I’ve been married all of six months. Everyone says the first year of marriage is the hardest, because of all the change it brings. Some of those changes I knew to expect. But one thing I was not prepared for was all the guilt. I’ve been surprised by the guilt that comes from not meeting all these expectations I didn’t even realize I had for myself as a wife and (step)mother. I am an unapologetic feminist, and didn’t think traditional gender roles carried much weight in my psyche. It turns out that on some level, they do. It’s like I have this horribly perfect housewife from some old TV show (because nobody is that perfect in real life) breaking into my thoughts, constantly telling me how I’m screwing everything up.She points out how messy the house is. When I was single, it was so much easier to keep everything clean, and I loved having a tidy house. Now, my judgmental inner TV housewife keeps reminding me that even though my mother had two children in the house full time and usually at least two jobs at any given moment, the house I grew up in was always spotless. At least that’s the way I remember it. So, she tells me, I have no excuse. I only have one job, and the kids only live here half the days of any given week. Why are there dirty dishes in the sink, and piles of laundry both downstairs and upstairs, and toys of both dog and human varieties (though, honestly, some crossover does happen) in the living room floor?
Another thing she beats me up about is not being here for the kids enough. My husband and I only get the boys half the time, and my job means working twelve-hour shifts half the days of every month. The end result is that I really only get to spend a fourth of the time with them. That’s only one fourth the rides to and from school, one fourth the bedtime stories, one fourth the dinners together, one fourth the family game nights, one fourth the homework help. It weighs on me. The bitchy TV housewife in my head says it’s bad enough that I’m only supposed to be a half-time mother, but I’m really a half-half-time mother. She reminds me how disappointed the boys are when I’m at work instead of spending time with them, and I feel like crap. Of course, if I start to get “too” involved in their lives – volunteering at their school, arranging playdates for them, worrying whether they read/sleep/eat vegetables enough – she’ll tell me that I’m not their real mother and I need to be careful not to overstep. There really is no winning with her.
She also chides me for not putting enough work into looking nice. Most of the time when my husband gets home from work (on the nights that I’m actually home instead of at my own job), I am A. dripping with sweat from doing housework/yardwork, B. just getting out of the shower after doing said housework/yardwork, or C. wearing worn out jean shorts and a t-shirt as I pick the boys up from their after school program. The horrid TV housewife asks, “Would it kill you to get dressed up and wear some makeup for your husband? And just how many pounds have you put on since the wedding?” Yes, I’ve gained a few. So has he. It happens. We’re both trying to get healthier now. But it doesn’t seem to bother him at all that I’m not dressed to the nines with fully styled hair and makeup most of the times he sees me. So why does it bother me? Why won’t this judgmental TV housewife leave me alone?
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only woman to have such a voice in my head. Maybe it’s most of us in the U.S., or at least in the South, or maybe it has something to do with my age? I don’t know. I only know that I’ve heard a lot of my peers being similarly critical of themselves. And part of me thought that they were just more “traditional” than me, so I would surely be immune. Nope. I have to grapple with the judgmental 1950s TV housewife in my head just about every day. So far, I haven’t figured out how to make her go away completely. All I can do is remind her and myself that I’m doing the best I can. And pray that the days when my best is not good enough are outweighed by the days when it is, and that love will cover my multitude of sins.