I’m a bit of an odd mix; a former police officer, turned teacher, turned housewife. I think being at home with my children as they grow up, but also just making a home for my family, is the best gift Ive ever received. I know this isn’t for everyone and others go their own routes. However I find it really annoying when people talk down or dismiss those of us who turn to their family to fulfil themselves rather than a career.
I was inspired to think about my role as a mother and housewife recently by a story that came up on my twitter feed. You may have heard of it. In Australia a Brisbane mother was mocked because she posted this on line, in response to other mothers discussing how they get organised.
She was met with derision; but all I could think was ‘Wow, this woman is amazing.’
So why did the tv hosts see her as foolish? Brainwashed? Downtrodden?
Well I think it was partly because the idea of a malevolent patriarchy that pervades a lot of the culture resulted with the anchors failing to see that her husband was getting up at that time. In the conversation regarding the subject he was depicted as somehow enforcing this on his wife, and his efforts to provide for his family from the early hours in the morning, until late in the evening went unrecognised.
I find it bizarre that bosses and faceless corporate entities that are disparaged a good deal as being greedy and oppressive are suddenly seen as the liberator of women. Conversely husbands providing for their families are seen as the oppressor of women. It’s a bizarre inversion of what the majority of us experience as reality.
For me though, it was a challenge. Am I this giving? Do I have such dedication to my vocation? Returning to the work analogy, I haven’t given my husband the same amount of dedication and respect that I have to bosses that I wanted a promotion from. And I’ve had some awful bosses.
So I decided that for lent I’m going to offer up my vocation as a housewife as an offering to God, ask Him to bless it and bless me and my family in the process.
So I was wondering where I could go for some bullet point advise for what to model this behaviour on. Then I remembered the Good Wife Guide.
Why the Controversial Good Wife Guide?
For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s a list of things a wife should do if she’s to exemplify the role, however the list is actually a fraud. Someone put it together to mock the stereotypical, 50s housewife. So why would I choose something that mocks what I do and use it as a basis to model my behaviour on?
When I first heard of it I was a lot younger and with a woman who identified herself as a feminist. She derided the line that recommends freshening yourself up prior to your husbands return home, particularly the line about putting a ribbon in your hair. She continued to poke fun at many other elements of the list. Two things struck me throughout this exchange.
Firstly, this was a woman who really wanted to get married. At the time my husband and I were engaged. She continued to behave with such venom and spite towards me throughout my husband and mine’s engagement and well past the wedding. The first year of marriage can be difficult, at least it was for us. She fanned the flames of every small dispute we had, to the point that it nearly burnt down our marriage. When I realised my role in this, and her role in encouraging me, and changed direction she was nasty. Demanding I annul my marriage! Really!
I knew it was based in jealousy. She had stood weeping outside of a gym class at the prospect of her next birthday and her boyfriends refusal to commit to marriage. She was scared that she was getting older and would find having children difficult. I’m British. We find public outbursts of emotion awkward. When I tried to calm her down as we were in a public setting she later chastised me for this. She chastised me for the earrings I bought her for her birthday. She belittled things that were connected to my core values.
Why do I bring all this up here? Her boyfriend was unwilling to commit to marriage because her moods were so erratic that it was making their homelife intolerable. She told me that he had been upset by her aggressive outbursts and when she said she was depressed (self diagnosis) he would try and encourage her to see a doctor. Her reason for telling me this was that she wanted me to agree with her assessment of him being in some way callously insensitive because he suggested this, that all he wanted to do was ‘fix her’. She spat these words out in a tone that condemned him for his insensitivity. All I could do is look on in silent horror as I simultaneously agreed with him whilst bracing myself for the inevitable onslaught as a result of my not favouring her. The friendship didn’t last much longer. What is the point of being a friend with someone who seems to genuinely dislike you and wants you marriage to fail, coupling all this with aggressive outbursts?
Before I continue I’d like to add that I’m no angel and my former friend was obviously very distressed. Her erratic behaviour was counterproductive to all the things she wanted, but I believe that she just couldn’t see that because she was so emerged in an ideology that coloured all the relationships around her, at the same time of poisoning them.
The other point I wanted to make was that as I read the list she showed me my immediate response wasn’t to mock it, but to think to myself that it sounded like good advice. This is the ironic thing about the Good Wife fraud. Some of the points are evidently there to vilify the traditional housewife; never question our husband, even if he stays out all night! It’s inclusions is evidence of the writers deeming women in the home as a subjugated and brainwashed. Men are, inevitably, cheaters and users. Why else would the hint of infidelity and the necessity to turn a blind eye to it? It is the facile argument of “don’t be a housewife, what if something happens and you’re left with nothing?”
