“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”1
Fathers are to preside in the home, but presiding does not mean a man is to rule or exercise unrighteous dominion over his wife or children. The Savior taught His Apostles that the rulers among the Gentiles exercised authority over their subjects. “But it shall not be so among you,” He cautioned, “but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (see Matt. 20:25–27). Presiding, then, is to love and serve and sacrifice. The Apostle Paul taught, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) stated: “Brethren, I say to you with all soberness, [Jesus Christ] is the model we must follow as we take the spiritual lead in our families. Particularly is this true in your relationship with your wife.”2
The Lord said “that every man who is obliged to provide for his own family, let him provide, and he shall in nowise lose his crown” (D&C 75:28). In today’s world being able to provide for a family often depends on a father’s willingness and opportunity to obtain sufficient education. But acquiring an education and suitable employment and providing the necessities of life does not mean spending an inordinate amount of time working to create a high standard of living. President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) warned that some fathers spend so much time providing for things far beyond the necessities of life that physical possessions become their false gods and they have little time to preside in their families in love and righteousness.3
The responsibility to protect a family stretches far beyond the obvious physical shelter and security a father should provide. President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) taught: “A righteous father protects his children with his time and presence in their social, educational, and spiritual activities and responsibilities.”4 Fathers can protect their children by teaching them to make wise choices regarding the media they choose and the friends they spend time with.
In 1942 the First Presidency stated: “Motherhood … becomes a holy calling, a sacred dedication for carrying out the Lord’s plans, a consecration of devotion to the uprearing and fostering, the nurturing in body, mind, and spirit, of those who kept their first estate. … To lead them to keep their second estate is the work of motherhood. … Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels.”5
One of Satan’s most effective deceptions is to demean the work of wife and mother in the home. Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles cautioned that “this is an attack at the very heart of God’s plan. … Don’t be lured away from the plan of our God to the ways of the world, where motherhood is belittled, femininity is decried, and the divinely established role of wife and mother is mocked.”6
Prophets have emphasized the importance of mothers devoting their full-time efforts to nurturing their children. But to those who have to work to provide for the needs of their families, President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: “Do the very best you can. I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries.”7
Mothers have primary responsibility to nurture children, and fathers are to preside, provide, and protect. But these roles are not exclusive. Husbands and wives are to share as equal partners in the responsibilities of parenthood and help each other in a spirit of selfless sacrifice.
The divine design to give mothers and fathers different primary responsibilities in the family reflects certain eternal differences between men and women. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” teaches that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”8 These innate differences and unique responsibilities enable a couple to come together in unity, to complement each other’s strengths and gifts, and to forge the relationship that makes an eternal family possible.