A Marital Confession

Aaron R. aka Ricoaccountability, children, Culture, feminism, Mormon, Priesthood, repentance, women 27 Comments

A recent visit at FMH and John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories interview with fmhLisa (Butterworth) has made me realise something about myself that I am not very proud of.  Therefore, in the spirit of a post I wrote for another blog, I want to confess something.  I am sexist.

It is not intentional.  In fact, I have, and would still call myself a feminist.  What are my qualifications for such a preposterous claim?  Well, first I wholeheartedly support equal rights and opportunities for women in all forms within a society.  Second, I was raised by feminist (then-single) Mormon housewife/full-time teacher.  Third, I have studied, support and work with feminist theory and research in my University education.  Fourth, I try to support my wife in her decisions regarding being a working-mum or SAHM.

Yet, none of this did not help realise something.  Lisa described this way, ‘When I got married I really thought that we would be equal partners, and we were.  We really were.  He did as much of the housework as I did, we both worked, we both made money… But as soon as I had a baby I was just shocked at how my world changed and how there was no equality anymore.  I was shocked of how much of that burden fell on me.’

From a different perspective Reese Dixon both glories and laments being able to have only one ‘role’; that of being a mother.

I guess I have failed to see how our relationship is becoming more unequal.  It started out great, I think.  She worked while I was at School and I did the majority of the housework and the cooking.  Shortly after I was married I was called to a position that meant I was out a few evenings of the week; and then things began to change.  A short time later, my calling changed, and I was out more.  We moved, but I kept the same calling, had a baby and I graduated.  We managed that ok, I was home a lot and tried to make sure I would regularly share the different responsibilities.  I was home most of the time during the day and I could do that.  My wife returned to work and I looked after our baby and began my post-graduate study.

Just over a year ago, my calling changed again.  Now I was out nearly every evening and my studies required more time.  We got pregnant again and I began teaching.  Finally another baby arrived.

Recently, there are some weeks that I never cook and rarely clean.  Though I home, I work and so I see the kids but I don’t always get time with them and sometimes I rarely change nappies or help feed.

Now, some might be thinking that if this is how we balance the responsibilities then that is fine.  The issue here is that I am unhappy with this and so is my wife.  The issue is that it is easier for me to allow this pattern to continue and I don’t like that about myself.

It is apparent that the systemic sexism in both the Church and the UK has made it easy for me to live out a patriarchal (not in a good way) existence by drawing me into the public sphere while simultaneously requiring that my wife live her life in private sphere.  That requirement is disseminated through the subtle, pernicious and quiet expectation that my wife will support me in my responsibilities.

I have need to repent for choosing to be acted upon rather than to act against the tide of these social influences.

Comments 27

  1. This is my situation as well right now. My involvement in the housework has gone down as we’ve had a child and I’m in graduate school. It seems to take an extra effort now to do the dishes or even straighten up by the time I’m done with my schoolwork—and my wife does so much for the newborn on top of everything! (I do cook fairly often, though.)

    Have you found any good simple practices that facilitate domestic equality? It’s amazing how easily these little habits and methods creep up on us. It’s good to have someone point them out to shock us a little bit out of our rut.

  2. Rico-
    My sympathies are with you in such a time. I’m in the same boat. Doing a PhD program, have a calling, have 3 kids, etc. It’s brutal hard!!

    But I’m afraid I don’t understand the point of your post? What are you trying to say? Are you trying to push back against the social machine that gives you the opportunities to pursue what you want to do? It sounds like you’re really lamenting the role that you have chosen (been acted upon).

    I guess I’m confused on several levels. You obviously believe it is important to accept “duties” in the church – namely a calling. How do you balance the injunction to serve with your feelings about the situation at home? Would you just say “no” to such a demanding calling (that’s certainly okay, I’m just asking)? Are you lamenting the decision to attend grad school? Obviously furthering your education has benefits down the road in terms of salary, job selection, job security, etc.

    I guess I’m just very confused at how to understand your confession and lamentation. I always viewed this sort of thing as a tradeoff – I’m busy now, but I won’t always be this busy (especially since I do believe it is appropriate to reject callings in many circumstances).

  3. Post

    #1 – My honest answer is no. Interestingly when my wife got home she was frustrated with me because I had not done the things she wanted me to. I showed what I had written and we talked about it. We talked about some changes I can make and she told me some areas where she wanted me to focus. I hope things are going to be better.

    #2 – I think you raise an important question. It occurs to me that though there are some things I cannot change or would not want to because of the benefits I perceive that they will have (like service and my studies) I feel that I have allowed this trend to move me into a comfortable state of apathy or an attitude of ‘I am doing my stuff can’t you do yours’. I acknowledge that there is a balance. My issue is that I don’t think I have the balance. I have allowed this trend to move farther than I am comfortable. My lament is not that these things are all bad but that if we are not careful we can let those changes move us to a point where we are uncomfortable. I am sure you and Neal (above) have done a better job of this than I have.

  4. Just one quick observation- the statement “drawing me into the public sphere while simultaneously requiring that my wife live her life in private sphere” implies both an inequality and a bright line divide between the public and private spheres. Is the public sphere more desirable or higher prestige? Is one really restricted to either the public or the private?

  5. Post

    I would agree that neither is more valuable than the other. My issue is that I value both but feel pulled outside the home. Moreover I agree that it is crude to use the public and private as discrete categories as I have suggested above. I used it as a rhetorical device to illustrate to a feeling. I am sorry if that was not clearly conveyed.

  6. The absolute worst time of my entire marriage occurred when I was in a Church calling that required MUCH of my time – a great deal of my Sundays, and several other nights per week. Added to my responsibilities with work, kids, etc., it really and truly came a hair from absolutely destroying my marriage and family. Ironically, when I was set apart, I was told that it would require a great deal of time but that the Lord would watch over my family. Didn’t happen. Luckily, I am out of the calling now.

    It did cause me to reflect quite a bit on how things got to where they were. I was being drawn away, much like Rico described. Since then, I have very specifically given up job opportunities which would take me away from my wife and family to the tune of A LOT of money. I would also have to think VERY HARD about accepting any calling that required such a great amount of time again. What is it worth if I serve some people in a ward for a few years, yet lose my marriage and family for eternity?

  7. Thanks for the post. It’s nice to see that those on the “other side” of the divide can see it at times.

    I’m a SAHM so I consider that I will be doing more simply because I am home all the time, but when my husband is home I greatly appreciate his willingness to clean up after himself (and the kids at times) and to be willing to get dinner for everyone when I’ve had a doozy of a day.

    As far as the private vs public sphere I think that many times people tend to forget how lonely it can get when the most intellectual conversation you have in person is with a person who is 4 years old. I don’t have a “boss” which is nice in some ways, but really hard to get feedback in others. I never know when I am doing great, or just good enough, or maybe even not so great. My husband does his best to remember to mention when I have done well… but I can’t expect him to be constantly critiquing me on everything(and if he did I would get ticked off really fast, esp if he weren’t helping). Being a SAHM is thankless… heck, being a mom is thankless. Being a dad is probably in a similar sphere… though, admittedly, I will never know that first hand 🙂 Most of the things I do that are productive in any way, I do at home… where few people see or openly appreciate it… and because I have 3 kids to haul around it becomes increasingly hard to get out and do things in the “public sphere” especially if those things require that I find a babysitter for my kids.

    On a side note, I do get tired of people who see a dad who changes diapers and gets lunch for the kids as a good dad, but when they see a mom who does the same she isn’t given the same benefit of the doubt… after all, it’s something that is just expected of her… if she does those things she isn’t a “good” mom, she is just a mom… and if didn’t do those things… well, of course, that would be horrid.

  8. A while ago I was listening to a radio station where the wife had called in. She was complaining because her husband had not done the housework. She was working and he was at home. She said if I bring home the money, then he has to clean the house. It’s a fair exchange. The radio host said “Well, isn’t that what men have been saying for years?”

  9. Post

    #6 – I think your right. I think (hope?) that my marriage is managing to survive, but I think it is entirely possible to lose sight of important things. Moreover, that Men are regularly taken from their homes more than women through callings is a pattern I think has particular implications especially when those same men might work.

    #7 – I think it is sad that I did not see it sooner, moreover I suspect that there are other things I have not seen. Moreover I totally agree that the distinction between good/bad father/mother is an interesting and destructive one.

    #8 – Interesting. I think he is exactly right. It is the sharing and discussing that is key here. If couples are happy then that is fine, but I sense that we aren’t and that is my problem.

    #9 – Stephen I live the idea of deciding with the family which way you go. I know that I would turn down the money whereas I suspect that my wife would prefer financial security (within reason).

