We are all familiar with the problem of the workaholic father. He pours his time and energy into his career, and in the process he puts his family on the back burner. Even though his role as an employee and provider is a good thing, it becomes a means of harm. It is not only his children who suffer. He, too, is robbed of the relationships that matter most. We’ve all heard this sad story. There is, however, an analogous problem we rarely acknowledge.
Like workaholic dads, stay-at-home moms can feel torn between the claims of two roles. We are wives but also mothers, and sometimes we relegate the first vocation to the back burner. It is not simply a matter of too little time. The problem is deeper and far more complicated.
Modern motherhood can be hard. Modern moms often feel isolated, tired and unsure. No longer does our community provide us with a clear picture of what our role should look like and how we ought to do it. Yet that alone is not the heart of the problem. Unfortunately, our own sinful nature is all too ready to listen when the voice of popular culture whispers something very damaging.
The world gives us a narrative. It goes like this: “You are already pouring yourself out. You have given up your career. Your life. Your chance to use the bathroom alone. You have so little left that your personhood is endangered. If your husband asks anything of you, anything at all, you may be destroyed. By existing in your home as another human being with needs, he is a direct threat to your ability to continue serving your children and family.”
The narrative continues: “Furthermore, no matter how freely you chose this life in the beginning, he is getting the better deal. Because of your sacrifice — which, by the way, he probably does not appreciate enough — he gets to have both a family and the personal fulfillment of a career. Because of your sacrifice, he does less than 50% of the housework. Because of your sacrifice, he enjoys moments of leisure and fun while you feel guilty for squeezing in even the teeniest bit of self-care. You are being destroyed, and this man gets to use the bathroom alone whenever he wants. How dare he ask for anything!”
This narrative is culturally pervasive. It can get inside our hearts and minds and warp the way we identify and express our own needs as wives. When a man is a workaholic, his wife and children often feel they are trying to compete with daddy’s work. A stay-at-home mom who feels overwhelmed and oppressed can also create disordered competition in the home.
We can begin to treat our husband as our competitor. We can begin to compete against him in the race for the two scarce resources of modern living: rest and leisure. We can demand that he earn the right to our attention and love by taking on “enough” of our burden and giving us “enough” of a break. We can resent him. We can relegate him to the back burner.
As a culture, we blame this disordered competition on the stress of motherhood; but it is not really about our children at all. They simply bring a preexisting problem into clearer view. The thing is, if we distill the world’s victim-bound narrative about motherhood, we find that it can be summarized very simply. The world says that suffering is bad for us. Most work is a form of suffering. Motherhood is very hard work. If we do not know how to process this suffering, our relationship with our husband will be strained because suffering is incompatible with the definition of marriage taught us by the world.
In the eyes of the world, the purpose of a spouse is to make our life “better.” Happier. More satisfying. Easier. Yet that is not how life works. Life is often hard. Responding to the realities of life by blaming our husband and engaging in competition is a terrible solution.
Certainly, there are times when our lives are exhausting. There are days when we have no strength left and truly cannot give to others. Yet the narrative of modern motherhood encourages us to take this state and make it into a worldview. We do not have to live that lifestyle. We do not have to accept the lie that motherhood makes it too difficult to be a loving wife.
Pick up your cross
Two true stories counteract the world’s narrative. The first is the story of Golgotha. We have been redeemed by Jesus’ blood, and we are called to pick up our cross and follow Christ. We will suffer, and the God who defeated death and the devil will work through our suffering for good. In His good time, pain and weariness will be no more. Our husbands may stumble, but our Savior will never leave us nor forsake us.
The second is the story of creation. God made marriage and called it “good.” For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, we have someone to suffer with us. Our marriage is the foundation of our family. The relationships in our home will be disordered if they do not flow from that foundation. Babies may need our time and energy, but they need a father and a mother, united together, even more.
Putting your husband on the front burner need not be nearly as complicated as the world would have you believe. Loving him does not require an expensive night out. We can defy the world by looking up to greet him cheerfully whenever he gets home. We can choose to be interested in the book he is reading. We can apologize when we hurt him. We can ask him for his help. Of course we need it! We are human, too.
It is, in fact, part of our role as wives to communicate our needs and weaknesses to our husbands. It is part of their role as husbands to respond with love and care. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, and our husbands should follow in the footsteps of their Lord by washing dishes or babies. Yet let us receive this help in love and gratitude, not demand it in the spirit of victimhood. Your husband is not a burden. He is your partner and leader in the grand adventure of raising a family and making a home. May God remind us of this when we forget.
Photo: Getty Images.