Saturday, January 1, 2011

Adam, Eve, the apple, and marriage

Not the greatest day, today.  It started off well, something gave my husband the idea to do breakfast in bed for me, so I was woken up by him and K and S, saying "Happy New Year" and presenting me with a tray and a mug of coffee.  Not bad, and totally unexpected.  I don't think I've ever had breakfast in bed.

Last night sucked, however, and during our drive to my in-laws' house for lunch, B and I got into another argument which, by the time we were within sight of his parents' house, got pretty ugly.  K went into the house crying, and I was sooo very tempted to restart the car, and drive away.  After all, given the words B and I exchanged in the car, and were he to have repeated to his family any of what I said to him in the car, the in-laws' house was technically in that moment enemy territory.  To put it more simply, should B and I get divorced, I would most definitely never be welcome in my in-laws' house again, and I have no doubt that B's sister would be happy to tear my personality apart.

Marriage is really, really hard.  It is probably harder, overall, than the effort and drive and perseverance it takes to climb Mt. Everest.  Why?  Because marriage is made up of so many valleys, and a precious few peaks.  I'm not good at being a married person, and it becomes more and more clear to me that this is because I am not good at sharing.  I don't trust humans, and sharing involves trusting others to some extent.  Sharing one's life within the context of being married involves making oneself vulnerable....very, very vulnerable.  As I said to B today, in a marriage, someone is always being taken advantage of.  Always.  That can really stink, you know? 

Let me tell you the scenario that ignited today's very hostile conversation in the car.  It is somewhat of a tradition that every year on New Year's Day, B sprinkles birdseed on the front step, for good luck.  Well, I had purchased some birdseed last week, for just this purpose, and had already threw some out on the patio - I can't really just throw it into the backyard as Henry (the dog) would probably eat it.  However, over the past few days I had realized that throwing it on the patio wasn't the greatest idea, as the birds generally leave the bits they don't like, and those were getting tracked into the family room every time we took Henry in/outside.  Which meant, generally speaking, that throwing birdseed on the patio would inevitably mean more vacuuming for me (of B and I, I do the vacuuming much more often).  So today, when I saw that he had thrown birdseed all over the patio and on the back step, I got the broom and swept most of it off to the side, right before I got in the car.  I then get into the car, and explain to him why I did that, since he had just thrown it there.  I believe I also said, "you're not the one who will be vacuuming all the birdseed off the family-room carpet, so don't make more work for me by throwing birdseed on the patio".  So this turned into a hostile discussion which lasted pretty much all the way to his parents' house.  Good times.  Given what we were saying to each other, K got pretty upset and starting crying.  It was unpleasant all the way around.  After B and the kids went into the house I sat in the car thinking, somehow I just have to get through this day.  B and I did talk some, while at his parents' house, but we didn't solve anything.  Life will go on, just as it always does after stuff like this.  Maybe I'm petty, sniping at him about the birdseed, because I am the one feeling taken advantage of, most of the time.  I very much dislike being on the receiving end of someone else's assumption that, because I'm the wife or the mother, therefore I'm supposed to clean up after everyone AND smile with happiness while I'm doing it - as if that's all I ever wanted to do with my life is be the maid.

That's what really gets to me about the whole structure of marriage, especially where there are children involved.  I mean, is that my trade-off, here?  Because he's the one out there earning the money, I'm then expected to clean the house/raise the children/take care of everything - or else?  Think about it.  If I were to say, I can't stomach the unfairness of marriage anymore, and B didn't like this and decided to file for divorce - I'd be left with nothing, right?  I'd pretty much be reduced to poverty level, because as a "housewife" I'm not earning a paycheck.  I have no pension plan, no 401K, no health insurance.  I'm dependent upon my husband for all of that, at the moment.  Could I go out and get my own job right now, and so provide myself with some financial safety in these areas? Not really, because then in my opinion, K's and S's lives would be thrown into unhealthy turmoil, at least for a little while.  If I decided I really didn't want to deal with the unfairness of the marital relationship anymore, and filed for divorce myself, I would instantly plunge not only myself but also my kids into poverty-level living, simply because I do not have, nor could I earn anytime soon, the salary that my husband makes. The health insurance that covers the medical needs of my children might be thrown into jeopardy.  Where does that leave me?  Well, it leaves me between a rock and a hard place.  Right now, at this time in my life, "marriage" means sucking it up and being the maid/cook/housekeeper/secretary (a role which I often find thankless, demeaning, and demoralizing), as a trade-off for being married to a responsible adult to who goes to work, works hard, and earns a paycheck to pay the bills.

