“Who is the head of the house in a home with a single mother?” Ensign, Mar. 1991, 61–62
Robert L. Leake, administrative assistant in the Church Melchizedek Priesthood Department and member of the Church Materials Evaluation Committee. The simple and straightforward answer is that parents, whether living together or singly, are the head of the family. Their role as such is supported by scripture, Church teachings, and civil law. However, there are some other dimensions of the question that merit further discussion.
The scriptures are not silent about relationships between parents and children. One of the ten commandments received by Moses on Mount Sinai calls for children to honor their father and mother. (See Ex. 20:12.) One of the writers of Proverbs, speaking of children reared by a righteous woman, wrote, “Her children arise up, and call her blessed.” (Prov. 31:28.) Paul taught that children should obey their parents “in the Lord” and “in all things.” (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20.)
In a single-parent home headed by a mother, family members who have received the priesthood do not supplant her responsibility to teach, nurture, care for, and give direction. Modern scripture states, “All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age.” (D&C 83:4.) It further states that parents are to teach their children “the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands.” (D&C 68:25.)
The Aaronic Priesthood is normally given to worthy young male members twelve to eighteen years of age. The Melchizedek Priesthood is normally given to worthy male members eighteen years of age and above. For single mothers and others who understand its potential contribution, it is appropriate to desire to have the influence of the priesthood in their home. Children who hold the priesthood in the family are not “in charge,” yet they are able—if others desire—to bless the lives of those with whom they live.
Single women who are heads of households often find comfort in asking family members who hold the priesthood for help in spiritual and Church-related family matters. While it is inappropriate for a mother to abdicate her parental responsibilities by expecting young Aaronic Priesthood holders to assume the role of an absent father, she can and should call upon priesthood bearers in the home for help.
If she desires it, such help might be in the form of giving family prayers, teaching family home evenings, orchestrating family scripture reading, leading out in family gospel study, organizing family activities, or performing ordinances appropriate to the priesthood that they bear.
Many families use family councils to discuss issues, establish guidelines, and set limits for personal and family conduct. The issues might include television viewing, choice of movies, use of the family car, dating, curfew hours for weekdays and weekends, school and homework, extracurricular activities, and jobs outside of the home.
In addition, out-of-the-home priesthood service should be available to single mothers. Home teachers, backed up by elders quorum presidencies or high priests group leaderships and the bishopric, are the Lord’s way of watching over and rendering priesthood care and service to single-parent families.
The priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God, but it is in reality a priesthood of service to others. A priesthood bearer cannot baptize and confirm himself. He cannot ordain himself to an office in the priesthood. He cannot set himself apart to a Church calling. His priesthood power and authority, however, allows him to render such service to others under the direction of presiding local priesthood leaders.
Similarly, in the home the priesthood allows a young man the opportunity to serve and bless his family. As a side issue, it should be noted that divorced priesthood holders do not escape their personal responsibility to provide for all or a designated part of the maintenance of their children. Indeed, keeping current with court-adjudicated support payments for dependent children is required for a Melchizedek Priesthood bearer to be worthy to receive or renew a temple recommend.
Generally, fathers separated by divorce from their children continue to have a degree of responsibility for them. This teaching was reinforced when President Ezra Taft Benson recently declared, “Fathers, yours is an eternal calling from which you are never released. Callings in the Church, as important as they are, by their very nature are only for a period of time, and then an appropriate release takes place. But a father’s calling [and, one might add, a mother’s calling as well] is eternal, and its importance transcends time.” (Ensign, Nov. 1987, p. 48.)