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Marriage
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Is the Traditional View of Husband and Wife a Practical and Realistic View? [Video]

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Two women in the Bible represent the desire to find a man who is a self-reliant provider. We read in Ruth 3:1: “One day Ruth's mother-in-law Naomi said to her, 'My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for.'”

Although this narrative is centuries old and reflects traditional views of men as providers and women as those provided for, do such sentiments still exist today? 

According to a study published in the journal "Frontiers in Psychology," traditional gender stereotypes, including the view of men as providers, persist even today, despite significant progress toward gender equality​.

Egalitarianism vs. Practical Realities

Of course, nearly every academic researcher sees the egalitarian position as progress toward equality, and the traditional undermining equality rather than a practical and realistic conclusion to the division of labor between a man and woman who have children. 

It is important to acknowledge that these stereotypes are being actively challenged and that many individuals and families operate successfully outside these traditional roles of the husband as the provider. My dad lost his job, and my mom generated the income for the two of them for years. One size does not fit all. Many couples find different arrangements that work best for them, whether traditional or not.

Personally, when it comes to men, I am fully persuaded that most men see themselves as responsible, self-reliant providers. I believe this is inherent in men, and most wives thank God for this residing virtue in them, especially when they adore and want to be with three children under five. At the same time, this perspective does not diminish the value and capability of men who take on primary caregiving roles. My dad fixed the evening meals and did the dishes. Both parents can and do often share caregiving responsibilities in ways that work best for them, without adhering strictly to traditional norms. And, let me add my mother was a single parent for five years when my mom and dad separated. Mom had to manage everything.

The Practicalities of Family Life

Even so, we must face the realities of family life in the early years that often align with traditional roles. The recovery from childbirth, the physical demands of nursing, the inefficiencies related to alternative arrangements, and the effects of oxytocin in a mother bonding with the baby significantly influence a couple's decision-making about the division of labor. These factors are not merely traditional expectations but practical considerations that naturally arise and must be acknowledged and respected. In this context, another word for "traditional" can be "practical," reflecting the real-world considerations that shape these decisions.

Money As the Equalizer

According to most secularists, men have historically been the primary earners, subjecting women to inequality because they did not have the same earning power. The secular worldview has aimed to ensure women have comparable careers with equal pay, striving for equality between the sexes. Equal income is proclaimed as the equalizer between the sexes. This assertion and assumption, of course, necessitated the availability of daycare for children or the decision not to have children at all.

Egalitarianism and Conventional Sentiments

Egalitarianism promotes equality and shared responsibilities in a relationship, aiming to dismantle traditional gender roles as though the traditional is against equality and shared responsibilities. However, acknowledging that conventional sentiments often emerge due to practical considerations is crucial for understanding why the division of labor concerning providers and provided-for falls along gender lines even to this day. 

This is not a statement against women working in a career and making a colossal contribution to humanity but a practical recognition that having children causes a shift in day-to-day living. That's not a sexist comment but one based on a practical consideration of a mother giving birth, nursing, and experiencing oxytocin and estrogen.

Prioritizing Family Above Work

Let me insert a word here about prioritizing family above work. Practically speaking, most men and women naturally prioritize their roles as husbands and fathers and wives and mothers. That means they value the celebration of Mother's Day and Father's Day above Labor Day because they prize family above work. This prioritization reflects a deeply held value that family comes first. After a baby, the father and mother seek to do what is best for the child about whom they are crazy. Traditionally, mom nurses the baby with all the care and joy surrounding the birth and early months. Yes, a dad could nurse the baby with a bottle after the birth of the baby. We are not arguing men are incompetent as caregivers of an infant but are simply saying that mothers often take on this role naturally due to biological and emotional factors. Is this unprogressive and undermines equality, or should this be translated into a mommy and daddy getting realistic and practical about what is best for the baby that means the world to them?

