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Tales of a 1950s housewife


Sometimes I feel like the last surviving 1950s housewife.  I iron my husband’s shirts.  I pack him a sandwich every day.  I make every meal, wash every dish, do all the laundry, scrub all the toilets, change (almost) all the diapers.  My husband works and drops our big boy off at school and comes home and lets the little ones climb all over him.  I love my life.

I really do!  This division of labor works because I genuinely like it.  Okay—I don’t always like making the sandwich, but I do like how it saves us money so we can do other fun things I do like.  I don’t really like changing (almost) all the diapers, but I am the one at home most of the time so it makes sense.  I don’t love scrubbing the toilets. . . okay, sometimes I actually DO like scrubbing the toilets if it means I have a minute of quiet in the bathroom while my husband wrestles the boys.  Brian has offered to hire someone to come help with cleaning, but I’m just too cheap and self-conscious to think that would mean anything relaxing or helpful in my life.

I remember at one point dragging my husband into the kitchen to squash a large bug for me.  He reminded me that I am an actual adult and fully capable of squashing my own bugs.  I reminded him that if I wanted to squash my own bugs I would have stayed single.  This birthed the expression in our marriage, “I didn’t get married to squash my own bugs.”  This has been said many times from both of us, i.e. “I didn’t get married to have to drag the trashcan to the curb.” (from me)  “I didn’t get married to have to pretreat my own stains.”  (from him)  So yeah, we’re pretty 1950s.

There are moments of discontent for me when I see how other couples divide up labor.  This husband does the dishes.  That husband loves to cook.  I see dads at the park with the kids by himself.  I see other arrangement where men are being more “helpful” and sometimes that makes me get a little grumpy with how things run around here.

I also have to balance this perspective by having a conversation with my mom.  She talks about my dad never once changing a diaper, I can’t imagine him preparing food beyond pouring his own cereal, and I honestly can’t remember a time where my dad watched us while my mom went out.  Like, not once.  It probably happened, but I don’t remember it. . .and I think even saying “it probably happened” is a little generous.  My mom went out, but my older sister always watched us or it happened while we were at school or at a friend’s.  My mom said she felt those things were all her responsibility and she loved figuring out how to balance it all.

So which of these arrangements is ideal?  Whatever one works for you and your family.

There are times I realize something that’s become a habit in our marriage doesn’t work anymore.  There was a time when I could get our kids ready for church without any help, but at this point I really need my husband to come zip a jacket and tie a shoe so we can get somewhere on time.  Could he always have been helping?  Yes, but I really did enjoy getting them ready on my own.  It was a fun challenge.  We’re still working the kinks out of our morning routine that seems overly heavy on me, but needs to account for his pre-work preparations.  I don’t like how often Brian isn’t able to eat dinner with us because he was late leaving the office, but I do appreciate how he does bedtime with the kids on those nights.  It’s not a perfect system yet, but it works.

I don’t think every system is created equally.  When we try to find what “works” for us, it can’t necessarily just be the path of least resistance.  I can see how the division of labor my mom and dad worked out did work for them, but I think we kids lost out in not getting to have quality time with my dad and not seeing him in a nurturing roll.  I think that’s something the women of my generation are passionate about providing for our children.  It is important to me that my kids get to spend time with their daddy.  Even if my husband is tired or has nights where he’s working late, we work really hard to be sure that happens.  While I may think I know best how to give the kids their baths or fix my daughter’s hair, I want to give my husband an opportunity to bond with them in their daily rituals.

So I’m happy to be the last 1950s housewife. . . with a few modifications.  A little help here and there and a husband who is genuinely engaged with his kids feels like progress.  I have learned that when you strip away the romance and social pressure, marriage is essentially a partnership.  It has to have give and take from both people and will always have it’s strengths and weaknesses.  Whether that means your marriage is a 50/50 arrangement of labor and childcare or more of a 1950s arrangement, if it works for you and your family you’re doing it right.

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  1. Our partnership definitely isn’t 1950s and it’s fluid depending on how much I’m working outside of the house. I’m also blessed with a husband who enjoys cooking when he has time! As the only female and two boys in the house, I want to be certain that they will be able to carry on tasks including dishes, laundry and cooking when they leave our house. Do you have any worries that at some point your boys will revolt when they realize Dad doesn’t do dishes for example? Maybe those feelings are greater for me because I’m the outnumbered gender in my household.

    • Salena, I try to phrase it that we each have a job to do in our house. The boys already know how to do laundry and we’ve talked about how that’s their contribution to the family. They haven’t brought up that Dad doesn’t help with laundry, but they also know that his contribution to the family is going to work, doing the yard work, taking out the trash, etc. They see him involved in how the house runs, so they don’t think it’s odd that they have to help out, too. I do think it’s important for them to know how to take care of themselves, so we’ll intentionally teach them how to handle those tasks and Brian is very capable of handling those things when I’m away or sick, but I think it’s also okay for them to know when/if they get married they can divide up those tasks in whatever way works for them.

  2. Perhaps I’m feeling overly sensitive today but I don’t feel like I should stay quiet and let this one fester so here goes.
    Did you at all consider how the tone of this article would sound to those moms who have to work outside the home? Because quite frankly to me it smacks of gloating. I would love to do all the cleaning and pack lunches for my husband but I also enjoy keeping the lights on and food in the cupboard so I work outside the home. I am sincerely happy for you that your family can afford the luxury of staying home, but not everyone is able to and your perception of other people’s relationships seems skewed by your experience. Perhaps the husbands in those other marriages are doing the dishes because mom works full time and can’t physically do everything? For many women working outside the home is not a choice, it’s just what has to be done to survive.

    • Rebecca, you know I love you and in that spirit I reread this post to try and see where you’re coming from. I’m still not sure I understand, which may very well be because I’ve only lived my life experience. I’m totally fine with being wrong and needing to rethink things if you can help me understand what’s coming across as offensive to you. I also know that in an 800 word post it’s going to be pretty impossible to accurately reflect every wife and mother’s life experience, so in my scratching the surface on a particular topic there’s the inadvertent possibility to offend.
      It may be what feels like gloating was actually some element of defensiveness in my heart. I take some social heat for being a college educated woman who doesn’t “work” and for having a husband who manages to avoid most domestic tasks. My hope was to explain that it works for our family even if it isn’t what everybody is comfortable with. I don’t feel it’s degrading of me, even though there’s this stereotype of “housewife” that would imply otherwise. And there are absolutely days I remember fondly what it was like to work outside of the house. I am not in the business of idealizing what it means to stay-at-home. I’m thankful for that opportunity, but it comes at a price both personally and financially.
      I hope you also read me saying that I know that’s not how every family works. You do what’s best for your family and I know for your situation right now that means you both work and take turns with domestic responsibilities. I have total respect for how you guys are balancing that and the lengths you’ve gone to to be the ones providing primary care for your child and caring well for each other in your marriage. In marriages whether you’re a single income or dual income family there has to be a division of labor. The statistics show that even when both people are working outside the home the women tend to also take on the majority of the domestic tasks. It’s all about trade-offs and priorities and we have reasons why we take on the tasks we do. That applies equally to working and stay-at-home moms.

  3. This post cracks me up because I know I’ve given Maralee (and Brian by extension) a hard time on more than one occasion. I don’t iron if I can help it and I certainly don’t offer to iron–those of you who know my husband know why that seems particularly mean of me. My husband also scrubs the toilets and cleans all the floors. I don’t love to cook and—true confession time here—my family thanks me with joy when I prepare eggs and hash browns for dinner. Clearly I’ve set the bar low.

    My point in all this is to say that I love what you wrote, Maralee, about everyone’s balance looking different. Even though I give you a hard time about it, I understand that the balance in our marriages looks different from home to home. (I truly hope no one thinks you are giving a “how-to” in this post—obviously you don’t present this column with that attitude!) What works in my house won’t work in yours, and what works in your house won’t work in the other Rebecca’s. And that’s cool, right, ladies?

    God has gifted us all in different ways. He provides for us all in different ways. One family may have a blessing of seven children, while another family has the blessing of greater financial freedom. I think the true challenge comes in being grateful for what we’ve got. At least I know that’s the challenge of my own heart.

    • One more thing… I think the only time the term “housewife” makes sense is behind 1950’s. So kudos to you on using it wisely and please note how I will NEVER call myself a housewife. 😉

  4. I often say the same line to myself in my head – “I think I must be the last 1950s housewife.” But you know – it’s what I choose! And most of the time, it’s what I enjoy.
    I am also very blessed to be married to a man who, at the moments where I burn out and realize I’m not enjoying it, jumps in no questions asked and takes over a job here and there until I regroup.
    It’s what works for us!

