Marriage and gender roles

July 18, 2009 | 29 comments
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I suppose we have Mark Sanford to thank for the recent frenzy of articles about marriage (or was it Jon and Kate?). There’s Caitlin Flanagan’s piece in Time, Aaron Traister at Salon.com, the Women’s Day/AOL living survey, Amanda Fortini wondering “why would anyone submit to the doomed delusion that is marriage?” No surprise then that last week, the Church’s Mormon Message was Elder Oaks on divorce.

I just read (and re-read) Sandra Tsing Loh’s much-discussed piece in the July issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Loh, in the middle of her own divorce, suggests that marriage itself is outdated. “Sure it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft of children. But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?”

While I’m sure I’d missed her point entirely, since I had been thinking about gender already, I noticed that in subtle and not-so subtle ways, she rejects traditional gender roles.

Last week, Marc Wilson wrote an interesting piece on gender roles where he noted that for him at least, “marriage has eliminated some of the gender/sexual tension inherent in dating and has even made me more interested in developing a more ‘manly’ role.” It had me wondering if traditional gender roles make marriage easier.

Towards the end of Loh’s article, she quotes Helen Fisher as saying that “most of the world’s fifty-year marriages are made by Builders who marry other Builders.” What is Fisher’s definition of a Builder? The much calmer person who has traditional values.”

And so though I don’t know how to flesh it out yet, I do wonder if traditional gender roles make marriage easier. Do they also make it better? And if so, what does that mean for those who don’t feel like the traditional gender roles come naturally to them?

29 Responses to Marriage and gender roles

  1. m&m on July 18, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    And if so, what does that mean for those who don’t feel like the traditional gender roles come naturally to them?

    I’m one who believes there is divine purpose in traditional gender roles (even as the Proclamation really does give a lot of flexibility).

    I’m also one for whom traditional roles have not come naturally (and in many ways, they still don’t). What does that mean? It means I need God’s help, plain and simple. I think often gender roles take faith, and also inspiration, because even w/ the general counsel, there is still a lot of space for personal specifics — like how a woman shoudl balance family roles and education, both of which are emphasized.

    I think we ought not expect that God put us on this earth to only do what comes naturally. In many cases, the plan is quite the opposite. And my experience is that it’s only as I have worked to do what doesn’t come naturally that I receive more ability to do it all…the ability to fulfill my roles comes, little by little, as a gift of the Spirit.

  2. Jane on July 18, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Fascinating. I read an article on NYTimes today about chemistry.com that cited the same research (maybe?) about different personality types, but said that builders often marry negotiators (whatever that means).

    The Proclamation may be flexible (though that’s not the first word that comes to mind), but the new primary song The Family is of God (is that the title? The one that says “a father’s job is to provide, preside”) is not.

    I didn’t think my marriage would end up being (looking) so traditional. We are very traditional in our roles, but very equal/compatible in our money decisions, moving/living/doing choices. I think having kids and then choosing pretty traditional roles as a way to care for them and to build a family life maybe does make marriage easier, because there’s less negotiation involved in expectations? And because it’s just easier if one person is in charge of making the money and the other is in charge of raising the kids (with much support and input from each on both).

    I think my marriage and family life are better for me with us having traditional roles, (it better be, since it was what I chose, choose, do), but I wouldn’t generalize from there, especially since there are some days I’d give anything to not be a traditional mommy :P.

  3. Marjorie Conder on July 18, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Hmmmm—This post caught my eye. My guy and I are just weeks away from celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary (complete with a big party.) Are we builders? Well my guy certainly is. Several years ago a family member made him a clever wall hanging that says, “Building Families Since 1959”. But I am at a loss as to what I am. Without seeing full descriptions of the types I just don’t know. While DH has been a consistent and stabilizing force in our life and family, I have been all over the place. We got married under very traditional assumptions, which seemed to both of us at the time that that was just the way the world was. While outwardly we lived very traditional gender roles while our six children were young, in truth it was never an easy fit for me. I eventually discovered my “feminist” voice and my guy has hung in there with me. I appreciate him so much and know that coming from the time and place he did, it was totally out of his expectations and many in his cohort have been puzzled and even offended at the path our lives have taken. We have had our bumps and tumbles but at the present time we seem to have a very easy going and egalitarian relationship in virtually every area. Life is very good—except we are getting “creaky”. All of our children appear to be in basically traditional marriages (but without quite as many “expectations” as were culturally in place 50 years ago.)