Balancing Tradition and Modern Expectations

In supporting couples as they navigate the division of labor within their household, it's essential to recognize the practical benefits that may come from traditional roles while also being vigilant against the reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

What I find interesting is that from the hundreds of emails I have received from wives and mothers, not one has told me they wish to be the primary provider, but tell me just the opposite. "I don't want to be the primary provider by working outside the home to generate the income. Yes, I want to pursue my career and be extremely successful, but I don't want my husband to say to me, 'I want to depend on you.' I definitely don't want to be expected to work 50 hours a week outside the home, bring home the bacon, and have someone else raise my young children." 

Yes, some women say they want their husbands to depend on them as the primary provider but these women themselves know that they don't represent the majority of women even in their own families. Because they have the right to a career and making a ton of money doesn't mean that for most couples with young children, this setup is ideal or desired. Most couples end up in a more traditional arrangement since that proves to be the most practical and realistic for the sake of the children who are loved beyond measure. This traditional setup often allows one parent, typically the mother, to focus on nurturing and raising the children during their early years, while the father assumes the role of the primary provider. This arrangement helps ensure that the children receive the attention and care they need, fostering a stable and loving environment.

Exceptions and Practical Considerations

Though exceptions certainly exist, there are usually reasons. They often arise from practical considerations like differences in opportunity and income level. For instance, we have friends where she, being a medical doctor, was the main earner, and he stayed home with their three children. However, her desire to spend more time with her children led them to revert to a more traditional setup, especially since he felt driven to be a self-reliant provider for her and the children. 

This does not imply that women should not pursue careers. When I grew up, my mom had three businesses. But I can tell you, I knew she was crazy about me and I was her priority. I knew I pulsated in her heart.

Indeed, many women successfully balance demanding careers with family life. But I have concluded that even in such circumstances, the wives still prefer to know and be reassured that their husbands can be, when needed, the primary earner. I know my mom did not want to be the primary breadwinner even though she made more money than dad.

The Enduring Value of Traditional Roles

For most wives and mothers, they value their husbands' role as the main provider, appreciating the opportunity to contribute financially without the pressure of being the primary source of income. This sentiment is driven by a desire to avoid the stress associated with the role of main financial provider and is a testament to the enduring nature of traditional gender roles in providing and caregiving. 

Interestingly, I have heard that anxiety levels in both partners can be higher when the woman is the primary breadwinner and the man is the full-time parent. Conversely, anxiety tends to be lower when the roles are reversed: her anxiety decreases when in the home with the children, and his anxiety decreases when outside the home working to provide for the family.

A Practical and Realistic Approach

Regardless, the idea we see in the conversation between Ruth and Naomi may be centuries old but that worldview continues. Instead of attacking this as against women, which is the default mode for many, why not see this as a realistic and practical approach to loving our children in the most workable way for the sake of the child? Is that a bad thing? Young children often require significant time and attention, particularly in their early years. A traditional setup, where one parent primarily focuses on caregiving while the other provides financially, can offer the stability and consistency that children thrive on. Mothers, due to biological and hormonal factors such as oxytocin, often have a natural inclination towards nurturing their infants. This isn't to say fathers are not capable caregivers, but rather that these natural tendencies can make traditional roles a practical choice. For many families, having one parent focus on the home while the other focuses on work can create a more manageable and less stressful household environment. This division can help balance the demands of professional responsibilities and family needs effectively. I don't see why we must say the traditional is unprogressive and unequal when many who espouse egalitarianism adhere to the division of labor set forth here. The conventional division of labor is not the enemy of equality. It is one of many viable options that families can choose from to meet their needs and aspirations.

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. How do you perceive the balance between traditional and modern roles in your own family, and in what ways do you and your partner navigate these expectations?
  2. Considering the article's discussion on gender roles as providers and caregivers, how do your experiences align or differ from these traditional roles, and how has this affected your family dynamics?
  3. How do you interpret and apply the concept of balancing egalitarian ideals with practical family needs in your own household, particularly regarding income and caregiving responsibilities?
  4. How do you and your partner adjust your roles to accommodate the evolving needs of your children and household, and what challenges have you faced in maintaining this balance?