Do you see what I mean, about marriage creating a situation where one of the spouses is very, very vulnerable and almost certainly taken advantage of? "But wait", you say, "what about the love you enjoy from your husband and children?  What about the supposed fulfillment involved with being married, with having a companion for life?  What about the blessing it is is be able to stay home with your kids?"  Ummmm.......well, I guess those are great things - but I can't pay the water bill with those great things.  Unfortunately, our society doesn't care about any of that, when it comes to paying the bills.  And I say again, I only 'get' those things IF I'm willing to continue on in the thankless, demoralizing roles of maid/cook/housekeeper/secretary.  That, my friends, is a very costly trade-off.  Very costly.  It is starting to cost me my sanity.  The unfairness inherent in the institution of marriage just stuns me, most of the time.

But, on the other hand, maybe I'm reading the situation all wrong.  I'm certain there are PLENTY of people out there who would look at my situation and say I'm absolutely insane for complaining about any of this.  That I have a good man for a husband, we are able to (just) pay the bills (most of the time), our kids are pretty healthy overall, and we live in a safe neighborhood, etc, etc, etc.  Maybe I am totally crazy, I don't know.  B says he just wants me to be happy....but I'm really afraid that what would make me happy would be to be on my own, not married, not responsible for the kids 24/7.  What right do I have to screw up his life, and the kids' lives, by going off on my own?  Are they happier with me, or better off without me?  I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.

The title of this post comes from a thought I had, sometime in the last week or two - if Adam and Eve had never eaten that blasted apple, what would "marriage" look like today?  Would it be more fair, for both parties?  Would men play more of a role in the hands-on aspects of raising children and caring for a house?  Would women then have and equal opportunity to use their skills and talents in the working world?  Would committing oneself to one person for life be as hard?  I wonder. 

This is me, folks.  This is real.

J.

6 comments:

An said...

Oh yeah...... I sure do know EXACTLY what you mean, sister. J (my 'J" here, not you) and I have had several very heated, sometimes ugly arguments about the respective roles we play in the household dynamic. I can tell you what my take is on it, and you can feel free to use whatever insight it offers. I can say that the role on the household of combination maid/ cleaner/ laundress/ seamstress/ dog-walker/ secretary does not apparently change even with a job for the woman. I have a 'career' as an academic, using my trained brain to analyze, teach, manage tasks, work on committees, write, research and so on, and I work - during the university terms of fall and winter/ spring - roughly 60 to 70 hours a week, sometimes more, as I do during exam times. During the summer, I am 'encouraged' to research and write and - ideally -publish, by the university admin. This load of work does not mean that once I get home I can rest, even for a minute. It does not mean that the other two people in the household currently 'see' the inequity involved in me coming home from one over-full-time job, and launching immediately into my second full-time job (home). It does not mean that the see this and see chores to do around the house, and just DO them, thinking "oh, yeah, this needs to be done and A is working, so I'll just do this without being asked or reminded." Not a chance. The more I talk with other women who work outside the home, the more I discover that most, maybe all, women are in identical situations. I wouldn't - apparently - matter if I were the president of a major country, or a prime minister, or was discovering a cure for cancer - it would still be my job to see to the household cleaning, the writing up of grocery lists, the laundry, the noticing that the floor is really filthy and must be cleaned, the toilet scrubbing. It would be my job to tell others what to do and when, assuming that they were receptive to being reminded that there was a chore or a task that needed doing. So, even if I'm not going to be physically involved in that chore, you can bet your a** that I WILL be keeping track of it, and mentally summoning the courage to remind a person to do it.



