Presiding in the Family

One difficult thing for me to wrap my head around is the fact that I am “primarily responsible for the nurturing of my children” and I devote my entire life to raising them and giving them a beautiful childhood.  And I don’t even preside over my own work.  I wonder if I am accountable for myself or if my husband gets all the credit for how things turned out.  And then I think, why does there even have to be a “presider”?

Could we just be equals?  Going along both acting on what we think is best?

presiding-1

If there was no presiding person, no head, and we were all on our own, marriage would be pretty loose.  Kind of like how it is now in the world.  Men and women pretty much see each other as equals, and they both think they are the boss.  We would start out close to each other, but differences of opinion, or vision, or priorities would soon have us going our own ways. Because, dang it!  I don’t need you to boss me around.  I can make my own decisions.

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So, for a family to remain a single entity, there has to be a head.  One person must represent the family ideals and voice and stay true to that.  That doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t already true to the same thing though–I think that is one of the perceived problems with presiding.  If everyone is on the same wavelength, then “presiding” really is nothing more than a respectful gesture to the role of the father [everyone waiting with their arms folded–“Dad gets to choose who says the prayer”].  If everyone is not on the same wavelength, then presiding is incredibly important [Come down for scripture and prayer, Cameron.  We need you to be with us, you are an important part of our family.].   I think the rub comes from men who misunderstand their authority and decide that they should approach their family with a “top down” attitude.  And equally problematic are women who have been trained that they are subservient to their husbands and need to let them control everything.

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It is difficult to sift out when a man is “presiding” over his family, and when he is just wanting his own way.  If he is used to no opposition to any of his opinions, the line gets very blurry.  Fathers and husbands are to preside in the following ways: Making sure they hold FHE and family scripture and prayer time.  Making sure they all go to church.  Making sure he and his wife regularly attend the temple. Making sure the home is a place where the Spirit is freely welcome by protecting the family against harmful media.  Things like this.  They don’t preside in their opinions and matters of taste. Like what color the walls will be, or which route they’ll take on the way home from church.  Feel free to express your own opinion and not let your opinions and desires slide because “He’s my husband and he presides over our family.”

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For me, the best way to illustrate presiding in a family is just realizing that you are both on the same team.  The presider doesn’t need to push his ideas to the top, or keep reminding anyone that he presides.  See how the green pickle is just a little taller than the pink pickle?  I think that is all that it is–he lends a voice and a figure to the couple entity.  But she is right there with him, and they want the same things.

The Ensign this month published an article called Equal Partnership in Marriage, which sort of addresses this same idea.  But, I also felt like it was saying–the husband doesn’t preside at home.  They preside as one.  Which I think is awesome, but also, not totally what we learn in the temple.  So, I refer to my pickle drawing as how a husband and wife, as one, preside over the family–with the husband acting as the voice and head only by a little tiny bit.

To create unity in this fallen state, there needs to be a head.  Why it is the man and not the woman, I can only guess**, but it has to do with the Fall and the consequence given to Eve. And something as ancient as that is not going to change.

**My guess is: women are in charge of pretty much everything else that has to do with household maintenance and smoothness.  God doesn’t want Spiritual Endeavors to be lumped in together with the laundry, dishes, homework and mopping.  So He placed husbands in charge of it to keep it special and set apart from the rest of family life.  For women who have to “preside” because their husbands don’t take the lead, it ends up just being another thing to nag about; which isn’t an ideal way to think about scriptures, prayer, temple and church attendance.

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9 responses to “Presiding in the Family

  1. Great article. One thought I’ve had is that presiding gives men responsibility for something in the family. If there were no expectation on him, he would slack off and do the bare minimum. There are cultures that expect less and less of men, and they have higher rates of family abandonment. Due to the emotional attachment women naturally form with their children, it is a much less pervasive problem among mothers.

    Another thought about presiding: it may be helpful to think of it not so much as top-down authority, but a grass-roots leadership role. The husband/father represents the wants and needs of the family to society at large. He is the family’s voice and their advocate.

    • Thaddeus, I love that idea of a grass-roots advocate for the family. Yes! Every time I have a hard time dealing with a company on the phone (medical billing, anyone?), I like to turn it over to Ben. Just having a man deal with the problem as the head of his family always works. Doesn’t matter if it is a man or a woman on the other end of the phone.
      And I agree with your other point too. Men have to be involved, it shouldn’t really be any other way. The more I have thought about how it works, the more I have come to the conclusion that this is right for so many good and exalting reasons.

  2. Brilliant article, as are all the ones I’ve read so far. But I just had to give an extra shout-out for the cute illustrations.

