Every once in a while I do google search for “Good Wife”. I really enjoy just reading what people think being a good wife entails and how that works itself out in the real world of day to day marriages. It is also funny to stumble on the different humorous takes on the very idea of being a good wife. In some circles it seems that even asking the question, “what should I do to be a good wife?”, is going to make the fur fly. Take Minette Marrin “the Good Wife is an Old Fashioned Realist“, the article is interesting, the comments are at times painful. They make me question the reading comprehension skills of a good number of the commenters.
Marrin lays out a very straightforward and pretty solid point: “One hard fact a would-be wife has to face � and I was absolutely horrified to realise this myself � is that it�s not possible for a married couple to have two demanding jobs and children and a good relationship. Something has to give. ” This is a point that seems lost on the detractors in the comments as they are too busy having conniption fits over the idea that a woman is advising other women to step away from the work-force and concentrate on their marriages and childrearing while they have young children. Or at least to think about it. One would suppose that in a world where divorce teeters at near 50% and adultery is more and more common that it would be pretty obvious that marriage, for many people, is failing. There are many complex societal reasons behind this but the stress of two career parenting is certainly one of them.
If the couple decides that one of them staying home (and yes, dear sisters, usually that means the mom) to raise the children and keep the home is what they are going to do to help reduce that stress then how that plays out is important. We have done it both ways. Both Kyle and I have taken a turn at the stay at home parent thing while the other worked. The fact that he did it for a year and a half and I have done it for seven speaks volumes. It wasn’t just that he felt very boxed in at home, but I felt wretched working while my little ones were home with dad. So I stay home, he works. Other couples might find other arrangements suit them better. This works for us. As long as I am going to be home I want to be good at it.
It is kind of sad to me how often the question, “How do I be a good wife?”, is all but scoffed at. Several years ago I was a member of a homemaking board where I was pretty active on the “messy” forum. (I will admit to being a complete failure at housekeeping.) At one point the conversation turned to the question of what husbands do around the house. Many of the members felt that it was unfair that their husbands came home from work and then didn’t do so very much to help out. I made the mistake of commenting that, since my husband put in a full eight hours of work (usually more) at the office plus the commute, I didn’t really feel right asking him to do any housework unless I had put in that much time at home during the day. I think how I actually put it was “When I put in eight hours of solid housework here per day then I will think of asking him to do more.” You would have thought that I was advocating that women great their men at the door in lace teddies and high-heels, martinis in hand, purring like a kitten, with a five course meal waiting on the table and only saying, “yes dear”, the rest of the evening. Were the other women on the board upset because of how many hours they put in compared to their husbands? No, they had all admitted to being rather slack while at home, daytime TV was a favorite topic of conversation, as well as the obvious time some of them spent online. They were offended at the very idea of putting their husbands wants and pleasure as a priority… or even just cutting a tried guy some slack at the end of the day. Needless to say that sort of soured me on that particular board.
The instant “what the husband wants” is put forward as a topic some women will rabidly grab that and start getting worked up about “Who is concerned about what I want?” Any relationship where two people are worried more about what they are getting out of the relationship then what they are putting in is doomed. But all it takes when there are two decent people and a modicum of affection is for one person to start saying, “What can I do to make you happy?” and that can change everything. But that isn’t a popular sentiment and certainly not one you read in the Times very often. So I was delighted to see Minette Marrin give voice to the question. One of my favorite quotes from her article is:
- “When you want to please your child, or your lover, you think hard about what might make them happy and then do it. It�s not a chore, or even if it is that hardly matters; it�s an act of love or of loyalty. Yet strangely, in marriage this obvious motivational technique seems to wither away with the wedding flowers. Women are convinced it is their right not to have sex when they don�t feel like it, and it is a man�s duty to wash up, though he hates it � and so it is, of course. But that�s not the point. Granny was right; never say no, and never nag. “
Anyone can clean a house, cook a meal or change a baby. But it is love that makes it homemaking. While “putting out”, cleaning-up and cooking are the most oft listed items on the list of a “Good Wife’s Duties” the real gem is love and service. When we serve those we love the service is light, easy and a pleasure. I hate cleaning up, but if I am cleaning up because I know it will delight my husband when he gets home and I love him then it become a weird pleasure. It is all in the motivation.
Yes, I probably did my career irrevocable harm by staying home to take care of the kiddos. And yes there are times when I am here pulling my hair out wondering what the heck I was thinking when I signed up for this. But I also wouldn’t change it. I have a great deal of liberty to order my life in a way that suits me. I very much enjoy being here with my children and watching them grow and guiding their learning and it is my husband who makes that possible by going out and working. We have chosen the traditional arrangement and it works for us. If I was focusing just what worked for me, what brought me personally the most satisfaction, I might have chosen differently at first. Because I liked working. I like the praise and the pay and those tangible rewards. But there is more to “us” than “me” and probably the most short sighted thing I could have done would have been to make “me” a higher priority than “us”. Because, while I enjoyed working, I enjoy this life so very much more.