“Head of Household” – Does It Still Mean What It Used To?

BY: - 29 Mar '12 | Marriage

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by Michaela Stephens

Recently I was reading an article on another blog geared towards women. The article discussed gender norms, specifically in communities of color. The big center of the debate was referring to men as the head of the household. The argument was deciding whether or not usage of this term was antiquated in today’s climate, or whether it was still relevant. As I was perusing the article, and subsequent replies, I saw this comment:

“The term (head of the household), has always come off to me as a way to keep a man happy while letting him off the hook. Feeding his ego in a way that a real partnership should not require. It’s as if black women are so happy to have a man around that they’ll play at being submissive so men still feel needed, just because they’re so often told they’re not. I do not want that for myself…”

The comment got me thinking, I mean really, really thinking.

While I don’t agree with all of it, I think that the commenter was onto something here. Growing up with a single mother, but raised in a traditional southern town via a church community, I find myself debating referring to men as head of the household. Part of me feels like, well if I call him that, what’s it hurting? The other part of me feels like, but why is it that the only qualifier to be head of the household is reproductive organs? I mean, that’s it?

Here’s my perspective: I don’t hear about the head of the household tome in non-minority communities nearly as much as I do in minority communities, and I don’t think it’s coincidental either. Black men are consistently marginalized and degraded by society on a regular basis. So in some ways it seems like the head of the household title is a way for us to make men feel like, “Well, okay white America doesn’t like you, but guess what you are head of this family, and you are appreciated here. Regardless of what the media, society tells you every day, you MEAN SOMETHING.”

In some ways, it seems like yet another Band-Aid that the Black community puts over a gaping wound. Let’s make our brothers feel better about them, by continuing to push this title, without really addressing other options or ways to reduce the feelings of inadequacy.

I mean, I get it. Calling a man head of the household gives him pride in his family. It is supposed to be his spiritual role in a Christian household. Judging by the growing and disproportionate number of single mothers out there, this ideal of men being the cornerstone of their families seems to be a necessity now more than ever. So honestly, what is the harm in bestowing this title upon our men? Black men should MOST DEFINITELY be uplifted on a regular basis and if this makes them feel good, well, than what’s the harm?

However, on other side, I’ve heard plenty of Black women say that the trick is to make a Black man feel like he’s head of the household, when really we running things in the background. Well, for all of that then why even give him the title if you truly don’t believe it? That just seems kind of condescending. This is the part where I think that commenter hit the ball of out of the part. It’s almost patronizing and, on a basic level, comes off as pandering.

I’ve also seen the negative effects of this whole “you are the main provider” standard on Black men as well. How many black men do I know personally who have felt extreme pressure because they have been told by their wives, family, church community that they should be providers, and that’s their role? I know way too many to count. I’ve had male friends and family members almost go into depressive states because they felt like somehow they fell short of their role as men in their family because they were unable to find employment, or meet a certain yearly figure with their salaries.

Now the above could also be because there is more than above average pressure on them to live up to this ideal black man standard, and not to fall into becoming a negative statistic and stereotype. (You know, no job, in jail, five different baby mamas but no ring, et al.) Unfortunately, I see a lot of my fellow sisters applying this pressure on a very regular basis. The other reason why men feel this pressure is because over the years, they have been given a very narrow standard as to what “provider” actually truly means. Basically, Black men could also be putting these incredibly high standards on themselves. No outside pressure needed.

My idea is that as wives should take some of the impetus off our husbands. I don’t think I need to tell my husband that he’s head of the household in order to make him feel like he makes a huge contribution to our family. My husband also doesn’t need to have the title head of the household title to know he’s THAT DUDE. I also feel like it’s unfair of me as his wife, to expect him to be the main provider, or the main person keeping the family together. Where do I come in here? I don’t think it’s fair for me to expect for my husband to scrimp, hustle, and take on all of these extra duties for the sake of his “man role” while I chill idly by. I believe in partnership. In the words of rapper Fabulous, “She tryna match my fly.” I believe in both of us striving equally to attain goals for our family.

That’s not to say that most women are just sitting back with their feet up and giving their husbands the bulk of the load. I’ve just observed lots of women who do sit back, and then they wonder why their husbands are suffering depression and extreme exhaustion. Or why there’s simmering resentment and tension in their marriages.

Also, I think the term provider definitely needs a modern upgrade, or remix. I think traditionally, provider has been relegated to a more financial role, than anything. Providing comes in different forms. Providing can be emotional. It can be taking care of the kids, giving a back rub at the end of a long day. I believe we both should provide.