    • Tiare, thank you so much for your comments! You made my day. I’m excited to check out your website too, its nice to find like-minded people all over the world. And thanks for liking my pickle illustrations. 🙂

  3. ” Why it is the man and not the woman, I can only guess**, but it has to do with the Fall and the consequence given to Eve. And something as ancient as that is not going to change.”

    The second article of faith would suggest that the first part of this statement untrue….and the ninth would seem to negate the definitive nature of the second part. Just sayin’.

    • The second article of faith talks about Adam’s transgression and our own sins not being lumped into one big Original Sin. The consequences given to Adam and Eve are not the same as their sin. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule (preside) over thee. And unto Adam he said. . . In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Our roles and responsibilities in this fallen world haven’t changed too much.
      And as far as the ninth article of faith, the continuing nature of revelation–you think God would go back and rescind the story and it’s consequences? When the creation and fall are two of the three pillars of the doctrine of the Church?
      Just sayin’

  4. So where did those consequences come from, if not as a result of the sin? God just swooped in and decided to assign gender roles, coincidentally after the fall? I’m not buying that.

    Rescind the story? I don’t think so. But our definition of marriage has evolved on the basis of revelation (polygamy anyone? Polyandry? Dynastic sealings to Joseph Smith?) multiple times in the church’s history. Who’s to say that as we, as a people, become ready for it, the roles assigned so rigidly to a father and mother could change? Our society is not the same as Adam and Eve’s. Why would we need to change the story to recognize that?

  5. Frankly, the differences between the temple language re: gender and statements from prophets and apostles just baffles me and hurts. I really really don’t get it. I have no issue with wives and husbands presiding together and working hard to make decisions together by seeking inspiration from the Spirit, just as quorums (like the 12 apostles) pray and discuss and work until they can find unanimous agreement. If this model of what presiding looks like works for you and brings you joy, by all means, embrace it. I confess I am a little wary of it because of the horror stories of people who have used the concept of preside to justify manipulation and abuse. (I know that’s nothing you would ever condone, and you might think me too paranoid on this, but I want there to be as little “spiritual” rationalization possible behind those unholy behaviors.)

    I know the language of presiding seems to contradict the other language of equal partners. It helps me to see this in a progression (like examining the alterations in temple language pre and post the early 90s changes). There are teachings like this one from President Joseph F. Smith, quoted in Gospel Doctrine (found in this Ensign article from 1973: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1973/02/strengthening-the-patriarchal-order-in-the-home?lang=eng&query=defending+the+patriarchal+order+of+the+home):

    “… This patriarchal order has its divine spirit and purpose, and those who disregard it under one pretext or another are out of harmony with the spirit of God’s laws as they are ordained for recognition in the home. It is not merely a question of who is perhaps the best qualified. Neither is it wholly a question of who is living the most worthy life. It is a question largely of law and order, and its importance is seen often from the fact that the authority remains and is respected long after a man is really unworthy to exercise it.”

    This is hard for me to stomach, because it seems to frame authority as an issue of organization and tradition that disregards people’s individual talents and qualifications, and may even prop up those who are unworthy to preside.

    Then you have this teaching from Elder L. Tom Perry in 2004: “There is not a president and vice president in a family. We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family . . . They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.”

    If the only thing holding a husband to a family is the role of presiding over spouse and children, that doesn’t seem like a great motivation to me. I think spouses can and should work together, counsel together, pray together, listen and discuss and decide together. In my house trying to adhere to traditional gender roles was just inefficient and burdensome. When we let our individual talents dictate our responsibilities, we became a much more productive, steady household. We still work at our weak points, but it’s okay that I’m the one encouraging prayer and scripture study. It’s more than fine that he cooks far better than I ever will (in large part because he enjoys it more). And it’s great that neither of us seeks to preside over the other, but follow Elder Perry’s model of working together as co-presidents in the home.

  6. This is something that has been on my mind for a while… The other day (well, a few months ago) we had friends for dinner and I asked someone to offer the prayer. Later that night my husband reminded me that because he presides only he should be leading the dinner! I was baffled by this statement and hurt. I said, are we not equals? He read a statement from a handbook on the family and it clearly stated that fathers are to preside in the home. The example even stated that they are the ones to lead the family in prayers. This did not and continues to not sit well with me. It makes me feel like a child, not an equal. I wish to be a joint-heir. It is interesting to me that Eve was taken from Adam’s rib as she was to walk by his side, not before him or behind him. Does it really matter that I asked someone to offer a prayer and not my husband? I don’t think it matters. I think a lot of those statements in those handbooks are dated language that we should get rid of. The proclamation on the family should read: mothers and fathers have a responsibilty to preside over their families as equals. Amen.

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