The Good Wife
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The Good Wife

The Good Wife

Am I on my way to becoming a Stepford Wife?

by

If you're married, the assumption is you want to have a good marriage. And it's a societally accepted desire.

But if you take this one step further and suggest that you want to be a good wife, then you face feminist backlash (possibly your own!), assumptions about the low level of your IQ and abilities, and accusations of having succumbed to the evil robotic vision of Ira Levin's "Stepford Wives".

Why should there be such a taboo on this acknowledgment? And is it possible to have a good marriage without being a good wife -- or husband?

I recently taught a class of bright, talented women. All of them had left powerful and successful careers to tend to their families. All of them had embraced a deeper understanding of and commitment to their Jewish roots. All of them wanted to be good wives. And all of them struggled with their decisions.

Years of conditioning have led us to believe that our accomplishments must be quantifiable -- and take place outside the home. All of that career energy has now been channeled into volunteer projects.

Non-profit organizations are capitalizing on this pool of eager and driven women. And it feels good -- we're fighting for a noble cause.

But perhaps we're defeating ourselves in the process.

After we pour our energies into these worthwhile institutions, we may, if we're lucky enough, blessed enough, driven enough, still have energy for our children -- for homework, baths, teenage woes and a game of Boggle (our latest evening favorite).

But do we still have energy for our husbands? Are we bright and smiling when he comes home, or tired and grumpy? Too worn out to look up, to interact, to really care? After being kind and conciliatory all day, do we take out our frustrations on the person who least deserves it? Who matters the most?

Making a conscious effort to infuse our marriages with the best we have to offer is the opposite of being a robot. It's life-affirming and marriage-affirming.

When I suggested that it might be a nice idea to freshen our clothes, our lipstick, our demeanor, before our husband walks in the door, the class rose up in arms. "I want to be comfortable," "I don't want to be a 50's housewife!" and more mutterings about Stepford Wives.

I'm not suggesting create a false persona; I'm suggesting that taking time to pull ourselves together says, "I care." It says, "Your coming home is important to me." Making a conscious effort to infuse our marriages with the best we have to offer is the opposite of being a robot. It's life-affirming and marriage-affirming.

The obvious solution to the dilemma of scattered energies and impatient wives -- do less, "just say no", make fewer commitments outside the home -- is the hardest to implement. And I am the worst offender. I've rarely seen a project that didn't interest me, a 5-minute pause in the action that I didn't need to occupy or a Shabbos table that I didn't need to fill. Yet I recognize that as benevolent as all these activities may be, part of my motivation is societal approval and validation. Although I know that my marriage is the most important, you just don't get awards banquets and paychecks for it.

Perhaps a more significant accomplishment of feminism would be to make all external accolades equally valueless. In the meantime, we're trying to give attention where it belongs, where it will last.

"A man doesn't die except to his wife," teaches the Talmud. All other relationships are temporary. According to Jewish tradition, we spend eternity with our spouse -- this world and the Next -- not with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, not with our school PTA, not with our shul sisterhood. And not even with our children.

The time to lay the foundation is now.

Published: November 19, 2005


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Visitor Comments: 20

(20) Stacia, January 14, 2009 5:46 PM

Great Advice

When I was younger I worked and went to school both full time. Now I am (mostly) a house wife, and I do some writing on my own. It was a hard transition because people kept asking what I did with all my time, and in some cases implying I should be doing something else. Other people's judgements aside-I have to tell you it is good work if you can get it!! I wish I spent more time at home when my daughter was young-I'll bet no one mails to say they wish they spent more time at work.

(19) Anonymous, September 15, 2008 4:48 PM

Different Situations...

When talking about these issues, it's imperative to know that there are no two marriages alike. I am preparing for marriage and I'm allowing God to prepare me for what I am about to face. I'm a full-time author and I have my own business, so therefore, it's extremely important to have some me time in between caring for everyone else. Sometimes as women, we tend to lose our identity and forget to take care of ourselves. The key to a successful marriage and managing a family in this day and age is balance. As the previous commentor said, it's just not possible for us to do everything.

(18) Jennifer, August 9, 2007 8:43 AM

Good Article

I think if more women put effort into their appearance and putting a smile on their husbands face that marriages would last longer and be more fullfilling for everyone.

My Grandmother taught me to always tidy up a bit before your husband comes home or if you get home after him to smile and be pleasant. She also told me to always let your husband feel like a man and treat him as such by acknowledging him as the head of the household.

I share my grandmother advice in allowing the husband to be "the man of the house". What good is a man who has had his self respect and manhood removed by an overbearing wife? I fell in love with my husband for who his is, I have no desire or intention of changing him or training him to be something other then himself. I also think the feminist who have a problem with old school marriage and households should really look deeper and realize that a woman is not becoming a slave by running a loving household and letting her husband feel like a man.She is giving her marriage the most important care and ensuring that it last a life time.

(17) Jay, January 27, 2007 2:02 AM

his responsibilities?

Why is it that whenever someone says, "Women should do X to make their marriages happier", they always get a ton of replies to the effect of "That's not fair, the man should do his part too."

But OF COURSE the man should be doing everything he can to make the marriage work. If I am giving advice to a man, I will tell him what he should do. If I am giving advice to a woman, I will tell her what she should do. It's absolutely pointless to tell a woman that the secret to a happy marriage is for her husband to do X, Y and Z. Other than making her feel self-righteous when they're in divorce court, what does knowing how bad he is help? There's only one thing she can possibly do to improve his behavior, and that's to improve her behavior. If both of you are sitting there saying, "I'll start doing more for him once he starts doing more for me" and "I'll start doing more for her" etc, then neither of you is going to make a move and you're both going to be miserable. But if you take the first step, maybe he will respond in kind. If you "give, give, give", then unless your husband is a total jerk, sooner or later he's going to feel guilty if he's not giving back. Maybe he is a total jerk and it's hopeless, but why not give it a try before you leap to that conclusion?

(16) Anonymous, August 29, 2006 12:00 AM

The best advice I was ever given

The best advice I was ever given was from a very old Portugese lady, who was herself given it as a young wife, by another very old lady. She said, "Always use the morning hours for your housework and chores, and then you have the afternoon free to enjoy the children and go out."

Without realizing it, I found I was doing this, and it really works! I refuse to agree to any commitments except in the afternoon (unless it is a matter of real emergency) because I am at work then. Then, if I need to receive company, have a playdate, run errands, or have people drop in, they can come in the afternoon, and my house is presentable and ready. Also, making sure to limit outside errands and engagements to a few a week, and leaving the other afternoons as free play time, keeps me from feeling stressed. This way it is much easier to welcome my husband home to a house that does not look like it has ever been disordered, and I am usually relaxed and happy, so we can unwind together.

We all benefit, and all from that little bit of advice passed down.

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