Marriage is ..... work? Yes, I agree completely. And, whether both partners work outside the home, in equally rigorous jobs, or one partner is outside working and the other is home working, there are guaranteed inequities, guaranteed 'advantage-taking' going on. I wish there were a way for complete fairness, or at least a fairness that we could actually SEE, instead of guessing at, or hoping for. Somehow, when I scold myself for pointing out the inequities, even if just to myself, and then seething about them, I still have to admit that I just cannot really see or 'feel' the balance that people say is really there. You know what I mean - the folks who say "Oh, but you are so fortunate that he's still here, still has a job, that your kids are healthy, that you have a house to live in..... It all really balances out in the end" I just don't 'feel' it, when I'm cleaning the floors that everyone walks on, scrubbing the toilets that everyone uses, washing the dishes that they use too (and I live with a 52 year old, and a 23 year old, so they sure can reach the sink, and they know where the soap is, and they know how to use the dishwasher). And, when this comes on the heels of pressures from work outside the home?



Is there - perhaps - some actual rationality, some real truth, to that horrible old 'rationale' of 'staying together for the kids' sake'? I always thought that this was a perfectly abysmal, selfish, irrational and destructive statement for anyone to make - male or female. But, these days, with the situations that both men and women encounter when marriages end and the financial toll is just overwhelming, maybe there is something I just never thought of.

Sigh. Yep, this is real.

lettersfromnebby said...

I said on the blog frog that I would comment on your site about the whole maid/marriage thing. I suppose the reason I was initially so snarky with my reply is that it hit a nerve for me. I do think I have a pretty good husband but I still can feel a lot of the time unappreciated and taken advantage of by my family. So I can certainly relate to a lot of what you say. As background, I am a SAHM, homeschooling mom to 4 kids ages 5 through 10. One has a chronic illness (type 1 diabetes) which requires intensive management (including checking her blood sugar at least once a night every night) and two others who have lately had persistent if not as serious heath issues.

For myself, I know I am fortunate to be able to stay home with my kids and I wouldn't really want it nay other way. But it is still really hard sometimes not to feel put upon. It can be a very thankless job. Our husbands go out to work and get to interact with other adults all day. They have bosses who hopefully give them praise or feedback regularly. If nothing else they get a paycheck which at least tells them their work is worth something. A SAHM does not automatically get any of those things. And our work has little lasting value. What I man by that is that whatever we do gets undone quickly. Change a diaper? You will be doing it again in a few hours. The same with feeding your family and cleaning up after them. Some days it can seem everything we do not only doesn't get noticed but gets undone almost as soon as we've done it. And even if we know they aren't aware of it, it is hard not to take that personally. And to think that they should notice and just automatically be more considerate of us.

This is too long so I am going to cut it off and leave a second post. Sorry!

lettersfromnebby said...

The second half . . .
Having said all of which, I think what we really need is to think of our lives and jobs differently. As I am sure you know, when you and your husband fought about birdseed, it wasn't really about birdseed. It was about larger issues of him not thinking about how his tradition makes more work for you. But I also don't think that is the end of it. I think the real issue is not between you and your husband (not that those issues aren't real but that there is something bigger and more fundamental).

I think for all of us SAHMs (or anyone really) there is a spiritual issue at work. When I get grumbling, my husband is the easiest, closest target, but really I am not having a godly attitude and that is a basic heart issue. God tells us not to complain. Complaining is the opposite of being thnakful to Him and trusting in His provision for us. I don't want to make this all sound easy because it is not. I think it is one of the hardest things out there to have the right attitude and to trust that although our families may not see and appreciate all the things that we do for them, our Father in heaven does see and will reward us for our service. Christianity calls us to a lot of delayed gratification. God calls us to serve others without counting the cost and without necessarily getting reward or thanks or respect for it right away.

Our society tells us to pursue happiness. But God tells us to pursue holiness. I think the reason being a mom and staying at home to care for your family is so hard is that it is also one of the most sanctifying things you can do. It requires a lot of sacrifice. Usually the times in our lives that are most miserable are when God is working the most in us. And remember thta it is hid own image we are being conformed to. And He is no stranger to unappreciated sacrifice. He suffered and died for His friends when they had no clue what he was doing and would have told Him it was useless and unnecessary.

lettersfromnebby said...

part 3 (I keep getting cut off)
I am not saying all this to make you feel like you just have to suck it up and put on a happy face because God is working in your life. I don't see any reason you need to pretend to be happy when you aren't. The Psalms are full of God's people crying out to Him and I think you could do a lot worse than to follow their example.

