(Adam and Sara: you will recognize this topic from our lively late-night chat during your recent visit to Tacoma. I would love to have you both offer some of the insights here that you shared when we talked, if you’re so inclined.)
I’ve long been interested in achieving a greater understanding of the church’s teaching that “by divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness.” (Proclamation on the Family)
I’m interested in understanding _why_ (doctrinally and/or for practical reasons) the church teaches that, in the family, one parent-the father-is designated as the presider. The need for a presiding authority is clear enough to me in larger, organizational settings (church, stake, ward, multi-tiered company, etc.). But I’ve never quite understood the need for one person to preside in a marriage, which consists, after all, of only two people, who are equal partners, ideally, and each of whom is dependent upon the other for exaltation.
Mostly I’m interested in _what_ presiding means or is supposed to mean in the day-to-day workings of marriages and families. I’ve been conducting an informal survey on this issue for several years now, and I am continually amazed at how few people can articulate a response to the question of what it means to preside in the home, either in the abstract or in their own family. If they have any answer at all it is usually that presiding means that the father is responsible for calling the family to prayer, scripture study and family home evening. Is that how most of you understand its on-the-ground application, or is it more?
I know that many wives and mothers also call their families to prayer and other spiritual activities-some occasionally, some regularly. Perhaps they do it because their husbands don’t or won’t, or perhaps simply because they and their husbands do not see these activities as being the domain of any one parent. Maybe families across the church would be stronger if women really did always leave these seemingly small tasks to fathers. Or is there more to presiding than this?
Lesson 12 in Priesthood Manual A (“The Father’s Responsibility for the Welfare of His Family”), which begins with the previous quote from the Proclamation on the Family, teaches that fathers are to provide for the physical and spiritual needs of the family. It includes the following as duties under providing for spiritual needs: “1. Teach[ing] the gospel to our wife and children; 2. Hav[ing] daily family prayer; 3. Mak[ing] our home a place that invites the Spirit of the Lord to abide with us; 4. Pay[ing] tithes and offerings to the Lord; 5. Hold[ing] worthwhile family home evenings.” These are wonderful duties. But if this list constitutes what is meant by presiding in the home, I fail to see what is gender-specific about it–i.e. how do these duties differ from those of the wife and mother, who has not been given the assignment to preside?
I expect that some will answer (or want to) that many or most men don’t do these things as ‘naturally’ or freely as women, and that this is why they have been given the assignment to do them by being designated as the presider. This is the argument that is often offered, for example, as to why men, and not women, hold the priesthood. Perhaps it’s true. It just has always seemed to me to be a somewhat patronizing generalization about men to say that they wouldn’t serve or love or seek God in the same ways as women if they didn’t have the priesthood or the assignment to preside. But perhaps I’m missing something.
Some people tell me that they understand presiding to mean that the husband has the final say in disagreements. Maybe this is true. In a righteous marriage I suppose this wouldn’t have to be a problem. My mother, for example, gave perhaps the most concrete answer of any I’ve ever received when I asked her what it has meant to her that my father presides in the home. She said (I paraphrase): “It means that I have sometimes stopped arguing sooner than I otherwise would have, and this has contributed to peace in our home.” That seems a beautiful thing.
As touching (and useful for someone as spirited as I am…) as my mother’s answer was, I admit that the “final say” aspect of presiding seems to have _way_ more potential for abuse than the “providing for the spiritual needs of your family” aspect, if indeed these things are what it means to preside. In other words, it seems that the issue of who has the final say might really only be much of an on-the-surface issue (and probably a tyrannical one) in unhealthy marriages. (“I preside, so do it, woman!” End of discussion.)
For my husband and me, the question of who presides is not really an issue. We just try to lead our family together in righteousness and hope that covers it. But I’m still curious…
How do you, my bloggernacle friends, understand-and practice-this principle? Here are some of my specific questions:
- If you’re a man, how do you understand your duty to preside in the home? What are you taught in Priesthood lessons? If you’re a woman, how do you understand the issue? What are you taught in RS lessons? (I’ve been in YW or Primary for so many years that I have no idea any more. :)
- Is the issue of presiding in the home a visible one in your family? Do you and your spouse ever discuss it? Do you feel at odds with your spouse about it? Or is it a complete non-issue in your marriage? (Or–how did it work in the family you grew up in?)
- What does presiding mean in your home in practice? Does it mean, men, that you try to be as involved as possible in calling your family together for spiritual nourishment? Women, does it mean that you try to foster this involvement and even that you stand back from doing those things yourself sometimes? Men, does it mean that you feel that you should have the final say-or, worded another way, the burden of the final decision-when irreconcilable differences arise? Women, does it mean that you defer to your husband in such situations?
What other meanings does or should “presiding in the home” have?