Like those who would not just critique their home nation, but actively revile it, I believe that the writers of the parody couldn’t understand how to many women the Good Wife Guide is actually not offensive. So, with a certain amount of pleasure, I’m using the parody to identify what behaviour I can adopt in my own challenge.
Our marriage might be different to yours
Our marriage isn’t traditional in every sense; and I don’t think it has to be. My husband loves to cook. He will search recipes, perfect them, wonderfully present the food, watch tv shows to learn more – for him cooking is his way to unwind and express himself.
I love to decorate. I pin constantly on my account. My husband has joked our home is like my third child and that’s not entirely untrue. As he travels so much I don’t just sew and paint anymore, I’ve taken up using a power drill and even the circular saw. You see, my husband doesn’t like to decorate and it was either a choice of nagging him all the time to get lots done, or learning myself and then when I truly need his strength asking for it. That way he is still involved, but it’s not a chore and the work progresses at a speed to make me happy.
As a result my wifely vocation list reflects our marriage.
In addition my husband works from home, so evidently many of these points have to be adapted to our lifestyle.
What is the Good Wife’s Guide?
The text of the faux article is as follows:
- Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.
- Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.
- Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
- Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives. Run a dustcloth over the tables.
- During the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
- Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet.
- Be happy to see him.
- Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
- Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first – remember his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
- Don’t greet him with complaints and problems.
- Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through at work.
- Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or lie him down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.
- Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.
- Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
- A good wife always knows her place.
As I said previously, many of these aren’t shocking, their fairly normal. In any other work place, which if you’re a SAHM or a house wife the home is, this would be considered the norm!
My #tradwife version?
Warm welcomes; showing you’ve been thinking about someone and are concerned for their needs.
I’ve said this, but it bears repeating, just because I’m an advocate of the traditional housewife doesn’t mean to say that I think you have to rigorously conform to the 1950s ideal if there are good reasons to not do so. One of the reasons I want to do this is I want to give of myself and have a more harmonious domestic life.
My husband cooks. He loves to cook. He will happily fill his spare time searching for new recipes, perfecting them, presenting them beautifully. He says it destresses him. There have been occasions when he’s been driving us somewhere and he’s muttered “I should have added a little more water, that’s why it didn’t work” out of the blue. When I asked him what he was talking about it turns out he was thinking about why his stuffing hadn’t turned out perfectly the day before and it had slipped out. That’s how much he loves to cook.
Cooking is not my passion. I’ll do it, but I don’t love it. I love to decorate. For every time he’s scrolling on Pinterest for a recipe, I’m doing it for decor. When he’s reviewing his latest cooking extravagance on a journey, I’m thinking about how are house’s remodel is best going to work. You get the drift.
So why would we mould ourselves into behaviour that neither of us are satisfied with? If it was ironing, which we both hate, I’d be including it in this in a heartbeat. But if him doing the cooking and my doing the DIY gives us both joy then there’s little point in changing that.
So how do I honour my role as loving wife? As he travels a lot and works from home, when he’s here he does the cooking. I know for my husband that food means him expressing love for his family. So how can I express my love for him? I show him I appreciate it of course. When people come and he cooks I lay a nice table. But we don’t do this everyday. So I’m thinking that my version of this is to lay a beautiful table for each evening meal. It will also make evening meals more special, which is good because it’s also the time we share family news.
The other thing I can do is do the clearing up and tidying away afterwards without complaining. Particularly as my hubby is terrible at that. The cupboards are a minefield when he’s unloaded the dishwasher! I mona about his haphazard, dangerous stacking. So time for less moaning and more appreciating what he does.
I’m pretty sure the ‘put a ribbon in your hair’ was a deliberate way of communicating housewives were infantilised. When you watch old 30s, 40s and 50s movies they didn’t put ribbons in their hair. In fact girls became women at a lot younger age. They dressed as women and accepted responsibilities in their home life at a younger age too. We now live in an age where doing ‘grown up things’ isn’t a given to the extent young people jokinginly call it ‘adulting’.
But as with many mocked points in this faux guide, this is actually quite good advice. In my recent posts on the Kind Diet I talked about how my lack of contentment in the way I look and how making the decision to put make up on and do my hair nicely every day was making a change to the way I eat and think of myself. We get in ruts. Marriage and children can result in your losing a sense of yourself as a woman. And being a woman is essential to the role of wife.
