In reading a recent “Ask the Rabbi” you responded to a comment including the following statement “Sometimes, the wife wants to work out of the home not because the family needs the money but because she has been conditioned to believe that only such a job affirms her self-worth.”
Can you point me to information that will help me to better affirm my wife’s worth to the family regardless of her working/bringing in money. (We do well financially and our family does not want for anything.)
She stopped working shortly after we had our first child (Dec 2017) and has since mentioned in many tense discussions/arguments that she doesn’t feel to have “her own identity” since she no longer works. I feel that the conditioning, mentioned above, is the cause for her to believe she needs to work or that household responsibilities are somehow demeaning/waste of time.
I did search the “Ask the Rabbi” for similar questions but found it difficult to know keywords to search so I hope this is not a waste of your time. I really appreciate your words of wisdom on the podcast you do as well as the information you and Susan post here.
Thank you for picking up on the statement we made and giving us the opportunity to elaborate on it. We think that the question you are asking is an important one. As always in our answers to questions like these, we will try to give you and your wife a few avenues to explore. Since we don’t personally know you, we hope that at least one or two will resonate. (We are assuming that your wife is not one of those rare women who have a calling that is the equivalent of oxygen. In other words, almost everything else in life is secondary to that calling. Few men have a calling like that either.)
Just as one’s career should not completely subsume one, neither should the career of marriage and family. What are your wife’s interests and passions? Encourage her to take an art class one evening a week while you’re home with your son, attend a Bible study, volunteer with a literacy group, sign up for an adult-ed class in her area of expertise or interest—she should have the opportunity to cultivate her personality and talents for a few hours a week. She also can develop skills to use in the future or ones that can support and enhance your business.
Hopefully, the two of you have some back-up in the form of relatives or babysitters so that you are also spending time focused on growing your marriage separate from your role as parents.
You don’t mention if your wife had a professional life before your son was born but there is a world of difference between making a conscious choice to stay home and subconsciously feeling like you had nothing else worthwhile to contribute. At this point, your son should be sleeping through the night and it is important that your wife is growing intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Do the two of you discuss current events, share what you read with each other, learn Bible together and stay stimulated in other ways? There are thousands of online classes today that will allow her to pursue areas of interest. Most importantly, there is so much garbage out there about raising physically, spiritually and emotionally healthy children (and marriages) that she should tap into some authentic wisdom on those topics and develop a sense of a “business plan” for your family. Being the CEO of a family today requires active study, assessment, decision making and preparation.
Does your wife feel that she is an intrinsic part of your business? Do you seek and value her input? Do the two of you honestly feel that your income is being earned by you as a couple? Here is an example of how that works in the financial area. You need to work out a plan that makes clear that the income you earn is the result of both of you. In effect, as a team you are earning money and building a home. Your son is not your wife’s son whom she shares with you and your salary is not your salary that you share with her. You are dividing responsibilities so that you can run a thriving enterprise known as your life.
Financial decisions, including individual spending money, charity allotments and budgeting should be considered by both of you in partnership as should major parenting and home decisions. While each of you has your area of expertise, think of yourself as two department heads with overlapping interests. You focus on one area and she focuses on another one, but neither of you can work unilaterally and simply inform the other of your decisions as they always affect the bigger project. Make sure that you sincerely express your appreciation of her contribution to your life, both privately and publicly.
Here is possibly the most important thing we have to say. It is very hard to be out of step with your peer group. God created us as social animals and while there are times we simply have to resist the norms around us, for example, when the activity is immoral or illegal, it is never an easy thing to do so. How much more difficult it is when the trend is neither immoral or illegal, but simply out of style.
When one of our daughters was home full time with her first-born, she found it easy to be demoralized. If she took his stroller to the park, she was surrounded by babysitters and nannies, not other mothers. When she hosted a Friday night get-together for the young women in her building (she was new in town and took the initiative to meet her neighbors) they went around the room introducing themselves and each woman identified herself by her career. At that first gathering our daughter found herself embarrassed as she said, “I stay home with my son.”
Then a funny thing happened. As she got to know the other women better, many of them individually told her how many times they cried as they walked out every morning leaving their babies and toddlers in the care of others. They told her of the pain they felt when a paid caregiver heard the baby’s first giggle and saw those first steps. They, in fact, had conflicting emotions. Yes, they were proud of their careers, but they were also jealous of her ability to be there for her son. The grass was not greener on the other side.
All this is to say that it makes a world of difference if your wife has friends who are making the same choice as she. This may mean cultivating a new group of friends. You can help her do so by trying a different church that has more families with compatible at-home moms and scanning local papers and the internet to find activities catering to these families. There are online sites where women support each other. At sixteen months, your son may be adorable, but he is not able to provide adult conversation and interaction, both of which would nurture your wife. You can help her not to draw her circle too narrowly and to recognize the absolute need for female companionship that applauds and values her choice.
Not being pulled in two directions (home and career) can be a tremendous gift. It allows one to cater not only to one’s family but to the neighborhood and community as well. Your wife’s life should be busy and overflowing. The trick is to overflow it with positive things that keep priorities straight. Society today rewards and recognizes the malcontent. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude for what we have rather than always assuming that something else is better is actually counter-cultural. Make sure that feeling permeates both your lives.
We hope at least some of these ideas hit the spot,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin