Paul Velde writes:
In your piece on men and housework, you remark apropos of another subject altogether, “The average woman wants control over her domestic realm and she doesn’t like the way men… manage the children.” Perhaps the operative word here is “average,” but nonetheless could you find time to expand on this point? In my experience the male-female conflict over children is the cause of much tension in marriages, and, when the results become manifest in terms of spoiled, ill-behaved, ungrateful offspring, profound grief.
If the rearing of children is at least equal in importance to the relationship between husband and wife as its raison d’être, it is also the cause of many failed marriages that by current standards are considered successful. The inevitable question, what did we do wrong? is rarely answered, if only to avoid further conflict.
Parents are indeed the source of all legitimate authority for children, and remain so in important ways even when the children have become old enough to be aware of their imperfections, in a coherent society even after having established families of their own. It is the real basis of continuity between generations, and all patrimony worthy of the name.
I could go on, but my point in writing is to question your apparently matter-of-fact acceptance of conflict between husband and wife over the rearing of children. Or, if by “average” you are merely stating a fact, it would be interesting to know why you think this is so. In my experience on the part of the father this is often either the result of his inability or unwillingness to accept his responsibility as head of the family in all areas, or fear of irresolvable conflict with his wife; on the part of the mother, her instinctive, unthinking advocacy of the children not only in matters of discipline but in their wants, and a feminization of every domestic issue that comes up. The result is a split in the fundamental unity of the family based on the father as head, the mother as flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone, in a word, husband and wife as one. Equality in this regard, no matter how nice, is a sign of weakness in the whole structure, eventually in the whole society. There is no father, only an adult male in the house. On the individual level male delinquency, short of sheer inadequacy, may be remediable; I’m not so sure about militant maternity. Each needs an authority higher than himself, and in this respect, outside of a few pockets of traditional Christianity, we are bereft.
These remarks hardly scratch the surface; they are merely meant to indicate areas, among many others, that seem to me pertinent. I don’t assume you share them.
Thank you for the excellent site, tone as well as intelligence, without which a traditional point of view is merely so much brass and cymbal.
Thank you very much. You raise an important issue.
When I spoke of a woman wanting to “manage children,” I should have used a better word. I was really thinking of her desire to see to their physical care, daily needs and the general rhythm of their lives. I think of that as feminine work, even though usually men participate in this too.
With the egalitarian model there’s a fundamental disorder in the management of children’s less tangible needs. Men have come to do more of this naturally feminine work and have stepped out of the traditional role of disciplinarian and protector. Many have done this eagerly, seeking to be the chief male friend, walking on egg shells for fear of doing psychological harm. Some women become frustrated when men don’t serve the traditional role and others become angry if they do.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but I think the loss of the male breadwinner is fundamental. The male role of economic provider is important not just because it allows women to mother. It allows fathers to father. The differences between the sexes have to be embodied in difference in function or these distinctions become too ethereal for people to grasp. People can’t reason their way to a working family structure. They need blueprints. A man is naturally more subservient to a wife who financially supports him and his children. That’s just the way it is. The fact that this works fine in some families doesn’t make it a workable ideal for society at large.
It can be a living hell when a man and woman differ constantly about discipline. When there’s no final arbiter by tradition, it’s a battle of parental wills. Divorce doesn’t resolve the problem. Children of divorce often live by two entirely different sets of rules and when they’re teenagers they naturally choose to spend more time with the parent who gives them a pass.
I do think that a father who asserts his authority, even with a wife’s resistance, eventually earns the respect of his children. The same is true of a mother who fills that role because a man has abandoned it.
I once witnessed an incident that illustrated for me the loss of male authority with memorable clarity. A teenage girl of about 14 was walking through a supermarket parking lot with her father. She was dressed in a field hockey uniform: adorable pleated skirt, knee socks, V-neck sweater. Anyway, she suddenly turned and said to her father, spitting the words in his face: “You idiot! I told you hockey practice started at 3:30.” There was indescribable venom and contempt in her voice.
Her father simply slumped his shoulders and mumbled an apology.
Mr. Velde replies:
Your point that differences between the sexes must be realized in actual functions is a crucial point, and well stated. The father’s function as economic provider and defender, which may be assumed by the mother out of necessity, is irreplaceable in establishing the family’s social status and relationship with the outside world. This is not often noted, as if social status were not important to everybody in the family, children included. Having been the child of a single parent, I am well aware of the family’s need for a male defender. In the past an uncle or cousin, or friend with some position, might step in, and his role be implicitly recognized. And often not, even less so today.
One final point. It’s not rare for one and the same woman to express frustration when her husband does not fufill his traditional role, and be angry when he does. I suspect it’s a sign of restlessness that hasn’t yet begun to look outside the home.
I hadn’t thought about it in a long time, but Paul is right. It used to be that when a woman was raising children alone, it was customary for male relatives or friends to act as surrogates for the missing father. It was just assumed women couldn’t provide the discipline or protection on their own. That custom seems to have completely vanished.
And, yes, I’m sure some women are very ambivalent about that role. But, male authority isn’t just for the children. [I'm not saying that women are in the same position as the children.] It also is inherently fallible. The fact that men sometimes make mistakes and poor judgments in this role, and even grossly abuse it, does not negate the necessity of this male function as head of the family.