I laughed when I read a recent study done in Europe about women’s time commitments and how these commitments affected their sex lives. In Italy, women have made great strides in the workforce. Yet their progress at home has lagged behind that of other Western European nations, mostly because their culture is one in which men tend to take their wives for granted. So today, when an Italian woman comes home, she still does most of the housework. She is run off of her feet, and the end result is that she spends less time on sex than do women in Finland, Sweden, or England. Italian men, who are known for their machismo, aren’t actually getting as much loving as English men are, largely because culturally they have not yet learned to respect women’s contributions.

“Just a wife, just a mother”

We may not be as undervalued as our Italian sisters are, but we’re still often taken for granted. It’s hard for many men to respect what we do because they themselves aren’t reared for it and would never do it. Women typically do the lion’s share of the housework, so it’s assumed we’re not as important as the men are, since they’re able to escape the drudgery. You may even buy into some of this mentality, wondering who you are since you’re “just a mother” or “just a wife.” Ultimately, though, everything will pass away except people. The impact we have on our kids or our neighbors is perhaps even more important than any job we could have, and this impact is only possible because of the work we do at home, whether or not we also have a job.

Time for a family meeting

If your husband diminishes the value of what you do, then he perceives value outside of Christ. Have a family meeting and talk about where you’re going as a family. How does he want the children raised? What does he want for the family in the long run? What values does he want your children to have? How are they going to develop them? Many people have never answered these questions. They go through life working at their jobs without asking the reason behind what they’re doing. Throw everything on the table: his job, your job, your kids’ schooling, all your commitments and activities, and ask God for a vision for your family. Once you both have one, it’s easier for you as a couple to see how everyone’s labor, wherever it’s done, fits into that vision.

Even if your husband doesn’t share your faith, you can still discuss where your family is heading. Brainstorm about how you can make sure your family meets the goals you set. Chances are this will involve valuing the typical things we women do, like creating a comfortable home and nurturing the children. Once you’ve verbalized the importance of your contribution, it’s easier for him to want to be involved around the house, or, at the very least, to be grateful that you are!

Serving and respect

Sometimes we don’t get respect because we don’t act like we should. Respect is not something we can demand. We can demand obedience, but we cannot demand respect. Respect is a voluntary act of the will.

If we want respect, we have to act in a way that others respect. This message isn’t being explained enough in the Church. The Bible certainly tells us to “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). Some may interpret this to mean we are to allow others to demand from us, even to demean us. But Scripture also tells us that we are of infinite worth to God; that every hair of our heads is numbered (Luke 12:7). Jesus came to earth as a servant, but he didn’t cease being the Son of God. When he washed the disciples’ feet, he showed he would do lowly things, but that didn’t mean he was worthless. As women, we serve in many ways that might be considered lowly too: washing underwear, cleaning toilets, wiping noses. But that doesn’t mean we are less important than those we serve. Does serving mean that we completely sacrifice all our needs? Can we reconcile serving and earning respect when we consider how we should treat others?

Philippians 2:4 says this: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Notice that nowhere does it say we are to ignore our legitimate needs, just that we are to consider others’. I think this relates to the purpose of servanthood. The thing God cares about most is bringing people closer to him (John 3:16-17). He wants people to be like Christ (Romans 8:29). That means that as his servants, this should be our primary goal, too. True servanthood should point people toward Christ. Sometimes, though, we forget about this principle. In my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum, I explained it this way.

"If we pamper our children, they will not feel responsible for their own messes, their own actions, and even more far-reaching, their own mistakes. They may grow into adults feeling a good life is owed to them without effort, or may engage in hazardous activities without thinking of what may happen. If we do the same for our husbands, the chance at having a marriage relationship characterized by mutual respect and admiration is severely limited… [And if] your husband and children do not respect you, it will be very hard for you to model Christ to them.”

When we routinely do things for people that they should do for themselves, we allow them to treat us in an un-Christlike manner. When your ten-year-old son comes in from school, drops his backpack on the floor and throws his coat on a chair, and then goes and plays Nintendo while you clean up, you teach him to treat you with disrespect. You ingrain patterns of selfishness that will become harder to unravel as he grows older. This is not serving.

Does this mean that we should never pick up after our children or clean up after our husband? Of course not. But we need to judge what we do by its effects on our relationships. If people are acting selfishly, it’s because they are rewarded for it. Servanthood should not be a cover for others’ selfishness. But even worse, if our family members don’t respect us, how can they think we have any useful opinions or advice? How can we model Christ or encourage godly behavior if they learn to disregard us?

Burdens vs. loads: know the difference

If husbands and children are to respect us, then, it’s important to keep in mind the lessons of Galatians 6. In verse 2, Paul exhorts us to “carry each other’s burdens,” but in verse 5, he goes on to say “each should carry his own load.” Is this inconsistent? Not if you look at the Greek. The words for “burden” and “load” are different. Load is one’s daily allowance, what a person may be expected to carry alone. If you are carrying everybody’s loads, you won’t have any energy to carry their genuine burdens. And your husband and children will be so used to discarding any excess baggage that it won’t occur to them to pick up the occasional burden or two, as well!

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul tells us to “warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak.” The ones we are to warn are the idle, those who are not carrying their load. When people fail to do for themselves what they should, they expect someone else to do it for them. It’s a sign of self-centeredness, exactly the opposite of Christlike servanthood.

Many argue that it’s wrong for women to want to be respected or to “demand” rights, and in one sense this is true — if we’re pushing for them out of pride. But even Paul, whose life is an example of servanthood, demanded his rights as a Roman citizen when he was tossed into jail and his ability to witness was at stake (Acts 16:37). Within the family unit, it’s all too easy to lose our ability to witness when we are not respected. This will also damage our own psyche, our kids’ abilities to form functional relationships now and into adulthood, and our marriages.

While we want to protect ourselves and our families from this, it’s still a fine line to cross. In daily life, what’s the difference between a burden and a load? And how can we make sure we’re acting appropriately without starting a big fight? Each family will answer these questions differently.

If you stay at home and your husband works outside the home, he will not be able to do as much housework as you will. It is your job to carry part of his burden, perhaps by making most meals, doing the laundry, or by doing most of the cleaning. But if you are also constantly retrieving his dirty underwear from beside the hamper, or holding dinner for him when he’s late (even when he doesn’t call), you are accepting too much of his load. Whether he’s doing it consciously or not, he’s treating you as someone not worthy of respect, and that diminishes your value in his eyes, as well as your own. It also diminishes your value in the eyes of your children, who learn that it’s okay to take advantage of Mom.

Confronting him with these issues, though, must be done out of an attitude of love, and not to demand justice. Perhaps this is where servanthood is best modeled. The purpose is to point him to God, not bash him on the head with condemnation. If you have been going through a rough time, it may be better to wait to confront him. After all, God doesn’t confront us with all of our faults at one time, so we shouldn’t do that to our husbands, either! Changing the little things we do on a daily basis, though, is a step we can take now to build a house — and a marriage — modeled on respect.

Taken from Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight, © 2003 by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Published by Kregel Publications. All rights reserved.