How to Manage a household
by William C. Michael
https://youtu.be/E1gTI2c49WE Today is Tuesday, May 10. And this is William Michael, of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. I’d like to talk a little bit today about parenting and managing a household. I’d like to talk about how to actually do it, how to actually control a household how to actually manage the household, how to keep order in the household, how to discipline, children, etc. All of these topics really are all related and come under one meditation because there’s a key principle, a key practice, I should say, and if a father can get this right, everything else can fall into place. Please note that this is an electronic transcription of the talk posted above, published for the convenience of readers. Please pardon typographical and/or grammatical errors. There are a few preliminary issues that need to be established for us to think rightly about parenting. Once these are established, then the question is whether or not a man is actually able to get his household under control, and keep it under control, and do so in a way that’s consistent with a Christian life. First of all, for these preliminary issues, one of the issues is that the order of a household is based on Nature. It’s not a Christian thing. It’s not a matter of faith. It’s a natural reality. The way that the household is organized, as a social unit, as a group, the building block of society, it has a natural order to it. The members of the household are all different. They’re different in their physical bodies. They’re different in their experiences. This difference reveals a real order in nature. If we arrange a household in a way that doesn’t agree with that order, we introduce all kinds of problems. But if we align our family life with this natural order, there’s harmony between our family and nature, and we enjoy the fruits of that harmony. Most modern families are set up in opposition to this natural order and the results are what they are. This order was understood long before Christianity. This natural order of the household can be studied in an ancient Greek work. The work was written by a man named Xenophon, who was a contemporary and friend of Socrates. He wrote a book that you can find online, On Household Management or Home Economics. In this book on household management, Xenophon explains the natural order of family life. He explains that this is revealed in the actual bodies and functions of men and women. Man is designed to live and work outside of and away from the home. His body is tough. He’s mentally tough. He doesn’t need the comfort and protection of the home, whereas a woman is not — not that she is necessarily physically weaker than a man in her normal condition, but because of pregnancy and childbirth and and her own reproductive functions affect her physically. She doesn’t enjoy the same physical freedom that a man enjoys, which allows a man to work without distraction. And so, in the nature of the woman’s body, we can see a need to be closer to home and need to be protected in a home while pregnant, while nursing and so on. Xenophon explains that because the man and his physical body and functions operate well whether he’s at home or away from home. and because a woman’s body and functions require her to be in the safety of the home or close to the home, the natural relationship between the husband and wife can be understood. It’s clear that a man is expected to go away from the home, to work and to war, as it were, and the woman, to provide the best conditions for her own life and for the care of children, is to stay home. It’s also to be pointed out that the nourishment for the child is present in the woman. She is the source of the nourishment of the children, which further demonstrates the natural expectation that the woman will be in or near the home with the children who, because of their weakness, also depend upon the protection of the home. And so we see this natural order in the family, and that’s why it’s expected that a man takes responsibility for the work that’s to be done away from the home, and he brings his earnings, whatever they may be, whatever form they may come, in to the home. The wife’s primary work is to manage the resources that her husband earns to manage the household. He provides for the household, she manages and seeks to preserve and prudently make use of the resources earned by her husband. This is the natural order of family life. Like I said, if you don’t establish this order, or if you live in opposition to this order, it’s like trying to push water uphill, you’re going to constantly be struggling, you’re going to deal with all kinds of problems that are caused by your family’s arrangement. There’s no advice for a life that sets itself up contrary to nature. Eventually, nature is going to win. Like I said, the illustration to keep in mind is like trying to push water up a hill. It’s not natural, and it’s not going to work. So the first thing to consider, as we’ve talked about ordering and managing a household is whether or not your family life is actually arranged in harmony with nature. I know that people will argue with me about that, but they’re arguing with nature and I’m really not interested in pursuing those arguments because experience will prove who’s right and who’s wrong. We can look around ourselves today in modern society and see the answer written in black and white letters. You cannot live contrary to nature. That’s the first concern. The second concern, or the second preliminary issue, I should say is that the authority of parents is real. The authority structure of the family is not artificial. It’s not based on religion. It’s real and it’s based on justice. The order of the household is a matter of justice. When the natural order of the family life is established, when the husband is charged with the burden of working to provide for the family, the possessions are his, the earnings are his. It’s on that grounds that he is given authority in the household, because the household makes use of his earnings. If you believe in the right to private property, what you believe is that a man has the right to decide what’s done with his lawful possessions and his earnings are his lawful possessions. Because of this right to private property, because of the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”, and the commandment “Thou shalt not covet”, the man who earns the resources of the household has authority over those resources. That’s really what the authority of the head of the household is about. He has the right to say how things are done, he has the right to make rules, because the possessions are the fruits of his work, they’re his private property. His wife receives them from her husband and he entrusts them to her care to make prudent use of. They’re not hers to do her own will with, but she’s to manage those resources with a view of being a blessing and help to her husband, so that he can work with confidence and trust, that the resources that he earns and brings home will be safe in good hands. This is where a man’s respect and admiration for his wife is earned by her prudent management of the household. This is all through Sacred Scripture. I recommend you read chapter 31, of the book of Proverbs, if you want to see a celebration of the valiant woman, the wise and good woman — Proverbs 31. So two preliminary issues. One, there’s a natural order to the family that has to be observed in a household where the household is just going to be set up to fail. And secondly, the authority in a family is real. And the authority is a matter of justice. When children are born, and grow up in a home, they have to understand and appreciate the reality that those possessions belong to their father. He had to work to earn them. He has to pay to maintain them. They’re not free. They’re certainly not the possessions of the children themselves, but they belong to the Father. That’s why their use of those resources is to be governed by the rules of the household established by the father and enforced when the father is not home by the mother. That authority in the household is real, and as a matter of justice, and parents need to learn how to communicate that to the children. So they can understand why they should be respectful to their parents, and obedient. It’s also important to explain to the children that their time of, of obedience and subjection is limited to their childhood and that once they become adults, when they begin to work, and they begin to earn their own resources, they are going to be or they are going to have authority over the use of those resources. So, if a child disagrees with a parent about something, the child has to be taught that that situation is temporary and when the child earns and has his own household, he can do with those possessions as he judges best. But he can’t do his will with his father’s possessions, because that’s not just. So it’s a matter of justice, not to be argued about. When that’s taught and explained to children, it’s pretty clear and easy to understand. Usually, by the time children start to become trouble at home, in their teenage years, it’s not really a big deal because they’re approaching the years of their independence. Parents need to be patient. Kids also need to be taught to be patient because this relationship of children living under the authority of their parents, in their parents home, is a temporary arrangement in life; it’s simply a phase of life; it’s not permanent. Kids have to be taught not to make a big deal about it. We also have to realize that children’s disagreement with us isn’t necessarily evil. There are many rules in my household that exist, not because I’m a Christian, but because of my the kind of work that I do, the resources that I have, resources that I don’t have, things I can afford, can’t afford, and so on. Many of the rules of my household are unique to my circumstances. So if my children don’t agree with something that I do, it’s really not a big deal. It’s not a moral crisis. It’s a matter of management, it’s more of a political issue, then a moral issue. The children need to understand why the rules exist, and again, that they’re temporary and limited to my household. So those are two preliminary issues, we have to keep in mind. There’s a natural order to family life that we have to observe as we arrange our household. And secondly, the authority of a man over his household is real. And it’s rooted in the virtue of justice. When we have those things in mind, a man who’s thinking about getting married and starting a family has to think about whether he will be able to govern a household, to manage a family, whether the woman he chooses to marry will be able to fulfill the role of a wife and mother, etc.. He can’t marry a girl simply because she’s good looking, or because she’s fun. He has to think whether or not the woman will be interested in or willing to take on the role of a wife and mother, and whether she’ll be able to actually carry out the duties of one who’s responsible to manage the household. When we go back into ancient history and look at advice about marriage and choosing a spouse, the number one quality that’s urged on young men to look for in a spouse is: temperance. Temperance was taught to be the most important characteristic of a wife, because the woman’s work really is to preserve. In order for a woman to do that, she needs to be a woman who is temperate. She needs to be a woman who herself is able to control her desires, not be wasteful, not be reckless. She needs to have herself and her desires, under control. She needs to be temperate. How many men do you hear her talking about looking for a temperate woman to be their wife? But in the ancient world, wise men sought out a young woman to marry and of course they looked for beauty and they looked for charm, but more important than these, for marriage, was virtue. That’s why book of Proverbs teaches that “charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30). Man will naturally be attracted to a woman who’s beautiful, who has a charming personality, but more important than that for marriage, is that a woman be virtuous, that she be temperate, that she’d be just, that she’d be prudent. So a man has to consider whether he’s capable of managing a household for providing for a family because if he has no means of providing for a family, how can a family be ordered? If he’s not able to go out and earn a living to provide for a wife and children? How can he possibly be the head of a household when that’s the primary function of the head of a family? And likewise, with a wife, if she’s not temperate, if she’s not content to be at home, managing the household? If she’s a social butterfly, who has to be always on the run, always on the phone always out and about with the ladies, how is she possibly going to be a wife and mother? So those are preliminary issues to think about, before a household is even established. One of the benefits that men have is that when they marry, things start out quite simple. It’s just a man and his wife. It’s assumed that they enjoy each other’s company and married life is very pleasant, especially early on. The husband and wife have