  5. My favorite lines of this post: “When we try to find what “works” for us, it can’t necessarily just be the path of least resistance.” and “I have learned that when you strip away the romance and social pressure, marriage is essentially a partnership. It has to have give and take from both people and will always have it’s strengths and weaknesses.”

    Working together to make the best situation for your family at this present time in your family life is the key! Thanks for sharing – and for pointing out that everyone’s family needs are unique to them.

    Keep on keepin’ on! 🙂

  6. Its a good point about not comparing with other couples. I never realized how I do that: i grumble to myself about doing all the dishes and dont even consider how willing my hubby is to watch the kids for any length of time while I go out for errands or refreshment or whatever. All husbands and wives are different, and You’re really right, there’s no benefit that comes from comparing (especially comparing husbands!) Thanks for the encouragement!

  7. I love my husband but I have to say he did a whole lot more around the house before we had children. When we first got married he would make dinner quite often. He would clean and do his own laundry. For a few months after I had our daughter, he would help around the the house but once I went back to work I found that his offers to help became further and further apart. I quit my job in July of last year because I felt like I had 3 full time jobs – my job which I got paid for, my daughter and my home. I couldn’t give all 3 my full attention and I finally quit the job I got paid for so I could focus more on my daughter and my home. I’m pregnant now with my 2nd daughter and my husband helps when I ask him. He still doesn’t load the dishwasher or do the dishes. He doesn’t sweep, vacuum or cook. But, he will take the laundry down to the basement, sort and occasionally do a load. He will go grocery shopping for me on the weekends and he will watch Emma when I have to run to the doctors or run errands.

  8. I have been in many different places over our marriage and parenthood: I’ve worked full time (yes, even as a young mom!), part time, and am a stay at home mom currently. I can relate to a lot of women pretty easily. Some of the coolest times in our marriage have actually been when I was working full time and my husband was as well, and he picked up on his house duties and rocked this house. Our marriage and parenthood was brought to a new level during that time!

    I sometimes think we can glamorize (in the Christian world or crunchy world), the traditional housewife and traditional roles, but the Bible doesn’t always support our idea of those. Many women & mothers of the far, far and even more recent yet rugged still, past have worked outside the home to help their families and aunts/sisters/grandmas/siblings raised the kids–the women who were able were in the grain fields, tending gardens, in the markets, etc. (And likely, kids were kicked out of the house to help work int the fields and be responsible!) In many cultures around the world, that is still the case today. If there’s a nursing baby it might be on the back of the mother, but many times the housewife/housemom in our Americal culture, is a concept that is not cross-cultural. The reason I bring that up is because Scripture is timeless, full of culture, yes, but Truth spans cross culturally and for something to be “Truth” needs to hold up in all cultures. Those Truths that are ideal, are led by the principles set in the Bible and that Proverbs 31 woman–she likely had a job. Hannah gave her child away to the Lord when he was just 3 or 4 years old and the Bible says she had taught him by then, all he needed to know from her. Also, Jesus spent much of his time as a youth away from his parents, again, not a typical traditional setting. Those are just a few stories, but I suppose what I’m trying to say is that, whatever we do as we serve the Lord, do it in His name and for His glory, serving our family with joy and allowing God’s Word to be our standard and not our culture. And as we do that we will realize our life principles aligning with His Word but they might look drastically different, which is good, because God is the Author of everything good and there are many different ways under the sun.

    (And also–what birthing mother wants a male nurse? What woman wants a male counselor to talk to her hormone issues about? Who wants a male cleaning lady? Who wants the lunch ladies at school to be men? When I look at the working women around me, I realize my indebtedness to them. We all need each other!)

    Whatever God calls us to do, do it with all our heart. And keep blinders on, like a horse running a race, lest we be tempted to look around us to see what others have been called to do and become distracted from the race we were called to persevere and finish. I admire your role as a mother, wife & someone who is filling her call to be a mother to the motherless and be an agent of good parenting in this community. 🙂

    • No fair! You just stole about half a post I’ve been working on 🙂 I agree LeAnn- we all have different callings within the broader calling of motherhood. We’ve got to be supportive of each other and each other’s marriages for how we make that work. Thanks for your perspective!

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