What Makes a Good Wife…and Am I a Bad One?

Photography Credit: Dan Busta

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a wife…or more specially a ‘good’ wife. I guess with the new year kicking in and all, I started a-pondering about where I am in my life and what I’m supposed to be doing next…

Anyway, Gareth & I often joke that I’m a bad wife (at least I hope he’s joking). The roles are anything but traditional in our house. As many of you will already know, Rock n Roll Bride is the sole source of income in our household and most of the work that goes into it is on my end – that’s not to say that the things Gareth does aren’t extremely valuable and important – just that he doesn’t spend 12 hours a day glued to a computer screen is all!

Photography Credit: Home Works by Miles Aldridge for Vogue

So because of this, I hardly do any housework. I put off food shopping until we have literally nothing in the fridge but mayonnaise and gin, having long haired kitties means our carpets are almost always covered in a thick layer of white fur, and my floordrobe has got so huge that we might as well get rid of my wardrobe because there’s nothing in it anymore (although in my defense, it does provide a comfy snoozy spot for those kitties of ours).

I joked on facebook and twitter last week, “Our house is not messy, its just like a museum…everything we own is out on display” and baby I wasn’t kidding.

Oh yeah and I can’t remember the last time I properly cooked!

I’ll be honest, I have been struggling with these feelings. I’ve been convinced that I’m failing by not having a cleaning schedule or a binder/Pinterest board full of recipe ideas…basically I felt like a bad wife How old fashioned and un-Rock n Roll does that make me sound!? A bad wife? What, am I living in the 50s?

However in this post-feminist world, the idea of being a good or bad wife counjores old fashioned, out dated and even offensive images. I think of 1950s housewives chained to the kitchen sink with no ambitious of their own other than to be a ‘good wife and mother’, how about you?

In actual fact, I’m not sure it’s entirely healthy to continue to strive to be a ‘good wife’. Instead, shouldn’t both partners be aiming bring as much as they can to the relationship? The operative word being ‘can’ – what they are capable of bringing. I think it’s important to determine the needs of your individual relationship, and to forget what everyone else is doing or thinking. At the end of the day, no one can tell you what’s right for you.

What’s most imperative to think about is not ‘How can I be a good wife?’ but ‘Why do I want to be a good wife?’ or more specifically, ‘What is it about this person that makes me want to marry them?’ and ‘What is it about me that makes them want to marry me?’ I haven’t asked Gareth this, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t marry be because he wanted a wife that was a good cook and cleaner…if so, hell, he picked the wrong one!

Photography Credit: Dita Von Teese for Instyle, USA, February 2011

When Gareth and I got married, I may not have been as busy with work as I am now, but I didn’t fit into the perfect Stepford wife mould either. Although I liked the idea of eating nutritious and delicious meals and living in a dust free home, the things I had to actually do to make these things happen never came naturally to me – I was always of the ‘Oh screw it lets just get a takeaway’ mantra (as proven by the fact that our Indian takeaway gave us a Christmas present this year – a surefire sign that we use them too much).

I don’t think I’m really offering much advice in this blog post, but I’d love to know your opinions on the subject. Hey, who needs a therapist when I have you guys?! Do you think you are/will make a ‘good wife’? Do you even want to be a ‘good wife’? What does being a ‘good wife’ mean to you?

47 comments

  1. I definitely want to be a good wife but my husband is also trying to be a good husband so I think we’re sorted. I think as long as being a ‘good’ spouse is coming from both sides and means putting care and effort into your relationship then you’re onto a good thing. The problem is when only one half of the relationship has the expectations put on them whether it is the woman to be the perfect housewife or the man to earn a certain amount of money of vice versa. As long as you both are comfortable with the roles you play or don’t play and both put equal amount of effort into doing your best as the way in which you contribute to your relationship (and the practical stuff) then it’s all good in my opinion.

    But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a feminist and also do the cooking – I’m just the best cook!

  2. I pity my poor husband. I was a professional chef when we got married but ten years on I just don’t have to time to be titting about in the kitchen.
    Plus he’s the one who gets to do all the sewing and ironing.

    There’s just not enough hours in the day.

