(includes facts on the complementary nature of mothers and fathers)
A learning season is upon us, and it's worth our time to heed its teaching.
This lesson is the difference between how we handle Mother's Day compared with Father's Day in church. If it's like in years past, it won't be pretty.
This Sunday we will extol the value and benefit of motherhood, which is great. But in some churches, this will be done by degrading Christian husbands, which is not great. "Our pastor makes us husbands get on our knees on Mother's Day and beg for forgiveness. I don't want to do it again this year," one reader tells me. Another writes, "Our minister makes husbands write on paper all the things we've done wrong. Then we're suppose to give it to our wives and pledge that we won't do them anymore."
Most preachers will not be this heavy-handed. They will wait till Father's Day (Sunday, June 18) to tell men how to be better fathers. Of course there's nothing wrong with this message when taken as an isolated event. But when compared with Mother's Day, we'll discover that for some reason many ministers believe that fathers need correction on Father's Day (and Mother's Day) but women don't. Why this double-standard?
Because much of the church sees men as a problem to be fixed when compared to women, not a gender to be appreciated. There's prejudice and bigotry against a man's nature in too many churches, Christian publishing, and on Christian radio (I was a program director of a Christian radio station--I was part of the problem too), all of which have been beating men up for decades.
For example, if there is a problem with their marriage, Christian men have been told by these sources that it is automatically their fault. Dr. James Dobson is one of a few authors brave enough to confront this false message.
He writes in Love Must Be Tough that men are saddled with the unrealistic expectation that "any sadness or depression that a woman might encounter is her husband's fault. At least he has the power to eradicate it if he cares enough. In other words, many American women come into marriage with unrealistically romantic expectations which are certain to be dashed. Not only does this orientation set up a bride for disappointment and agitation in the future, it also places enormous pressure on her husband to deliver the impossible...Marital conflict always involves an interaction between two imperfect human beings who share the responsibility to one degree or another." Sadly, Dobson's common sense is drowned out by other and more shrill voices.
I was told as an impressionable and young Christian man in church that I was "irresponsible, thoughtless, and selfish," when compared to women, who are innately more moral and spiritual. I don't know everything about the Bible. But I do know two profound truths: It says a lot about morality and spirituality. Nowhere does it state that women have a corner on both when compared to men. Instead, it tells us that both genders are uniquely and equally made in the image of God. It tells us that both are equally sinful and in need of redemption. There is no privileged gender in God's eyes.
Still, this rose-scented inequality will spread across our country this weekend, creating unintended consequences. Many will hear about the dark side of fatherhood in America, but few if any will hear about motherhood's dark side. How a child is more likely to be physically abused and killed by his mother, not his father. The statistics vary from 65% to more than 80%, which includes adjustments for single mothers. How wives over 40 and with children file for divorce more than husbands (around 66%), and their reason has little if anything to do with abuse or infidelity. How wives are more prone to begin a conversation more harshly than husbands. These aren't exactly family values. Listing these problematic facts of life will likely cause more shock than the facts themselves.
I could create an equally unflattering portrait of wayward fathering, which would include damning facts about fatherlessness and incarceration. But pointing out the ugly in each gender isn't the point of this article. The goal is to explode the myth of gender superiority, create a more biblically sound perspective, and implore today's ministers and lay people to treat each gender with respect and dignity during this important season by pointing out their unique value, which will foster genuine domestic harmony, among other blessings.
Here are some facts that can easily be worked into upcoming sermons about the importance and value of fatherhood. None is derogatory toward mothers but instead points out the complimentary nature of mothers and fathers.
1. Sociologist Brad Wilcox from the University of Virginia found that conservative evangelical fathers rank higher than other men in the United States in most every category. "Conservative evangelical fathers spend more time with their children, hug and praise them more, are less likely to yell at them, and commit the lowest levels of domestic violence than any other group in America," he writes in Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands.
