Friday, May 31, 2013

"Providing for your Family" and the Family Economy

The past week has fostered some interesting discussion in my home. You have read about the nature of these discussions in the previous posts. Thanks to a brilliant description from a trusted friend and mentor, I have developed a greater clarity on how to articulate my feelings on the matter.

One of the more challenging discussion topics I've engaged in over the past few days has been about how I would recommend changing our dialog in the church about the responsibility to provide for one's family. The really hard question has been this:

If I had grown up in a church that taught that it was acceptable for men to choose to stay home and raise his children while his wife worked--and had I decided that such was the course I wanted to take--would I have pursued my education as intently as I did?

In all honesty, I'm not sure I would have. At least not if I had grown up with a goal to be a stay at home father.  

So if we were to try to change the dialog to be more open about the choice of whether a mother or a father (or neither) stays home with their children, how do we do it without inadvertently discouraging higher education?

This is where the comments of my friend and mentor made such a powerful impression. She discussed the different aspects of a "family economy." This included, of course, the need for financial support. But I realized it also extended to the housework, the dishes, laundry, cleaning, and home maintenance. It included extra curriculars, vacations, and schooling and extended to church attendance, service, and gospel instruction. 

In short, the family economy was made up of all those things that made it possible for a family to thrive economically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Perhaps we should spend more time talking to our youth about that. Perhaps we could teach them that education is a virtue unto itself, and that it contributes to the family economy regardless of whether the degree is used in employment-for when you enrich the life of one family member, you enrich the life of the family.

Maybe we could teach our youth that if they pursue an education, then they have options; that they can discuss with their spouse who is better suited to employment an who is better suited to raising children.  In short, they can decide how to distribute the roles so that each person maximizes their personal contribution to the family economy.

We could teach them that they need to prepare themselves to fill both roles, and that which role they fill can be decided with their spouse.

Inevitably, someone will ask, "but how do you reconcile this with The Family: A Proclamation to the World which states, 'By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children?'"

If a husband jointly decides with his spouse that the family is better served by her employment, is he not providing the necessities of life?  If a wife jointly decides with her spouse that the children are better served by his demeanor and character, is she not ensuring the nurture of her children?  Remember, the Proclamation teaches principles about the family; it does not require strict interpretation of gender roles.  As my mentor said:

The most important thing is for the family to succeed and the children to be taught that the family works together and will triumph over any obstacles that come their way.


  1. It the LDS Church had a different dialog to begin with, with less rigid societal roles, those two sentences from the Family Proclamation might not even exist.

  2. Ben, in all fairness, now that you have highlighted the phrase that I used--"family economy" I need to clarify that it is not my phrase but one of Wendell Berry. Lee and I both love reading his books and he articulates well what a local and family economy consists of. We've incorporated his ideas in our family as we worked with our daughters while they lived with us. One thing that we stressed is that we all work together for the good of the family economy. This might mean growing a garden, taking care of our home and the things that we have spent money on--books, education, music, materials to improve our homes with. We never divided up the chores but worked together because we enjoyed working together. What a great blessing work is!

  3. I think sometimes we're very rigid in our thinking and we fail to see the bigger picture. Every family knows what is best for them, two families can't run things in the same way because their circumstances are different.

    A woman shouldn't feel pressured or forced to stay home with the children just because she feels that's what others expect her to do, can she serve her family well this way? I doubt it, she might survive day by day but isn't able to reach her full potential.

    Sometimes a woman in special circumstances can benefit greatly from going outside and work and pursue higher education while the husband stays home with the children.

    We always talk about the soft nature of women when in reality, there are also a lot of men who work amazing with children. In my opinion, it is a matter of what works BEST for YOUR family. Nobody should dictate what's YOUR family best interest. Only the couple and the Lord knows what is best and once EVERYONE is happy and do their best, the family will flourish and grow.