Too many modern families run ragged, leaving everyone exhausted and unable to flourish for God’s glory. I’ve seen and experienced – both as a pastor, as well as a husband and father – the struggle to translate the concept of dominion (building, creating, governance, planting, and rule) from theory into practical daily family life. This proves particularly complex in families where both parents pursue God’s vocations outside the home. The complexity increases when you add discussions about equity, traditional family roles, and social norms.
As part of my continued wrestling with the concept of dominion from the Cultural Mandate in Genesis 1:26-281, I recently asked my friend, Aileen Cuthbertson, to read Kate Harris’ Wonder Women: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, Career, and Identity. I thought Harris’ insights might be a helpful resource for families who struggle to exercise dominion inside their homes. Aileen’s responses to Wonder Women sparked a series of deeper conversations that revealed I had mistakenly reduced the overall issue of familial dominion to how the wife/mother thinks about her role as an image bearer. While the wife/mother’s role serves as a major part of the calling to dominion, discussions with Aileen revealed a bigger point—namely, the need to explore how husbands/fathers and wives/mothers can bear God’s image together through mutual support.
Aileen commented, after finishing Wonder Women, that the church could substantially help disciple families on this issue. Our churches have men’s discipleship, women’s discipleship, small groups, affinity groups, etc. Each may discuss familial issues in specific ways relevant to the group, but none specifically focus on how to translate God’s Cultural Mandate to a particular family’s context and gifts. Little is written about how to practically divide household duties and parenting responsibilities for the sake of flourishing and family dominion.
Too often, conversations devolve into what is “normal” or equitable, focusing more on “keeping score” rather than what will best help a family exercise dominion for God’s glory. We desire not to be long on theory and short on application, so Aileen and I sought to focus on helping families flourish rather than barely survive. We also hope to benefit those who are not yet married think about these issues to better prepare them for a marriage and family that glorifies God.
Initially, we discussed the barriers that keep families from bearing God’s image and exercising dominion over the raw material of daily life. We decided that significant barriers are these caricatures promoted in popular culture: the “idiot” dad and the “do-it-all” mom. Can you name a sit-com or popular movie without a father character who is a buffoon or louse of some sort? In many of the offending shows and movies, mom plays the hero, having to do it all because of dad’s failings. The problem is so pervasive that Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, CNN, and the Huffington Post have all run recent articles decrying the idiot dad trope as a patently unhealthy cultural fixture, as well as articles encouraging “do-it-all” moms not to wear themselves out trying to do it all.2
The 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey noted that wives and mothers do almost double the housework and 60% more food prep, clean-up, and child-care than husbands and fathers.3 For families with both parents working outside the home, these discrepancies defy God’s intentions. Too many husbands/dads are lazy, allowing their wives to be responsible for all (or most of) the inner workings of the house and parenting. Too many wives/mothers wear this burdensome crown out of misguided pride or fatalism. Both of these impulses perpetuate unhealthy caricatures and cripple a family’s ability to live out the Cultural Mandate.
While these caricatures may diagnose, we need possible cures for the root problems of the “idiot” dad and the “do-it-all” mom stereotypes for households with two working parents. Achieving balance at home must start with prayer and reflection on your approach to household tasks and parenting responsibilities. Is there an unhealthy division of labor, with mom doing it all around the house and with the kids? If so, why? Do the divisions of labor help both mom and dad glorify God? If not, what changes need to be made? What gifts has God given both mom and dad regarding household and parenting responsibilities? What divisions of labor best allow the family to flourish in living out God’s Cultural Mandate? Aileen explains how her family is working through these questions to grant insight into the process.
After recently telling my husband that I was feeling overwhelmed with my lengthy to-do list, he decided to clean the master bathroom. When I saw what he’d done, I thanked him for the unexpected “favor.” Then, it struck me as odd that I should feel compelled to thank him for cleaning the grime that’s half his when he rarely thanks me for all I do around the house. I’m not criticizing him, and I’m not lamenting the fact that I don’t receive more praise. I know that he’s grateful for all I do and that he genuinely desires to love me and our family well. But this pattern reveals our underlying, unhealthy expectations about gender roles around the house.