to understand that that time early on in marriage can’t be wasted. Eventually, God willing, children will come and life will get busier. There’s a number of things that have to be set in order and worked out before children come, because if a husband and wife plan on having a family, the woman is more or less going to be knocked out of commission; she’s not going to be able to be depended upon for work through pregnancies and nursing. Those activities are going to take up the majority of her time and energy. There may be days where she’s just not feeling well, there may be days where she’s uncomfortable or sick or in pain. My wife struggled with sciatica throughout her pregnancies, and a man has to realize that once that childbearing childbearing phase of life begins, he may lose the help of his wife, because her physical condition, day by day, becomes unpredictable and she needs to be able to take it easy and rest. She needs to be able to take care of her body, to take care of the baby, make sure she’s eating well, make sure she’s sleeping, make sure she’s not over-exerting herself, make sure she’s not putting herself in dangerous situations where she could fall or get hurt. A man has to be ready for the reality that at some point, he’s going to lose the daily help of his wife and those days can be quite difficult, especially if he’s allowed himself to depend on her for lots of work, possibly even working outside the home (which is a bad idea). So a man has to consider whether he’s actually able to provide for a family and then once the man and woman are married, they need to make use of that early phase of their marriage when there are no children to get their family in order before the childbearing years begin. It’s an important time in their family life, and there’s a lot to do. The husband and the wife, when they’re married, form the family. One of the great pieces of advice that we got when we were first married, was to realize that man and his wife are the family and a baby is born into an existing family, into an existing culture. We don’t sit around waiting for the baby, waiting for the children, to build a culture around the children — that’s unnatural and upside down. Rather, we establish the culture as a husband and wife, and the children are born into that culture. So that period of time early on in marriage, before the children come, is important for establishing that order, that culture, establishing the schedule of the household, establishing devotional life, work routines, and so on — establishing the order of family life in the household. Some couples will get married and barely be able to afford a small apartment, others may get married and have a decent-sized house ready for a large family. The details of the housing conditions will vary from one family to the next, but we’re talking about family culture, not organizing stuff in house; we’re talking about the actual culture of the family: work routines, schedules, devotional life, and so on. Into what environment do you want your children to be born? That’s to be established before those children come, not after. So that’s the challenge of the early years of marriage, organizing the family before the children come. Once the children do come, they are born into an existing family that should already have an identity, with order established in it. If it does, then things will be much easier when the children come. Women have to make sure that they get good advice from experienced older women on caring for children, from women who have raised children with similar family culture. For example, my wife and I have 10 children. I never had to change a diaper. I never had to feed a baby. I never had to get up in the middle of the night and take care of a crying baby. My wife had everything under control from day one. We had good marriage and parenting advice. When we were young, my professional life, my studies and work were never interrupted by any of our babies, because my wife had it all under control. The babies were content because they were well cared for. And, like I said, we had 10 children and I never missed a night of sleep, never changed a diaper, never fed a baby. I was able to focus on my work, which benefited our whole family. That was my wife’s goal: to allow me to focus on my work because if I was able to focus on my work, the whole family would benefit — and that certainly has been true. Women have to make sure they get good advice from women who have actually done it well, not from fads and all kinds of wacky ideas about nursing and infant care that that actually cause chaos in a family and turn a turn the head of the household into into a helper for the wife or a babysitter when that’s not his responsibility. Women have to get good advice. Men also have to know that there are sources of good advice for their wives that will prevent these troubles from developing that comes from bad advice — bad ideas about motherhood and infant care. Once the children begin to arrive, and they start to get older, into their toddler years, they’re going to begin to manifest their own will, and men have to realize that their young children are not yet at the age of Reason. They’re not to be reasoned with. They’re not reasonable, nor should they be expected to be reasonable. Once the children get into this phase of life, where they have their own will, and all of a sudden parents are responsible to deal with these new members of the family that have their own will; that wake up every morning with their own plans, the question of discipline comes up, and it’s obviously a controversial topic. One of the reasons it’s controversial is because modern society is crazy and they don’t believe that children should be subject to their parents. They don’t believe in obedience. They don’t believe in the 10 Commandments. The controversy that comes from those people, we just have to write off as craziness. But there’s controversy also among thoughtful Christian people because there are passages of Sacred Scripture or other Christian writings that speak about disciplining children and the interpretation and application of those passages are subject to debate. Fundamentalists interpret these passages literally. So for example, when we hear, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”, it seems to suggest, in a literal sense, that a child has to be disciplined through corporal punishment. And yet, there’s much more meaning in that proverb than than a simple literal instruction to spank a child who’s being bad. (There’s a time for that.) But parents who rely on spanking are going to find that it doesn’t work.