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. 


Rightthinker-Andrea said...

As a Christian, I can say that without a doubt, the most important step in being a good wife is dying unto ones self. That goes also with being a good mother, friend, daughter, sister and servant.

It goes against everything society teaches, and even much "modern" Christianity-with all it's self-help and self-fulfillment programs.

What is interesting is that a few things happen when we pray about and live out dying to ourselves.

1) We make our husband exceedingly happy, which in turn blesses him and he reciprocates. We don't have to work, whine or manipulate to be loved.
2) It keeps us humble and focuses on the important-not the frivolous.
3) We put others before us, thus living out our faith.

Mrs.Rabe said...

Mrs. Anna,

It is so wise to say "the important thing is to be the wife my husband needs."

We do so often get an ideal we feel we must hold onto, because it is our ideal and not really scriptural or right.

Lara said...

Dear Anna,
I don't usually comment your posts but I've been following your blog for a long time, even before you got married. Our blog has always been an inspiration to me, even though I'm much older than you and have been married for a longer time. But I'm still learning, just as you. I would like so many things to be different, but I'm learning to me more grateful for the husband God has given me and for so many blessings in my life.
May God bless you.

Angel Wings and Apron Strings said...

Hello Anna, I enjoyed what you had to say in this post. Lots of good advice! I agree that steady, true, unconditional love is key to being the kind of wife that is pleasing to G-d . With His help we can learn to be good help-mates, wives and mothers. In fact, the learning part never ends. Marriage can be quite an adventure! blessings..Trish

Analytical Adam said...

I was reading the first comment but most of Modern Judaism and many idea's in the past idea's put self-esteem and oneself before others.

As a Jewish man I don't feel a decent man that questions and cares about right or wrong is wanted in Orthodoxy.

If you ask honest questions you get yelled at and the Rabbi's became very abusive to you and they will never apologize. I have seen how little many Rabbi's know in some area's but their lack of humility really gets me. Modesty applies to men as well.

At the end of the day the most important thing for children is having am moral father and if the father makes a living by abusing other men and pandering to women in the workplace to keep his own job and so his wife could stay at home even though this creates a situation where other man can't do the same that is not a good thing and will not be good for the children when they have a father that in order to support his own wife he will hurt others.

I would hope a wife (if the man does take liberties in how he treats others in the workplace which to be fair a woman should stay away from this type but some didn't know better in the first place) but if it is the case (since it is violating the torah to abuse others in the workplace to make money for yourself) to make the husband understand that he should do what is right even if that does mean you have a little less and things are less secure. To make life easier for yourself at the expense of someone else is a very serious violation of the torah and shows deep down you don't really believe God see's your actions since some men have less connections and they are easy targets to take advantage of for your own benefit. This kind of man is bad for children no matter how much the women is at home and morality is not something considered important today in Judaism. It is more about oneself and one's feelings and that is why the Rabbi's get angry at men who ask honest questions and call them names and even apikorus (apostate) at the drop of a hat and you show them you're source they will refuse to apologize. It is all about them and their wife and children and other men don't matter.

Analytical Adam said...

In fact how a man makes his living vs. woman staying at home the first I think the first is more important as children that have a father that makes a living mostly in ways that are immoral that will badly impact on children and their view of men and masculinity and will have an unbalanced view of male-female relations which at the end of the day goes back to feminism that somehow a man isn't important and only the mother matters which the torah says otherwise. If a woman spends less time with the children because the man makes a little less because certain things he will not do just to make a little more money and she has to work part time that is better then the woman not having to work because the man does things that are very immoral (that hurt other workers and hurt clients) just to make more money for his family. That immorality of the father will infect the children no matter how much a woman stays home. Sorry this comment is a little more clearer then the other one.