A good wife would never let you come home to such a messy house... A good wife would have cleaned the grill and trimmed the grass around the front step that the mower always misses... A good wife would have supper underway and a drink waiting when you get home... A good wife would time the child's naps better... A good wife would do everything perfectly all of the time, and I'm so sorry I'm such a bad wife.
Where does this come from? Matt has never, ever, asked me to do any of those things; never, ever, expressed disappointment, even nonverbally, about the state of the house or my progress (or lack thereof) on dinner, or anything else I do. He frequently tells me that I have the harder job, and that he's so appreciative of everything I do to keep the household running. He isn't the one piling expectations on me; I'm doing it to myself.
It's so easy to see that everything isn't perfect, and interpret that as a direct personal failure. Instead of seeing toys on the floor, I see my failure to keep the room neat. Instead of saying that dinner will be a little late because the meat didn't thaw as quickly as I expected, I say that I failed to plan properly and won't be able to have the meal on the table when the clock displays some arbitrary number. Little Bear isn't having a fussy day; I'm failing to do my job of keeping him happy while accomplishing everything else. And even if I'm at the end of my rope with the child, and the house, and the heat, and freelance deadlines, of course I will encourage my husband to go do something fun with his friends in the evening, because a good wife wouldn't be feeling overwhelmed right now, so I shouldn't ask him to stay home.
When--and how--did the '50s-housewife caricature that modern feminists love to hate become my image of a good wife? Not even a perfect wife, but just good? From the fact that I compare myself at my worst to other women at their best, yes, but I think even more than that, it ultimately comes from the mantra you hear so often among moms--particularly homeschooling moms, it seems--who are so bent on 'doing it right': "Mary is the perfect model of a wife and mother."
Please don't tell me that I should want to be more like Mary. I know that I should be more like Mary; I spent four years at college hearing that at least once a day on campus, I hear it all the time online, and from other moms in person. I tell myself that I need to be more like Mary all. the. time. But Mary was perfect, y'all. Perfect. And I'm not. I am sooooooo far from being perfect... and I think that's where this "good wife" problem comes in:
Being more like Mary is the ultimate goal, but because she's perfect and I am so far from perfect, I need to become a "good" wife and mother before I can aspire to being a "perfect" one. Which means (in my head, mind you) that Mary isn't the right role model right now; she's too far beyond me, too unattainably perfect. I need some intermediate goal, an intermediate role model. Enter the 1950s housewife: cheerful, loving, organized, pretty, a good cook. If the vast majority of women sixty years ago could do it, and I have so many labor-saving devices they didn't (a dishwasher, for crying out loud!), surely there's no reason I can't at least meet that ideal. My mother still does, every single day. And once I've solidly mastered this ideal of a "good wife," I can start working toward being more like the perfect wife, Mary.
But I can't, and I don't understand why, and it frustrates me... while my husband gets frustrated that I'm even trying, when all he wants is to come home to a minimally-chaotic house and a minimally-stressed wife.
And I'm sure that Mary always had dinner ready on time, too. But maybe her Child didn't spend the hour before Joseph came in for dinner clinging to her knees and fussing...