I keep an eye on news articles relating to family life and education, and this was one from the BBC several days ago, regarding the role of fathers:
The article reports a study showing that children whose father’s interact well with them at three months of age have better behaviour at 12 months. (It should be commented that this is based on a questionnaire regarding elements of behaviour such as sleep, feeding etc; it is susceptible to bias since what one parent considers a problem, another may view as completely normal. Also, I know I find the more challenging elements of parenting are greatly alleviated through having a supportive and involved husband; I often reflect on how a single parent must feel the task is relentless at times, and through exhaustion and isolation may cope less well with certain behaviours).
What astonishes me is firstly that such studies can attract research funding in the first place, and secondly, that the findings are considered newsworthy. Why is it surprising that children with fathers who interact with them and who take an interest in their development tend to do better? Why do we need to fund research to demonstrate that children need two parents who have complementary roles, in order to have the best chance of thriving? I find it sad that it is necessary.
On the other hand, perhaps I should not be surprised. How often is it assumed that things relating to raising children are the domain of the mother? Even within Christian circles where marriage is highly valued, it is frequently the mother who tends to assume responsibility for the children. One of the most frequently cited sections of the Bible relating to parenting, Ephesians 6 verse 4, is addressed to fathers, ‘And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord’. Elsewhere it is made clear that the God given order for family life is for the husband and father to have a position of headship in the home. ‘Feminists’ react strongly to this suggestion, and object to the verses such as Ephesians 5 verse 22: ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord’. But what they neglect is the parallel command to husbands, three verses later: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her...’? What does that second verse mean? How did Christ love the church? Christ loved the church sufficiently to face every manner of human abuse and ultimately die for people who at that time, rejected and hate Him. As Jesus Himself said, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends’. (John 15:13). Given the choice – to submit to my husband’s God-given leadership, or to love another person to the degree that Christ loved the church – I know which seems humanly possible! What does submit mean anyway? I caused controversy among some family members at our wedding when I chose not to say ‘obey’ as is tradition in the Scottish wedding vows, but rather ‘submit’ as I felt this to be more biblically correct. Dictionary definitions of the two verbs are below, with the main difference to me being that submission is a willing surrender, and reflects an respectful attitude of heart, whereas obedience just refers to doing the will of another person.
Obey: 1. To carry out or fulfill the command, order, or instruction of. 2. To carry out or comply with (a command, for example).
Submit: 1. To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another. 2. To subject to a condition or process.
But perhaps I digress slightly into a discussion of Biblical marriage. Or is it really a digression? It seems clear that many problems arise in modern society as the family structure degenerates and many children are raised in broken homes, perhaps where a succession of other adults come for a time and then leave. Is it surprising that these children may struggle to feel secure, and may find ways (often interpreted as ‘rebellion’ or ‘behavioural problems’) to express their uncertainty?
Of course, practically, it often does make sense for one parent to have the greatest day to day involvement with the children, and the more typical or traditional situation is where the mother remains home, or works part time, whilst the husband works longer and more demanding hours. It is not a question of time spent with the child, but rather the degree of involvement and commitment, and the ultimate responsibility. And alternative approaches are possible; I would love to see more families seriously consider these. My husband and I both work part-time, allowing us each to spend quality time with the children and have an equal, although very different, input into their education. When I say ‘different’, I refer not to our motivations and principles, but rather to the different strengths and weaknesses we both have. We believe our children will benefit from the broader education that we can offer them as a team working in this way. We are considered a little unusual, both in the workplace, and also within the church. But we remember that ultimately we are the ones who will have to give an account before God of how we have raised the children He has given us.