Archpriest Paul Gumerov speaks about how family roles should be distributed, who should be the head, what are the responsibilities of husbands and wives, what a wife should do if her husband doesn’t want to take responsibility for the welfare of his family, and how husbands can become true husbands.
I greet you, my friends! We continue our cycle of conversations on family life, and today’s theme is quite difficult: we will be speaking about family hierarchy, about the shape of a family, and the roles of the spouses.
Three types of relations within a family
I’ll begin from a bit of a distance. Psychologists usually delineate three types—three models—of relations between spouses; they can tentatively be called: adult-child; child-child; and adult-adult. I’ll explain.
The relations model “adult-child” happens, as a rule, when an already responsible and mature man marries a girl taken out from under a caring parental wing, who is absolutely not yet mature, and therefore the husband takes care of his wife, playing the role of adult, with her playing the role of child in this family dyad. Or perhaps the reverse option: when an authoritative and domineering woman—and such an example of behavior was perhaps taken from her parents’ family—marries a “mama’s boy,” used to always obeying his mother. This often happens when the woman is older than the man. These are the two “adult-child” situations.
The “child-child” relationship is most often seen in student families: two fairly young people, a boy and girl, start a family, they’re very good together, they frolic like two foals in a meadow, neither wanting to take any specific responsibilities upon themselves… Neither seeks for power in this pair, they are friends one with another, but such relations are not an indicator of maturity in these people.
The “adult-adult” model is the most stable and most desirable. These people enter into marriage seriously, both as adults spiritually, psychologically, and physically, and they can take responsibility for the family and for their second halves and fulfill the roles inherent to husbands and wives in marriage.
Who is the head of the family?
And who is the head of the family? Here there can also be several different models. The first model is that which the Lord commanded, that is, that the husband is the head of the family and the head of the wife. Another model, not uncommonly met in our times, is when the wife is the head of the family. And another: the head of the family is the child: everything revolves around him, he’s an only child, he’s the center of the universe, he dictates terms, all his whims are fulfilled, and so on and so on.
Today, unfortunately, another model is also common: the head of the family is the mother of the husband or of the wife—in principle there is no difference.
The western family model proposes that the spouses—partners equal in rights—together carry out this business project called “family.” Here no one is the head, although we all perfectly well understand that every task, including business, should have a director, a head. It’s just as in the army, in the navy, in a firm, in a company there also exists a hierarchy, without which work is impossible, without which everything goes wrong—all the moreso such a complicated matter like family life.
In our conversation dedicated to the Sacrament of Marriage we recalled that the Lord commanded us about family hierarchy that the husband is the head of the wife. The husband is an image of Christ in the Church. The husband takes the wife. By the way, the Slavonic word “брак” (“marriage”) comes straight from the word “брать” (“to take”). And the wife looks for in a man something strong and powerful, a stone wall behind which she wants to hide, and she walks behind her husband, entering into marriage with him. These indigenous Russian words quite well illustrate how the family hierarchy should be built.
Head or despot?
Quite prevalent today, unfortunately, is the myth that Christianity supposedly calls for some kind of male despotism. The book Domostroy is often brought up in this regard, but it’s all mythological insinuations against the genuine Christian life—true Christian hierarchy has no such relationships. Maybe one of us has read this wonderful book, Domostroy, the work of a certain priest Sylvester living in the seventeenth century. Of course, it’s not completely applicable to the realities of our life. But recall what husband and wife are called in this book: “lord and lady and their children.” Spouses are looked upon as the lords of their home. Naturally, among these two rulers, this royal pair there is a head person. Who is the head person? The husband. And how should he be? As wise as Solomon? A great strategist, tactician, a man who reveals in himself an example of strong-willed decision making and exceptional intellectual development? No. A husband’s task is completely different: to be a provider for his family (For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church [Eph. 5:29]); to be a person who makes decisions. The wife also has the right of vote, naturally, but her voice is advisory because the last word remains with the husband. But in this the husband bears all the responsibility: he doesn’t just make decisions, doesn’t simply have the right to the last word, but, having made a decision, all of its consequences he takes upon himself.
Imagine such a situation: a man in some military unit, with remarkable strong-willed qualities and an outstanding training (having gone through the General Staff Academy), with serious experience (for example, he served in “hot spots”) received assignment as a deputy commander or a unit commander’s assistant. The unit commander is a young man, who as soon as he finished some higher military institution was immediately appointed as commander. And in the army there is a wonderful institution—subordination, manifested in that the juniors give honor to the seniors: that is, those of lower rank honor those of higher. And the commander is always right. The commander bears responsibility for what he says. His commands are not discussed. What can this man do, called to the part of the commander’s assistant? He can, of course, begin to not respect this young commander, trying to show some kind of ambition. Another scenario: he could have a positive influence on this inexperienced commander—answering for his role in which he’s been appointed to serve, honoring and respecting his elder in rank and position. This is very important, because if we don’t revere our head, then, naturally, we’ll never have a good relationship with him, and we’ll never be able to discuss with him decisions which to us seem correct. If the commander, although young and inexperienced, is not stupid, naturally, he will take counsel with the wise experience of his subordinates. This is a good example for how to structure family life. The task of the head is not to make only univocal decisions, but love and counsel, which we usually wish for people at their weddings. We must consult with our spouses.