  10. One of the interesting aspects of this type of discussion is it always seems to degrade to a comparison of jobs and tasks in the home and for the home in an effort to “even things up.”

    Frankly, it is a ridiculous exercise. The home is not the workplace and the marriage is not a business partnership, especially an LDS marriage. The marriage is a 100%/100% and each party is expected to bring that to the marriage. Each has different skills and differing motivations and desires.

    The measurement should not involve how many nappies the husband has changed or how many meals one has cooked. It should be about how well each person supports, loves, honors, cherishes and helps the other. In some cases, one person has to bear more responsibility and do more “things” than the other. Hopefully, if the shoe is on the other foot, the other partner steps up.

    In some cases, only one party can do something, like having the child. That’s a fact of nature. That is not necessarily a reason to try to even things up.

    I think the discussion between the parties is how to define the relationship and how what each brings to it to make a happy and nurturing home and an eternal family. As LDS, we should have a broader perspective.

  11. Post

    #11 – i don’t think it is is ridiculous. Primarily because it is easy to hide behind arguments such as that without doing what you recognise is essential which is discussing what is at stake. My point is not that you are wrong, but rather that in practice it takes work to fight against specific tendencies within our culture to expect certain things from certain people. It is possible that I might feel justified in what I am doing but that does not change the problems. My point is this: we need to constantly interrogate and work at these boundaries otherwise we might find ourselves failing to do what you rightly say (which is discuss) while feeling that we have because we are fulfilling our share. Moreover, it is not about jobs and tasks, but about making sure the burden is shared, however that works. My confession is not that any one else is doing this badly, but that I am. I am sure that you are getting it right Jeff.

  12. I don’t think there is a particularly good answer for this. In my case, my wife and I both wanted a big family, and when it comes right down to it, I cannot see a way to split every responsibility 50-50. In order to give our kids the opportunities and support we want them to have, we can’t both be working, and we make a lot more money with one of us working full-time than with both of us working part-time. I’m not particularly ambitious and don’t find my work particularly satisfying, and I’ve coveted my wife’s stay-at-home-momhood, but the choice isn’t work less and make less money — it’s work less and make a LOT less money. So, my wife’s life and my life are very different.

    On the other hand, when I’m home I change the diapers, I clean up the kitchen, I bathe the children, etc.. On the weekends my wife runs off to children’s activities and I clean house. As a consequence, I have no hobbies, no friends, and I sometimes feel very much like the robot many housewives complain about being. My wife’s energies go into managing/participating in the kids’ lives and activities, and she contributes a lot to our community in so doing.

    I understand many of the feminist concerns, and I definitely feel that society still has a way to go, but the fact remains that you cannot have it all. You make your choices and if you’re going to be successful at those choices, there’s a lot of work involved.

    My wife and I just recently went to family storage center/cannery to re-stock our supply, and it was interesting to see how, without speaking a word, we instantly teamed up to do the canning. She inspected the cans, ran the canner, and labeled cans and boxes. I hefted the bags to fill the cans, built the boxes, and carted things around. After the last can, she quickly left to pick up the kids and I stayed behind to write the check, clean up the mess, and haul the boxes back to the garage. It was our marriage in microcosm. We were efficient, effective, successful. And our roles were very assymetric.

  13. Martin:
    You have talked a lot about the kids but how about the marriage?
    A lady was giving a talk at a seminar. She said that she loved her husband more than her children. After the oohs and aahs had died down, she went on to explain the she gives birth to her kids, loves them, trains them, but she is not in love with them. She is in love with her husband. I would hope that the marital relationship takes pre-eminence over all. Kids that have parents that put each other first are happier because they know when they are gone their parents will take care of each other.

  14. When I was a dedicated menace-2-society bachelor, I hired a housekeeping service to protect the home I had invested in. I was surprised after their first service about things that needed cleaning, like the baseboards, that I had never noticed or thought about. When I married, I suggested that I had a good thing going with the housekeepers and didn’t want to fire them. I suggested that my wife use the time to develop her talents or work if she chose. This became a major bone of contention because my wife felt that the housekeepers were encroaching on her domain. After months of tension about the issue, I gave my wife a broom for Valentine’s day with a whimsical decoration saying that in honor of Valentine’s day, the maids were fired.

