By Ashley McIlwain
(There might be a GIVEAWAY involved with this, so make sure to read all the way through :))
Marriage is a journey. It’s full of ebbs and flows, challenges and joys, laughter and tears, and a whole lot of growing, forgiving, and loving. Many of us struggle with various aspects of our marital journey and are looking for answers.
That’s why I am pleased, honored, and excited to introduce Sheila Wray Gregoire to you. Syndicated parenting columnist, speaker, author of four books and counting, hard-working mother, and loving wife, Sheila has a lot of wisdom and insight to bring to the table. Her sunny disposition and no-nonsense advice on marriage, parenting, and managing a family gets you laughing, thinking, and moving in the right direction.
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Sheila about everything from submission to sex, and you are going to want to listen up!
Ashley: How do you think the definition and role of a wife and mother has changed over the last 50 years?
Sheila: That’s a huge one. The big difference is that roles have become much more blurred in terms of what you actually do for providing for the family. I don’t think emotional roles have changed very much, but the practical day-to-day has really changed, making things really confusing for a lot of people. I don’t know if you saw it, but there was a really interesting study that just came out of Norway that found that couples who actually split housework duties are 50% more likely to get divorced. I was reading that and thinking, “That is just weird.” But they found out that when people are totally committed to the idea that equality in marriage means everybody does 50%, it really can lead to a lot of fights. There’s just a lot more pressure on couples to reevaluate who does what, and sometimes if we go into that with the wrong attitude, it can actually make our marriages worse.
For me I think the important thing is that everybody is contributing in some way, but the idea that everyone needs to do 50% of absolutely everything is crazy. I do 100% of the cooking because my husband can’t cook, and I actually enjoy cooking. He does 100% of the lawn mowing because I can’t operate a lawnmower, and I’m very grateful that he likes doing that. Everyone just needs to figure out how it works best in their relationships.
The roles my husband and I have worked out provide something very gratifying. Accomplishing those things that play to your strengths and contributing to the marriage is rewarding.
I know a lot of people who are in relationships where they really do feel like they do 80-90% of the work, and that’s not helpful either. There has to be some way to communicate about these things and figure out what is a good division of labor because the truth is there’s just a lot of work that goes into running a household.
In your book, To Love, Honor, and Vacuum, you address the hectic lives of women. What would your advice be to a wife and/or mother who is feeling completely overwhelmed and underappreciated?
There are a couple of things to do. First of all, I think that when someone feels overwhelmed and underappreciated, quite often bitterness comes along with that. If you’re feeling underappreciated, you’re also going to tend to feel like other people are impeding you and making your life more miserable. That’s a very dangerous place to be.
What I’d say is, number 1: you’ve got to remember that you cannot change anybody else. When we get bitter, we tend to think everyone else is responsible for our misery. We think, “I would be happy if only he would …” And you can probably finish the sentence. “I would be happy if only he would …, give me some time to myself …, he would figure out how to change the toilet paper roll …, he would pick up a mop once in a while.” As soon as you say that, you’re also saying, “I will never be happy unless he …” then you’re putting your happiness into someone else’s hands. You can’t do that. You can never change another person. If you’re feeling miserable and taken for granted, the answer isn’t to try to change him. The answer is to change what you do, and how you react to people so that you can find more peace and joy in your own life even if he doesn’t change.
How can a wife get her husband involved in helping around the house in a loving and respectful way?
Sometimes it can just take a sense of humor. I heard about one woman who said to her husband, “I am really sorry that I put the hamper in the wrong place. It just never seems to be right where your socks are lying.” He started laughing, got the point, and started putting his socks in the hamper from then on. So sometimes just treating these things like they’re funny can help.
