Not a Job: Redefining Life as a Spouse

     Several days ago I was teaching in a high school classroom. A female student was bemoaning the fact that when she returned home in the afternoon, she would have to clean the house. I told her, "if it makes you feel better, I also have to clean the house."
     A boy chimed in "well, yeah, of course, that's because you are the mom." To which I said "I'm not a mom."
    His response, "well, wife, whatever, it's still your job to clean the house."
    I took a deep breath for a second with a follow up statement, "I need to rephrase what I said earlier. When I said that I had to clean the whole house I meant, my husband and I have to clean the house. We are equals. It's neither my job or his job to clean the house, it's both of our responsibility because we both live there. We both cook, we both clean, we both are responsible, because we both live there. We are partners."
    The boy shook his head and rolled his eyes a bit, but the girl, her eyes got big and a smile broke out as she said "that sounds like an amazing relationship."
     It seems a bit odd to me that in 2016 I am having this conversation with high school students. This idea that women and men are equals, that our roles are not defined by some sort of biological mandate. That my husband and I can co-lead in our home, and co-care for our home is noteworthy seems strange, because to us that is life, and it just makes sense.
    This idea of co-responsibility was pronounced after hearing a pastor's spouse reference that being a pastor's wife is "the best job in the world".
    I asked my husband in the car later, "Is being my husband a job for you? Do you see being a pastor's husband as a job?" He laughed with a hearty no, to my great relief.
     Because the language of job sounds like a chore (this is also why I often refer to the work I do at church as a vocation, because it is something other than a job for me in many ways), like something one must do out of obligation, versus out of love, care, and respect. I don't want to be someone's job, least of all my husbands, I want to be his wife.
     While I am not a fan of doing dishes or laundry, and neither is my husband, I don't want those to be seen as jobs either, as much as I want them to be seen as things we do to make our lives better, to support one another, and to love one another. To be good stewards of our belongings, we take care of them. I am not always great at this and often bemoan the fact that I have to restart the washing machine, again, because I forgot the clothes while attending to the 50 other tasks on my to do list. It is a goal I strive for.
      There are issues with the language of a spouse as a job outside of these initial issues as well.
      First, there is still this prevailing issue in the church that when you hire a pastor, you get the spouse free! The old joke about asking at pastoral interviews "does your wife play piano?" still rings true in many places. This places an extreme burden on a pastor's spouse, to do just as much as his spouse does, but to get little to no recognition for it. There have been multiple articles and blog posts written (mostly by pastor's wives, I have yet to find a pastor's husband one, though I am sure they exist) about the alienation and frustrations they feel by this phenomenon. My own husband has referenced his own frustrations at times, at feeling like he in a sense has to punch a time clock, when he has been expected to show up at every single church event, and even more so, when things he says on social media are judged as being a reflection on me, without considering that he and I probably discussed the topic before it even made it to social media!
      The language of job also lends itself into complementarianism. I have heard women time and time again talk about the job of being a wife and a mother, but I haven't heard the same rhetoric used by men (the exception being that I hear men speak about "babysitting" their own children, and I don't hear moms say that.) "The most important job I have is being a mom." Is a common phrase I've heard from women of all ages. I 100% get what they are saying, raising children is an incredibly important task, but sometimes I fear the language of job supersedes the language of relationship. Where the relationship between men and women are concerned, it lends itself to saying that it is the woman's job to take care of the children, to be a good wife, to take care of the home, while the husband has a job outside of the home, to provide for the family. This really diminishes both women and men. While seeking to elevate being a wife and mother, it makes it seem the same as punching a clock each day. It does the exact opposite of what it is trying to achieve, while also placing men and women in distinct gender roles.
      I prefer to say it this way, being a wife is the most important relationship (after God) I have right now, and if I have children, they will be the second most important relationship. A relationship goes 2 ways, it must be fostered, cared for, and nurtured. There is no time clock to punch, there is no day off, because relationships are different than jobs.
     When we have relationships with friends, our expectations are that there is give and take, that we are equals, that we are there for one another, that we care for one another, etc. We would never think to call being a friend a "job", despite friendship being a less important relationship in our life than what we have with our spouse. Our expectations with our spouse should be the same, that there is give and take, that we are equals, that we are there for one another, that we care for one another, even MORE so than we do with our friends.
     It might seem minuscule or unimportant, but I realized that day in a high school classroom how closely those who come behind us are watching us. They are watching and defining their value, they are defining what relationships will look like for them, and I hope that in this small way, we will learn to think less of our family as a job, and more as... well... a family.

This entry was posted on Friday, September 23, 2016. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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