I’ve been watching a lot of Dick Van Dyke lately. I know so many of these shows are incredibly outdated, especially when it comes to things like husband/wife dynamics, but I really love watching them because they motivate me. Sometimes I do absolutely nothing all day, even when there is a lot that could be done, simply because I don’t have any motivation to be better. Reminding myself that there was a time when people who were stay at home moms were expected to actually do something helps get me off my butt. A couple of weeks ago I was dropping my daughter off at school and it was so COLD. I couldn’t bring myself to take off the warm flannel sweatpants I had on so I just hopped in the car as I was. On my way home I realized we needed milk (the only thing my husband ever says about my housekeeping is that we need to always have milk and cereal for breakfast) and as I was walking into the grocery store, bundled up with my thick boots and coat, a little old woman teetered in beside me. She had on some kind of dress or skirt under her coat, short heels, and her short curly hair tucked under a handkerchief. I was beyond embarrassed. Here I was, a young woman, with plenty of time, energy, and clothes to at least try to look nice, and I was being shown up by an old lady who had probably gotten dressed like this every day of her life. I know that this isn’t completely fair to me or her. She had probably been up for quite awhile, maybe she never liked having to get dressed when she was a young mother and wished it had been socially acceptable to just be warm and comfortable at times, and I am fairly busy trying to manage a house and children. But all that being said, was it really too much for me to run a comb through my hair? I complain all the time about feeling like a frumpy housewife, fat, lazy, unattractive, but all of that is completely my fault because I put on flannel sweatpants in the morning when I could have just as easily put on slacks.
I’m so glad that I live in a society and time when there isn’t a whole lot expected of me. I don’t have to hold to a certain kind of decorum, my house doesn’t have to be spotless, I don’t have to feel pressure crushing me in from every side to be a certain kind of feminine ideal, but I really like striving to these kind of things. I feel better about myself when I’m tidy, when I get dressed in the morning, when I can put a good meal on the table for my family. There are so many things from grandparents or great-grandparents generations that are absolutely wonderful, and I would like to bring my kids up with those kinds of things in mind. While I would never want my daughter to think she is in anyway less of a person than a boy, I also want her to be mindful that she is a girl, and if she chooses to be certain things like a mother, or a wife, there are certain kinds of things that she will have to do to fulfill those roles. I really love The Adventures of Being a Wife by Ruth Peale (she’s listed as Mrs. Norman Vincent Peale on the book title. Even I’m not that old fashioned) mostly because it has just plain old good advice. It’s a bit painful to read at some points, because she does come from the angle that women are supposed to be the angel of the house and have a secondary role to their husband but her relationship with her husband still seems very honest, companionable, and since she is a successful business woman herself, the book does show that being a good traditional sort of wife doesn’t always mean you have to sacrifice yourself completely.
Some people say you shouldn’t romanticize the past, which is true since the “truth” of any period of time is that many people died for want of basic necessities, many groups of people were badly taken advantage of, etc. I would argue though that the advantage we have today is that we live in a very free society and can take the best of the past and mix it with the best of the present. That’s why I love being reminded of what women, wives, and mothers used to do. It gives me motivation to be the best that I can be, while not feeling terrible if I fall short (which I will inevitably). My husband once told me that he was sitting at the park next to an elderly asian woman. A girl walked by very sloppily dressed and the asian woman (who was fully dressed up) leaned over to my husband and said “This is a great place to live. In my country, you can’t go out without dressing up. This is a great country.” That is how I want to live my life. Being grateful that I have the opportunity to be whomever I want, but trying to be the best version of myself I can be.