07 August 2013

A Good Wife

The other day, I cleaned the kitchen after breakfast, did the laundry, took out the trash, and fed Little Bear when he was hungry. We made the trek across town to feed my parents' dog and water their garden. When we got home, Little Bear and I played in the living room until he wanted to eat, and he fell asleep on my lap for three and a half hours. And as soon as Matt got home from work, I started apologizing for being such a terrible wife.

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...


  1. I have discovered through trial and error that Scott aspires to have exactly two things in life in order to be a perfectly happy man:

    1. Food. I don't even have to COOK dinner. I just have to have an answer ready when he comes home after work and says "What's for dinner?" As long as I know, I can then curl up in front of the computer while HE cooks it. (This happened a lot in the first trimester, but not going to lie...it's happened a lot of other times too.)

    2. A wife who doesn't cry. He reeeally doesn't like it when I get myself all worked into a state because we're supposed to be doing THIS and why aren't we and EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE. 'Cause in his world, we have dinner and each other and everything else will work itself out. (On the Myers-Briggs we're an INTJ and INTP respectively. Can you guess which is which?)

    All of that is a long way of saying that I identify very much with this post.

    1. Oh, thank you... It's good to know that I'm not the only one! I'm pretty sure we score the same way on the Meyers-Briggs, although Matt seems to be on the fence between Introvert and Extrovert.