I have found it advantageous in my marriage, and for those of us at home full-time it’s part of our job description. We are not just “stay-at-home mothers”. We are “stay-at-home-wives” as well, though most women have bought hook, line, and sinker the notion that being at home is all about the kids. Heaven forbid we short-circuit our quest for self-actualization and freedom by catering to some man!
Before I get any further into this, the definition of catering may be in order. Catering means:
1. To provide food or entertainment
2. To be particularly attentive or solicitous; minister.
3. To attend to the wants or needs of.
The inclusion of the words minister and needs implies that catering doesn’t mean that every thing done must provide pleasure or entertainment, and I’ll address that at a later date. The goal here is to explore how we, Christian women, have come to believe on the one hand we’re to always treat others the way we want to be treated, and on the other that doing this for our husbands makes us a doormat.
I imagine there are objections mounting: “How do you equate treating our husbands the way we want to be treated with catering to them? The two things have nothing to do with one another!”
Don’t they? If you worked 8-10 hours a day, would you enjoy coming home to a smiling spouse, your favorite homemade meal, a nag-free zone, and the prospect of enthusiastic physical affection? If so, the two equate perfectly. It’s the golden rule.
You may be familiar with a school of thought in some corners of the blogosphere that I’ve never been able to get on board with. The idea is that a married woman shouldn’t wait until she has kids to come home full-time. That taking care of one’s husband is a worthy vocation and good preparation for when the children come. It eases the transition if the wife is at home from the very beginning.
I’ve never been able to fully embrace it for a couple of reasons. The first is that most husbands don’t agree with it, coupled with the fact that there is no clear Scriptural mandate for it. Most husbands prefer their wife to work so that the finances are stable enough for the family to make the necessary financial adjustments to a one-income family when the children come. I tend to lean in favor of that position, but even if I didn’t it’s none of my business how a man decides to run his own home.
On the other hand, there are clearly pitfalls associated with tying homemaking primarily to motherhood. The first is the problem I alluded to before; that we identify our roles in the home primarily as mothers rather than wives. Because of that I no longer identify myself as a stay-at-home mother. I am an at-home wife and mother. This is not a minor semantic issue for the Christian because when we marry, we vow to cleave to our spouse, not the children that may come as a result of the union. Over the past generation or so women have determined that it is acceptable to devote oneself to children, but foolish to fully devote oneself to a husband. After all, your kid will always be your kid but your husband, well…
Most of you probably saw How to Be A Good Wife floating around the Internet a few years back. I thought it was a wonderful snapshot of how most women viewed their roles as wives before we were told that it made us subservient doormats. I failed to see what was so offensive about it at the time, though I understand perfectly why it was so horribly received. I do most of these things and did before I ever knew the piece existed. It was common sense to me that I should put a little effort into satisfying the guy who makes it possible for me to stay home with our children.
It should go without saying (sadly nothing does anymore) that a working wife must distribute her energies differently. While the practical applications vary for the working wife, the principle is still the same. A friend I greatly admire as a wife works a full-time job while still applying these principles in her own marriage. Her advice was this: Find out one or two things that matter the most to your husband and focus on those. One husband may care about keeping the house fairly tidy. Another may want a really great meal from scratch on the weekends when there’s time to prepare it. Many could care less about any of that so long as you’re physically available to him (yes, sex). Or interpret it as it applies to your husband.
If your husband is like mine and straightforward about his preferences, accommodate him in the area most important to him without feeling put out over it. If your husband is more passive, you need to ask him what he would prefer you to focus on at home. Don’t assume his silence means he doesn’t care. He understands the pressures of full-time work and will appreciate the fact that you’re making a real effort to please him in the area most important to him.
Several years ago when I worked, I didn’t fully appreciate the little things my husband did for me because I was too busy keeping a balance sheet based on all the things I was doing for him in comparison. Don’t make the same mistake. I grew up and realized how foolish I was, and I am sharing this through hard-won experience. After my relationship with God I put my marriage first and everything else fell into place, including my role as a mother.
Children fare better when they learn early that they are not the center of the universe. Allowing them to believe that they are is not loving. It’s instilling narcissism. I love my children and am fiercely protective of them while being careful to keep my relationship with them in its proper place. They get plenty of attention from me because I feel a biological imperative to do right by them.
Loving my husband with that kind of abandon is a daily choice; the choice not to view my life solely through the lens of motherhood. I am a wife first, for what are my children if not evidence of the love made with the man who has devoted his life to taking care of me? He deserves more than whatever I happen to have left after pouring myself into our children.
When we’re in the thick of child-rearing we sometimes forget that we were wives before we were mothers and we’ll be wives when we’re no longer raising our children. One of the most challenging parts of my life the past 4 years has been mothering toddlers while parenting teenagers. It’s also given me a great deal of perspective, too. Having a high school junior (and part-time college student) is a ready reminder of how fast the years go by, and how important it is to make an investment in the relationship that will remain when all the kids are gone.
Having young adults reminds us to put appropriate boundaries around our marriage relationship, which isn’t always easy to do with a two-year-old and a four-year old underfoot. It requires an investment of time and energy on both our parts, but it’s worth it. The early returns on our investment are looking good.
Catering to your husband by doing things to his liking won’t diminish you one bit, but it will increase your capacity to love selflessly.