    So what about the future of marriage—and gender roles? The expectations are not what they used to be, but as in so many areas things are both better and worse than ever before, because of the choices we individually make.

  4. Dan on July 18, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    builders? whaa–?

    dunno about builders, but I do believe marriage is a highly rewarding relationship that brings happiness and stability in life you cannot find when you are single. It is a risk, it carries with it the element of terrible failure causing major harm to many, even for many generations. Can it be destructive? Of course it can. Can being single be destructive? Of course it can.

  5. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 18, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    People seem to be happier with firmer roles. What the roles are is another issue.

    The key is to creating firm roles of your own if you don’t like the traditional ones.

  6. Kaimi Wenger on July 18, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    The Loh piece summarizes the Fisher categories as follows:

    Fisher, a women’s cult figure and an anthropologist, has long argued that falling in love—and falling out of love—is part of our evolutionary biology and that humans are programmed not for lifelong monogamy, but for serial monogamy. (In stretches of four years, to be exact, approximately the time it takes to get one kid safely through infancy.)

    Why Him? Why Her? explains the hormonal forces that trigger humans to be romantically attracted to some people and not to others (a phenomenon also documented in the animal world). Fisher posits that each of us gets dosed in the womb with different levels of hormones that impel us toward one of four basic personality types:

    The Explorer—the libidinous, creative adventurer who acts “on the spur of the moment.” Operative neurochemical: dopamine.

    The Builder—the much calmer person who has “traditional values.” The Builder also “would rather have loyal friends than interesting friends,” enjoys routines, and places a high priority on taking care of his or her possessions. Operative neurotransmitter: serotonin.

    The Director—the “analytical and logical” thinker who enjoys a good argument. The Director wants to discover all the features of his or her new camera or computer. Operative hormone: testosterone.

    The Negotiator—the touchy-feely communicator who imagines “both wonderful and horrible things happening” to him- or herself. Operative hormone: estrogen, then oxytocin.

    Fisher reviewed personality data from 39,913 members of Chemistry.com. Explorers made up 26 percent of the sample, Builders 28.6 percent, Directors 16.3 percent, Negotiators 29.1 percent. While Explorers tend to be attracted to Explorers, and Builders tend to be attracted to Builders, Directors are attracted to Negotiators, and vice versa.

    Exclaims Ellen, slapping the book: “This is why my marriage has been dead for 15 years. I’m an Explorer married to a Builder!” (Ron literally is a builder—like Ian, he crafts wonderful shelves and also, of course, cooks.) But what can Ellen do? Explorer-Explorer tends to be one of the most unstable combinations, whereas Fisher suspects “most of the world’s fifty-year marriages are made by Builders who marry other Builders.”

  7. Naismith on July 18, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    “People seem to be happier with firmer roles. What the roles are is another issue.”

    I am not so sure about this. Roles help in the early child-bearing and -rearing years, as far as valuing breastfeeding as much as wage-earning, etc.

    But if we live long enough to enjoy an empty nest phase of marriage, then gender roles become unimportant. For perhaps 30 years or so of the marriage.

    When an acquaintance tells me that they are on a second marriage, I assure them that EVERYONE is on a second marriage. The only question is whether with a new partner.

  8. Starfoxy on July 18, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    I think, along the lines of what Stephen M. said- it doesn’t matter so much who does what exactly so long as everyone agrees on what is expected from their partner and themselves. “Traditional” marriages benefit from having those expectations clearly spelled out and culturally supported/enforced. Non-traditional marriages require much more communication to hash out their expectations and work through some cultural censure. So traditional marriages can be easier but not necessarily better or longer lasting.