For practical advice, I would say the following to you (you can take it all with a grain of salt; maybe I am reading too much into your situation): Talk calmly to your husband about how you feel. Try to make it about you ang give concrete little ways he can help you (maybe putting his dishes in the dishwasher instead of the sink or getting his socks in the hamper instead of on the floor). Even if he doesn't respond well at first keep trying to talk when you are calm. And try to see his side too (whatever that may be; I don't know). Train your kids to help around the house. It is harder when thye are little and not able to do much but you serve them better in the long run to teach them to do things themselves. You do not actually serve them well by just doing everyhting for them. Make sure your standards for your house are not too high. It doesn;t have to be perfect when kids are little, just livable. Seek our good Christian women to confide in and support you. If a group tends to sit around complainign about their husbands, their attitude will rub off on you. What you need is a more mature, probably older woman who has been there done that and come through the better for it. Don't neglect your own spiritual life. God calls us to serve and do our work for 6 days a week but He also orders us to rest and worship so don't forget those things. And the biggest thing, the think I think is key to the entire Christian walk, is to learn to see ourselves rightly before God. We need to see our own sinfulness and need but also to see the great price He has paid for us. It takes conscious effort but we need to learn to turn our thoughts from complaining to thankfulness. Finally, I would not even use the word divorce. Even if you don;t intend to go there, having the word out there opens up the possibility and changes how you apporach your situation. I do think there are legitimate reasons for divorce but even a really inconsiderate, useless husband is not one of them. Remember that your marriage commitment is not just between you and your husband. It is also a commitment before God and to break it is to break your promise to Him as well. I also would not talk of or look for fairness. God does not promise us fairness. If He were fair and gave us what we deserved, we would all be a lot worse off.

lettersfromnebby said...

part 3 (I keep getting cut off)
I am not saying all this to make you feel like you just have to suck it up and put on a happy face because God is working in your life. I don't see any reason you need to pretend to be happy when you aren't. The Psalms are full of God's people crying out to Him and I think you could do a lot worse than to follow their example.

For practical advice, I would say the following to you (you can take it all with a grain of salt; maybe I am reading too much into your situation): Talk calmly to your husband about how you feel. Try to make it about you ang give concrete little ways he can help you (maybe putting his dishes in the dishwasher instead of the sink or getting his socks in the hamper instead of on the floor). Even if he doesn't respond well at first keep trying to talk when you are calm. And try to see his side too (whatever that may be; I don't know). Train your kids to help around the house. It is harder when thye are little and not able to do much but you serve them better in the long run to teach them to do things themselves. You do not actually serve them well by just doing everyhting for them. Make sure your standards for your house are not too high. It doesn;t have to be perfect when kids are little, just livable. Seek our good Christian women to confide in and support you. If a group tends to sit around complainign about their husbands, their attitude will rub off on you. What you need is a more mature, probably older woman who has been there done that and come through the better for it. Don't neglect your own spiritual life. God calls us to serve and do our work for 6 days a week but He also orders us to rest and worship so don't forget those things. And the biggest thing, the think I think is key to the entire Christian walk, is to learn to see ourselves rightly before God. We need to see our own sinfulness and need but also to see the great price He has paid for us. It takes conscious effort but we need to learn to turn our thoughts from complaining to thankfulness. Finally, I would not even use the word divorce. Even if you don;t intend to go there, having the word out there opens up the possibility and changes how you apporach your situation. I do think there are legitimate reasons for divorce but even a really inconsiderate, useless husband is not one of them. Remember that your marriage commitment is not just between you and your husband. It is also a commitment before God and to break it is to break your promise to Him as well. I also would not talk of or look for fairness. God does not promise us fairness. If He were fair and gave us what we deserved, we would all be a lot worse off.

JMB said...

THANK YOU, everyone, for your comments, insights, and encouragement! Thank you!

Jennifer