Quite many months have passed since an online friend privately asked for my wife’s opinion on whether it’s okay for husbands to help their wives with house chores. We had only been married a few months when her question came.
My wife felt trapped, not sure if it was okay to divulge information society has somehow predisposed many families to treat with great privacy. We flirted with the idea for a while, but eventually agreed to pass up the chance. Two reasons informed our decision.
First, if she responded, she would be speaking on behalf of men. We didn’t find that to be ideal. Her opinion would be easily stereotyped and dismissed. The question may have been asked to a woman, but it was no doubt directed at men. A man’s response would be better appropriate.
Secondly, we were only young in marriage. My opinion at that point wouldn’t stand on the backdrop of time tested experience. If in any ways I had been helpful to my help mate, and hoped to encourage other husbands to do the same, more time was needed to prove if my help would last. It could easily be a fluke as we had more growing left to do.
So I felt no real urgency to opine. But recently as I listened from the sidelines to a lad and lass argue over what men should and shouldn’t do in the home, the invitation to my wife from months ago came calling again. Thankfully, this time the test of time might offer our shared view some little backing.
No Universal Model
The very first important consideration to make is the fact that there shouldn’t be a universal model for how men ought to be involved in helping their wives in the home. Marriages are as different and diverse as people are. We all think differently and therefore act differently.
We are products of our worldviews, a part of our make-up that heavily draws from cultural influence. Some men as children may have learned to do every house chore either by upbringing or because of circumstances. Others may have only made chai for the first time in their first year in college.
Some women may have been brought up by fathers who cooked better meals than their moms. For others, keeping something from the reach of their dads was as easy as taking it to the kitchen.
Our backgrounds are that disparate, and the worst thing would be for a woman to push her husband to be what she sees in someone else’s husband. Just like there cannot be a better you outside of yourself, there can never be also a better husband or wife outside of one’s marriage. There is only the wife or husband one is married to; of course unless he/she is married also to that other wife or husband, which would be adultery.
The Struggle for Men
The lad in the discussion I listened in on was vehemently opposed to men taking part in any chores. Like many other men, he believes our place is conquerors out in the world and kings to be served whenever we are home; the fact that times have changed and women go out too and conquer just as much as we do notwithstanding.
Ideally a family may employ the services of a house help, relieving the wife of most of the housekeeping burdens. But in reality not many families will afford that. For a good majority both the husband and the wife will spend nearly equal hours out in the world working and come back home to unattended chores. Because home responsibilities are generally treated as the wife’s, she will carry that added load even though she’s equally as spent as her husband; often times alone.
When we were preparing for marriage, one of the things we sought wisdom from our mentors on was how to go about fulfilling our respective roles. We wanted to know how they do it themselves. They answered us without really answering our question.
“Don’t focus much on roles,” they told us. “That only turns you into each other’s Holy Spirit.” It didn’t take long into our marriage before we bumped into the very thing they cautioned. My transition from singlehood to marriage was not the only transition in my life at the point. I was also changing organizations.
The requirements of this new organization I was joining were such that I would have to first raise full monthly support before I could be allowed to start any active ministry. The process was slow, and most of my days would be spent in the house. The hours were productive nonetheless, as I filled up any free time I wasn’t using on raising support for ministry with lots of writing and reading.
My wife on the other hand would be out working her regular job from morning till evening. To beat traffic she would leave the house early, and because of traffic she would often come back home late. Because we needed to eat, it meant we cooked. And because we cooked, it meant we had dishes to be done. And because we lived in our house, it meant it got dusty and needed cleaning.
Even though I was the one mostly home, and it would have been selfish for her to come back in the evening and be greeted by chore after chore when someone had spent nearly an entire day inside, I still struggled with the idea of helping. I didn’t mind helping a few times, but struggled if it were to be a daily thing.
“What if anyone found out I do dishes more than my wife does?” “What if she were to start disrespecting me?” “What if she were to take advantage?” Fears enveloped me. Even though I helped as often as I could, we still would occasionally argue. I played her Holy Spirit, accusing her sometimes of taking advantage. In her submissiveness she didn’t fight back. She tried to do more so I wouldn’t have to. Consequently she wearied, because she served without joy and did more than her body could take.
Nearly every husband struggles with similar insecurities as mine. We fear being disrespected because house chores aren’t manly. We feel as though doing the dishes, or cooking meals, or tidying up the home tears into our authority. So we avoid helping in an attempt to assert it.
Loving sacrificially is not weakness, it is manliness
But that’s unfortunate, because helping with chores doesn’t take away from a husband’s manhood, and neither does choosing not to help build onto it. We are not men because of the things we do and don’t do. Rather, we do things and forfeit doing some because we are men. Identity comes before deed, never vice versa.
Furthermore, with marriage, whatever is loving should come before whatever is manly. Actually, that which is loving is the very thing that is manly. Men should be free to empty themselves like the model husband Christ does – Philippians 2:5-8.
Granted, women are naturally better at most chores than men. They are efficient. I can take ages doing dishes. My wife can easily complete three chores in the same length of time I would take to complete one. The home is better when she assumes its keeping as her primary role. But it is best when I help. It is similar to how we function better when the burden of provision is primarily mine, but best when she helps.
In response to the fear to be taken advantage of by wives, men should balance between not playing their wives’ Holy Spirit and not fearing to call out sin. I don’t expect perfection of my wife. She’s a sinner daily being redeemed just like I am. Because I care about her holiness I will call out sin if I should notice her taking advantage (always unwillingly). Sometimes I’ll retreat from helping if there’s a risk of taking over what is primarily her role and impacting on our marriage negatively as a result.
She cares for my holiness also. She has every freedom to point out sin should she notice the insensitivity that lures me into sitting around idling while she breaks her back with chores she could use some help with.
One may wonder if what I’m suggesting is even Biblical. I don’t think there’s any clear mention in the Scripture what the respective roles of husbands and wives should be. Even if we could find some examples that are close, we mustn’t forget there was a cultural setting and that must have played a huge role.
But the Bible does give a clear command to both husbands and wives. Men are to love their wives as Christ loves His Church, and women are to submit to their husbands – Ephesians 5:22-33. The example of Christ is not of a husband who assigns a role and stays away as he enjoys being served. His example is of the Master who serves His servants/bride – Matthew 20:28.
His commission to serve His Kingdom purpose by taking His Gospel to the ends of the earth comes with the promise “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). He commands His army from the battlefront, helping His soldiers in their tasks by His Spirit (Acts 1:8), and that makes serving Him all the more joyful.
Like Christ, men ought to encourage their wives unto joyfully serving them. Interestingly, many wives won’t even expect help with any chores. Like it’s often been with my wife, it is enough help to just be there with them enjoying banters as they take care of the chores. Play the beautiful work song drums with your presence, and she’ll joyfully work.
Scripture also commands everyone to consider others better than themselves – Philippians 2:3. A man considering his wife better does not mean he assumes her role as wife. It means he esteems properly what she does; enough to not feel less of a man if he does it. If he considers a chore too lowly for him, he is simply saying his wife is too lowly to deserve anything better.
Play the beautiful work song drums with your presence, and she’ll joyfully work
This unconventional call to men shouldn’t be mistaken for drumming up support for equality in marriage. Any such impression created is deeply regrettable. I am not asking women to stand toe to toe with men as if marriage were some stupid competition. I am asking men to stand tall and love on their wives sacrificially; sometimes in ways that will rub our cultural inclinations the wrong way, but will no doubt please our Lord, our husband Christ, because that is exactly how He daily loves His Bride.