    I also tend to agree with Naismith in that I think the more traditional ‘mom-at-home’ sort of roles are most useful for families, and much less so for couples. I know several stay at home moms, and no stay at home wives. The most lasting relationships are ones that can adapt.

  9. Mark Hansen on July 18, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    My experience has shown that regardless of which types marry which types, it all comes down to adaptability and a realization that as long as both parties are adaptable, all can be overcome.

  10. m&m on July 19, 2009 at 5:28 am

    We are very traditional in our roles, but very equal/compatible in our money decisions, moving/living/doing choices.

    Those are examples of the flexibility still provided in the Proclamation that I was thinking about. Who does the dishes? The laundry? The yardwork? The bills? There are no explicit rules for all of this.

    I think sometimes we focus so much on the provide/preside/protect and nurture parts (which, of course, are not insignificant — by divine design is a big deal, and I think the roles ARE part of a divine design for our lives) that we don’t really internalize the reality that that leaves a lot of space for an awful lot of the nuts and bolts of family life to still be worked out. And, as people have pointed out, that includes working through stages and changes that come as a family grows.

    For all that gender roles are part of the divine design, I think it’s critical to realize that isn’t just talking about a checklist of tasks. Gender roles AND equal partnership are the divine design, and that’s a lot more than who does what.

  11. mehrsa on July 19, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Of all of those articles, I think Flanagan and Loh seem to be really getting at the meat of the marriage and feminism debate and coming out on opposite sides. Flanagan says that marriage is an institution to raise children and even if you are not happy, you better think twice before leaving and Loh seems to disagree that there should be any outdated “institution” that should harness two shooting stars–kids or not. This leads Flanagan into traditional gender roles and Loh into a free-for-all. If marriage is about the family, then you have to figure out a way to best raise children and set some sort of “roles” structure. If it’s about your personal happiness, then why suffocate yourself inside a set role. It’s no wonder Loh’s marriage did not last.

    As for traditional gender roles, I am going to say that the jury is still out. I mean, this is the first generation that has really pushed this barrier and I guess we’ll see what the effects are. (I think Loh and her brand of feminism clearly did not get it right, but maybe that was the pendulum going too far out and there is still a middle ground). I chose the traditional roles (even though we didn’t start out that way) because I am not much of a risk-taker. But perhaps there are some innovators out there who can take the proclamation’s wise counsel and make it work in ways that are not traditional roles, but more flexible “responsibilities” or tasks. I would love to see how this experiment turns out.

  12. CatherineWO on July 19, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    “When an acquaintance tells me that they are on a second marriage, I assure them that EVERYONE is on a second marriage. The only question is whether with a new partner.”
    (Naismith, #7)

    Well said. Marriage is very different after the children are gone. I have to agree with those who say that roles make for a happier family (with children) stage of marriage, but only if both partners agree on the roles. That was not the case in our marriage, so there were some pretty rocky times for the first 29 years. Everything changed when the last child left home eight years ago.

    I love Marjorie’s comments (#3). Once my children were adults, I found the freedom, and the voice, to be the independent woman I always wanted to be. After some initial confusion, my sweet husband welcomed the changes, and we fell in love all over again. It’s different and ever so much better.

  13. Katie M. on July 19, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I was much more of a feminist before I got married. I railed against gender roles and freaked out whilst getting my endowments.

    But being married has mellowed me significantly. Being so intimate with a member of the opposite sex has shown me that there are subtle differences between us. (whether those differences are biological or cultural is not a question that particularly interests me-they exist and thus must be dealt with). And I’ve mellowed about the temple because while it hypothetically chafed my hide, I found that the dynamics of my marriage kind of played out like that. We are complete equals, and yet, and yet, I do like the feeling of him being kind of a protector, and being able to curl up in his arms when the world is going to pot, and have him feel like the rock in my life. It pains me to admit it, but there it is.

    And I’ve embraced more of my gender role. And it’s a nice feeling. Maybe it’s just a nice feeling because society has brainwashed me into feeling that way. But it works.

