Redefining the Roles

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We live in changing times, where very often, both husband and wife work outside the home. Sometimes the woman receives employment outside, and the man looks after the home. Who does all the work inside your home? Parenting by Father and Mother complements the way husband and wife operate. When occasions arise, each one may have to adjust and adapt to fulfil unfamiliar roles. In an emergency, it is amazing how resilient we can be. The home is built on love and sacrifice.

Each of us was brought up by our parents to assume certain responsibilities. Marriage provides opportunities to serve and those who have experiences in their growing up years, can put them to good use, when needed. Some women may be practical and handy in repairing and fixing household gadgets, fuses and washers. They do not have to call in an electrician, plumber or handyman. Some men may be able to cook, sew, nurse a sick child with patience and gentleness. Co-responsible partnership between a husband and wife and complementarity in the roles they fulfil, contribute to the peace and harmony of the home.

Sometimes the man is away from home for long periods of time due to work and the woman has to assume the roles of both parents in his absence. When he comes back, she has to let him assume the role of father. This is not easy and calls for discretion and humility. Again, after retirement, a man may find he has little to do and is a nuisance in the kitchen or home. How can he feel needed and learn new skills? When one is sick, the other has to assume responsibilities and make significant sacrifices too.

In traditional societies, the man was the patriarch and was used to dominating and controlling the family finances, law and order and he was held in awe and feared. Women were often oppressed and had to be at the beck and call of their husbands, to provide bed and board services as and when required, with little appreciation and thanks. Today the equality of the sexes and the dignity of each person is required. Women are educated and liberated and want to be treated as persons with respect and dignity. Children who were brought up in the traditional, old way may be in for a rude surprise when they live in a new society.

Many women will not accept male violence and abuse. They want to be treated with respect and dignity. They will not cow down in fear, especially when they are financially independent. Men who are pressured and tense, may find grumbling and complaining wives hard to bear, when they come home from work. They may prefer to relax outside the home. So learning to deal with conflicts and disagreements in acceptable ways, is required.

Prayer, dialogue, listening with concern, reflecting back feelings, sharing without blaming or attacking the other, and the ability to make significant sacrifices, are necessary skills for marriage and the home today. In schools and parishes, we need to conduct programs regularly to instruct and educate people how to live in harmony. This should be part of the curriculum in schools and colleges. Parishes should organize such programs too. Priests need to have the same skills in dealing with each other in team ministry and with those they serve.

Empowerment of women is very necessary in every home and parish today. Abuse of women is escalating. Women are weaker physically and so taken advantage of by bullies who want to show off. Under the influence of liquor or because they are afraid of being branded "hen-pecked", many men abuse women. The newspapers and television keep on giving us stories of women's helplessness from men abusing their authority. Each one of us can change one small section of society. Cumulatively, we will bring about much needed change.

I believe that women can be the best agents of social change. They can bring up their sons to be understanding, kind and respectful towards their sisters. They are the ones who can make their sons treat their wives with respect and kindness rather than bullying them or taking advantage of them. How many women instigate violence towards their daughters-in-law!! They can come to the aid of other women in distress by banding together and uniting in teaching erring men a good lesson. Men are afraid of a pack of angry women. They will be ashamed when they cannot get away with their misdeeds any more, under the cloak of silence.

Does this mean then that women should assert themselves, dominate their men-folk and become female wrestlers? By no means. The woman must obey and honor her husband as head of the home. But she is the heart of the home. Let her give him respect and love and accept that they both have their own roles to fulfil, as man and woman persons. Men must learn how to share what is bothering them, instead of bottling up all their feelings and then when they cannot stand it, unleashing abuse and violence.

We need women and couple-counselors in every parish who can help bring about much needed change in society. In some Indian villages, "Mahila mandals" are already functioning quite well, Religious Sisters can play a very effective role in such training. In fact, single women who do not have the responsibilities that marriage brings, but who are dedicated to Christ and the spread of his Gospel, can be a powerful task force in our Parishes. They can help in the family apostolate, by befriending abused wives and daughters. Do not make them men-haters but rather give them the courage to change the irresponsible attitudes of husbands and sons. Love, kindness, patience and courage are important virtues in changing and rehabilitating our society.

All of us can prevent the breakdown of family life and contribute to the strengthening of marriage and Christian parenting, even if we are not married ourselves. Ultimately the big Church is only as strong as the domestic Churches it comprises. All reform begins in the smallest units of society. The roles of husbands and wives need to be redefined in our changing world while being always consonant with the Gospel and teaching of the Church.

Le us seek the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit and Mary, the Mother of the Church.

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