Redifining the Roles of Husbands and Wives in Families
by Fr. Peter deSousa
We live in changing times, where very often, both husband and wife work
outside the home. Sometimes the woman receives employment outside, and the
man looks after the home. Who does all the work inside your home? Parenting
by Father and Mother complements the way husband and wife operate. When
occasions arise, each one may have to adjust and adapt to fulfil unfamiliar
roles. In an emergency, it is amazing how resilient we can be. The home is
built on love and sacrifice.
Each of us was brought up by our parents to assume certain responsibilities.
Marriage provides opportunities to serve and those who have experiences in
their growing up years, can put them to good use, when needed. Some women
may be practical and handy in repairing and fixing household gadgets, fuses
and washers. They do not have to call in an electrician, plumber or
handyman. Some men may be able to cook, sew, nurse a sick child with
patience and gentleness. Co-responsible partnership between a husband and
wife and complementarity in the roles they fulfil, contribute to the peace
and harmony of the home.
Sometimes the man is away from home for long periods of time due to work and
the woman has to assume the roles of both parents in his absence. When he
comes back, she has to let him assume the role of father. This is not easy
and calls for discretion and humility. Again, after retirement, a man may
find he has little to do and is a nuisance in the kitchen or home. How can
he feel needed and learn new skills? When one is sick, the other has to
assume responsibilities and make significant sacrifices too.
In traditional societies, the man was the patriarch and was used to
dominating and controlling the family finances, law and order and he was
held in awe and feared. Women were often oppressed and had to be at the beck
and call of their husbands, to provide bed and board services as and when
required, with little appreciation and thanks. Today the equality of the
sexes and the dignity of each person is required. Women are educated and
liberated and want to be treated as persons with respect and dignity.
Children who were brought up in the traditional, old way may be in for a
rude surprise when they live in a new society.
Many women will not accept male violence and abuse. They want to be treated
with respect and dignity. They will not cow down in fear, especially when
they are financially independent. Men who are pressured and tense, may find
grumbling and complaining wives hard to bear, when they come home from work.
They may prefer to relax outside the home. So learning to deal with
conflicts and disagreements in acceptable ways, is required.
Prayer, dialogue, listening with concern, reflecting back feelings, sharing
without blaming or attacking the other, and the ability to make significant
sacrifices, are necessary skills for marriage and the home today. In schools
and parishes, we need to conduct programs regularly to instruct and educate
people how to live in harmony. This should be part of the curriculum in
schools and colleges. Parishes should organize such programs too. Priests
need to have the same skills in dealing with each other in team ministry and
with those they serve.
Empowerment of women is very necessary in every home and parish today. Abuse
of women is escalating. Women are weaker physically and so taken advantage
of by bullies who want to show off. Under the influence of liquor or because
they are afraid of being branded "hen-pecked", many men abuse women. The
newspapers and television keep on giving us stories of women's helplessness
from men abusing their authority. Each one of us can change one small
section of society. Cumulatively, we will bring about much needed change.
I believe that women can be the best agents of social change. They can
bring up their sons to be understanding, kind and respectful towards their
sisters. They are the ones who can make their sons treat their wives with
respect and kindness rather than bullying them or taking advantage of them.
How many women instigate violence towards their daughters-in-law!! They can
come to the aid of other women in distress by banding together and uniting
in teaching erring men a good lesson. Men are afraid of a pack of angry
women. They will be ashamed when they cannot get away with their misdeeds
any more, under the cloak of silence.
Does this mean then that women should assert themselves, dominate their
men-folk and become female wrestlers? By no means. The woman must obey and
honor her husband as head of the home. But she is the heart of the home.
Let her give him respect and love and accept that they both have their own
roles to fulfil, as man and woman persons. Men must learn how to share what
is bothering them, instead of bottling up all their feelings and then when
they cannot stand it, unleashing abuse and violence.
We need women and couple-counselors in every parish who can help bring about
much needed change in society. In some Indian villages, "Mahila mandals"
are already functioning quite well, Religious Sisters can play a very
effective role in such training. In fact, single women who do not have the
responsibilities that marriage brings, but who are dedicated to Christ and
the spread of his Gospel, can be a powerful task force in our Parishes. They
can help in the family apostolate, by befriending abused wives and
daughters. Do not make them men-haters but rather give them the courage to
change the irresponsible attitudes of husbands and sons.
Love, kindness, patience and courage are important virtues in changing and
rehabilitating our society.
All of us can prevent the breakdown of family life and contribute to the
strengthening of marriage and Christian parenting, even if we are not
married ourselves. Ultimately the big Church is only as strong as the
domestic Churches it comprises. All reform begins in the smallest units of
society. The roles of husbands and wives need to be redefined in our
changing world while being always consonant with the Gospel and teaching of
Le us seek the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit and Mary, the Mother of
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For Better or for Worse copyright © Fr. Peter deSousa. All rights reserved.