    But I would agree that every couple should express their roles in the way that best fits their personalities. We’re hardly a “traditional” couple-whatever that means. We run a business and write as equal partners and we share chores equally. The gender role thing is more of an ineffable feeling I can’t quite put into words.

  14. ZD Eve on July 19, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    I’m fascinated by Marjorie’s, Naismith’s, and Catherine’s descriptions of marital transformations after the kids leave home. Maybe, as Naismith says, gender roles are bound up with the immense work of reproducing and launching the next generation. On the other hand, I haven’t seen much, if any, slippage in gender roles among the couples I know of my parents’ generation–although I know more than one woman of that generation who would like more flexibility in the gender roles she continues to inhabit (e.g., these women still do most or all of the cooking and cleaning even after their husbands retire).

    I’m in a traditional marriage, to all appearances. My husband provides, I stay home full-time and nurture. This arrangement has worked out the best for our particular temperaments and in our particular situation. (I also preside, since my husband’s an atheist and if I don’t call on someone to say the prayer no prayer will be said, and if I don’t initiate FHE and scripture study they will not occur. However, it has been pointed out to me that this state of affairs is hardly unique to marriages in which the husband is an atheist. What this means about presiding I couldn’t begin to say.)

    On the other hand, he likes musicals and opera, both of which bore me, was on his high school’s dance team, and cries at country-music songs I find unbearably cheesy. He’s an HGTV addict and does all the home decorating. He appreciates getting flowers far more than I do. (When we were engaged a co-worker expressed horror at my husband’s appreciation for ballet. She told me she wanted to be the girl in her marriage, and she just wouldn’t feel like a girl if her husband liked those sorts of things.) But he’s also interested in a lot of masculine things–business, economics, entrepreneurship, building houses–that don’t interest me at all, either. Still, I do all the bills and manage the finances, and I have a lot more tolerance for abstract philosophical discussion that–horror of horrors!–results in no discernible economic output!–than he does.

    I don’t think gender is infinitely malleable. (Having been raised with mostly sisters, I was quite surprised to realize how different men are from women when I married.) I believe men and women ought to be equal partners in marriage; neither ought to engage in unilateral decision-making or dominate the other. I’m a great believer in fatherhood; I think children very much need fathers who are involved in their lives.

    Beyond these cautious, general assertions (which I imagine are relatively uncontroversial), I don’t know what I think about gender and gender roles. I’m far more invested in the law of chastity and commitment in marriage and to children than I am in particular gender roles. As long as what needs to get done gets done I can’t see that it matters who does it.

    Of course, the real question (which Rebecca asks above) is to what extent gender roles foster that chastity and commitment, to what extent they may even be necessary, at least on a general level, to foster it. And on that question I really have no idea what to think.

  15. Craig H. on July 19, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    The problem with the use of a term such as “traditional gender roles” is that its meaning is assumed to be somehow obvious and timeless. But usually it really means what we imagine “traditional” to be, based on our own experience and memory. If historians and anthropologists have shown anything, it’s that “traditional” as popularly used is always an invention, and usually a relatively recent one (i.e., within our own lifetime and memory, and maybe that of our parents too), but we take it to be from time immemorial. This is usually the case in discussion of gender roles too. It’s hard to have a discussion about “traditional” gender roles if it’s not established what those have been over many centuries. If understanding doesn’t transcend our own lifetimes, then it’s really only possible to have a discussion about gender roles we’ve known, and we ought to leave out all the assumptions about what was done before that.

  16. Jim F. on July 19, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    “Explorers, directors, negotiators, builders”–given a few years (or, with luck, months) these will turn out to be as merely fashionable and unscientific as left-brain / right-brain, personality colors, and different kinds of intelligence.

  17. Sterling Fluharty on July 19, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Compared to the United States, I have heard that the divorce rate is lot lower in Japan and Korea, where traditional gender roles are more prevalent. Is that correlation or causation? My guess is that balancing gender roles and responsibilities is one of the divinely-designed tests of this life.

  18. Kaimi Wenger on July 19, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    You’re just saying that because you have a left-brained, chartreuse-colored personality, Jim.

