Why are we asking women to choose between being a wife and being a mom?
One of the themes that pops up often in evangelical marriage literature is warnings to women not to be a mom first and a wife second. It’s in almost all of Gary Thomas’ books. I used to teach it! It’s pretty much everywhere.
So we’re pitting motherhood against wifehood.
What that’s doing is taking a woman who, we know from research, is carrying the majority of the childcare load and the mental load, and telling her that she has to dedicate JUST AS MUCH to her husband.
The problem is that she can’t drop anything. What, exactly, could she drop? Her kids need her. By asking her to prioritize the marriage, all we’re doing is loading so much to her already full plate, and making her feel guilty.
There’s a way around this, and it’s a simple one:
Asking men to be involved dads.
As Rebecca and Connor were talking about on the podcast this week, parenthood is something they do together, and because of that, it enhances their marriage, it doesn’t detract from it.
Motherhood is only a risk to your marriage if parenthood is something separate from your marriage that he doesn’t really participate in. As soon as he participates fully, then parenthood is something that brings you closer.
Take the quote that I shared from Gary Thomas on yesterday’s podcast:
If the baby cries, the husband stops existing. They could be in the middle of making love, but that doesn’t matter–the baby comes first. The power has shifted back to the wife.
In Gary’s book, he explains that the power in marriage resides with the one who is the least emotionally invested in the marriage at the time–similar to how in a dating relationship, the power lies with the one the least committed. They determine how much you text and how often you see each other.
In this “power shift” in marriage, then, the wife is less invested in the marriage because of the baby. So what’s his solution? She needs to be LESS invested in the baby, and MORE invested in the marriage. And I guess she has sex even if the baby is crying?
But there is another obvious solution here. Just ask the dad to be committed to the baby too!
Men can be equally involved dads.
What would happen instead if we told men: “Remember that in this season of life, being a dad is your primary responsibility. Get engaged with your kids. Get up in the middle of the night with your toddlers. Do lots of the the daily care for your kids.”
We posted this question to our followers on social media a few months ago, and the responses started flowing in immediately.
We heard from women who were exhausted of the emotional and mental burdens placed upon them to keep their marriages afloat and their households running.
We heard from women who were desperate for their husbands to fully show up in their marriages as an equal partner in life and in raising their children.
We even heard from a few men who were acknowledging that there is a massive cultural problem in placing too much on the shoulders of women and not expecting enough of their husbands.
So let’s see what people think about this.
It would result in husbands being better partners and more empathetic with their wives
What if we told men that their wives need them to show up in their marriages and stood alongside their wives to shoulder their share of housework, childcare, and marital responsibilities? It seems like that would lead to stronger and more equal partnerships and marriages.
Our readers agreed with this thought:
“oh my gosh yes!!! This would have made SUCH a difference in my marriage, rather than adding to the idea he had that I wasn’t appropriately meeting his needs. I had a baby that cried 24×7 for 6 months if she wasn’t nursing or asleep (on me!). But that didn’t “excuse me” from anything.”
“Can’t count the number of times I’ve said “you don’t get a break from being a parent!” When he was tired, sick, wanted a break, on vacation, etc. but I’ve had to shoulder everything regardless of what I was going through. (And it included 21 years of trauma that induced autoimmune symptoms)”
“I know in my life it has also required examining my own expectations, which were influenced by a complementarian upbringing but also a wide streak of people pleasing. Once I believed that I was *allowed to* insist on a more equal workload, a lot of other things improved ;)”
It would result in husbands taking responsibility for themselves as the adults they are
So much of cultural expectations within the church mean that not very much is expected of husbands. Women aren’t just expected to raise the children and care for the home, she’s also often expected to clean up after her husband, make him feel adored (as we showed in the Bare Marriage Podcast Ep. 220), and always be available for sex.
So where does that leave men? Without any real responsibilities to their wives or children, it would seem.
“I’ve always found it infuriating that we expect the children to act more like adults than the fathers.
Children having needs is biological. Adults have the capability to care for themselves and even at times put off their wants/desires and even needs for the sake of the children that can’t.
C’mon Church. Jesus didn’t put off the kids for the adults. Why are we?”
“Not to mention how many of us wives have ALWAYS prioritized our marriage also, but the husband was withholding affection, conversation, encouragement and sex for years….on top of not helping with his own kids…
Remember everyone that it’s usually the wife who is reading all the marriage and parenting books or asking to go to counseling….and the man refusing to…”
“Truth! Oh and while we are at it let’s teach them that household chores and childcare are equally the responsibility of men and women so they don’t do the things but then resent their wife because he had to do “her chores”!”
