Monday, November 19, 2012

Betty Crocker? Sorry, You've Got the Wrong Number...

In just two months of marriage, my husband and I have tackled the concept of roles in marriage on a regular basis -- sometimes directly through conversations and other times indirectly by the decisions we make wordlessly about what we will and won't do in the business of making a team in the home.

I grew up in a fairly "traditional" family organization: my dad worked outside the home full time Monday through Friday, and for many of my childhood years, my mom stayed at home with us and cooked all the meals (and sent lunch and coffee every day with my dad). My mom was our teacher, as we were homeschooled, and she was also the household manager and cook. She taught all of us how to do chores properly, and tried to teach my sister and me how to cook. (I wasn't at all interested in paying attention, but it seems like my sister learned a lot.) 

My husband grew up part in South America and most of his life in the U.S. He brings a different perspective on work and marital roles, but still one that is heavy on the "woman is responsible for the home" concept. I think his mom actually worked, cooked, cleaned, and mothered. Dad worked outside the home a whole ton, and did a bit of occasional cooking (he was actually a professional and very talented chef for some time). 

One of the toughest things for me to figure out as a new wife is time management. I am not sure how to juggle 3 meals a day for 2 people and keep an entire 1-bedroom apartment clean at all times, while simultaneously working a more-than-full-time demanding job in a management position, and trying to juggle hobbies that are truly important to me. I was finding no time to exercise, which is the one thing that helps me balance my mental/emotional/physical health. I know my performance as a wife has been sloppy, haphazard, panicky, and only occasionally soaring. One of the toughest things about this is that I know as disappointed as I was in myself, I was also disappointing my husband. 

For a little bit, I got buried in my sense of shame and disappointment. I didn't really know what was wrong with me -- where was my inner Betty Crocker?? This meant that almost every moment I spent anxiously considering all the things I could be doing and wasn't, and I couldn't sort out the "shoulds" in order to know what I really ought to be doing next. I was wasting way too much time frozen in anxiety, and, if we're honest, self-pity.

After many conversations, some of them pretty tough, my husband and I have agreed that perhaps being a woman/wife today isn't the same thing as it was for my mom, or even for his mom, or the majority of American wives 20+ years ago. It was time to do something about our expectations of self and one another. He has agreed to be more generous in his estimation of my efforts. I have committed to changing my scatter-brained ways of managing bills (easier said than done) that seemed to work for me as a single woman. 

My husband told me that he thinks the home is mine -- I am the manager of it. Therefore, if I see that something needs to be done, even if I can't do it, it's my job to delegate it. This took a lot of pressure off, and I felt empowered. It means that I need to always be thinking if there is something I can be accomplishing rather than twiddling thumbs or watching TV, and that I need to be efficient with my time, but it also means that I don't have to DO everything my own self. I need to be aware, and ask for help. My husband manages the finances in the daily as well as for our future. This is helpful to me because when it comes to finances I feel like I am always ad-libbing.

We've also decided to try out a new routine:
  • Rather than expecting that I make breakfast and lunch every day, I will make sure that breakfast and lunch items are available M/W/F. I'll get the coffee going, but on those mornings I go to exercise, and hubs gets his own breakfast and lunch ready. Then T/R, I will stay in and make a hot breakfast and prepare lunch.
  • Rather than expecting that I make some sort of fancy cuisine every night, I'll make something large on Monday night (or another night if it's better) that we can eat off of for a few days (lunch leftovers and dinner leftovers!), and then I'll do a couple simpler meals two other nights. My husband is a great cook (like his dad), so he is also willing to cook a meal once or twice a week. 
I know this sounds terribly mundane and maybe overly planned, but the mundane is where marriage gets hard, am I right? It was crucial for me to figure something out that didn't make me feel like I was failing if I didn't make coffee, breakfast, lunch, exercise, do laundry, clean the whole apartment, read, pray, walk the dogs, and get dressed to the business-casual-nines every morning before 8am. Then how about we don't go into the manic details of my office life, and finally I end the day with some sort of chef extraordinaire demonstration in the kitchen and more cleaning and pretty much my life is nothing but a cycle of insane non-stop behavior. Somewhere in there I am supposed to be a good companion to my husband, as well! Maybe some women can handle that, but I CAN'T (I tried -- no can do). 

I'm looking forward to trying out our little agreed-upon routine adjustments. I tried to test it out last week, but both of us got deathly ill and it was also a short week. This week has Thanksgiving smack in the center of it, but I'll give it a shot anyhow. 

Anyway, I'd love to hear ideas from other people on how they figured out division of roles, daily meals (healthy!), hobbies, and just generally having a life once getting married. I also don't mind some quick recipe suggestions or time management / organization tips. 


bwsmith said...

Dear Sydney,

Culture is a powerful trap among its many attributes – so are expectations that we bring into marriages.

I write from the perspective of forty years married to Prince Charming – the best man ever, and basically fell in with the expectations and pressures of being a wife in times when many things were changing – my generation was so busy casting off without really thinking about what we were taking on.

I don’t think women can do it all – but I think couples can work through what needs doing, and who will be responsible. is a good reference for getting through chores – and husbands and wives need to think what they want in their home and divvy up the work, no matter who works where or when. And it really helps if someone assume the managerial role, and learns, like you have described, to ask for help before you go into a tailspin brought about by fatigue, frustration or financial pressures.

As you master home management and learn how to delegate, one other critical skill you need to master is finances. You must know how the money comes in and goes out and how it is invested. One part of being a good wife is being able to be a helper to your husband, and knowing about money will be a huge help when making decisions about jobs, household decisions, raising kids, and retirement. Start now!

I had the freedom to stay home for the first part of our marriage –then we adopted the choice of me staying home, even when we might have used the extra income. So, I fell into traditional roles and it has been great for us. Note: Caring for parents and kids limited both our career choices – Doug had has much pressure on him as I did on me with caring for elderly parents – for roughly a decade. Ten years out of anyone’s career changes one’s prospects.

Doug helps a bunch – he does the dishes if I cook; is not opposed to PB&J or soup – and makes it easy for us to do carry-out when I have lost my charm. (Carry-out in Dallas is pretty special, too.) He helps with laundry, making beds and will swap out a bathroom if I need help. He also grocery shops if I ask. The main think he prefers is if I delegate . . . and he is most amendable to helping me understand finances. We have gone back and forth over the years who is the bill-payer – right now he does it.

The main thing is to figure what works for you both and get the routine stuff done so you can enjoy the good things.

Too often life is what happens when you had other plans . . . or so says John Lennon. ;0)


Tami said...

I am just now reading this! So obviously I dint make enough time for the things I truly enjoy, which is your blog. Just a couple thoughts though. Life is always changing and as you are already aware so do the roles in your house. Always communicate and let him know what you need and don't bottle it up. If the bathroom is dirty and he has time to clean it, ask him to do it...don't expect for him to 'see' that it needs to be done.

Brainstorm about 'go to' foods to keep in your house for nights you just don't want to cook or plan anything fancy : frozen meals, spaghetti, soup, ramen noodles, etc . Ive found it helpful to pin foods that look yummy on pinterest and then go back later and make shopping lists from the recipe. You both can look at pics on the Internet and choose together what looks good for the week. If you make a soup, freeze some for later. I could go on and on. But the Internet recipe sites are great for ideas on food.

Keep talking and loving and forgiving and it will be fun and an adventure. Imagine throwing kids in the mix. Lol