So what do you think? Here are a few questions to start:

1.) How do you view the statement head of the household? Do you view your husband as head of the household? Why?
2.) What does provider mean to you? What does this encompass?
3.) Do you think that there’s an unfair amount of pressure on men to be to the main providers?

Michaela Stephens is the owner and head instructor of Metropolitan Swim Instruction.

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BMWK Staff wrote 1231 articles on this blog.

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14 WordPress comments on ““Head of Household” – Does It Still Mean What It Used To?

  1. CJ Belle

    I think it’s unfair that there’s this “pressure of the stereotype” for black men, but black women have the “pressure of doing it all” and we do!   I am married and the “breadwinner (I have 3 jobs AND a PhD!),” the part time cook, the cleaner, the financial manager, the planner, and we don’t even have kids…I don’t want any because then I’ll probably doing all that work too! My husband, (the “head” of our household) is the other part time cook.     My husband who has yet to finish his B.S. (and is 33!)   had 1 (!) job, and watches waay too much TV.       I’ve seen this in other black marriages too, and it’s not cool at all.     Yes, the head of household title needs to be changed.  

    I heard about a new book out call “the Richer Sex”   by Liza Mundy….check it out.   It talks about these economic shifts in the family.

  2. BC

    I think think is an excellent topic to discuss and a very well written blog post.   One thing, however, that I think is missing is a discussion about the biblical duty of a husband to be the head of his household. The Bible clearly identifies the role that the husband is to play in the household, however, I don’t think many people (men or women) fully understand the responsibility that comes along with that title/position.   Upon entering marriage, a wife agrees to submit to her husband and   the husband then is given the life long responsibility of guiding his family both spiritually and literally and to ensure all of his wife’s needs in accordance with the spiritual path that God is helping him to lead him family down. Although the husband is the head of the household, this has NOTHING to do with educational background or financial income.

    In situations like the one mentioned above, the only reason that I feel a husband would act like that is because 1) the wife is   allowing it to occur and/or 2) the wife is not actively encouraging the husband to reach his full potential.   The Bible assigns the wife to be her husband’s helper and just because a wife has more education or makes more money does not change the roles that are clearly identified.

    1. CJ Belle

      To BC,

      I can agree with your reply to my response. However, There’s not just 2 reasons….there’s a myriad of reasons…I was raised in a home with 2(!) parents (knowing my dad was head of household, for a time), and my husband’s parents divorced when he was 6, and his dad was not active in his life (and no male mentors were around him either!), and so he didn’t see what it means to be “head of household” biblically (sp). It is not for me to “teach” my husband how to be this, and praying is the only way…but also good male relationships…I can’t force my husband to make friends and not be a homebody. I’d love your response to this, as you don’t realize #1–I’ve tried encouraging, and #2– I can’t “allow or not allow” an ADULT to do or not things. That would make me “head of household” wouldn’t it!?!? Your last sentences are truly a paradox.

  3. Megaman4489756

    1) No, I have no problem with the statement. Yes, I feel my husband is the head because it simply means he’s being a man. 2) Provider to me means making sure his/her family is having their needs met-like having, at the very least, food, shelter, clothing, safety, love, etc. 3) For the most part, no.

  4. Martha A. Snowden

    I think that the husband is the head of the household and if you don’t trust him to guide and lead your family and if you are not willing to submit to him as he submits to God then what’s the point? I feel that many times women go digging for ways to take from men black or white so that they can address their needs and inadequacies as they see themselves in negative relationships or the result of said relationships and want to justify not allowing themselves to fully trust a man or to wait fo ra man who can be the head of their house as the bible instructs him to be.

  5. chris henderson

    The term “head of the house” still means what it has always meant.   The man or husband(male in a heterosexual marriage,  not in a homosexual marriage)is the head of the house according to the architech of marriage.   Being head of the house, has nothing to do with wether he is working, the amount of work he does in the house.   This is a term given to the man in a marriage because “The Holy One” has given it to him.   The problem with women in the world and on this blog is they don’t marry for the right reasons.   They marry strictly for sex alone.   They sleep with the man before they are married to him which brings judgement on your relationship.   It is not surprising why there are so many unhappy   women and so many  unhappy men.   Thus producing unhappy marriages.   They are being judged.   God will not be mocked.   By the way, it is going to get worse!   Are culture has made tremendous strides in technology and is declining tremendously morally.   God is Holy and he must judge sin and that is exactly what is happening.   If my people, who are called by name would turn from there wicked ways then will I heal the land.

