Modern family life is complex and too busy. So often both parents work outside the home and contribute equally to the household budget. Both are often experts in their chosen fields. So one might expect this equality to be replicated inside the home. Yet, somehow, like the wage gap itself, it never seems to be.
I’m talking here about modern couples, couples who might even use the f word when describing themselves – feminism that is.
He cooks for Shabbat. But as he does the cooking his presumption is that he does it alone without consultation. For this is the model, work in the home is done alone. But she would like it to be a joint project. She’d like to make the potatoes once in a while because her recipe is actually quite nice. But if he’s responsible for it, he understands that to mean that he is alone in the endeavour.
Similarly, when it comes to the children she thinks that what she says goes. That’s how it was in her parents’ home and that worked out just fine. But he wants to be a participating father in the lives of the children he brought in to the world.
And at some point the chores and the arguments add up and it all gets a bit much.
Too much literature about relationships today blames feminism for the problems couples encounter. In the past, it claims, gender roles were clear, there was a man’s work and woman’s work and never the twain shall meet. And it worked better then.
What this fantasy always fails to acknowledge is the number of American wives on antidepressants in the 1950s, and all those who sort solace in alcohol. Life as a home maker was dull and dreary, particularly after two world wars had permitted women unprecedented access to participation in a very broad world. Still strenuous in the labour yet work inside the home was now utterly lonely and inconsequential as the suburbs had separated women who had once had a sense of comradery as they toiled for the families they reigned.
What is important, those holding onto the fantasy that separated gender roles is the ideal, insist, is that the numbers were good. The divorce rate then was much lower than it is today. But that, of course, ignores the reality, that as soon as the 1970s made divorce socially acceptable, many women fled the shackles of their unbearable lives and flourished.
Another reason found to blame feminism is women’s increasing independence. A woman no longer needs a man to support her, she can support herself. In fact, she can even support him. It is feminism that gave women absurd ideas of independence and participation in life beyond the home thus feminism is responsible for the difficulties couples face today.
But, in reality, when you listen properly to these couples you hear that, despite the frustration that sometimes accompany the energetic discussions of today – dare we call them fights? – the reward is actually much greater than anything most previous generations ever knew.
Of course I don’t preach for feminism in my day to day work in my practice. I see all kinds of couples from all kinds of diverse backgrounds and engage in the therapy that they need as they are.
What I always find is that after all is said and done, each and every person just wants the feeling of togetherness and partnership with their chosen one. Nobody wants to feel lonely in their relationship and that is what so much strife between couples is so often about.
It doesn’t really matter who does what when or where, as long as the two of you talk it out and you both feel heard, accepted and understood.
But what about children so many are inclined to ask. I saw this on facebook:
Many new mothers talk about the feeling of being hauled back into classic gender roles as soon as the child emerges. They feel conflicted because so often they do just want to be mommies but then they also want to feel that the person they once were is still in there somewhere.
This new, yet so old, terrain, is so tricky to navigate, as both the man and woman have such engrained models. Some may have parents who were both active in their upbringing while others feel they have no reference point and have to make it up as they go along.
My own personal experience is that it was rather nice when I started to trust my partner’s abilities as a father and gave his input equal weight and importance in family life.
So in this very busy world in which we find ourselves, where we can sometimes feel very much alone, isn’t it nice to know that we are united in our misery as we gaze at the stack of dishes in the sink or the load of laundry in the basket?
I invite you to join us this Wednesday evening, May 18th at 20:00 at the First Station in Jerusalem. We will be discussing the family structure and the changes it went through, not only regarding the roles of the partners in the family, but also what happens when the family structure is a bit different than the traditional one.