Sometimes I’m plagued by who I should be, things I should do.
I should be the kind of wife who makes supper for her husband every night. I should clean the bathroom every week. I should get up early and be happy about it. I should hum cheerfully while I dust.
Should, should, should.
Everyone’s got an opinion. Family especially. They’re all too happy to share their ideas on what a good wife is. They offer prescriptive rules dominated by the should clause.
I used to listen to them. And slowly, I became my own worst enemy, berating myself for what I was not. I knew all the suggestions by heart. I knew a wife was practically required to make supper every night. So for my first year of marriage, I shut myself away in the kitchen. I was miserable. But miserably trying to be what I should be. We all have responsibilities we don’t enjoy.
Until one day I realized, my husband didn’t want me to be miserable. He’d rather have frozen pizza every night than watch me be miserable. (And to be honest, that man loves his pizza. I’m a little concerned for his arteries.) There I was, dutifully following the directions of an antiquated voice in my head preaching about wifely responsibilities, while my husband was right beside me saying, “Um, babe. If you hate it, stop.”
Stop? Stop trying to be the perfect little housewife?
I can admit it now: I love being a wife, but I don’t like cooking and cleaning. It’s taken me a long time to reach the point where I can acknowledge that without hating myself. It takes a while to get over years of teaching on how women should be happy homemakers.
Being a good wife doesn’t mean I have to have food ready for my husband every night. He’s a grown man. He’s completely capable of feeding himself. Even when I was dutifully cooking on a regular basis, neither of us liked what I was making. We’re like Jack Sprat and his wife. Except I’m the one who loves veggies and whole wheat pasta and could go a week without eating meat. But my husband loves meat and potatoes and creamy, fattening casseroles (and he doesn’t gain a pound. But that’s another discussion.)
So instead of making one of us miserable, I make separate meals (but not every night). I’ll make him a meal about one night a week. And then a few days later, I’ll make something for me. And we fill in the other days with leftovers or a grilled cheese night (he makes great grilled cheeses). And there’s nothing wrong with that. Ooh, that felt good. Let me say it again. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a system that works for us.
All those should rules? They don’t know me. They don’t know my husband. They don’t care who we are. But they don’t matter. What matters is our relationship. What matters is that we’re honest with ourselves and each other.
No, it’s not an excuse to avoid doing anything unpleasant. At some point, somebody’s got to clean, right? And it’s not an excuse to stop striving to better yourself. But is your concept of a better you someone who’s a happier cook? Don’t let someone else decide who you want to be. You are uniquely gifted to be none other than you.
So let’s take those haunting shoulds and flush ’em. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to acknowledge who you’re not, without feeling guilty. You don’t have to dutifully paste on a happy face while you pretend. Be honest. Admit it. Rethink it. It’s okay for him to cook and her to mow the lawn. There’s not one right way to be a good spouse. Find your own way and let those shoulds drown, taking with them all that guilt you used to carry.
No more I should be. Simply I am.