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Pondering just division of responsibility as a parent leads Helen Syski its application to her relationship with God.

Division of Labor gets a lot of airtime, but what is really important is Division of Responsibility (DOR). This concept promoted by Ellyn Satter has been so important for peace in our home. For example when eating, parents are responsible for the what/where/when. Kids decide whether-or-not and how much. This respects the parent’s right to guide right judgement and health, while respecting the kids’ right to listen to their body (hungry or full?) and the sacredness of their own person (force-feeding violates this). It’s amazing how they blossom as eaters when the DOR is correct.

There is nothing that disturbs peace of soul like trying to control another. When we cross or ignore healthy boundaries and force ourselves on others, relationships are strained and inner volcanoes erupt. This is because we are taking from others what God Himself gave them: free will and the right and dignity to govern their own person. Peace and order are gone when free will is not respected.

DOR is one of my most important discernment tools as a parent. Often when emotions run high, it is because the DOR is misaligned. Either I am taking on what should be their responsibility, or they are taking mine.




DOR is also an essential spiritual tool. A healthy DOR with God is essential for spiritual peace. I recently found myself very anxious over a decision I had carefully discerned, and it made me question if my discernment was faulty. When I paused to reassess, I realized the anxiety was not from faulty discernment, but rather from a faulty DOR. I wanted to have God’s responsibility- I wanted to control what happened after making the decision. Anxiety necessarily follows signing up for a job of which you are not capable!

Once I realized this and relinquished control, the peace I was seeking with the decision settled in. When we let God be God, we can rest. We can move forward with confidence in an uncertain world, knowing that the Grand Master is arranging the chess pieces, not us! We just need to move the knights and pawns to the places He tells us. And then keep listening, because the next move is coming soon!

Division of Responsibility can be applied to every relationship. It differs from Division of Labor in important ways. It places the burden of prudence, decision, and oversight to the appropriate party, but the labor can be divided however is best suited to the moment. In my family, I am responsible for everyone being fed. However, the labor can be divided between myself, my kids, and my husband (or anyone else) depending on the given day’s activities and needs.

Focusing in on DOR aids us in love. It respects freedom, which is essential to love. It allows for flexibility in labor, which is essential to care for others. Focusing on Division of Labor solely encourages a 50/50, tit-for-tat style relationship; one has to do to get, and one gets by doing. This is a surefire way to ruin marriage or any intimate relationship. Focusing on responsibility ensures that we can live 100/100, with each person refilled in the process of giving, rather than emptied by exacting transactions.

Similarly, with God, looking at DOR allows us to enter a personal relationship rather than a transactional one. Prayer is not a gumball machine. Input and output are not exact. When we respect God’s responsibility and willingly take up our own, order comes to our lives and God is active.


Click to tweet:
When we respect God’s responsibility and willingly take up our own, order comes to our lives and God is active. #catholicmom

The Division of Labor with God is a moving target. At times the labor will be largely ours and at times largely God’s. He will help us know how to divide the labor once we properly divide the responsibility. We are not meant to carry the burden of the salvation of the world, our family, or even ourselves. That is ultimately God’s. We are responsible to be His faithful workers in the Vineyard. We labor for Him; we take up our authority and use it as He gives it to us. Our hearts are at peace because we know He sees and oversees everything.



Copyright 2022 Helen Syski
Images: Canva