    Several kids later, the house gets re-cluttered by the kids before it’s cleaning can even be completed. I try to take my turn loading the dishwasher, cleaning the kitchen table and other daily chores, but things like dusting and those historic baseboards are never high enough on the list to be completed. A babysitter has even commented to her that she does housekeeping too if we ever want to use her. Nevertheless, that remains a sore subject after all these years. I’m sure that I can also do better at the daily chores, but I frequently would rather read, play with the kids, and teach them piano lessons at the end of a busy work day then to tackle the things that the housekeepers once did so well.

  15. Rico,

    I hope you know I wasn’t insulting you about the post. But, these types of posts tend to bring out the Male Guilt Syndrome (MGS). And there are many women who are just as happy to oblige.

    “Moreover, it is not about jobs and tasks, but about making sure the burden is shared, however that works.”

    100% agree.

    “I am sure that you are getting it right Jeff.”

    Far from it. But, I think rather than feel all this guilt we should act and be better.

  16. Another component to the give & take is that on the whole, male standards for how things are done in the home often differ from female standards. It may be cultural (women assume the home and appearance of the children is a direct reflection on them) or genetic (women have a hard-wired nurturing instinct associated with the keeping of the nest where children are reared). But division of household labor often overlooks some of the contributions that are traditionally male: outdoors / landscaping, lawn care, garage, technical support, etc.

    I think this is a great example of an opportunity to look to our gay married counterparts and see how division of labor works when both individuals are presumably equal and there is no gender bias. Things still have to get done. Let each couple decide on a division of tasks jointly, based on individual preferences and who hates to do the task least. Because no matter the household task, over the course of 60 years, it’s going to get old.

  17. I may “guilt” about not helping as much as I could with chores, but I don’t guilt about being in the bishopric and NOT going to scout round table, troop committee meetings, scout camp, youth snow parties, and day hikes because I need to be home with my kids. I don’t guilt because people that need TR interviews have to wait because I help load the kids into the truck and kiss my wife goodbye after sac mtg. I don’t guilt when I miss Sunday School or Priesthood Meeting because my youngest won’t stay in nursery. I don’t guilt when I am not sitting on the podium 5 minutes before meeting because I am helping the family out of the car and into the building. I don’t guilt if I leave the podium during Sac Mtg to take a child out into the foyer. But I better finish this up and head out because I DO have to go to church tonight!

  18. Rico,

    Great post. And I’ve had similar thoughts over nearly 30 years of marriage.

    The night before my wedding, my father’s only counsel to me was this, “If your wife does not finish college, I’m holding you personally responsible.” My father, though very traditional as a working-dad-whose-wife-did-not-work-outside-the-home, instilled in his four children (two boys, two girls) the need for equality of opportunity.

    I dont’ buy the MGS stuff. I do subscribe to the 100/100 marriage idea, however (I subscribe; I don’t always succeed, and neither does my wife).

    Alma’s lesson about guilt is a good one: guilt is only good for getting us to change; after that, it’s got no value. A far better motivation is out of love for our spouse.

    I think the fact that you’re asking yourself the question from time to time is a good thing, not evidence that you’re failing.

    April — I agree with your concern that Dad’s who “help around the house” are praised and Moms who do the same (often day-in-and-day-out) do so without recognition. It’s a terribly small step, but I encourage each of my kids (espescially the boys; my girls seem to remember it without my reminder) to thank their mother for the meal before they leave the table (and I do, too). To her credit, my wife reminds them to thank me, too, when I cook. We had a stake president who regularly reminded dads that when they stayed home so their wives could attend a Relief Society meeting, they weren’t babysitting; they were being dads.

  19. I love this Rico, I totally get you. It really does take work to push past relatively comfortable ruts and do what’s best for both parties. It takes sacrifice and creativity to create opportunities for both parties. And then it takes constant reevaluation as life circumstances change.

    By the way, I think the corollary to Male Guilt Syndrome must be Female Martyr Syndrome. I have been known to suffer from that myself, as I think my post proved.

    April – it is so true that the lack of the outside approval or validation that comes with a boss is wearing on a SAHM. We’ve been having some plumbing issues that I’ve fixed myself, saving us over $1000, and I find myself telling anyone who will listen because I want a medal, dammit. Hey Mormon Matters! I saved us over $1000!