  19. Alison Moore Smiteh on July 19, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Starfoxy #8:

    “Traditional” marriages benefit from having those expectations clearly spelled out and culturally supported/enforced.

    I agree, but would add that traditional marriage also suffer from having those expectations clearly spelled out and culturally supported/enforced. To me, it’s a two-edged sword.

    m&m #10:

    Who does the dishes? The laundry? The yardwork? The bills? There are no explicit rules for all of this.

    No, there aren’t. But when the men are called to “provide/preside/protect” that often means they are simply gone most of the waking hours of the day. Practicality will often suggest that the woman is assigned those roles to a great extent.

    As much as having roles assigned to me because of gender bugs me, it annoys me almost as much when women stay home to “nurture” and then decide that watching Oprah, scrapbooking, and blogging are high on their “must do” list. Leaving the “mess of the day” to their husband’s who’ve been “providing” for eight, nine, ten hours a day.

    An LDS friend of mine in Florida said, “I’m a MOTHER, not a SERVANT.” Then described how she took care of the two kids while her husband was at work (since that was her “job”) and then walked out the door (to shop, to go to the library or park or out to dinner) as he walked in from work. She left the laundry, the dishes, the cleaning–including every toy her children had pulled off the shelf that day–and cooking dinner for him.

    I responded, “Oh, so your husband is the servant?”

    Obviously, individuals might have some specific arrangements about chores, but I always figured that if my husband was working all day at his job, I should be working at home, too. My parents taught me that, in reverse. My father NEVER came home from work and plopped on the couch, waiting for his slippers and newspaper. He came home from work, put on an apron (a very manly, BBQ apron), came into the kitchen and made a salad and/or set the table. When he sat down to relax, it was only when my mom could, too.

    Craig H., spot on. Jim F., I was thinking the same thing. Today’s profundity it tomorrow’s psychobabble.

  20. Naismith on July 19, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    The other thing to which I object in Loh’s essay is this:

    However, in this cluttered forest of my 40s, what I cannot authentically reconjure is the ancient dream of brides, even with the Oprah fluffery of weekly “date nights,” when gauzy candlelight obscures the messy house, child talk is nixed and silky lingerie donned, so the two of you can look into each other’s eyes and feel that “spark” again. Do you see? Given my staggering working mother’s to-do list, I cannot take on yet another arduous home- and self-improvement project, that of rekindling our romance.

    These seems like something of a straw-man argument, and she is making fidelity seem impossible, perhaps to justify her own adultery.

    I don’t know anyone who tries to keep a new bride’s dream. Rather, those of us who have multi-decade sexually satisfying relationships go from one phase into another, abandoning the newlywed spark in favor of a fire that burns hot and enduring. Keeping that flame alive generally involves at least one weekend a year without the kids (at least, I’ve traded babysitting with others, which makes me think it is common) and making sex a priority in their busy lives. For years, my husband and I had lunch every Thursday, at home while the kids were in school. Sure, a lot of people would find that boring but we always liked having that time that we could count on, and amused ourselves by planning. We have on rare occasions skipped Sunday School to race home while the kids were in Primary.

    In our mid-50s, we’ve practiced, and so it is better than it has ever been.

    And as far as our non-bedroom friendship, we regularly have lunches where we are forbidden to talk about work or kids…Try it, it can be challenging at first, but ends up fun. We also share movies with each other and read the same books to discuss.

    But then, I’ve never had to rekindle a romance, just keep it going, and that may be easier.

  21. Kaylana on July 19, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    I agree with ZD Eve. As long as the stuff gets done what does it matter who’s actually doing it? My DH isn’t an atheist, he’s got a strong testimony of the Church, but he doesn’t really get the ball rolling, sort to speak, for the FHE, scripture study,etc. So usually if it’s to get done I do it! And I think that’s OK!

  22. ZD Eve on July 19, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    I read Loh as making fun of the Explorer/Director/Negotiator/Builder paradigm. (Why are there always four categories in these things, I wonder? Has medieval physiology never really left us?) She certainly writes about her affair and the breakup of her marriage in a disturbingly light, derisive tone. She’s very entertaining–I’ve enjoyed a lot of her pieces until this one–but I guess on some subjects I simply refuse to be entertained.