  6. Fee

    “Thats not to say that most women are just sitting back with their feet up and giving their husbands the bulk of the load. Ive just observed lots of women who do sit back, and then they wonder why their husbands are suffering depression and extreme exhaustion. Or why theres simmering resentment and tension in their marriages.” I would love to get this addressed in the reverse…..what about the women who are handling the business, stressed, depressed, go to bed with migraines and wake up with migraines after being told my your Husband that HE should be the one frustrated because HE’S not making the money he would like? Are you kidding me? If you aren’t trying, if you continue to do the same thing and continue to get the same results, it drives ME INSANE. Let’s talk about THAT. Let’s talk about the Mothers who are hold it down financially, with the kids, in the bedroom, in the kitchen, in the community, and looking good doing, but get’s not even a ‘date night’ with her a Husband….sick of it!

  7. Brenda

    Gosh, where to start. First, everyone has to remember that the “head of the household” debate is something that can’t be completely addressed in a blog post. It would take more of a novel to cover. The blogger is trying to promote thinking on the bigger picture- something that can be hard for women as we are very literal in our comprehension of what someone says. Generally, men are the bigger picture people. Nothing wrong with either one, we just have to remember to step outside our box and look at it from a different prespective and on a deeper level.

    The whole “Head of Household” issue starts within the homes we grow up in and the difference in what is being taught to children over the last 30+ years. The family unit breakdown is the biggest impact we face today. I’m not dogging any single mom’s- I’ve been one. I’m just stating a fact. Generations of letting our “free will” be our main source for decisions has led us to where we are today.

    In my opinion, aside from the family unit breakdown there are 3 key factors at play.

    1. Women who are complaining about the men in their lives fail to remember they are the ones who chose to be with that man. There are usually many warning signs of their drive level and maturity level yet we often ignore them seeing the “potential” they have. YOU can’t do anything with THEIR potential. They can have all the potential in the world but if the choose not to invoke it, grow it and use it then its dead.
    2. Women are being taught to be strong, independent and not to need a man. With those traits have come a generation of women with attitutdes. Instead of building a man up they use their attitudes and what should be attractive qualities i.e. strong, independent- to tear the men down. How is a man suppose to be a man if we strip him of that? I’m not talking about being the breadwinner. I’m talking about simple respect.
    3. Because of the shift in the family unit, men have been failed on many levels. A main failure- being taught what “Head of the Household” truly means spritually. God did not say men you are to be the “head of your household” to be controlling and dominant. That definition in today’s society is a lie that was created by the enemy- and is working damn good if I might add. It goes hand in hand with today’s definition of a submissive wife- today’s definitiona all lies. (that is an entirely different subject I’ll spare you from in this post lol)

    Unfortuantely there is another myth out there- that relationships are suppose to be easy. That isn’t the case. There are only 2% of couples who have “easy” relationships. The other 98% have to work at it consistently.

    If you want change you have to put Christ at the HEAD of your relationship. Only through spiritual growth and maturity are going to be able to overcome what life aka the enemy throws at you.

    Without Love a woman reacts without Respect and without Respect a man reacts without Love. It’s a vicious cycle (There is an eye opening book on this and no its not a Men are from Mars Women are from Venus book its much deeper). Even good willed Christian people fall victim to this cycle.

    If you want change then YOU have to envoke it. Start making a difference in YOUR household. Once you see the changes then you can share your new found life with others simply by them seeing the change. From there the potential is limitless!

    I would generally agree it takes both partners for change to happen but if you quit looking at all the things your partner needs to change (according to your standards and not God’s) and focus on bettering and changing yourself- you will truly see a difference. I speak from experience. While we are still a work in progress and I have oh so much to learn I am ready and willing to do so because that is how much I value my marriage and my husband. Trust me- LAWD KNOWS its been hard lol My husband is a good man who is growing in his maturity both emotionally and spiritually as am I. We’ve come to realize that when you don’t put the right foundation in your relationship (which we thought we had) it truly is like the parable in the Bible- it sinks on the quicksand.

    I truly wish parents would educate their children on how important it is to grow and educate yourself in all things. As a parent, I’ve come to realize the reason my parents didn’t do this to the extent in which its needed is because they are going through life learning and growing as we are growing up and they don’t always realize they need to give you a heads up until it’s too late. It takes a wise person to realize the true scope of parenting on that level. I have so fallen short of that with my first two children but now that I have my 3rd my eyes are wide open and his teachings will be different. What I can do for my older children is to talk to them and educate them on what I failed to do when they were younger and hope that they will take it and apply it to their lives now and in the future with their kids.