“I really believe this label “men” is overused and misapplied in these contexts. Men, Christ following men, don’t have a self/centered, entitled mentality that offloads any of their responsibilities onto their wife.
“These are subpar men, regardless of their superficial Christ confessions. Subpar men are man-boys. These man-boys are proof positive that arrested development is real. These spiritual infants are who the Apostle Paul called “babes in Christ.” But these are not a representative sample of men, by no stretch of the biblical imagination:
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me”
If the toxic, unbiblical and harmful mentality isn’t called out for what it is, both man-boys and the women who marry them, will think it’s normal behavior for men. It’s not, not by men or by men who raise their sons to be men. It’s a mentality that should not be married, tolerated or given the ability to take up residence in a marriage relationship. Period.”
“Our kids are grown now, but when they were little, we took it on as a team. We’ve got 26 years in and we still live by the exact same motto…
One person was never intended to bare the load. That’s simply selfish and idiotic.
In my opinion…”
It would result in feelings of connection, intimacy, and arousal
The biggest problem with women’s libidos (other than orgasm) is exhaustion, and the biggest cause for exhaustion is uneven mental load/housework. If we can focus on what the real problem actually is, we can solve a lot of marriages. And that means that marriage teachers have to start teaching about the stuff that is really hurting couples.
Having an engaged partner who shows up as a committed parent often means that sex would be more likely to flow naturally–as a result of the partnership they feel, and the fact that she’s not exhausted. Instead, we tell women who feel overwhelmed, “add this to your plate, and be happy and excited about it, and forget about the fact that you’re tired.”
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Again, our readers agree with this take:
“Preach! Not to mention what a turn on it is to see my honey unloading the dishwasher (my least favorite chore) and wrestling or reading with our son. Makes me wanna send that kid outside to play for a few we’re partners on this adventure together. I’m thankful for the Great Sex Rescue and the breath of fresh air it shot through our marriage.”
“here’s my take. Men want more sex. Men won’t step up to give the wife needed rest so she isn’t exhausted so she can focus on sex. Men don’t want to put their wife first but want their wife to treat them like a child and do everything frequently including a job outside the home. Not sexy. If men want more sex their wives and women are who men would be listening to to get more sex. Not men who spiritually beat exhausted abused women over the head with scripture to get more sex. Mutually. Honesty. Integrity. Faithfulness including not lusting, loving their wives as Christ loves the church, etc is the way! Not acting like a child while treating their wife as a maid, mother or child.”
“If childcare is so tiring that a man cannot possibly help do it during his time at home, how does he expect his wife to have energy for sex when she does childcare all day every day?”
Marriage is supposed to be about equal partnership
Yes, sometimes we all need the message that we need to prioritize our marriages when busy-ness creeps in. But I’m not sure that’s the real problem. If one spouse is so exhausted that sex is off the table, and the other spouse isn’t that exhausted? Perhaps evening out the load would do a whole lot more good than lecturing the exhausted partner to do more.
When the burden falls on one spouse to be in charge of everything from housekeeping to childcare and even to keeping fires burning in the bedroom, there is no actual partnership. It’s become a one-sided relationship in which it becomes optional for the other spouse to show up.
Mental Load/Emotional Labor Series:
- How Emotional Labor Series: How Mental Load Affects Marriage
- The Fair Play Solution: Conception, Planning, Execution
- The Emotional Labor Series: How Do We Decide Our Standards?
- The Emotional Labor Series: How to Eliminate Nagging for Good
- Mental Load Example: The "Let's Go to the Beach" Saga
- The Emotional Labor Series: Why The Daily Grind Needs to Be Shared
- The Emotional Labor Series: Why Everyone Needs Time to Themselves
- PODCAST: What is Emotional Labor?
Let’s be clear: the only reason to frame a wife’s devotion to the kids as a threat to the marriage is because the husband isn’t equally devoted to the kids.
Quite frankly, that’s a him problem, not a her problem.
(And, yes, I know in extreme cases she can be overly preoccupied with the kids, but this isn’t the normal state of things).
I’ll just leave you with a few more comments from our followers:
“Truth. It does no good to lecture the one who is tired because they honestly have nothing left to give because they are exhausted. It is like beating a dead horse.”
“It’s almost as if husband and wife work best when they operate as a team…go figure.”
“What if having a perpetually tired wife was seen as something to feel ashamed of, a sign that you’re not being a very good husband? If a complaint that,”she’s always too tired,” was automatically understood for what it probably is?”
What do you think? How can we normalize men stepping up to the plate? Let’s talk in the comments!