2. These fathers are "also the most active, emotionally engaged husbands and fathers in America" whose wives report the highest levels of "happiness, love and affection." These superior fathers and husbands are also more likely to "discipline their children, monitor their viewing habits, and know where they are at any given time." This is why Wilcox refers to them as "soft patriarchs." They "balance their traditional, authority-minded approach to parenting with a large measure of involvement and affection."
3. Fathers excel when it comes to discipline, play, and challenging their children to embrace life's challenges. They are more likely to partake in physical play with children, which is more important than many realize. Play "promotes social skills, intellectual development, and a sense of self-control." The playful side to fathers teaches their children how to regulate their feelings and behavior as they interact with others. Children who roughhouse with fathers usually learn quickly that biting, kicking and other forms of physical violence are not acceptable.
4. Fathers are more likely than mothers to encourage their children to take up difficult tasks, to seek out fresh experiences, and to endure pain and hardship without yielding. Explains Wilcox, "The bottom line is that fathers excel in teaching their children the virtues of fortitude, temperance, and prudence for life outside their family."
5. Writes sociologist David Popenoe: "While mothers provide an important flexibility and sympathy in their discipline, fathers provide ultimate predictability and consistency. Both dimensions are critical for an efficient, balanced, and humane child-rearing regime."
6. The publication Child Development found that children of parents who engaged in sex-typical behavior, where the mother was more responsive/nurturing and the father was more challenging/firm, were more competent overall than children whose parents did not engage in sex-typical behavior.
7. The amount of time fathers devote to child rearing increased 170 percent between 1965 and 1998.
8. The largest factor in predicting whether a child will graduate from high school, attend college, avoid crime or drugs, and get pregnant before 18 is the presence of a father in the child's life.
9. According to a recent report by the Department of Health and Human Services, "Fathers play a unique role in fostering the well-being of their children, not only through providership, protection and guidance, but also through the way that they nurture the next generation." But there is a huge catch. "A father's involvement with his children...is powerfully contingent on the mother's attitude" toward him. Research consistently shows that the father-child relationship depends more on the quality of the parents' relationship than does the mother-child relationship. See the problem? If men continue to be denigrated from the pulpit during Mother's Day or Father's Day, wives will be encouraged to have a low view of them. This low view may well drive a wedge between a father and his children, darkening their future.
10. This same report from the Department of Health and Human Services states: "Girls with active dads demonstrate higher levels of mathematical competence, and boys with more nurturing fathers display higher levels of verbal acumen. It is worth noting, of course, that girls tend to struggle more with math and boys tend to struggle more with language. Having an active, emotionally invested father appears to help children overcome the intellectual weaknesses typically associated with their sex."
11. Fathers are more likely to foster independent, exploratory behavior on the part of their children, compared to mothers.
12. Children raised by engaged fathers are more comfortable exploring the world around them.
13. A playful, challenging, and nurturing approach to fatherhood is associated with more self-control and pro-social behavior among children throughout the course of their lives.
14. One study of seventh graders found that boys who had close relationships with their fathers were more likely to control their feelings and impulses, to obey rules at school and home, and to make good moral judgment.
15. This same study found that boys with involved fathers had fewer school behavior problems and that girls had more self-esteem.
16. Boys and girls who are exposed to the nurture of a father, and who see a father being nurturing to their mother and other adults, are much less likely to associate masculinity with predatory sexual behavior and hyper-aggressiveness.
17. Fathers help their children, especially their daughters, develop the self-control and the sense of self-worth that protects them from premature sexual intercourse and teenage pregnancy.-------
If you have additional information about the importance of fatherhood, let us know so that we can create an even better resource list for ministers and others who want to change Mother's Day vs. Father's Day to Mother's Day And Father's Day. If your minister treats both mothers and fathers with the respect and dignity they deserve, we want to know so we can give them the kudos they deserve. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll put it on our website, Christianniceguy.com
Paul Coughlin is the author of No More Christian Nice Guy, and the upcoming, No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps: Raising Secure, Assertive Kids in a Tough World (June 2007). He is the co-author along with his wife Sandy of Married But Not Engaged. He's also a founding member of GodMen (www.godmen.com). To have Paul speak at your men's event, contact him at www.christianniceguy.com.