If there is an unhealthy division of labor in your home, evaluate how you have contributed to the problem. While recently waiting outside my daughter’s ballet class, a mom friend of mine plopped down in the chair next to me after rushing in a few minutes late. She began bemoaning her inability to do it all. She described how exhausted she was and how discouraged and frustrated she feels when she comes home after a long day of work to find the sink overflowing with dishes and her husband busy with other tasks. We talked about how she might have been perpetuating this cycle, because she, like so many women, had resigned herself to this as her fate. This resignation led her to complete tasks without asking her husband for help, thus allowing bitterness to take root in her heart. In addition, this approach exhausted her body and spirit and demonstrated an unhealthy example to her children.
When dad doesn’t have a key role in household tasks and parenting responsibilities, he misses opportunities to image Jesus as the family’s servant leader. Children lose the unique perspective dad brings; mom feels overwhelmed, and the entire family suffers as a result. For my friend — and all of us —being aware of unbalanced responsibilities and the role personal perspective and motivations play is crucial.
As I’ve prayed and reflected about this, I’ve discovered that the impetus for my “do-it-all-mom” lifestyle consists of two major components: cultural norms (the “do-it-all” mom is an expectation rather than a choice) and personal sin (doing it all fulfills my perceived need for validation as mom, and, if I’m painfully honest, it gives me a sense of pride and control because I mistakenly think I perform these tasks better). Once we’re aware of these motivations, we can humbly repent and begin to solve the problems.
Sit down with your spouse and discuss expectations and roles keeping in mind the goal is to flourish to God’s glory and not merely survive a harried existence in a fallen world. List all the daily and weekly household tasks and decide who will complete them: meal planning, grocery shopping, laundry, dishes, packing lunches, etc. Then, list all the children’s needs and decide who will take care of these: childcare arrangements, check-ups, homework help, teacher conferences, volunteering at school, etc. Question and critique the things that don’t contribute to the family flourishing. Keep in mind that these things may change with various seasons of life. Be intentional about including opportunities to create, build, and plant together as a family, avoiding enslavement to tasks associated only with the home. The Lord’s Day Sabbath provides opportunities to engage in creative activities and build family traditions that edify and cultivate God’s glory in each member. These things help to remind us of how we are designed to flourish according to God’s plan.
Not defaulting to culturally established role expectations requires time and effort, but we must intentionally formulate and maintain a plan. Consider the many advantages of dad’s increased involvement in his children’s lives—particularly in education. Statistics show that when dad participates directly in his child’s education, the child earns higher grades, experiences greater overall satisfaction in school, and has better educational outcomes.4
The consequences of acquiescing to the “do-it-all” mom and “idiot” dad caricatures are substantial: for mom, these include bitterness and exhaustion; for dad, missed opportunities to reflect Christ as a servant leader in the home; for the children, a view of home life that sharply divides roles and responsibilities simply by gender. To establish a healthier balance, it’s vital to carefully and prayerfully evaluate our approaches and motives, striving to become intentional about dividing the household tasks and parenting responsibilities between mom and dad. Remember to also seek creative opportunities to cultivate God’s glory in each family member. Without a more balanced approach and a vivid awareness of the reality that we are partners made in God’s image, we will be unable to exercise dominion over our homes for God’s glory.
1: See my previous article “How Reading is Fundamental to Fulfilling the Cultural Mandate Today” at http://www.washingtoninst.org/12005/reading-fundamental-to-fulfilling-the-cultural-mandate-today/.
2: See http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2013/01/eight-comedy-tropes-must-die, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/06/dads-on-sitcoms/373673/, http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/12/living/dumb-dad-stereotype/, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jaime-zucker/retire-the-bumbling-husband_b_5602054.html, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michele-weldon/reframe-the-convo-from-ha_b_12233784.html, and http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/ for examples.
3: See http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t01.htm for the full 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey report.
Cameron Barham is the lead pastor of Christ Community Church, PCA in Kennesaw, Georgia and has two grown children with his wife Susan.
Aileen Cuthbertson is a copy editor for Elsevier and has three daughters with her husband Josh.