(Disclaimer: The title of this post is in honor of my father-in-law, who loves to call his daughters-in-law “Eve”)
Life as a wife and mother is not easy for me. In fact, it is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
I think many wives and mothers out there find, to their surprise, that this road is a harder one than they expected, but that’s not really what I mean. The daily grind of diapers and runny noses and tantrums and endless laundry I think I could handle, or at least handle better, if there wasn’t a pitched and desperate battle in my soul over the simple fact that I am a wife and mother.
Unlike many of you who read my blog, this road was not one that I chose freely. The Ogre didn’t propose to me after a long period of dating. We weren’t married in a blissful ceremony. We didn’t have that first difficult year of married life before children came along. We got pregnant out of wedlock, married in a civil ceremony when I was five months along, and had our marriage convalidated in the Catholic Church when Sienna was a year and a half old. The way we did things is not the normal way, and with good reason. It’s made for many hardships and difficulties in our marriage and in our lives, not the least of which is the fact that I would never have chosen to be a wife and a mother.
For as long as I can remember, getting married and having children was not something I wanted to do. What I did want to do varied according to my interests at the time; as a girl, I wanted to be an actress. When it became clear that my talent for acting was in fact not prodigious, and was mostly a talent for speaking dramatically and making ridiculously large gestures, I switched to writing. There I actually did have a talent, albeit one that needed (and still needs) to be cultivated and honed. So in college I decided to be a writer.
But the one thing that remained constant was my desire to live the life I wanted. Sometimes I would flirt with the idea of getting married (usually if I was dating someone I really liked) but children were a horror and I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. I also internalized the feminist idea that women are equal to men to a frightening degree, leaving me with the assumption that being a stay-at-home mother was nothing short of slavery.
I know better now. But therein lies the problem…I know better. With my head; not so much with my heart.
Don’t get me wrong; I love my children and my husband. If I was given the choice to go back to work today and let someone else stay at home with my children, I wouldn’t do it. The problem is with my attitude. I have a knee-jerk reaction against the idea of being a servant, of learning to serve my husband and my children. It’s causing a great deal of suffering and misery for me, because part of me wants so badly to learn to be a good wife, to learn to serve my husband, to give my whole being to this vocation of motherhood. And yet there is a part of me that is fighting desperately, saying “You cannot conquer me! I refuse to be enslaved!” Worst of all, that part of me is seriously bitter toward my husband for getting to be the one who studies and teaches, the one who walks out the door each day to spend time with glorious books and difficult students.
I’m reading a book right now called The Intellectual Life. Last night I came across this passage and it set my blood boiling.
Every woman should espouse the career of her husband; the father’s toil is always the center of gravity of the family…and this is all the truer as the career embraced is nobler and more laborious. In such a case life in common centers round something very lofty; the wife should take her stand on the height, instead of trying to draw the man’s thoughts down from it. To draw the husband into trivial things that have no connection with his aspirations is to rouse in him an equal aversion for both these contradictory lives. Let the daughter of Eve think of this and not give more cause than is just for St. Paul’s “divisus est.”…Let the guardian spirit of the hearth be not its evil genius, but its muse. Having married a vocation, let her have the vocation also. Whether she achieve something herself or through her husband, what does it matter? She must still achieve since she is but one flesh with him who achieves. Without needing to be herself an intellectual, still less a woman of letters or a bluestocking, she can produce much by helping her husband to produce, compelling him to keep a watch on himself, to give of his best; helping him to recover after the inevitable lapses, buoying him up when he loses courage, consoling him for his disappointments without accentuating them through undue insistence, soothing his sorrows, being his sweet reward after his labors.
I was furious. “Sweet reward?” Really? What is this, 1890? Should I strap myself into a corset and faint on the porch as well? And what exactly does he mean by “trivial things that have no connection with his aspirations?” Trivial things, like, anything I might be interested in? And don’t even get me started on this “daughter of Eve” business.
I would have thrown the book across the room except it isn’t mine. I thought about throwing it anyway, just to prove a point, but then I realized that I’d have to buy another copy for the owner and the thrown copy would remain in my house. So I set it down gingerly and went off to furiously bake something.
This morning I came back to the passage with a bit of a clearer mind. It was written right around the turn of the century, by a monk, so certain allowances have to be made for cultural attitudes and for the fact that the author had absolutely no idea what it was like to be married. Keeping that in mind, I read back through the passage. As I came to the end of it, I found myself conflicted. Part of me realized that, in fact, this is the very kind of wife-hood that I’ve been striving for. To be a helpmeet. To order our home in such a way that it will help my husband in his studies. To learn to comfort him, encourage him, lift his spirits and occasionally shove his nose back down to the grindstone. That is, after all, what being a wife is all about, isn’t it? Putting the one I love before myself? He certainly puts me before himself. He has work enough to fill every hour of every day, and yet he spends tons of time with me and the kids, because he loves me and because he knows I need him.
I’d like to need him less. I’d like to learn to be strong and, much to my chagrin, be more like the woman described in the book. I know that when the Ogre is walking down that aisle in those ridiculous billowy robes with the velvet pillow on his head and is being declared “Doctor of Philosophy,” I will be immensely proud. But how much better will that moment be if it’s a moment we work toward together, instead of the Ogre working toward it while dragging me along behind like a dead weight?
And yet, there is still that part of me that recoils at the idea of being a helpmeet. What about me? my inner feminist wails. What about my life, my talents, my interests? Am I supposed to just put it all away and let myself be swallowed up in someone else?
The answer, right now, is yes. I’m certain of that answer and certain of the path I must walk right now, but I’d like to walk it happily. I’d like to walk this path cheerfully, with my head held high, instead of being dragged down it kicking and screaming. And for that to happen, I need to have a conversion of sorts. My heart needs to leave the realm of “I” and enter into the true spirit of wife- and motherhood. I’m not sure how to go about that, so I’m turning to you, my blogging friends. So many of you are wonderful, self-sacrificing wives and mothers, and I’d like to know how you got there. I’m sure that not all of you had to combat the feminism that I’m trying to battle, but like I said earlier, this road isn’t easy for any of us. What helped you along the way?
I’d really like to begin reading more books on being a wife and mother, or even just what it means to be a woman in the Catholic understanding. I think that’s a good place to start, so if you have suggestions on books I’d love to read them.
Thank you all, not just for your suggestions but for reading my blog and supporting me as I try to find my way toward virtue. Your comments and mere presence are a great comfort to me.