Wives for everyone!

This strikes me as a twist on my post yesterday on the topic of “me” time – a New York Times feature on Monday about no one having time for anything, essentially. The article talks about women not only (still!) bearing most of the domestic responsibilities – or at least the worry about what’s not getting done – even if they work outside the home, but research that shows this “second shift” holds them back career-wise.

I really don’t think any of this is “new” news, but it’s certainly still a struggle. Domestic tasks may take up less time overall than they did in our parents’ and grandparents’ day, but the time available to get them done has shrunk even more, especially in single-person, single-parent, and two-earner families, which covers a lot of territory. And when there are family responsibilities that may conflict with work, they do tend to land more heavily on the mom/wife, and husbands have been known to take that for granted. (My husband’s first wife was a SAHM, and there are some things he’ll still comment that he never knew much about during their marriage, because she “just took care of them.” And in my own first marriage, the divisions were pretty clear even though we both worked. Things are different now.) Couples therapists state that this is a very real equality issue.

Tracy Clark-Flory comments in Broadsheet that this “wife envy” is sparked by “working under a corporate model that relies on a vision of domestic life that plain doesn’t exist for most people anymore.” I think there’s something to that, but I’m personally acquainted with quite a few people that actually do have some version of this domestic life. I agree with Susan’s comment on the Working Moms Against Guilt blog that referring to someone to handle the home front as a “wife” is rather sexist. I know that during my single years, there were plenty of times I wished there were someone else around to hand things off to, but I wouldn’t have framed it that way, and I think Mojo Mom’s post about this article makes a great point about how belittling these tasks as “women’s work” ignores its benefits in home and career success. But it also strikes me that women who want “wives” to do these things may be devaluing them just as much as men are.

Basically, there are things that everyone needs to have done, one way or another, in order to keep our homes and lives running smoothly. We have trouble making the time to do these things ourselves, and we may be unable or unwilling to pay someone to do them for us, so we may wish for another family member – a true “helpmeet” – to take that job. We’re all stressed and overextended, and there aren’t any ideal solutions that don’t involve major life changes and compromises – so much for “having it all.”

UPDATED to add this sort-of-related link to Thursday’s On Balance posting on the “fringe benefits of housework” for both wives and husbands. It’s a chuckle, but I agree with “Rebeldad” Brian Reid that “(d)oing your fair share around the house is as much a sign of love and caring as a bunch of roses. And — let’s face facts — a marriage where the floor-mopping, pan-scrubbing and kid-chasing is spread evenly is probably more likely to be a marriage where both spouses have the energy at the end of the day to, ahem…”

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  • Well put.

    When I was in my twenties, working full time and attending college full time, I wanted a mother (not my mother, a mother).

    When I was in my thirties, working two jobs to make ends meet, I wanted a wife.

    Now, I dream about Alice on the Brady Bunch. Remember her? She kept the house running and was a wonderful person to boot.

    Anyway. Good post! (I blogged about it, too, less intelligently than you did.)

  • But it also strikes me that women who want “wives” to do these things may be devaluing them just as much as men are.

    I agree with you on this point. I think that seeing both women and men wish for “wives” shows the sexist assumptions we all have about the work wives provide.

    I worry that when we wish for a “wife” we are really wishing for a solution that feels magical and easy to us, but would impose a huge burden of unappreciated, unpaid labor on someone else.

    Thanks for your link to my blog!

  • Couples therapists state that this is a very real equality issue.

    When I was taking a human emotions class at Harvard, I remember reading a paper by a psychologist who was also a couples counselor, who commented that whenever the marriage started out with the husband declaring that thus-and-such chore was “women’s work,” inevitably the couple would return a couple of years later with the husband asking, “why is it my wife and I don’t have sex any more?”

    My husband often jokingly refers back to this when I thank him for doing some share of the chores. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • hey–glad you stopped by. Let me know if you’d like to be set up as a user–just email me at moonratty@gmail.com.

  • Heather – That makes sense to me, and that’s kind of why I thought the “On Balance” post fit in with this whole idea of what wives do.