As I said I’m the DIYer. I ask my husband for help on the heavy things that take more strength, but I’m the one who does these little jobs. I finish my cleaning in the morning and, if there are no errands to run, I do DIY in the afternoon. So for me it means showering (which I do anyway) and doing my make up and hair, putting on something nice and turning my mind to my family. Can you imagine doing this, preparing a beautiful table and then enjoying the home I’ve created and the food my husband’s cooked? Isn’t this a case of taking the time to smell the roses? To allow your husband to appreciate you and you him?
Being gay and interesting
Yet not just interesting, but interested.
I’ve had a terrible habit that started when my husband worked out of the house, and continues now when he’s working away. Even if it’s not the first thing we talk about, it’s at least the second – it’s problems. I’ve had a bad day with the kids. This bad thing has happened, that bad thing.
Obviously when something bad has just happened it’s good to turn to your husband for help and comfort; but are you seeking that or complaining? Ask him how his day went and then let him ask you how yours went. If you’ve had a stressful day with the kids how are you wording it? Is it all doom and gloom? Do you need to get some perspective on it? Can you tell him about it and laugh at the situation together – expressing your frustration, but not making it a crisis?
I also have a bad habit of talking about money. As I said I love to decorate, but my husband earns the money and pays the bills and I need to be more sensitive of that. When I talk about what I want to do I’m pretty sure he might just be hearing the money I want to spend!
You have to talk about money, but I’m choosing to give a night over a week to those conversations and keep the rest of our week free as much as i can from money worries. I’m intending to keep my time with my husband and family’s to enjoying them, there’s nothing my husband loves as much as engaging with his family. He’s a good man.
Clearing away the clutter
This was one point without the covert smarminess of the rest, but it makes sense right? Not only does it make for a better home environment, it enables the development of romance in an adult only space.
As hubby works form home this isn’t a ta da moment, but it’s important nevertheless. Especially as I’m a DIYer.
In terms of the children I keep a ‘quiet basket’ in the front room with colouring in and reading books. As they get in from school at 4.45 and we have dinner about 5, then bathtime at 6, with bed for my youngest at 6.30 then there is limited time for them to drag lots of toys out.
Here in France they have Wednesday, Saturday and Sundays off, this means getting them to tidy up before each mealtime, and a house walk through at 3.30. Just in time for my refresh at 4.00.
Creating a haven of rest and order
We don’t have a fire, but there are alternatives to creating a welcoming, relaxed space for you both to spend some adult time together. In winter months lighting lamps instead of overhead lights, and candles can create an inviting space. Although we don’t have a real fire we do have an Art Nouveau woodburner that’s just decorative now. I’ve filled it with fairy lights and it creates a wonderful atmosphere.
The point is to create an environment where the pressures of the day can feel a million miles away, so he can go back there refreshed the next day.
Again, irrelevant of how the writer of this faux piece intended this point, like so many of the others it’s a good point. This isn’t children being seen and not heard, it’s about creating a peaceful environment where all your family can relax before bed.
Your children need to know when it’s time to calm down so that they can prepare themselves for sleep. If they’re over excited that’s not going to happen any time soon; noisy, dramatic tv programmes, screen time, exciting games – this won’t help the bed time routine and won’t make for a peaceful evening for anyone,
We don’t have tv on school nights; their quiet basket, books, or calm activities like knitting or puzzles allow for a smooth transition between play and bedtime. Soft music playing in the background, or an audio book helps them and the household.
My husband, and myself, love our children. Nobody wants shouting matches before bed, so creating an environment for this helps everyone in the family.
Being happy to see him
As my husband works from home at first glance this can be a bit of a challenge. However when he works away there’s a wonderful opportunity to make him feel special. I must confess I’m in the habit of mainly handing the phone over straight to the children for facetime; it’s all connected with my lack of confidence of how I look. Why would he want to look at and talk to me? Genuinely, that’s how I feel sometimes. My poor husband really hasn’t done anything to encourage that thinking though.
So what if I took time to look nice for these phone calls? To text throughout the day as if we were still courting? We’re married nearly fifteen years now. How many bad habits have slipped in that undermine romance?
Warm smiles and being sincerely pleasing
I can be so snappy. Not just to my husband, but to my children as well. Soemtimes I here my daughter talking to her little sister and, to my shame, it’s an unintentional caricature of my voice. It doesn’t sound pleasant.
