Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Anti-Cleaver Household

This week, Iowa State University released a study that shows something most women already know...that they are usually the more dominant person in the marital relationship. The study has shown that contrary to popular understandings, and even contrary to a lot of psychological theory, women typically have the stronger say in the decision-making process in families.

For quite some time now church leaders have been trying to understand what it means to be engaged in "Family Ministry." And, my opinion at least, is that we've been moderately successful in helping congregations to understand and embrace dynamics involved in non-traditional families, such as single-parent families, blended families, inter-racial families, and others. But I don't think our approach to ministering to "traditional families" has been altered all that much. Perhaps it should.

If, in our approach to families with two spouses as parents, we continue to engage them out of the long-held understanding that the male is the dominant of the household and is, therefore, responsible for making all the important decisions, then perhaps we may be missing good opportunities for ministry, or perhaps we might be just missing the point altogether.

So, if we do change our approach to family ministry in such a way as to understand that women in the relationships shoulder the larger burden of family decision-making, what do we actually change?

Perhaps obviously things like the way we approach discussion of "roles" in relationships changes in our pre-marital/marital counseling and in our parenting classes. But possibly even the way we talk to teenagers about what relationships are "really" like. We do have some responsibility to prepare teenagers for their lives in the future. Dating, relationships, possibly even marriage. And we've got some responsibility to dispell myths and give them some truth so that when they approach these major life events they can have some preparation. I'm just now beginning to wonder...

I'd like to invite a few people to this discussion:


mark said...

Good stuff Dan.

My Random thoughts before I head out the door to KC:

1. I'm not really surprised by this initially. There's a reason ccm radio stations (like the local KXOJ) gear all their programming to women with children. Dentist, eye doctors, all of these things are generally scheduled by the mom in the house. Statistically moms buy most of the parenting books (even when the books are about fathers).

2. Youth ministry leaders must take the changing family into account like you are saying. In spiritual, and practical ways, (what is the best way to communicate with both parents of a teen, so that they both know what's going on in the lives of their kids and the opporutinites they have to participate in church related stuff. Not to mention that some estimate the number people who's dad was a sperm donor at over a million.

3. It aways comes back to fight club. "We are a generation of men raised by women." What makes a man in definately in question right now.

4. What does this mean for teens who need a father figure more during adolescence than at any other time in their lives.

Brian said...

I guess my first thought is to wonder to what extent the male in a two-parent heterosexual household was ever the "dominant" parent in the household. Was this really the way it used to be, or did things just appear that way (especially on TV and in movies)?

Certainly most of the youth I have served in last two decades come from homes where the mom is as educated as the dad and both parents bring an income into the household. These households tend to be egalitarian, with the parents acting as partners in decision-making. If this is the norm, it is worth asking how the roles of the two parents differ.

Does it still hold true that moms tend to be the ones who nurture the spiritual side of the family? Is it still the moms who tend to be more active in the local church, teaching Sunday school, helping with women's groups, attending Bible studies, taking the kids to youth group, etc?

Doug Jones said...

Dan - thanks for pointing to this research.

I don't think the "ideal traditional family" ever existed. I don't think the church has ever been very effective in engaging the whole family - due to some of the issues you (and this study) point out - like trying to engage the mythic male head of the house.

Men abdicate, period.

I do think the church is barking up the wrong tree by trying to "masculinize" (that ain't a word) it's lingo and ministry approach. I think that we must embrace the fact and taylor our ministries toward the reality that the leader in the homes in USAmerica - are woman (whether in blended, "traditional" or single parent homes).

It means that we need to write newsletters, promo pieces, create atmospheres, use language that addresses a female audience. It calls us to reconsider the make up of our committee's, the types of family ministry events we run, the kinds of resources we rely upon (maybe bringing in female guest speakers?!)... (there are tons of implications - but probably a bunch of guys thinking about this is not the best approach?)

I hope more churches really begin to buy a clue about this. Woman supported the ministry of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3) and I think that model has continued throughout history (men want to be out front - but in the everyday, mundane - woman carry the day).

I also think it means that theologically the churches which embrace women in leadership have probably been working in this fashion for quite a few years.

Danny said...

Sorry for the delay in posting... I've been away for a few days...

I often get lost in conversations regarding gender roles. On the one hand, I hear many of my colleagues say that the church has been to "masculine" or "patriarchal" for too many years; on the other hand, I look out on my congregation and see a lot more women than men.

When it comes to gender roles in my own family, things tend to be fairly "egalitarian," as Brian said. What specific roles my wife and I do have result more from things like work schedules and sleep patterns. (She works fewer hours per week than I do, so she does more laundry; I'm a morning person and she's not, so I do more when it comes to getting the kids up, fed, and ready for school.)

What this means for the church, I'm not sure. A few years ago a friend loaned me the book "Wild at Heart" by some well-known preacher whose name I can't remember at the moment, and found myself saying over and over, "I think he's right about this, but...," or, "I think he's almost, but not quite, right about that..."

Most of the youth I minister to have not grown up in the church, and their parents are not involved. Most are also male, and have no positive father-figure in their lives. They're left to figure out for themselves what it means to be a man, which, to their way of thinking, often means doing what they want and not taking any crap from anybody. Prove who's boss! I know that by what I say and how I live, I'm presenting a very different model of manhood, but what effect that has, I cannot say.