Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Beyond superficial relationships

Pastor Kevin DeYoung points out a great letter in First Things from a woman in San Francisco.

She comes to see the "transactional and superficial" relationships of the workplace (that's a great description) and desires to be "the spiritual and emotional center of our family."

It is heartening to see a young woman who realizes that to be busy at home (Titus 2:5) and a helpmate to her husband (Gen. 2:18) are good things to desire.


My husband was born in the 1960s to highly educated, secular parents; I was born in the 1970s to the same. Both sets of parents divorced when we were in our early teens. My husband and I met as youngish knowledge workers, equipped with laptops and degrees. We moved in together and eventually got married – as guilelessly, it now seems, as two lambs. If anyone had asked us what our respective “roles” were in the marriage, we would have stared at that person blankly. Surely, we thought, we will go on as before: both working, going to restaurants, and doing the New York Times Sunday crossword. Occasionally, someone will throw in a load of laundry or cook a meal. Why, we might even take a cooking class together!

Fast-forward five years. We now have two children in diapers. After going back to graduate school for two years when our first was a newborn, my husband can’t find a job in this economy. I’m supporting us with a high-paying corporate job that I’ve been hoping to leave for years. Instead of spending my days caring for my children and keeping the kind of home I’ve always wanted, I log countless hours in a sterile office environment where all relationships are transactional and superficial. I come home to find the kids in dirty clothes, the house disordered, and my husband preparing some elaborate meal because, to keep boredom and depression at bay, he has seized on cooking with the enthusiasm he once had for paid work. I give him money to buy groceries; he refers self-importantly to “his” kitchen. In our daily bickering over tasks and bills, I am petty and snappish, plagued by the sense that something has gone seriously awry.

Meanwhile, I have gravitated to a certain type of mommy-blog; one written by a stay-at-home mother, lovingly grateful to her provider-man, capably in charge of every detail of her children’s lives and home: the Angel in the House, as we might have sneered back in English 101. While the blogger and I remain quite different people, she seems to have grasped, early on, some essential fact about gender relations that no one ever told my husband or me. Those brave and brainy revolutionaries who raised us – parents, professors, Self magazine – never so much as hinted that someday we might want to act like men and women. Having dodged that retrograde fate, we had turned into neutered freaks, mired in resentments and domestic dysfunction. Our lucky kids!

Yet, as Shakespeare’s Portia says: “Happy in this, …she is not bred so dull but she can learn.” As we struggle on, juggling roles, I’m realizing that my main job is to be the spiritual and emotional center of our family: the Angel in the House even when not physically on the premises. I do this not by keeping the carpet vacuumed, the clothes ironed, and the baby on her nap schedule – although I’d prefer to do those things, too – but by radiating love, joy, and gratitude, particularly to my husband, who would give us everything if he could but who is limited right now to giving us countless uncomplaining diaper changes, lots of playtime in the backyard, and a delicious nightly menu of grilled meats.

The lousy economy can send me out the door to earn a living, the popular culture can befog what my duties are and to whom, but none of it – indeed, nothing – can unsex me if I don’t let it. As I struggle to learn the lessons of how to be a wife and mother, I am ever more grateful for my loving and forgiving husband.

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