Where’s the Wife?

It turns out I need a wife. We all do.

You know, the “Betty” of the 1950s who had the house tidy, dinner ready and kids bathed when the worker of the two-parent household came home. Thing is, these days, many of us are in two-parent, two-worker households. Yet, our American workforce is still set up as if there’s some magician at home, keeping the place humming. So when each parents gets out at 5:30pm or later and comes home, it’s truly a second shift for everyone. Especially now as fathers are more involved that ever in child rearing and sharing household duties, according to a recent Time Magazine article. Although there is more help from men, there is just more to share.

And for those full-time moms who work in the home, I think they still might need a wife. There is so much administrative stuff we have to take care of these days, that even if a woman cooks, cleans and cares for her family, that now includes dealing with health care, cable, cell phone, car, home maintenance companies and more that didn’t exist in the past.

Yes, you say, all middle class problems – people should be so lucky to have such problems. I hear you, and I feel a little guilty voicing this complaint. But the truth is, while middle class folks like me are not in completely dire straights, we are getting squeezed from all sides to put more time into getting the kinds of assistance and quality in areas like education, customer service and health care that I would venture to say our middle class counterparts 30 years ago could rely on. That’s a big blanket statement, but I don’t remember, for instance, watching my parents spend so much time on the phone, waiting for some operator to barely help them with what they needed.

So lately I’ve been daydreaming of Sweden. More than just Ikea, Sweden offers a system of gender equality where parents (not just moms) can claim up to 480 days of time off to care for a child – each child. Whether used by the hour, day, week or month, parents can focus on a true work life balance where they aren’t penalized for parenting. In some learning settings, the Swedes have even gone so far to essentially eliminate gender roles. Maybe Sweden is on to something since that Time article also stated, “Maybe we simply put too much faith in the power of structural change absent family-friendly policies or were too naive about how deeply our gender norms for who does what inside the home were ingrained.”

The whole “wife” idea came to me as I read the book, Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for the Perfect Career and Find a Job (and Life) That Works for You. Among other topics, the mother/daughter author duo talk about how feminism opened limitless doors for women yet didn’t tell us how to make choices and be happy with them, and missed the opportunity to transform America’s family policies to establish true gender equality that brings happiness, productivity and balance to both sexes. This is the true feminism.

That Time article agrees, stating, “Feminism became known as ‘the movement that brought women more work’, as the frustrated housewife of the 1950s and ’60s became the equally frustrated wage-earning housewife of the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s.” Yet, research shows men have pressure, too: “Long hours and increasing job demands are conflicting with more exacting parenting norms. This follows up on a 2008 survey where 60% of fathers said they were having a hard time managing the responsibilities of work and family … This is a surprise for men, because they weren’t prepared that this would be expected of them, and they have no role models of how to do it”.

Is this an accurate picture of the American family and parents today? Are we doomed to run errands and juggle work and family until we pass out, or can we be heartened at things like the rise of flexible work schedules?

Have a nice day!

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7 thoughts on “Where’s the Wife?

    • Brigid, I know you’re not only dreaming of it, but helping to create it by writing a book about these ideas. Can’t wait for your book that explores some of these difficult and timely discussions.

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  1. I always thought my family in Germany has it figured out and it is much easier for them … they get off work at 4pm. So the whole dinner thingy and grocery shopping during the week is not a problem. However then I started looking at their schedule a little more and realized they only have 30 min less of work time … so not a big time saver. They get up wee early (I get up at 7am) and therefore the kids go to bed way early too. The one great upside is that they have their hot meal during the day … so no cooking in the evening, which is what I am struggling with the most. By the time I get home I have 30 min to get dinner on the table so the kids are in bed by 8pm. There isn’t much time to do anything else during the evening. So sad … I wish I could only work part time (maybe 1 1/2 to 2 hours less each day), so I can actually spend time with my kids. But then there is the weekend. I cherish those days when we are all home (and run errands, and clean …).

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    • I keep thinking the grass is greener over in Europe. Did you see that new book out, “Raising Bebe”? It’s said to be the antidote to the “Tiger Mom” book. Besides our culture’s obsession with labeling all types of parenting, I think it does highlight the desire for a more mellow, balanced lifestyle. I just don’t think we can get to it in this day and age of constant input, technology and information. Maybe that’s the sad truth we need to accept as reality, and adapt.

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