  23. Kristine on July 20, 2009 at 12:27 am

    ZD Eve,

    Same here. I’ve also liked much of her stuff, but found this one really distressing. I’m frankly shocked that an editor didn’t suggest waiting awhile before publishing it–so excruciatingly raw.

  24. Red on July 20, 2009 at 11:24 am

    For a while in college I was very concerned about my role as a woman in the gospel. I didn’t want the priesthood nor did I feel like I was “unfair” that women don’t get to be ordained to the priesthood. But I sometimes felt like second-class citizen in church life, especially as a single woman in her late 20s. Then I took a class on Native American sacred texts. When we discussed how healing ceremonies required a masculine and a feminine component in order to fulfill their purpose, pieces of the gender puzzle fell into place. I realized that I had a role to fill, that being female was part of that role, and that my eternal role was not limited to being a wife and mother (although I certainly hoped for those opportunities).

    Now, as a married woman of a few years, I still think back to that experience. There are not very many things I can think of in our family that we do according to traditional gender roles–the ones my parents based their marriage on–but there are things we have each taken on as part of our role in our marriage. It works for us, and I firmly believe that some of the abilities each of us brings to our marriage are based in our understanding of gender in an eternal perspective.

    I know some people claim that gender doesn’t matter, and I agree that in some things, it doesn’t or at least shouldn’t. But I also don’t think there’s any escaping the fact that gender exists for a reason and trying to ignore it or remove it entirely from the definition of what it means to be human is an error with eternal consequences.

  25. Thomas Parkin on July 20, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    ZD Eve,

    I really like everything you’ve said. I especially think you’ve understood what it means to preside, and what is means to help as an equal partner. My partner is an atheist, as well – which puts me in an entirely different position vis-a-vis presiding. (I take it that, in my circumstance, I have to “lead out” in making sure our home is spiritually open and loving. Olivia has responsibility to help me out in that as an equal partner – but the first line of responsibility falls to me.)

    I think we seriously underestimate the implications of the phrasing about “equal partners” in the Proclamation, as well as the bit about ‘adapting to individual circumstances’ – possibly because we have so much anxiety that the whole thing is a violation of inviolable personal sensibility.

    It seems to me that the family doesn’t behave exactly like the church. I think Elder Oaks talked about this recently in some ways that were not entirely clear to me. I’d like to go back revisit that talk now.

    A Bishop presides in a ward. His counselors, the Ward Council and others are there to help him. But, finally, when there is a revelation to be received in behalf of the ward, he is the person to whom it will come, or at very least confirmed. So that his counselors and others are not equals in this function. The relation between husband and wife is NOT like this. This is why, it seems to me, important that we understand better the language in the PotF, and the increased talk of equality in general. The ‘council’ that the husband and wife form is a two-headed leader, not a leader with a counselor. They are truly equal partners. There is no hierarchy between them, no Priesthood leader. While there is a division of responsibility generally in line with gender differences that will generally be found, the reality of individual capabilities and circumstances makes those roles adaptable. Both are equally entitled to have deciding revelation on behalf of the family. Because there is only One Spirit, while both parties are equally receptive this shared entitlement can lead to tremendous unity – as it also does in the hierarchies of the church. ~

  26. Bri on July 21, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    I have to say that I get pretty frustrated with the idea that gender differences somehow equate to specifically defined (and eternally required) gender “roles”. I wholeheartedly believe in gender differences (read The Female Brain if you want amazing “ahas” about how womens’ brains make them different in general and different at various points of the their lives from puberty, child-bearing, post-menopause). And I believe that those gender differences make men and women somewhat predisposed to different strengths and weaknesses that can in turn be used to make decisions about who does what in the home and in a family. In particular, I see that translating gender differences into religion-mandated gender roles and task assignments can often make the individuals in the marriage feel trapped and unappreciated and can have an impact on children and their development as well.

