A younger but perhaps wiser friend recently pointed out to me, "It doesn't naturally follow that if you are a mother, you also have the role of a wife, and even if you were, the role of a wife is different to the role of a mother. They are two separate things that don't necessarily need to be seen in the context of the other. They stand alone."
Well, obviously, you might say, but not so if you are performing both roles in a haze of sleep deprivation and cognitive conflict. So, my apologies to readers of WHITE magazine, because what I have given you, in my latest first-person piece, is a conflation of the role of wife and mother. And given readers of WHITE, for the most part, are, I imagine, embarking on the journey of marriage and not always with a child, my thinking and writing were a little misguided; as tangled as a pair of earphones in a handbag.
This is one of the perils of working with words. Thinking changes but you cannot always take back the words that appear on the page. It's hard sometimes to negotiate those limitations and the imperfection of this craft called writing.
For those wives who do have children, perhaps the original will resonate (pick up your copy of WHITE!). But what follows is a piece I am much happier to publish about the challenges of wifely status from where I sit...
I am just off the phone to my husband who is in Cambodia battling with a broken chain-stitch machine and a myriad other issues revolving around the denim start-up he helms when he is not running a welding business. He sounds stressed. He asks how my day was. “Fine, fine,” I lie.
Now would not be the time to mention that my mind is a tumult of conflicting, cascading emotions that I’d really like to download on him for husbandly analysis and advice. Instead, I filter pictures and videos of our little girl performing random acts of cuteness to his phone.
He would do the same for me.
Graduating from fiancée to wife isn’t always an easy transition. While fiancée means ‘wedding!’, ‘excitement!’, ‘star!’, ‘wife’ is forever…you are forever engaged, entangled and entwined with your husband. An ability to discern, intuit, listen and respond is vital to the marriage’s survival.
The world doesn’t readily buy into the idea that there’s nobility in the notion of sacrificing one’s own feelings, thoughts, ideas and ambitions for the sake of keeping a marriage, a family and a home together – maintaining the emotional equilibrium at the expense of your own “stuff” being neglected.
As Hillary Clinton, that stately beacon of wifely loyalty, once said, “We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society.” It is the same for a marriage; it starts at home.
There is constant negotiation and sacrifice: thinking of the husband and what is good for him, and the marriage, in this moment, this week, this season, and not necessarily with the idea in mind that you’ll be repaid in kind (though, obviously, that would be nice!).
From the mundane negotiations around who will wield the mop to the larger philosophical issues such as the values you want to instil in your children, each matter requires a certain amount of emotional discipline and a willingness to acknowledge your husband's sovereignty as an individual deserving of respect, love and everything you wish for yourself.
Marriage requires as much diplomacy as the White House, but also a willingness to be raw and real and to handle each other's humanity in a way that is tender, though sometimes lovingly tough. My husband and I have never shied away from telling each other like it is; the good, the bad and the ugly.
We cannot anticipate on our wedding day what issues we might confront as a wife, especially if our husband is the knight-in-shining-armour type, and we are young and fearless and not battered by life.
Your husband could be diagnosed with a brain tumour at 32, like a beautiful friend of mine, or Parkinson’s, or lose his job, mind, or joie de vivre for life in general. Let it not be so, but at that point, you may have to choose. Will it be him or you or the both of you?
As I imagine Hillary well knows, wifehood is not always comfortable or flattering or fulfilling or fun-fun-fun. The Office of Wife requires commitment, courage, compassion and a tolerance for his imperfections as well as an awareness of your own.
As Sade sang, "When you're on the outside baby and you can`t get in, I will show you you're so much better than you know. When you're lost and you're alone and you can't get back again
I will find you, darling, and I will bring you home."
Two weeks after my husband returns from Cambodia, I’m under the pump with a sermon to deliver and this story to write. So he takes our baby girl and entertains her for a few hours while I string my thoughts together. It’s a pocket of time in his busy schedule allocated just for me and I’m grateful.
It’s only when the deadlines have passed that he tells me about the churned up feeling he’d been experiencing all that weekend. A wife has got to know when to shine and when to be supportive, but so too does a husband.
Facing personal challenges in a chaotic world, especially when the chips are down, is so much easier when you have a friend to count on; one who’s willing to put self-interest aside and just be by your side championing your cause, like a presidential candidacy, or caring for your child.
WHITE magazine, Issue #28, is out now.
See also: Video: Two souls, one life = husband and wife (plus Larissa's amazing blog)