We are so different
Everyone on the team, on the ship, in the military unit, in the firm has his own functions, and every family member has his particular tasks. Why didn’t the Lord create for Adam a helper just like him?—a woman, but somehow masculine, with a highly-developed musculature, a stunning intellect, able to make decisions … why? Because her function is completely different: the task of a woman is to be the helpmeet of the husband, to equip the family life, raise the children, help her husband and support his decisions… to be responsible for her own area. Husbands, surely, like many men have probably more than once assured themselves that they cannot fulfill a woman’s tasks, and if obliged to do so then they will, although poorly. When my wife leaves me with the kids I don’t cope with the situation very well, but for her it’s quite easy… When I have to do their lessons with them, watch after them, make their food even for just two days for me it’s a heavy load. But for her, because she’s a woman, it’s all natural and easy.
And such love, compassion, patience, ableness to adapt to certain life conditions, and versatility such as women have a man will never have. A man has his functions, and therefore Adam and Eve were created so very different, that he, the husband, the head of the family, was able even in his wife’s weakness to demonstrate the best masculine qualities. This is very important.
And if the head does not want to be the head?
I would like to say a few words about how a woman should conduct herself if she sees that the man with whom she has concluded a spousal union does not manifest the necessary volitional qualities and decisiveness and generally doesn’t really want to take on the responsibilities of being the head of the family.
Remember that we can only change someone by our love and good relationship with him, so you shouldn’t fight with your husband for power, but fulfill those functions given to women by God, given by nature, not saddling yourself with others.
Alas, there is the fairly common situation in which the husband is a “mama’s boy,” not wanting to take responsibility for his family, not wanting to earn much; the wife establishes herself in one job, a second, third, taking the family cart upon herself, and overexerting herself and complaining she goes to see batiushka, to a psychologist … then she divorces her husband… She burdens herself with back-breaking responsibilities… This is, of course, completely wrong. The wife’s task is something else.
The task of a wife, the husband’s helper, is the raising of the children, the arrangement of everyday family life; she pities her husband, tends to and nourishes him, performing the duties of a psychotherapist. There’s a great saying: “To the wife the husband is a pastor, and to the husband the wife a bandage.” She is the doctor who heals his spiritual and emotional wounds.
The second thing a wife should remember is not to be afraid to show weakness. Women who have such sluggish husbands often turn into generals in a skirt, and not only take upon themselves all the familial responsibilities, but also begin to command everyone and everything. But they should more often ask their husbands about such things and seek his advice.
And, naturally, you should honor him. A person will be towards us exactly how we see him, that is, how we respect him. Without honor and respect the correct family hierarchy is impossible.
Encouragement is important—definitely at least timid steps which began to make your husband feel encouraged. Praise him, support him, and strengthen him.
Many women think that their husbands can somehow guess by himself that his wife needs help with something around the house. Don’t be afraid to give your husband a job, but, again, something feasible. Men are bad at understanding abstract arguments like “Oh, it’s so hard for me!” “I’m so tired!” and “Why don’t you do anything?!” You should give him clear and concrete tasks: “Look, here’s the grocery list. Please go to the store,” and then thank him with a kiss on the cheek.
And another very important point: it’s important not only to praise him more often, but try to avoid all kinds of judgmental words which lower his already low self-esteem. Especially avoid such condemnation in front of other people. Many women, falling into despair, begin to call all their friends and mothers to complain about their husbands, which, of course, doesn’t promote good relations with their spouse, but on the contrary, only spoils it.
To stand at the helm of the family ship
I would like to make a few suggestions to men. They say now that is a difficult time. But when was it in reality simple?! Every time has its complications.
Today there are many men who were raised by single mothers, but there is nothing fatal in this. I have met not a few people who grew up in broken homes but became wonderful fathers, wonderful husbands, providers, people, making all the important decisions. After all, this role is given to us by God, as outlined in Holy Scripture, which is our textbook for life.
The task of the husband and the main joy of his life is to take care of his family. It’s for this sake, they say actually, that we make families, for this we live, for our family and loved ones, serving them. It should be a joy, and that’s why you go to work which is hard and wears you out, but you understand that you’re laboring for the sake of your family. Then you return home from work tired, but it’s a joyful weariness, it’s a joy which is incomparable—the joy of a real man.
I think that anyone who doesn’t want to go down the path of the absolutely crazy models that I mentioned in the beginning of our talk, but on the path established by God will always receive help from God and the grace of God. And everything, I think, will work out for such a person, but, of course, in time. Clearly the habits with which you have lived for many years, which you got from your own family, are not so easy to drive out from your soul. But any habit can be removed with an effort to acquire the opposite habit. I wish for you the help of God in this endeavor.
To men: be the true head of your families; and to women: be your husbands’ helpers. May the Lord help us all in this work!