    As one of the commentors mentioned, it may be more challenging and time-consuming to negotiate a customized set of responsibilities within the marriage and to manage adapting those responsibilities over the course of the marriage. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean that isn’t the most ideal, and most mature, way to work out your marital relationship.

    When we were just starting our family, we looked around at several couples we knew who choose the traditional breadwinner/stay-at-home roles for themselves. And we talked openly with our friends about their experiences and expectations. Many of the fathers felt they worked long hours and were away from home more than they wanted to be and were therefore less connected to their children than they wanted to be. And many of the mothers felt that so much of the household responsibilities fell to them. That with their husbands working 60+ hours to support the family, they were in many ways functioning as the primary parent most of the time. And many of the women felt that the were expected to sacrifice more and to put aside most of their personal interests unless they were directly related to the family (scrapbooking, cooking, etc.).

    So we decided that our ideal scenario would be for both of us to work part time so that our children had close personal relationships with us and could get the benefit our different talents as people and our different parenting styles (many of which come from our gender differences). Because my husband is a government employee part-time turned out not to be possible unless he took a demotion. So he worked out a flexible schedule that gets him home by 4pm every day and will allow him to retire when our children are in junior high. Because I make more money I was able to chose a very part-time schedule so I’m home most days and when I am at work my husband is with our boys (when they aren’t in school).

    It was a lot harder to figure out over the first few years than it would have been if I’d assumed the stay-at-home primary parent role. Sometimes I wished I could stay home and wished we’d picked the easier-to-define gender-based roles. But now it’s great and we both feel we have so much time with our children individually, as a family, and we have time to pursue our careers and our personal interests. Our children don’t have a regular babysitter and have never been in child care.

    Many of our friends comment wistfully on how we’ve been able to work things out. Often our religious culture seems to dictate that the wife must not work outside the home and must do all of the standard generic-specific chores. I think that’s one of those “letter of the law vs. spirit of the law” sort of things. A suggested guildeline. But the higher order law is to work together as a couple to create the best possible arrangement for your family. To make sure that we’re building strong families, strong marital relationships, and teaching our children to follow Christ.

    I am not a lessor Mormon nor a lessor women because we’ve chosen to modify our family responsibilities which includes me continuing my career part-time outside the home. It was not what I thought I’d do growing up, or even in the early pre-children years of our marriage. I didn’t plan on having a career per se. But through the serendipity of various career twists and turns that happened during the years we waited for children to finally join our family, things just worked out that way. And I feel lucky that they did, and lucky that I have a husband I could create a customized marriage with.

  27. Malcolm on July 23, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Sandra S. Loh’s article it is simply a humor-clad exercise and attempt at self medication. Pain, shock, disappointment, frustration and rejection are not easily digested emotions. Not long ago she was touting her husband “successful gigs in Las Vegas” and even contemplating moving there!!

    So, HER marriage sadly came unglued. Since when her own limited, unsatisfactory and painful experience equates to insights into universal truth? Since when a column in a syndicated publication is an attribute of prophesy or even merely common sense? People need to stop idolizing these self appointed “social pundits”.

    I stopped reading Time, Newsweek and The NY Times long ago. I have not missed anything.

  28. Ed Britton on July 26, 2009 at 8:09 am

    I appreciate the general council given in the “Proclamation on the Family.” That said, I think it should be obvious that each family is as unique as the people who make it up, so each of us will have to work out the details – often some pretty big details.

    Having a bunch of little kids running around kind of knocks the idealism out of you, and you have to get pragmatic about the marriage/family thing… ‘work it out’ and survive from breakfast to lunch.

    I actually don’t think the ideal ‘Church’ family is the traditional, western family model. I believe that in the ideal LDS family the wife and mother has a much more prominent and supported role than in the traditional western family. I think the family actually revolves around her. That’s the way it is in my family, and in most of the solid ‘Church’ families that I’m acquainted with.

  29. Stephanie on July 26, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    I agree with Naismith and other who’ve said that traditional roles are more important when childrearing. I stay at home for the kids. I didn’t before they were born, and I don’t know what I’ll do after they leave, but I know it won’t be being at home to cook and clean.

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