Having it all–that’s the new American dream, right? Media tell us that we–men and women alike–can have a high-power executive career, a rich and fulfilling family life, and time and money to go boating on the weekends. We can have all of that if we just try hard enough, right? Right?
Well, maybe. The truth is that pursuing an ambitious career and having a happy marriage and raising a family can all take a significant toll on men and women. The more realistic truth is that we may need to make sacrifices to have what we really want, and we usually need to partner with someone to get there.
The world isn’t wrong when it says we can do anything–we just need to remember that we can’t do everything all at once. There is a best season for everything, and we can do a lot more, with someone else to work with on the home front. And that’s where gender roles come into play. Actually let’s think of them as family roles, roles that spouses need to fill in order to create a happy and functional home life. Family roles are actually important tools given us by a loving Heavenly Father to help us see our divine purpose clearly and create a loving and enriching family life. God wants each of His children to enjoy the blessings that come from raising a righteous family. The best way to fulfill that dream is by the husband and the wife both making their home and family their number-one priority and then working together to effectively serve their family.
Family roles used to be distinctly defined: women work best at home and men work best in the office. No crossovers, no change. This line of thinking is faulty and hindering. While I may argue that women are more naturally inclined to nurture children, that certainly doesn’t exclude men from participating in raising and caring for kids. Conversely, women can and do build careers that easily provide for their families. The key to a happy home is making the family the highest and most important part of life. As both wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, build their families, they must keep their families their top priority and work together to achieve their goals.
1. Debunk the media myth that you’ll never be enough.
Media tell us that every one of us needs to work toward a successful career to be fulfilled and worthwhile. In the name of gender equality, educated women are expected to be viciously ambitious in climbing the corporate ladder. Nowhere in my public education was homemaking emphasized or given importance. We’re giving you this education, says the system, so you better not disappoint us.
Sometimes I wonder what my high school teachers and peers think when they read my Facebook profile. Yes, I graduated from college and worked for a couple years. Now I stay at home with our son while my husband works as an engineer to provide for our family. Do my classmates think I came up short? Do they think I cheated myself out of “having it all”? The world would certainly have me believe that. But I don’t buy it.
I know what I want: I want a happy family and a financially stable life. My husband wants the same thing. So we work together to make it our reality. What I do every day is enough for me, and enough for my family. My role helps me see my dreams clearly. The “world” is wrong when they try to tell me that what I do isn’t “enough” or isn’t fulfilling. I’m partnered with my husband, and we have a dream. And I’m confident that we’re living that dream as fully as we can.
Jane Clayson Johnson used to be a well-known broadcast journalist, and then decided to leave her career to stay at home full-time with her children. Rather than feeling cheated from a fulfilling professional life, she says she would make the same choice over and over to be a stay-at-home mother. She knows her life and her role are more than enough for her in this season.
Perhaps some women’s dream is to have a family as well as a career. Many families make this possible, and the thing to remember is that the family must always be the most important priority. However that looks in your own family may vary from how it looks in others’, and that’s okay. Figure out with your spouse what is best for your family, and feel secure in your decision.
2. You and your spouse need to have the same goal.
I’ll say it again: spouses both need to make their family their first priority. After establishing that foundation, every following choice will ultimately serve your most precious and sacred goals. This means that both husbands and wives will make sacrifices.
Some families may choose to follow traditional gender roles, with the husband working a job and the wife staying home to care for children and maintain the household. Others may choose to swap roles, perhaps for a strong, personal reason or for just a season of life. Even others may have employment options that allow both parents to be home more. The model you follow for your family should best serve your family. Whoever builds a full-time career will likely have to make some concessions in favor of his or her family, and whoever stays at home will also be making professional and likely financial sacrifices for the sake of their ultimate goal. Make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page and be willing to give up time, money, and maybe even some career opportunities.
Remember this: family roles don’t define us, they guide us. It really is that simple.
3. Communicate often about your family’s goals and adjust your life as necessary.
No family is exactly the same as another. Each family has their own set of challenges and strengths, with each person in the family having their own personalities and needs. You and your spouse can’t simply decide who will manage which part of the family’s needs and then plow forward on your own. Marriage and family life were never meant to be solo acts. In fact, you could seriously damage your marriage if you fail to communicate often about your roles, what you’re doing in them, and what you need from your partner.
Cassandra Barney is an artist and has a studio in her home. She invites her children to work in the studio with her, and those times have become some of her most cherished. Cassandra and her husband have found a way to integrate their family life with her career, and it’s made for an enriching and unique family experience for her children. Cassandra and her husband certainly couldn’t make this work without a healthy line of communication.