I can also begrudge the work I do in the home and get grumpy there’s not praise or people don’t appreciate it. It’s not wrong to say that people should be considerate of the work others do, nor is it wrong to think that people should notice the work of others and be thankful. However I don’t know if I always demonstrate the behaviour I want to receive. Again, this may be a faux list, but it’s not wrong.
Don’t greet him with complaints and problems
I’ve touched on this earlier, this is in response to the repetition of the Good Wife’s Guide. However it can bear repeating. I want to spend evenings with my husband in calm, peace and companionship. There are enough stresses. So setting an evening aside a week for joint problem solving unless there’s an urgent need for it. In the meantime we can enjoy our time together.
Understand work commitments
I’m going to re-quote the Good Wife Guide here;
Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through at work.The Good Wife Guide
Can you see how the author has subtlety stoked resentment. It’s the same technique the snake uses in the garden. It starts with a lie, God says you’re not allowed to eat any fruit in the garden. When Eve corrects him he lies, God says it because if you eat of this fruit you will know the difference between good and evil and you will become like gods.
In this they put the lie first, to really stoke that anger. Don’t complain if he stays out all night. Of course any reader of this is going to assume that the husband in this article is cheating, as the article is generalised it infers all men are cheaters. Those poor saps, those SAHMs, the housewives. This is another version of the “Dont be at home, what if he leaves you and your left with nothing?” lines.
The second way they stoke resentment is the author themselves infers that you’re work is viewed as lesser than a man’s. The majority of men who support their wives at home don’t think this. There are an awful lot of women and men who espouse equality who do – that tv show mocking that Brisbane mum was an example of that.
Let’s rewrite that line wihout the lie at the begining.
It’s difficult when your husband is late home for dinner and it may interrupt your plans. However notice how tired he is when he gets in from work. He’s doing this to provide for your family.
My husband has to travel all the time for work. There is always a side of me that feels like he has freedom when he’s away and I’m “left with the kids”. Apart from the fact that sounds so ungrateful in terms of being blessed with our children, it ignores the fact that he misses us all so much when he’s away. He may have some more freedom, it’s true. However he works hard for us, and I can often see the stress of a breadwinner on his face. He talks about it at times too, but not so much as he wants to protect me.
So for me the target is to let him know how I’ll miss him, to make sure he has plenty of opportunities for FaceTime with the kids, that I don’t nag how tough it’s been without him, but I let him know that I appreciate all he does.
FYI for those who agree with how hilarious the Good Wife Guide is, how men are the enemy; well he does this for me most of the time too.
Taking care of his comfort
Again, the enmity betwen a husband and wife is being stoked in the next part;
Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.The Good Wife Guide
This conjures up images of a loving wife as some kind of harem maid doesn’t it? Whereas look at this 1950s film footage proposing how families, husbands and wives, should behave. Notice how everyone considers the needs of others.
So this links back to my first point, making mealtimes and extending into the evening a relaxed an contented environment.
Being his helpmate
Again, look how this is worded to undermine the housewife;
Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.The Good Wife Guide
It’s almost a repeat of that tv programme mocking the Brisbane mum isn’t it, but presented as if it was the advice of the time. It’s a faux reality they’ve liberated us from – which means the liberation is fake too.
In reality if you’ve chosen wisely in your husband it’s because you respect him, not because you are compelled to. This doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions – and asking questions doesn’t mean you are judging him or his integrity. As women we see things differently to men, and sometimes us offering a helpful ear to our husbands to enable them to make good decisions.
Imagine the same writer offering advice on how to deal with a bosses decisions; would they recommend never offering opinions? Or would they recommend you offer opinions and then work as a team trying to create a positive outcome? Would they encourage you to ignore your bosses wishes? Suggest that he does so due to a lack of integrity, or your following his lead means you’re a lesser person?
Let’s face it, when you know this is a fake, you know that the design of the writer is to make you distrust men in general, and husbands in particular. You know they would never give sarcastic advice, designed to encourage you to undermine your boss and create an atmosphere of bitterness and hostility. They would encourage you to seek to work productively to showcase your talents and ensure a good outcome for the business as a whole.
So the advice here should be to listen, offer suggestions when asked for them, to work productively, politely point out areas where you can see that there may be trouble ahead that your husband may not have, to continue in your role so as to benefit the whole organisation (in this case the marriage and family). To do all of this is a pleasant manner. It’s not shocking in a workplace and it’s not shocking in a homelife. We all submit to someone.
Knowing your place
I know my place. It’s here, in my home. Raising my children. Making a warm and pleasant home. Loving my husband. Contributing to society by encouraging my children to be developed, well rounded people.
This is my outline of how I’m going to improve in this.