Family, marriage, womanhood, a simple life at home
Sunday, November 14, 2010
What does it take to be a "good" wife?
It is always very difficult for me to write about marriage, because it seems that I can never stop talking, and once I do, it seems almost as though I didn't really say anything. However, today I would like to share some of what I wrote in reply to a dear lady who told me of her disappointments in marriage, in particular having to work outside the home rather than being a traditional wife like she would have wanted.
I entered marriage with a certain image of an "ideal wife" in my head, which was of course a mistake, because I didn't really know my husband and therefore could only have a very vague idea about what kind of wife he would need. A couple of years later, I'm only still learning about that. I'm making many mistakes as I go along the way, but I have realized that the important thing is to never stop trying.
What I did learn was that, of course, there are the traditional, God-ordained, "templates" of being a husband/father/leader/provider, and a wife/mother/nurturer/nester, which are embedded in us. But the variety is wide. And far more than being a traditional wife, or whatever ideal we might have nurtured in our hearts (for, perhaps, it has always looked so pretty to us in books, or in observing other couples), it is important to be a wife to your husband.
It is not easy. It involves knowing your husband more intimately than you have ever known anyone, knowing his strengths and abilities, his weaknesses and his needs, and how to enhance them. The last thing I want is for you to think I'm giving out pearls of wisdom from some sort of high pedestal of an ideal marriage. In many ways, I'm only fumbling in the dark, and perhaps will never quite succeed in becoming the wife I wish I could be to my husband.
There are direct commandments given by the Almighty, which are of course not to be violated (certainly, there is a substantial difference in those between Jews and non-Jews). If the husband tries to exercise his leadership of the household in ways which confront with G-d's ways (for example, in a Jewish home, trying to persuade the wife to stop keeping the laws of Shabbat or purity in marriage), the wife mustn't obey. But in grey areas, and there are many of them (living a traditional vs. modern lifestyle, homeschooling, etc), the husband's leadership is more important than our ideals, or anybody else's. There was also a time when I had to work outside the home, though thankfully I was soon able to return to being a full-time wife and mother. I believe the best, natural and right place for a woman is within the domestic environment, but since working outside the home is not, as and of itself, wrong, I tried to do my best to be a cheerful help mate under less than ideal circumstances (though again, I must admit, with many failings along the way).
Of course things become more complicated if the conflict in question is something you have actually discussed before marriage, and now have reached a point when you don't know how to proceed and each one of you thinks differently. It happens in the normal course of life, and can be difficult. That's when you must sometimes humble yourself, and trust me, I know it isn't easy. So often, I have been guilty of the sin of pride. Yes, I do very often find myself thinking of the way things are "supposed" to be, but in reality, being a good, loving wife is more important than being creative, clever, traditional, skillful, or any other way I would like to describe myself.
In the beginning of my marriage, I was always frustrated about my cakes coming out slightly burnt at the bottom. To me, this was a failure because I like cakes to come out nice and soft. But my husband, it turns out, relishes that slightly burnt taste. So now, those slightly burnt cakes are a success to me.
Here's a post I wrote a couple of years back, as a young bride. It was titled "Becoming One". I have re-read it a couple of times since it was written, and each time I told myself, my, I wish I had been better at taking my own advice sometimes! :o)
A blog I find very encouraging, in case you aren't familiar with it, is Eyes of Wonder. I drew inspiration from it as an unmarried young woman, and continue to draw inspiration from it as a wife and mother. It is no longer updated regularly but this makes no difference - I go back and read the archives, and each time it is like meeting an old friend, or reading the kind of letters you could get from your mother (if you are very fortunate to have such a wise and kind mother). There are parts I copied, printed out and glued into a notebook which I sometimes read for encouragement.
I think nothing is more important in marriage than to love and give unconditionally. I don't mean the Hollywood-type "in love" feeling, but the steady love than holds out even in the midst of hardships and throughout them. Love, even when things seem hopeless, for of course they aren't hopeless - not really. Nurturing this kind of love makes me feel so blessed.