My friend looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face.
“What do you mean, ‘work’ on your marriage?”
We were sitting over two rabbit plates at a home-style restaurant, and I was telling her about my current aspirations. They are the same ones I initially listed on my “about” page: write my memoir and become a better wife.
My friend was confused at the pledge to work on the marriage because, in her eyes, she didn’t see a point.
“I mean, I told *Bill what you said about working on your marriage, and we wondered what that meant. We’re both happy with the way things are, and putting ‘work’ into the marriage just seems like too much, well, work.”
It was my turn to be surprised. Who wouldn’t want to work on their marriage? Isn’t that a societal value?
Not necessarily. But I thought it was one of mine. Why, then, do I find myself annoyed at having to cook and clean? Perturbed when 6 a.m. comes and it’s time to make breakfast? Indignant that he should expect me to help with the garden? Angry when he says I’m too caught up in my writing, not attentive enough to him?
Why do I resent all these duties so much?
At first I was going to blame it on the role confusion that modern women have faced ever since the woman’s movement. And perhaps it does have something to do with what the feminist journalist Anne Taylor Fleming called “the two out of three rule”—where “a woman can have only two out of three big pieces of life: love, work, children” (from her book Motherhood Deferred, p. 84). (For my perfectionist personality, though, some days it seems I’m running more at a one in three rule.)
Probably due to feminist conditioning, I’ve said before that it’s just not enough for a woman to stay at home and be a housewife. She needs a career, too, doesn’t she?
But even though I’m not immune to it, this line of thought bugs me. Along with Anne Taylor Fleming, I agree with Doctor Laura (in her book Parenthood by Proxy) that much of the modern family breakdown is due to women working—who’s standing ready at the door to smooth the rough edges of everyone’s day? And let me just say that I think either man or woman could do it—the thing is, simply, someone needs to. And I think this is noble work. For other women.
So why not for myself?
The Real Problem Isn’t Feminism
When I step back to observe my excuses to hubby about why I hate housework, here’s what I hear myself saying, over and over again.
- I’m afraid to put time into our home, because what if something happens to us? What if you die on me? (He says I’m always trying to “kill him off”—I say I’m just being a realist.)
- If you died, I’d be left with a big house I’d want to sell, a garden I wouldn’t want to tend—all stuff that would have amounted to nothing.
- If you die, I need to have skills to fall back on. I need to be able to get a job to support myself. That’s why I needed to get a BA and an MA, and boy I’m glad I got some teaching experience, too.
- I’m afraid I’ll put all this time into our home, and then it will crumble. And then I’ll have nothing to show for it.
- The only investment I feel safe making is an investment in myself—because people die and leave and let you down, but you always have yourself. I need to have a plan if things go south.
- I’m just afraid, okay?
Wow. Those are some deep roots. It came to me as a huge revelation the day I wrote down “trust issues” in my prayer journal. The days I connected all my over-planning and uptightness and performance to trust issues. Fear issues. Self-protection issues.
I know what it feels like to be helpless. Alone. Out of options. And I don’t want to go there again.
That’s why, after so many gains, I still find myself hoarding my time, my energy, my resources (which could otherwise be spent housecleaning), for self-improvement. Apparently I anticipate being left to fend for myself again someday.
I find it sad that after walking with the Lord for several years, I still don’t trust Him enough to give of myself fully to others. I wish I were more open and loving and warm. But honestly, most of the time, that feels too vulnerable of a position to be in.
I wonder if my girlfriend has some of these same roots, too. Is fear the reason why she resists “working” on her marriage? Fear that it will divert precious energy from building a fortress of self-sufficiency to sustain her when (she must unconsciously think) one day, she will be left out in the cold?
Stepping back for the bigger picture, I wonder, is this the reason that women in our society collectively have renounced housewifery, and largely motherhood, as their sole profession and duty in life?
Have we all been so hurt that we feel this need to gird ourselves about with skills and experience and knowledge for the impersonal workplace, where we don’t have to lay our hearts on the line, only our time—and though the workplace may not fulfill our deepest longings for companionship and family, they at least recompense our time with money—the means by which to sustain our physical necessities and our plastic smiles?
Readers, do you think I’m on to something, or is it just me I’m describing? Or, if you’re not excited to analyze this trend, what do you see yourself (or the women in your life) working toward: family, or career? Please leave me a comment and let me know!
