all these letters to the churches that they would become Canonized he might have written them differently.)

    Ok, so there are men that won’t submit and women who don’t love but maybe my insight will make sense to someone.

  27. The person who made comments below what the mormons said is very negative and critical. Why not look for the good? There was a lot of good things said that were positive and helped show that husbands and wives are striving for the good of their family. They are not saying that there way is the best and only way. What gives you the right to be the expert and to downplay other people’s beliefs and ideas?

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