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The Unwinable Argument

A firestorm started when Hilary Rosen took a shot at Ann Romney, presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife, about her life as a stay-at-home wife and mother. The blogs and Twitter blew up, the pundits piled on, the networks angled for position. This small spark certainly took to flame faster than anyone would have thought. It has stimulated discussions nearly everywhere I've been the last few days. My wife and I were talking about it and it dawned on me...this is an unwinable argument. So, I hope my small voice will offer some needed balance and sanity to all this drama.

This fight is nothing new between husbands and wives who almost predictably slip into the mode of trying to prove how hard their respective lives are. Each one tries to present his or her particular set of responsibilities as more challenging than their counterpart. The underlying motive being to garner the sympathy or respect of our spouse. And if we would be truly honest, we want to use our "more difficult" situation to justify some exemption of duties or special treatment in some way. This is so obviously selfish that our spouse simply retorts with their own vain attempts to win the fight.

But not only is there a battle between stay-at-home moms and their husbands. There is also the so-called "Mommy Wars" between those families who chose to have the mom stay home and those who chose to have her go to work. So, here we go again with the explosion of working mom vs. stay-at-home mom taking the national, and very public, stage. Anytime extremes are presented, we need to find the appropriate balance, which hopefully, will keep us from acting like fools...at least we can try.

1. Think contribution not tradition. It's easy to look at the way you do things as the way things should be done. It's easy to adopt the traditions of your parents and make that the gold standard of family life. However, I think a far better measurement is contribution instead of tradition. If every family would embrace a mentality that "everybody contributes," then we would see the health of families increase. I think we would see greater creativity out of parents, spouses and even kids to build family life in a way that works. When we get into a rut of "traditional" family roles without factoring in the changes of pace and context in our modern society, we will inevitably see huge imbalances in responsibilities resulting in painful and dysfunctional family systems.

2. This ain't Mayberry. Don't get me wrong, I am very much a man of traditional family values; however, we don't live in the 1950s anymore. We have to realize that the pace and pressures of life demand that we be flexible and creative in the way we manage family life. For instance, unlike any other time in our nation's history, women are able to earn a competitive salary to men (I think we are still far from equal but it's moving that way). This dynamic alone creates a new set of questions to be answered when it comes to raising children and providing the income needed to live. In many cases, husbands enjoy the additional income their wife brings into the home yet adjustments have not been made to account for her being away at work all day. So, many working moms come home to punch in at home to handle all of the domestic work like cleaning house, laundry and cooking. This is unreasonable. I believe husbands and wives need to talk about contribution. They need to keep the balance of responsibilities evenly distributed for the good of everyone. At the same time, dual income families with children need to accept the reality that the sheer mass of responsibilities have the potential to cause the strongest and smartest among us to crack.

3. Compromising with perfection. This is ultimately where we all live. We all have to evaluate our lives and make compromises with perfection. No one gets to have it all. My advice, make sure you prioritize what is truly most important to you. If you are a Christian, like the majority of my readers, return to God's word, because He is very clear on what those priorities are. Namely, your marriage and your kids. It is vital that you look at your life and make a clear plan to get the most important stuff taken care of first. It's like that illustration of the rocks in the jar. When you start with the small rocks, you eventually run out of room and a big rock doesn't fit. If you start with the big rocks then the small rocks seem to find their way in. The big rocks are marriage and kids, specifically these relationships. It's easy for us to justify nearly any activity as benefiting our spouse or children. This is what the workaholics say, "I'm doing all this for the kids." I want you to think relationally. This is the stuff that requires your engaged presence with your spouse and kids. So, before you start filling the jar with job satisfaction, private education for the kids, more square footage, exotic vacation destinations, etc, etc, think about the relationships. When you take this approach, you will realize you cannot have it all, but you can have what's most important.

I firmly believe the issue no one wants to talk about is how materialistic we are and how much we violate relationships on the premise of having more stuff, which is why often times I laugh when the "stay-at-home mom" camp fights with the "working mom" camp, because neither decision ensures that someone is prioritizing relationships. The stay-at-home wife and mom can be just as materialistic and disconnected from her kids as the working mom who prioritizes relationships in the limited time she has with her kids.

To prioritize a marriage means choosing to impose personal limits or boundaries on all competing forces. This decision drives the stay-at-home wife/mom to work hard to manage kids, housework and certain social interactions so there is time to relate to her husband when he returns from work. Likewise, this decision drives her husband to hurry home at the end of the day not to crash land in his La-Z-Boy but to come home to give his best to his wife and children. This decision drives the working wife/mom and her husband to be creative in the division of responsibilities so time together and with kids is maximized.  In both cases, husband and wife should see one another as teammates, not competitors.

These are vital conversations needed between a husband and wife. If done properly, the stay-at-home wife/mom and the working wife/mom should be able to lay her head on the pillow at night and sleep soundly knowing she is intimately connected with her husband and that children are not just warm, well-fed and well-educated, but they are secure in her love.  

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Posted by Andy Savage at 7:24 PM
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