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In this series of articles we’re looking at how the Bahá’í Marriage Vow “We will all verily abide by the Will of God” can help solve the 10 most common marriage problems.  In this article we will explore the topic of Role Confusion in marriage.

We’re living in a world in which stereotypical roles between men and women are constantly shifting, as we attempt to bring about the equality of the sexes.  This can creates tremendous upheaval in marriages when couples come in with differing expectations of what their roles will be.

In many ways, the Bahá’í concept of roles in marriage can be a tremendous comfort to couples.

The Bahá’í Writings are very clear about primary role of marriage, which is to raise up the next generation:

For Bahá’u’lláh explicitly reveals in His Book of Laws that the very purpose of marriage is the procreation of children who, when grown up, will be able to know God and to recognize and observe His Commandments and Laws as revealed through His Messengers. Marriage is thus, according to the Bahá’í Teachings, primarily a social and moral act. It has purpose which transcends the immediate personal needs and interests of the parties.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 345)

They should realize, moreover, that the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation of children.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 378)

Within that framework, the husband’s role is that of breadwinner:

The basic principle of Bahá’í Law is that the husband is responsible for the support of his wife and children so long as they are married.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

He also has a responsibility for the education of children:

Although the mother is the first educator of the child, and the most important formative influence in his development, the father also has the responsibility of educating his children, and this responsibility is so weighty that Bahá’u’lláh has stated that a father who fails to exercise it forfeits his rights of fatherhood.   (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

The wife’s role is the primary educator of the children:

Let the mothers consider that whatever concerneth the education of children is of the first importance. Let them put forth every effort in this regard, for when the bough is green and tender it will grow in whatever way ye train it.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 289-290)

The great importance attached to the mother’s role derives from the fact that she is the first educator of the child. Her attitude, her prayers, even what she eats and her physical condition have a great influence on the child when it is still in womb. When the child is born, it is she who has been endowed by God with the milk which is the first food designed for it, and it is intended that, if possible, she should be with the baby to train and nurture it in its earliest days and months. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

The task of bringing up a Bahá’í child, as emphasized time and again in Bahá’í Writings, is the chief responsibility of the mother, whose unique privilege is indeed to create in her home such conditions as would be the most conducive to both his material and spiritual welfare and advancement. The training which a child first receives through his mother constitutes the strongest foundation for his future development.     (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

This doesn’t mean that the father has no responsibility for the children:

 This does not mean that the father does not also love, pray for, and care for his baby, but as he has the primary responsibility of providing for the family, his time to be with his child is usually limited, while the mother is usually closely associated with the baby during this intensely formative time when it is growing and developing faster than it ever will again during the whole of its life. As the child grows older and more independent, the relative nature of its relationship with its mother and father modifies and the father can play a greater role.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 626)

Or that the mother cannot work outside the home:

Similarly, although the primary responsibility for supporting the family financially is placed upon the husband, this does not by any means imply that the place of woman is confined to the home.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

Whether she chooses to work, or how much time she should spend away from her family is a matter for consultation between all family members:

In relation to your specific queries, the decision concerning the amount of time a mother may spend in working outside the home depends on circumstances existing within the home, which may vary from time to time. Family consultation will help to provide the answers.  (Universal House of Justice, Compilation on Women)

But if she does work inside the home, it’s seen as not only an honourable profession, but is regarded as of fundamental importance to mankind:

You ask about the admonition that everyone must work, and want to know if this means that you, a wife and mother, must work for a livelihood as your husband does… . You will see that the directive is for the friends to be engaged in an occupation which will be of benefit to mankind. Home-making is a highly honourable and responsible work of fundamental importance for mankind.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 625-626)

Her role within the family, though, guarantees her the right to be supported by her husband:

 A corollary of this responsibility of the mother is her right to be supported by her husband — a husband has no explicit right to be supported by his wife.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

Having said all that, it’s important to realize the absolute importance of the roles of the parents to educate their children themselves, and if they don’t, there are severe consequences:

In this New Cycle, education and training are recorded in the Book of God as obligatory and not voluntary. That is, it is enjoined upon the father and mother, as a duty, to strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son, to nurse them from the breast of knowledge and to rear them in the bosom of sciences and arts. Should they neglect this matter, they shall be held responsible and worthy of reproach in the presence of the stern Lord.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 398)

The station of mothers who raise their children in this way is very high:

Mothers can now be the primary agents for empowering individuals to transform society. They alone can inculcate in their children the self-esteem and respect for others essential for the advancement of civilization. It is clear, then, that the station of mothers, increasingly denigrated in many societies, is in reality of the greatest importance and highest merit.  (Bahá’í International Community, 1995 Aug 26, Girl Child A Critical Concern)

The House of Justice takes the mother’s role as educator so seriously, that there is no day care provisions at the Bahá’í World Centre.  I found this out the hard way when I went on pilgrimage when my son was 10.  At that time I was a single mother with a sincere desire to serve at the World Centre.  My application was denied.  Children are valued so highly, that when couples with children serve there, the father serves and the mother stays home to raise the children.  Single mothers are not able to do both.

In terms of who does the chores, it’s the will of God that the rights of all family members be regarded in the decision making:

The members of the family all have duties and responsibilities towards one another and to the family as a whole, and these duties and responsibilities vary from member to member because of their natural relationships.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

And that there be unity in these decisions:

Note ye how easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquility, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 278)

The fact that there are specific roles given for women and men, does not mean there is inequality:

From the fact that there is no equality of functions between the sexes one should not, however, infer that either sex is inherently superior or inferior to the other, or that they are unequal in their rights.        (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 613)

While the Bahá’í roles in marriage may seem fixed, they’re given to us within the framework of a Bahá’í family, and should be a helpful guide for couples in understanding God’s will.  Each marriage is different and what might apply in one situation wouldn’t apply in another.  With consultation, each situation is looked at in its own merit.  The roles can be flexible and changed to suit particular family situations:

With regard to your question whether mothers should work outside the home, it is helpful to consider the matter from the perspective of the concept of a Bahá’í family. This concept is based on the principle that the man has primary responsibility for the financial support of the family, and the woman is the chief and primary educator of the children. This by no means implies that these functions are inflexibly fixed and cannot be changed and adjusted to suit particular family situations, nor does it mean that the place of the woman is confined to the home. Rather, while primary responsibility is assigned, it is anticipated that fathers would play a significant role in the education of the children and women could also be breadwinners. As you rightly indicated, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged women to “participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world”.   (Universal House of Justice, Compilation on Women, #74)

For more information please see:

 Money 

Sex 

Infidelity 

In-laws and Children

Communication 

Spending Time Together

Love and Effort 

Unresolved Baggage from Childhood

Gossip and Backbiting

For more on this topic, please see:

Introduction to Marriage Vows

We Will All Verily Abide by the Will of God

Sex Before Marriage 

Sex Inside Marriage 

Using the Year of Patience 

 What are your thoughts on role confusion and its impact on marriages?  Post your comments here: