Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Being A Wife

What does it mean to be a wife? What roles does a wife fill? What are the expectations and where do they come from? Am I meeting these roles and expectations?

These questions have been percolating at the back of my mind ever since Donald and I got married, and have been pushing to the front more recently because of our current situation.

My mother told me that when she got married she had no idea how to be a wife or what that meant. She carried the image of her own mother in her head: in the kitchen, bearing children, hostessing, and staying in the background. My mother assumed that getting married would turn her into whatever being a wife was supposed to be. I don't think she and my dad ever talked about his expectations of her, or her expectations of herself in this role. My parents separated after 30+ years of marriage and are still working things out. For obvious reasons, I don't want to wait to ask these important questions.

Donald and I mused about these questions last night before bed. I explained that my sense of being his wife had two parts - being his partner and performing certain tasks. As his partner, I am his best friend, a listener, a motivator, his soul mate. I know that our current situation has pushed me to focus on this part of my role as Donald's wife and we agree that I am meeting our expectations here.

The part I worry about is the tasks. These include cooking, doing laundry, buying groceries, running errands, being a hostess, setting up a house, cleaning, and being a mother to our children. With our current living arrangements, I don't cook him dinner - his mother does. I do the laundry and clean our own space, but I don't buy groceries or run many errands. There is no one to host and no house to set up. We're not ready to have children yet. What makes me his wife when we're living with his parents? Are we still married first and our parents' children second?

If any of you are making the assumption that I believe that all women belong in the "chained to the stove, pregnant and barefoot" category, please take a deep breath. I am a feminist (varied definitions for this term abound) and I believe that women should decide for themselves what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother. I have actually surprised myself in my desire to fill what look like old-fashioned gender roles in my marriage to Donald. I have discovered, though, that the most important things are not what I spend my time doing, but how my relationship with Donald evolves, that we are on equal footing and that we communicate.

In fact, Donald reminded me that even though I'm not cooking him dinner, I have shifted my role to breadwinner and health insurance provider. I have adjusted to meet a need. I have given Donald the freedom to spend time job searching. I have given myself further career opportunities and a growing bank account. I have also taken the opportunity to learn more about myself and how I can express the things that matter to me in any context.

Donald loves The West Wing. I'm the Leo to Donald's Bartlett. They are powerful partners and make a great team, and they operate in different ways, in different contexts. It makes for a very balanced power setup and plays to their individual strengths. They are honest with each other and provide a swift kick in the pants when it's needed. Their underlying friendship and trust gets them through the rough times. I'm flattered by the comparison.

I can finally see that I am meeting my own expectations of being Donald's wife and that I'm also meeting his expectations. It doesn't matter that I'm not cooking dinner. It really comes down to whether I am being fully myself, not trying to fit myself into an abstract image of "wife". The only way I can be the best partner to Donald is to be the best partner to myself.

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