CTBHHM: The Butter Churn, the Carrot, and the Stick

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 94-98

Debi starts off this section by discussing the 1989 movie Dad. I haven’t seen it so I have only the wikipedia summary to go off of. Basically, a busy young executive is called home to help his ailing parents, and he ends up helping his dad, who had been growing senile, live more fully and learns to live more fully himself in the process. Upon waking up from a coma, the father suffers delusions that he spent his life on a dairy farm, rather than as an aerospace industry worker, and keeps speaking of people who never existed. Debi’s interpretation is that “because of his wife’s controlling hand and his desire to ‘do his duty’ and please her, he had failed to live his dreams.” While what I have found online about the movie confirms that the wife in the movie was definitely controlling, I can’t find anything saying for sure that the father’s delusions were meant to be seen as what he wished he had spent his life doing, rather than just something he found compelling and attractive at that moment. If someone wants to take the time to watch the movie and write up a proper summary, with Debi’s interpretation in mind, I’d be glad to add that here.

Debi follows this up with a letter from a reader, but this letter appears to be tailor made to follow up on her interpretation of the movie Dad:

Dear Pearls,

I have been married for 19 years, and my husband really is a great guy. He knows the Lord, but has not been as consistent with his Bible reading as I’d like to see. I am not saying anything to him about it yet. Our problems really stem from a change he made for our family that started about three years ago.

When we married, he was studying to be a CPA. I helped him through the last year of his schooling and spent 15 years with him going through long hours of tax seasons. I didn’t like it much, but I knew that was his career. He wanted to find a job that would let him stay at home and be his own boss. I thought that was a noble cause, and I wanted him to be with our sons as they grew up.

Well, what he has decided to do now, I can hardly handle! He decided to become a dairy farmer. We are city people. I told him all along, I really didn’t have a desire to be a dairy farmer. For three years, all he has done is read and research on it. I know he can make it work; it is just not something I want to do. I have had to cope with a lot. He still works in town and rushes home to go work in the barn. I had to wait dinner on him last night until 7 PM, and then he rushes home and goes straight to the barn. I was really hurt. I am tired of working and feeling as though we are getting nowhere. This is tearing the family apart. I know I must be submissive, but I truly do not want to do this. It is not my dream. There was no talk of farming 19 years ago!


Here’s the thing. It’s fine to change your dreams and your life’s trajectory, but if you’re married to someone, those changes don’t affect just you. If you suddenly really really want to run a dairy farm and your wife—or your husband—finds the idea repelling, well, you’ve got some thinking to do. If your dreams have become incompatible, you will have irreconcilable differences and it may be best for you both to split. However, you can also look for ways where your dreams and your partner’s dreams still overlap and come together. Yolanda is a city girl, she isn’t into dairy farming. Perhaps her husband could get into gardening and farming as a hobby in the city? It’s a new and growing trend. You get my point. But Debi actually thinks that my point is the problem.

Yolanda’s concept of marriage is all wrong, not at all like God’s intention for marriage. God didn’t create Adam and Eve at the same time and then tell them to work out some compromise on how they would each achieve their personal goals in an cooperative endeavor. he created Adam, gave him an occupation, appointed him as ruler of the planet, endowed him with a spiritual outlook, gave him commands, and specified his occupational duties. Adam commenced his rule of the planet before God created Eve to help him in his life’s goals. Adam didn’t need to get Eve’s consent. Eve gave her to Adam to be HIS helper, not his partner. She was designed to serve, not to be served, to assist, not to veto his decisions!

In this passage, Debi comes right out and speaks directly against the idea that a couple should “work out some compromise” or find a way to “each achieve their personal goals in a cooperative endeavor.” These are pretty much the core of my approach to marriage. For Debi, they’re not just not something that’s on her radar, they’re wrong.

If he does go back to being a full-time CPA, I wonder if he will spend the rest of his life dreaming of a different kind of lady for a wife, a bunch of happy children, and a barn full of milk cows? Life is now. Don’t make him ruin his life by being forced to count someone else’s money. Find your life in his.

Find your life in his. It’s hard to explain just how problematic I find that suggestion. In fact, that sounds very much like co-dependency—which is generally seem as a bad thing. I don’t find my life in my husband, or live through him and his dreams. I don’t find my life in my children, either. There are plenty of people around me who matter a great deal to me, and whose lives have a continuing impact on me and are in some ways entwined with mine, but I find my own purpose and meaning within myself, through getting to know who I am and through self-care. But then, Debi is speaking to a tradition in which women are expected to give, and give, and give, and never really take the time to learn who they are, and what they want out of life.

When we fight God’s will and our husband’s dreams, we are frustrated and disappointed. If our husbands are kind, Steady Men, like Yolanda’s husband, they will eventually become discouraged and give up trying to please us. If our husbands are Command Men, they may leave us behind and find a dairy-loving woman. If our husbands are Visionaries, they will yell and make our life miserable until we run back to mama and end up sleeping in a cold bed and living on food stamps.

More threats, of course, and laid on heavy. If you don’t adopt your husband’s dreams as yours and give up any dreams you might have had, Debi says, your husband will react badly and you may find yourself alone and on food stamps. But the other thing that’s interesting here is that Debi seems to conflate “God’s will” with “husband’s dreams.” But then, that’s what she does throughout her series, over and over and over. It’s just not usually quite so direct. But for Debi, husband and God elide, and husband’s will and God’s will become one.

Life is full of choices. How you choose to respond will help decide your fate in life. Life is now. Learn to enjoy taking out the trash or milking a cow.

This thing about the trash? The more times she mentions it the more curious it makes me.

God is not looking for happy women to make them into help meets for good men. He is looking for women willing to be true help meets to the men whom they married, so He can fill them full of joy.

Shortly before this, Debi says that women who do God’s will—and learn to enjoy taking out the trash—will look happy and will have people complement them on their happy personalities. Her basic argument here is to assure women like Yolanda that if they just give up their own dreams and find their lives in their husbands, God will make them happy—even if they don’t feel happy starting out. In other words, Debi knows that giving up your personhood may feel like crap, but she’s insisting to her readers that if they just do it and keep at it, God will fill them with joy.

In other words, Debi is very much applying both the carrot and the stick. If you give up yourself and your own dreams and desires, Debi says, God will make you happier than you can imagine. In contrast, if you maintain your own selfhood and dreams and desires, your husband will abuse or leave you, and you will find yourself bitter, miserable, alone, and, yes, on food stamps. Debi holds out both promises—and threats.

CTBHHM: Blessings and Vessels
CTBHHM: Why Was Marian's Husband So Loving?
CTBHHM: Playing Telephone with God
CTBHHM: A Young Wife Should Be "Bored and Lonely"
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.