  20. Thanks for the comments.

    #14 – Martin I liked your comments. I think you articulated my experience. Your line about not having it all, is very much what I liked about Reese Dixon’s post. As person who likes eclecticism I feel torn by what I want and what I can do.

    #15 – I think that is difficult dynamic to get right. I sense that for some people, their spouse might not be around forever but hopefully their kids will. Why not invest in the more long-term relationship.

    #16 – Unfortunately the housekeeper is not an option for me. The conversation with my wife I mentioned above about discussing the sharing concluded with her wanting me to spend more time with the kids rather than doing the cleaning. I hope to be able to do both. So i think your idea about sharing time with your kids is an important thing.

    #17 – I did not think your were insulting me. I was trying to respond to your critique. I agree there is a danger of the guilt becoming too important. I guess I am the sort of person who uses that to make those changes. I understand that is not for everyone and so I really just wanted to focus this on myself because I really don’t know how other peoplea re doing.

    #18 – Ironically I am no technical handyman. I am probably better at the day-to-day cleaning stuff that doing the fixing things. I could be better but I am just not interested. Your right about the cultural divisions. I often struggled with my mother’s feelings in that regard. I get them more now. I would like people to feel comfortable in my home (tiny flat) and I think be tidy is an important dimension in helping them feel that.

    #20 – Rigel, I really like what you said here. There is a definite tendency to take guilt from the Church before we take it from our families. Thanks for pointing this out.

    #22 – I agree about guilt getting us to change is important. I also agree too much can be unhealthy.

    #23 – Female Martyr Syndrome. I think people feel this toward the Church sometimes. Its as if they feel that their spouses should feel the benefit of all the service they do for other people vicariously. ‘I’m killing myself for all these people for you and our family.’

  21. This is a tough one for me because I have been in a very unequal marriage (out of it now fortunately). I would work all day and some evenings in a pretty high stress environment and come home to a messy house unsure if the kids had eaten and a wife sitting on the couch watching soap operas where she had been since she woke up at noon. She would then expect me to ‘help out’ (aka do) the housework. So I tend to cringe whenever the subject of division of labor is brought up. That being said, I’m probably safer not commenting because I will not say the politically correct thing on the subject. I see these conversations usually devolving into a Male Guilt Syndrome Party!

    I will say that being a self employed (work at home) dad with 2 children (age 3 and 5) has not given me a lot of sympathy towards anyone.

    I do agree with Jeff (#8) it’s about giving 100% and being happy to help your partner and also being happy to see that your partner has some time to do something they love to do. Don’t resent each other for the roles you play.

  22. Rigel-

    “This became a major bone of contention because my wife felt that the housekeepers were encroaching on her domain. After months of tension about the issue, I gave my wife a broom for Valentine’s day with a whimsical decoration saying that in honor of Valentine’s day, the maids were fired.”

    Wow…send the maids my way!! I’ll take them any day! 🙂

    I’ve been lucky to be able to be home with my kids their entire lives. The great thing is as they grow, they can contribute to the household chores. Obviously young children make more of a mess than anything, but even school age children can help with dishes, sweeping, etc. It gets a lot better when you delegate to the children and when they can babysit themselves too. I sure wouldn’t mind having someone come and clean my baseboards though……

  23. Rico – Very interesting post and comments.

    There was a time when I was a single/working mother of two. It was incredibly difficult. I had the burden of both provider and nurturer on my shoulders. It was then that I came to the realization that these two roles are not at odds with one another, but they need to work together – in order to fulfill our assignment as parents: Raise our Children to be responsible adults.

    When I was working, I longed for a day when I could make my kids breakfast, do the dishes, and keep the home. I was amazed at how difficult it was to do everything.

    I’ve been blessed to be remarried, and I’ve decided to stay at home with my kids. It is obvious that the change has been very positive for them. I worried that my divorce would impact them in a negative way. I’m grateful that, now, I can stay home and work in a way that will invite the Spirit into my home so that everyone (my husband and myself included) can feel the comfort and nurture that the Spirit provides. Even though I don’t get paid, I know that it is incredibly difficult to have a home with the Spirit – there is a lot of both exciting and mundane work involved. I feel a sense of deep accomplishment to be able to do this – even if it is private and/or not valued (or even seen) by others.

    That being said, I do have other ambitions. Everything comes at a sacrifice. I have learned to weigh my ambitions and goals, and I am willing to sacrifice some of my worldly ambitions for my eternal ones.

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