It has been said that one of the best things married parents can do for their children is to invest in a healthy relationship with each other. When it comes to a father, there are two fundamentals that cannot be ignored: the way a father lives in partnership with his wife, and his emotional investment in his children.
While both complementarian and egalitarian fathers have profound love for their wives and children, it comes as no surprise that an egalitarian worldview encourages an equal partnership in marriage and thus greater paternal involvement. Equal partnership and paternal involvement both lead to greater flourishing for every member of the family.
Because healthy parenting begins with a healthy marriage, let’s start with marriage. Egalitarian marriage experts Jack and Judy Balswick explore the many benefits of equal partnership marriages in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy. Just as Paul promotes mutuality in marriage (Eph. 5:21, 1 Cor. 7:4), the Balswicks recognize that equal partnership marriages locate authority not with males or females but in the relationship itself. Because no one person makes all of the decisions, egalitarians focus on the “we-ness” of marriage (452). The underlying question is, what is best for the marriage?
Patriarchal marriages, on the other hand, assign authority to males and thus create gendered “roles,” where a husband has authority over his wife and children. This power comes with his “job;” it is not earned or based on character (450). The authority and power of husbands becomes the primary emphasis in patriarchal marriages.
Unfortunately, the primacy of gendered “roles” in patriarchal marriages means that wives bear the most responsibility for childcare and household chores. What is more, there is an assumption that all women not only find these tasks fulfilling at a deep level, but that they also constitute the basis of female identity. Men in patriarchal marriages, meanwhile, bear the brunt of the financial provision and physical protection of the family, which is said to resonate with their created nature as men. Undoubtedly, families that affirm male-authority do not all strictly adhere to such a gendered division of labor and identity, but share childcare and household work to varying degrees, with fathers who are invested in the care and nurturing of their children. Often, people behave better than their ideas.
The fruit of equal partnership marriages is positive for couples, who report greater sexual intimacy and also physical and psychological health. Likewise, co-parenting (husbands and wives sharing the burden of childcare and household management) has significant benefits for children.
The Balswicks note that co-parented children excel in confidence, creativity, social skills, and moral development (454). And, the more fathers are involved in the daily lives of sons/boys, the more secure their sons are. The less likely they are to engage in hyper-masculine posturing and risk-taking behaviors. Boys also show more “empathy, affection, and nurturing behaviors” (455). Sons with emotionally involved fathers become more rational adults and are more capable of nurturing others. They are more likely to want to become parents and also egalitarians (455). Similarly, girls whose fathers are very engaged in parenting possess greater self-confidence and an awareness of personal boundaries. They are less likely to become victims of abuse. Daughters with co-parenting fathers interested in their achievements are also more likely to be successful professionally (455).
For many reasons, a co-parenting couple with an involved, nurturing father is not an option for every family. Many single parents succeed at raising healthy children, and we as the church should celebrate and come alongside them, modeling mutual relationships and emotional and spiritual engagement, especially by men. What is more, churches must do more to address abuse, which is far too common in our world, and is often enabled or reinforced by church teachings. The seriousness of abuse cannot be overstated, and safety from husbands and fathers who abuse is paramount. The church often seeks to preserve a marriage at all costs, but sometimes, separation from a father is the safest, healthiest option for everyone. Only then can healing and recovery be found.
Mutuality in relationships reflects the teachings of Scripture and offers a powerful challenge and alternative to one of the most damaging forces in this world—patriarchy. The sacred responsibilities of marriage and parenting are an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of Christian mutuality, as it flourishes children, marriages, and the body of Christ.