Using that same example, if you have a hamper in your bedroom that your husband never quite manages to get the clothes into, and this drives you absolutely bonkers, it’s perfectly fine to say, “You know what sweetie? I love doing laundry. I will do the laundry, I will fold the laundry, and I will put the laundry away. I will do any laundry at all that happens to be in the hamper.” Then just leave it at that. If he runs out of underwear, he runs out of underwear. It’s ok to put boundaries around what you do so that other people don’t treat you with disrespect.
Something you talk about in To Love, Honor, and Vacuum, is this concept that many moms serve their kids and their husbands in the wrong way. What do you mean by that?
There’s a world of difference between serving someone and being subservient. I think a lot of women are actually subservient. There’s a strain in the Christian church which actually encourages us to be subservient saying how women must submit, meet their husband’s needs, and all these other things, with which I do agree, but the real point becomes what you mean by those words. I know a lot of women who do everything for their family and allow their family to treat them horribly. That is not a good way to function. It doesn’t help your kids grow in Christ. It doesn’t help your husband grow in Christ. It certainly doesn’t help you grow in Christ.
Take for example, a kid. If your ten year old comes in from school and drops his coat on a chair, his backpack on the living room floor, and then plays X-box while you rifle through his backpack, get his lunch box out and clean it, and put his coat and backpack away, you’ve taught him to treat you with disrespect. You’ve taught him that it’s ok to assume someone is always going to clean up after him. That is not a good lesson to give your kid. You might think that you are serving your child, but you’re not. You’re actually doing him or her a disservice.
Sometimes we’re the same with our husbands. If you have a genuine issue in your marriage, it is ok to bring that issue up as long as you’re also working on your friendship and respecting him. It’s not like you’re never allowed to say that something is wrong or that you’d really like it if we could do this in a different way. I absolutely think that God created us to be people that others will respect. If people don’t respect you, it’s because you’re allowing them to treat you that way.
I think the verse on submission is taken out of context a lot. The verse before that says to submit to one another. It also discusses the responsibility of the husband loving the wife. This passage creates a portrait of how Christ loved the church, and I think sometimes we forget that and just focus on the “women should submit.” As a result, a lot of women struggle with what this means, and it does tend to take on this subservient mentality which elicits disrespect. As you said, it does a disservice because then those are the expectations the kids and the husband take out into the world, and most people in the world are not out there waiting to meet their every need.
I’ve often said, “The best gift you can give your future daughter-in-law is a son who cleans toilets.” So teach your kids how to clean; it will do a lot more good than if you do it all yourself.
Tell us what it is you love most about being a wife and a mother.
My kids are now teenagers. My oldest is almost 18, my daughter is 15, and we’re having the times of our lives. I can talk to them like they’re real people. I know your kids are not supposed to be your best friends, and I don’t mean I don’t have authority over them, but in many ways they are my best friends. We go for walks, and if I’m nervous about something, I’ll share it with them. I do the same with my husband. We just talk so much. One of the best parts of family is just that feeling of closeness and love. But that’s not automatic. What I’m feeling right now, and what my husband and I have said to ourselves out loud recently, is that we’re reaping the benefits of what we did ten years ago. It is really neat to see your kids grow up well, especially when the toddler years were so exhausting.
That’s something good for people to hear. Put in the work because at some point it does really pay off. You will see the rewards of all the labor of love you put into your family.
Yeah, I like to look at it this way: you’re going to do the work no matter what. When it comes to kids, there’s going to be work. The question is: are you going to do it when the kids are toddlers, or are you going to do it when they’re teens? It is a whole lot easier to do it when they’re toddlers. If you train your kids properly, by the time that they’re teenagers, they tend to have internalized a lot of the messages so that they’re able to make good decisions. If you don’t teach them those lessons when they’re young, then they’re going to make some bad decisions when they’re teens, and you’re going to be working so hard to overcome that. The work is there regardless, but it’s a lot better to do the work when they’re younger.
Check back this Friday for Part 2 of Sheila’s interview as we talk candidly about sex, culture, and marriage! You aren’t going to want to miss it!
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