    My hope is that women would educate themselves on how to be the helper to their husband God has called them to be and that men would educate themselves on what it truly means to be the “head of the household”

    Everyone talks about starting movements and initiatives today, well this should be one of them!

  8. Anonymous

    Well what does our creator have to say about this? I believe if a women has to do it all what does she need a man for? We need to get back to Gods plan. After all that a women does, she also has to deal with the male straing to other females. Thats a lot to handle dont you you?
    What about your self worth. Is it worth all that?

  9. Shantee

    “Head of Household” to me only applies during tax season. The title gives both women and men too much pressure and too much confusion. Yes the man should be the head right under God when leading the family! BUT the HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD should be GOD. I am a firm believer that He will guide the man into the right direction and truly teach him how to be a man and a husband. The wife is there as support to her husband as an unconditional lover as a friend and as an encouragement. For example if the husband loses his full time job but still works a part-time I personally feel like it’s the wife’s job to step up and make up for the loss. If she has to pick up work or more work then why not? People come from all sorts of backgrounds 2 parent homes single parent homes raised by grandma homes etc, but it’s truly up to the person to ask for guidance from God! Not every woman had a married mother who could teach her how to be a good wife, not every man had a married father or father who could teach him how to be a husband. We live in a society where single mothers are teaching their sons how to be a man, and fathers teaching their daughters what kind of men they don’t want! So yes there is confusion when entering a marriage. I was the breadwinner when we married. And when the tables were turned the ball was dropped. Some men just don’t know how to lead, they want to but they don’t know how! It’s a learning process! If we all just let God lead us marriages won’t be easier but smoother. Stop focusing on titles but God on love intimacy and teamwork and friendship!!!

  10. CeCe

    it has been very clearly to me from a while back that whoever takes on the majority of the house responsibilities and decisions should be the HEAD OF HOUSHOLD. My husband has always told me that i’m the HOH since I have a full time job, come home and take on another one and pay for most of the house expenses(event thou he’s a financial contributor himself)and makes the majority of the decisions. mainly, he said, you worked a double shift for nine months 2 times of your life and continued on for 27 years afterwards til our kids left home…………..kudos to every woman whose husband has them in this pedastol!!!!!!!!!!

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Everybody Won’t Be Happy Because You Are Happy

BY: - 29 Mar '12 | Marriage

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One of the biggest letdowns after getting married is realizing that everybody isn’t happy that you are happily married. The bachelor and bachelorette parties, the showers, the beautiful wedding, and the laughter-filled reception make the fantasy of getting married come alive. All seems well after the honeymoon ““that is until people start getting in your business and causing problems in your marriage.

Everybody isn’t happy for you and your spouse. It’s sad but true.

I believe this should be a part of pre-marital counseling, helping new couples deal with the frustration and anger that arise when so-called friends, former boy/girlfriends, and even family members create unnecessary drama in your life. What do you do when people aren’t happy for you? How do you handle it and keep the romance going at the homefront?

I like to approach the issue head-on. It doesn’t help your marriage to act like there isn’t a problem. Some couples go years avoiding issues only to have the negativity spill over into their relationship, possibly even the bedroom. The sooner you address the issue, the better. After all, this is your marriage, and marriage is sacred and serious. In a loving yet firm manner, I’ve had to set boundaries and speak the truth about the situation to people. I made it clear that no weapon formed against my marriage will prosper, which includes them. Now, your situation might be different, but I’ve found when you speak truth to the negativity and expose the evil trying to harm your marriage, the person causing the dissension loses his/her power.

Finally, it’s important to remember that you aren’t married to everybody, so everybody’s opinion about your marriage doesn’t matter. God joins two people so they can become one. As long as you and your spouse are happy, that’s all that matters. After you make it clear that your marriage will not be affected by their drama, the troublemakers either will fall in line and respect your relationship or they will go on living their miserable life and looking desperate for attention. Either way, your marriage continues to grow and your love remains strong.

I love what Philippians 4:8 says: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” This is where your focus should be in marriage, not on what everybody else thinks and feels about you. Keep loving and living happily ever after. Maybe, just maybe, your marriage will encourage other people to do the same.

BMWK family, how do you deal with people who aren’t happy about your relationship?

About the author

Dr. Michelle Johnson wrote 75 articles on this blog.

Dr. Michelle Johnson is the founder of Alabaster Woman Ministries, an online international women's ministry. She is a wife, mother, writer, speaker, teacher. Through her daily blog, online radio show, and video Bible studies, Dr. Michelle encourages women and married couples to make God the center of their lives.


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