I think I felt the same way you did, but something came to me one day when I was reading about all the people thinking the world would end this past December. I kept thinking… what if the “world as we know it” ended? All of our modern conveniences, a relatively safe society, etc. What would I do then? Would my career path help anyone? Probably not. I then started thinking about the things in my life, right now, that I could work on that would be helpful in a world where my job isn’t necessary. Cooking, cleaning, gardening… all the sudden those things seemed like they were a lot less wasteful to be spending time on. Parenting, of course – but I’ll never stop that, probably even when they’re 40 🙂 I don’t know if this adds anything to your thoughts, but it’s what came to mind after reading your post. I better stop now or I’ll have a blog-post length comment, haha!
Hi Kristina! Yes, this does add to my thoughts. Putting things into a “world ending” scenario really helps put things into perspective, and I will be thinking about this more over the coming days. I guess maybe I know what I want deep down, but I’m just having to work through all the little naysayers in my head and in society. It does help to hear the wisdom of other women who have grappled with these same issues…which makes me think I need to do a little more listening, not just to my hubby, but to peers and others who can tell me some things I don’t know (haven’t yet figured out) about my quandaries. Thanks for stopping by! I will check out what you’re up to!
Wow, I’m impressed. You hit several nails on the head here, and I’m excited to find another Christian blogger who writes well. I’m subscribing!
Thanks so much for the compliment! I am excited that you’re following, and look forward to reading more of your blog, as well!
This has been a struggle for me too. While going to college (whose motto was bringing up leaders) and working as a nanny for a lawyer and CEO bank exec family, it was easy for me to think and believe that careers, status, money was all of utmost importance. Looking back, I realize this family had two amazing kids that were more like hobbies than a family.
As a senior in college, my advisor was encouraging me to go straight back to school and get my doctorate. This felt good to hear and kind of tickled my ears.
Then I met Tyler. His family (immediate?) Was SO different. Not really a priority to go to school, stay home and help on the farm until their spouse came around. I felt odd and somewhat embarassed to show up in my nine piercings, two tattoos, painted toenails, with two degrees. There was nothing wrong with the way they lived, more like refreshing in some ways, but I felt too different.
These two drastic cultures have caused me to really search myself. I grew up in something between those two, so I felt I had to pull one way or the other. Neither seemed me or really the ideal way.
Once I had kids, however, everything changed. How can life not be changed? By God’s grace, I am caring less and less at how people perceive “my status.” I am with my son at home. Raising him. I can’t but help let my mind wander to when l reach heaven, what things are really going to matter and reach into eternity…will it matter that I finished that big project at work? Worked overtime to get things done to impress my boss? Or what about when my son verbalizes his first prayer or learns a valuable life lesson…
I could go on. I think what you are feeling is good and healthy. Too many people do all brainlessly because they think it is the thing to do and miss out on what’s most important…keep searching. Keep asking. And keep surrendering your fears.
Manda, so good to hear from and connect with you! Yes, I think it is Tyler’s IMMEDIATE family that is SO different…as a first cousin, I don’t seem to share in some of his family’s blessings (but then, there are always others).
And in my case, it was also a college professor who told me, “Go from your bachelor’s degree straight into your master’s, and don’t stop ’til you have your doctorate, or else you’ll get sidetracked with babies and things” (a paraphrase, but pretty close). So many confusing messages for young women these days!
I am inspired by your down-to-earth revelations of daily life with your family, and it is something I know my heart is aspiring to…but yes, it will continue to take some searching and prayer and surrender. By God’s grace, we are all moving in the right direction! I always look forward to reading your writing!
Wow, I can really relate with a lot of what you wrote here. I feel like in a perfect world, almost every woman would want all three of those big pieces of life. Heck, I know I do! But even if fear wasn’t a factor, I wonder if we would even have time to give each of those things an equal place in our lives. Life moves so fast and is so unpredictable that it feels like we have to choose just one sometimes — and the logical choice is the career. I feel ashamed to admit it, but I worry all the time what I would do if my husband died. It’s a terrifying thing to be so vulnerable. We’d be left with all these bills, all this space, all these things.
As for me, I definitely have deep abandonment issues. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I feel like I’m the only one I can truly rely on, like you said. From what I hear, a lot of my female friends seem to feel this way too. Everything you know could come crashing down and you’ll be the one who has to pick up the pieces.
