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Understanding How a Family Functions

by Greg Baker  
3/23/2010 / Family

I'll state again that the instincts that will be discussed here are not universally true but generally true. In the majority of the cases, you'll find that these God given instincts exert a particular force on our nature and thus the family.

With that being said, the family, in the context of this article, is that of a man, a woman, and their children. This is the family that I believe God ordained, and the particular instincts that we are created with have a symbiotic impact on each of these three elements. Things will obviously be more confused when you add in divorce, stepfathers, stepmothers, stepbrothers and sisters, and half brothers and sisters.

Each of the natural instincts discussed here will be attributed to the impact they have on the other two parts of the family.

Let's get started.


I believe that God created a man to have a need for a woman. God said that it is not good for a man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). This instinct or need to have a woman is strong within most men. In the years I've been counseling, I've found that single men struggle more than single women do. A woman has an easier time finding purpose and satisfaction in life than a man does.

Not universally true, I have certainly found it to be true in over a decade of counseling and observation.

Conversely, a man is often less attached to his children than his wife is. In at least eight out of ten cases when there is a divorce, the mother gets the children to a much more degree than the father does. This in no way implies that a dad doesn't love his children-most certainly do. But most fathers have an easier time walking away from the children for a prolonged time period than a mother does.

If a child falls off the bike, the father is usually less compassionate than the mother is. He will say, "Shake it off boy. Hope you didn't bust the cement. If it's not broken then there is no reason to cry." The mother, often, will gasp and run to the aid of her child while the dad fumes and worries about his son growing up to be a momma's boy or a sissy.

I'm not advocating any of this. I'm just explaining the natural instincts that most men have in a family.

It is much easier for a dad to say 'no' to a child than it is to say 'no' to his wife. He can deal easier with the nagging of children than he does with the nagging of his wife.


The wife, in most cases, has a stronger attachment towards her children than she does for her husband. Honestly, if the house is on fire, she will only recall her husband after she has verified that her children are safe. The average mother will fight harder to keep the children than the father does in the case of a divorce.

The average mother will be more sympathetic towards her children than towards her husband. She will also have a tendency to put the children completely first in her life sometimes to the exclusion of her husband. She will worry more about her children, and, in the event of a divorce, she will often be content with just her children. She may desire to get into another relationship, but it won't be as strong as a man's.

She can find security in her children easier than her husband can.


On average, a child will be more inclined to be closer to dad than to mom. Again, this isn't always true-especially in the case of an abusive father or a strange stepfather.

But when is the last time you heard on the playground, "My mom can beat up your mom?" No, you hear, "My dad can beat up your dad!"

In many cases, the child wants to grow up and be like dad rather than mom. It certainly doesn't mean that the child doesn't love mom, it is just an instinct that I believe God has built into our children.

The emulation of a father is a stronger instinct than the emulation of a mother.


These instincts produce two separate forces within the family. These forces have immediate and lasting impact on the other parts involved. If you want to understand your family better and how it is to function, you need to understand these elements.

The two forces are:

1. Desire
2. Influence


The instincts we have create a desire that works in a circle. For example the desire in a typical family runs this way:

Husband to Wife - Mother to Children - Children to Father

Typically the husband's desire is stronger for his wife than for his children. Not that there is no desire for his children, but that the desire and need for his wife is stronger. I've rarely counseled a wife who felt jealous over the attentions her husband gave the children. I have counseled many marriages where the husband was jealous over his wife's greater attention to the children.

A mother often has a stronger desire for her children than her husband, and a child often has a stronger desire for dad than mom.

So desire runs in a circle.


Because desire runs one direction, the power of influence, by necessity, runs just the opposite. Influence within the family is strongest over the one who desires you more. It runs this way:

Wife over the Husband - Father over the Children - Children over the Mother

A wife has more influence over her husband than she does her own children. She'll have an easier time impacting his actions than the actions of her own children. Conversely, a father often has more influence over his own children than he does over his own wife.

Since the children desire dad more than mom, dad has an easier time getting them to listen and getting them to obey. Interestingly enough, there is not a single reference in the Bible where it is commanded that the mother train and teach the children in the home. It is always dad.

The children seem to have more influence over mom than dad. Not true in every case, it is certainly true in most. A child has an easier time getting mom to give in than dad. A child will be able to play off the emotional desire of mom more so that dad.


These instincts produce two forces that have dramatic influence within the family. Understanding these instincts and thus the impact these instincts have will give you a starting point to help fix problems.

Maybe dad needs to take more of a hand in the children's lives. Maybe mom needs to realize that her marriage is more important than her children-even if she puts the marriage first for the sake of her children. Maybe the parents need to get on the same page with the discipline, or the dad needs to take a more important role in the discipline. Perhaps mom shouldn't always strive to bail out her kids from dad's discipline. Maybe the wife needs to recognize the need her husband has for her. Perhaps you shouldn't let the children run the home.

I most families, it is the children who are running the show. Dad has either faded into the background, been run off by his wife, or is just too plain lazy to take an impact in the children's lives. Thus, the children who have much more influence over mom will tend to run the show. Not good.

There are many facets and angles that could be explored here.

DESIRE: Husband to Wife - Mother to Children - Children to Father

INFLUENCE: Wife over the Husband - Father over the Children - Children over the Mother

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