Communication doesn’t mean fighting, it means talking and discussing and most importantly, listening. Be open to adjustments within your family roles, even so far as to switch if that’s what best. Sometimes you and your spouse may disagree on what the family’s needs are. Continue to communicate, pray together to the Lord, and come to a unified position. Communication exists to foster unity and trust within marriage and family. You can’t succeed without it.
Many families operate under the direction of a single parent. In fact, that family model is becoming more and more common. In these cases, one parent does have to try and fill both roles. I truly believe that God will empower these parents to fill these roles as much as possible, even though circumstances are not ideal. Single parents should not feel like their task is insurmountable, because with God anything and everything is possible.
4. Seek revelation from God to guide you–He can see more than we can.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church), published a proclamation about the family 1995. In this statement the Church affirms the sanctity of the family and its crucial place within God’s eternal plan: “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and . . . the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” This proclamation does affirm the inspiration of traditional gender roles, and also acknowledges the need for individual adaptation as necessary.
Irene Caso, a broadcast journalist in Madrid, Spain, is a wife and a mother. After staying home with her son for almost a year, she and her husband decided that she needed to go back to work. They made this decision through their own reasoning and also through praying to Heavenly Father for guidance. Family life is most successful when partnered with a close relationship with God.
As we raise, care for, and manage our families, we need to remember that God needs to be a part of these relationships. Heavenly Father can see more than we can and will gladly guide us if we ask Him to. I know that my family has benefited immeasurably from seeking personal revelation from God: we have found direction in employment, home-buying, and child-rearing, in addition to guidance in our marriage. As much as we will try to make informed decisions, we need to remember that we can’t see everything; God, however, can see all things and if we seek him in our marriage and family life, then we can rest assured that all things really do happen for a purpose and that Heavenly Father is mindful of us and cares greatly for our success and happiness.
5. Reevaluate equality.
I’m afraid social activists today think that equality is the same thing as sameness. Being equal does not always mean being the same, especially when it comes to roles within the family. What would a hospital look like with surgeons all specializing in the same field? If a hospital staffed only heart surgeons to make all its doctors “equal,” hundreds of patients would suffer because what they needed was maybe a brain surgeon, a general surgeon, a pediatric surgeon, or an oncologist. Family life works similarly.
Wives and husbands can’t have the exact same roles and still be effective leaders of a family. But if we placed higher importance on one role than on another, one of us would always be feeling less than the other, or we would both seek to fill the same role. Happy and functioning families need both roles equally as complements to each other. Family roles are different, and they’re both equally important.
As you and your spouse communicate about your roles within your family, you will find validation and support. Whether you work at a stressful career or manage a stressful dinnertime with toddlers, your work is important, most especially to those whom you serve. All roles within the family directly serve the family. We can’t forget that, and we must remember that each role is vital to the happiness and success of family life.
Yes, “having it all” is the new American Dream, but it’s impossible to achieve on your own. First you need a partner, and you two need to figure out which of you will focus on which part of your dream. Family roles help in guiding couples to decide how to make their dreams their reality. These roles don’t make lines you can’t cross, but rather they create a structure and fluidity to marriage and family that allows this most important institution to function at its fullest.
Never underestimate the power of a stable and loving home on a child. President David O. McKay (one of the former presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was not being dramatic when he said that “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” What good is a successful 50-year career if your children hardly know you? Family life is often fraught with frustrations and discouragement. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what you do in the home and with your family isn’t making much a difference. But here’s the thing–it is making a difference, a huge one. By placing your family at the top of your priority list, regardless of what your role in the family is, you are ensuring that your children feel loved, that your spouse feels valued, and that your influence will trickle down into your posterity. Even those mothers and fathers who are part of a divorced family can do so much to place their children as their priority, and create loving environments. A happy home affects generations, and that’s a big deal.
So, remember, we really can do anything, including making this dream possible. But if we tried to do everything at once, we’d crash and burn. Marriage is about partnership, camaraderie, and co-piloting your life’s decisions. Marriage and family do involve sacrifice, sometimes even sacrifice of a promising career, but if you believe in your dream, then you also believe in the sacrifices required to get there. Family roles are downplayed in the media as outdated and limiting, but the opposite is true. In actuality, they’re key to the success of our families and our children’s future as happy, productive adults.
Charlotte graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in English, with an emphasis in editing. During her education she interned with the Neal A.Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, BYU Publications, and the New Era magazine. Charlotte currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and son. She's a stay-at-home-mom and has been able to keep up her writing through maintaining a personal blog (smallandtrivial.blogspot.com).