But I hate it. My husband always tells me I’m too hard on myself. I know one of the reasons I want a career so badly is because I don’t want to have to rely on him to support me. It’s scary to be so vulnerable. Honestly though, I want to work to be more vulnerable. I truly feel in my heart that every woman who letting fear control her can stand to let go of that and relax. Allow ourselves to trust in our husbands support, in our Higher Power’s power, and just trust in life itself. What if everything did come crashing down? We’d still be here just like we were yesterday. Yes, it would be stressful and upsetting, but we would get through it. All the women I know are stronger than they believe they are. It would be hard, but we would get through it, no matter what point our career is at and how much work we put into it, because we have our friends, our family, and our Higher Power.
I agree. I want to be everything all at once. But I always seem to be lacking in one of the three in some way. It sounds so childish but I always say that I want everything. Be a hard worker (earn my own way), be a good mother and be content in my marriage (keeping in mind that it’s both our jobs to work on this one even though he seems to forget that sometimes 😉
And I do agree with you about protecting yourself and not prioritizing housework so much. Thank you for writing this post. It’s so hard to describe the way I feel and you’ve done it.
Tina, great to have your voice added to the conversation! Truly it gets maddening trying to be everything and everyone at once. How did we women ever get into this far-too-common bind? At least we can commiserate our commonalities!
Ren, thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. It’s amazing to find out how so many of us women have the same fears. Thanks for being vulnerable enough to share yours (which do sound a lot like mine!). You are right that in this fast-moving world, wherein we never seem to have enough time, career does seem the logical choice. SEEMS that way. But as another commenter and you pointed out, what if everything just came crashing down? That is making me rethink my priorities. Sometimes we just don’t know how strong we are until tested, but on the other hand, sometimes I’d rather not find out how strong I am if it means being tested! In the end though, I am working on that trust in the Lord daily, and trying to get the knowledge from my head to my heart that it will all be okay, no matter what happens.
Hi Lindsey, I like how you’ve captured the desires and fears of the modern woman. How did that Proverbs 31 woman keep it all together anyway? I struggled myself with the fear of my husband “getting killed off”, we even got life insurance to ease the fear of the unknown (I say this lightheartedly in jest because it didn’t help). He’s a pilot for anyone who knows what that’s like…
Anyway, recently I came upon a lesson on Suffering, by John Piper, where he teaches on the life of Job. It was difficult at first to jump the mental hurdle that God is ALWAYS in control of EVERYTHING and has a purpose in everything, especially with all the contradicting messages out there (How can God let natural disasters happen for example). We know it in our minds but not always in our hearts.
As I continually trust my Heavenly Father, the fear of being alone or not having any income loses its grip to control me; it loses its power. This frees me to serve God wholeheartedly in whatever he asks of me–to love others and walk in obedience.
Wish I could say that learning the lesson made my fears go away permanently, I suppose peace comes not in the absence of concern but as a result of trust in a sovereign God. (perhaps how the Proverbs 31 woman survived…?)
Thanks for liking my post! I will definitely be following your blog. Thanks for your openness and honesty; it is a refreshing find.
Ashley, what an encouraging comment! Thanks for taking time to put these thoughts to screen for my benefit! It helps to know other women struggle with the same things…and I can’t imagine being married to a pilot! You must be a brave woman!
Yes, that trust in the Heavenly Father is the weapon against fear, and the Proverbs 31 woman certainly must have had a good bit…but you are right: even when we take steps to trust Him, we still can battle fear. Definitely a growing process. God bless you in your own journey. I appreciate the follow!
I’m not coming from the same sort of social set up as you, but it seems to me if you’re looking for fulfilment in a marriage, it has to be a marriage of equals. It isn’t up to the husband to make the wife feel guilty about wanting something else, children are a joint venture, so is keeping a house clean. Both husband and wife owe it to one another to make sure the other is happy and satisfied. If you get fulfilment out of writing, write. If he thinks it’s more important to keep the bathroom clean, then he cleans the bathroom. Then everybody’s happy. Easy. Just needs a bit of love and understanding on both sides.
Thanks so much for lightening me up about this! The picture of my husband cleaning the bathroom made me chuckle! Truth is, my dirty meter always fills up before his, so I’m usually the one that folds to do the cleaning first. But you are right–love and understanding is what we need. Think I’ll do a post soon about not trying to live up to the standards of other people when we are meant to excel at different things. I’ve decided I’m just not that star housekeeper/homemaker, and that’s okay.
My response to your post ended up so long that I turned it into a post of my own! Let me know what you think: http://meljustme.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/world-view-vs-biblical-view-marriage/
Thanks Mel! I responded on your blog. Boy, this post is sure raising some long responses…must be that quite a few women have grappled with these issues, too!
It is a very “timely” topic (which is kind of ironic considering how old the Bible is) 😀