  3. Pete does a lot of the housework and cooking in our house because as well as my photography business I have a full time day job and a blog and a wedding to plan (it’s his wedding too but I’ve done the majority of the planning). *head explodes*

    Since all of this has been going on, my approach to cleaning has become a bit lax and, frankly, with a boy in charge of most of it, it’s never as clean or tidy as I’d like it but I also figure that life’s way too short to worry about it.

    There’s a quote about people with a tidy house having boring lives and whilst I don’t agree with that totally, it makes me feel better!

    We don’t really have gender specific roles in our house (unless it comes to wasp removal – I am a superwuss) and I’d rather make my own path that fit into some defined idea of what a wife should be, anyway.

  4. Being a good wife means to love your partner, take care of your house, and spend quality time with your family (doesn’t matter if it’s you two + kids / you two + cats / you two + monkeys).

    Then again, being a good husband means exactly the same.

    Taking care of the house and cooking something nice every now and then is something one should do as a person who enjoys to do so, not as a wife / husband :)

  5. I’m not married and I don’t agree with striving to be a good housewife, a marriage should be equal and things should be done by whoever has time to. I do think partners should do things tgether such as cooking but it shouldn’t be down to the wife to do this. How does this work in a civil partnership?

  6. i have the 50s dresses, shoes and aprons, i’d love a pink cadillac, i crave to have a 24″ waist. BUT my house is frankly, a bit of a cack-hole! i don’t have the time between cpl & baby-watching duties – what’s wrong with take-outs & micro meals?? i’ll have my 60s to potter about cleaning & baking! now… pass the gin :D

  7. Traditional gender roles don’t apply in our household either, but instead of stressing over whether we’re respectively functioning as a good wife or a good husband, we concentrate on being a damn good team, and knowing how to use each others strengths and help with weaknesses. And do you know what? It works really, really well…

  8. I would say being a ‘good’ wife is abiding by the vows you made to be loving, faithful, honest etc. Nothing at all about cooking or cleaning whatsoever! <-take that patriarchy!

  9. My husband works long hours and has a long commute. I work from home. Therefore I do most of the cooking, cleaning and childcare. But it wasn’t always the case and when I worked long hours with a long commute he was the one who did the lions share. It’s just about doing what you can and sharing the burdens that life brings. And a bit of teamwork. Ah I love that line…..

  10. Post author

    yey im so glad im not the only one! and Sian i love your comment about being a ‘damn good team’!

  11. Looking after each other is surely the most important thing, and to share the workload – however you divide that up. If I have a day off while he’s at work I love making the house nice and doing some cooking. He does the same thing though when I’m working. Being a good wife is a million things…only a very small one is hoovering up your own filth!

  12. In our house, we do have fairly traditional roles, but this is born more out of circumstances than anything else. My husband has his own electrical business and he is SUPER busy – 12+ hour days, six days a week for the most part then paperwork on top of that too. I have a lot more free time; I’m at Uni, I work part time and I’m trying to build up my photography business too but because I have more time than him, I do tend to do most of the cooking, cleaning etc BUT if it were the other way round, I’d expect our roles to be the other way around. To be fair to him, when he does have time off he does much more housework than I do!

  13. Anna

    I’m afraid that I come into the typical 50’s housewife mould, I love to cook, clean, bake and sew, for Christmas I received no less than 4 cook books, and whilst I didn’t get a present from our Indian restaurant of choice they do recognise my voice and know my order.. But I think that the real issue here is that I enjoy doing these things, I like to make time for them, I find making Welsh Cakes or a Sticky Marmalade Cake relaxing, and I made it a project Post-University to make a patchwork quilt as I had always wanted to make one!

  14. Bran

    Just wait until kids are in the mix too, I stress more about being a good mum and sadly Mr Bran comes much further down the list than I want him to. If your husband can still adore you when you’re covered in cat hair, full on mayo and gin and wearing something that lives on the floor, I say you’re being a great wife – what’s your secret? xx

  15. Hey, having a Pinterest recipe board doesn’t mean I’ll ever get round to actually cooking any of them ;-)

    If being a good wife equals housework, then I’m hosed. I think being a good spouse means having the other person’s back but not being afraid to disagree with them. I think it’s showing daily love for the person, being compassionate towards them and laughing a lot together.

  16. Mrs P

    I’ve been in plenty of spotless homes where it looks like the marriage is on it’s last legs.

    ‘Housewife’ and ‘wife’ are entirely different roles and finding out what’s important to your partner and doing that (whether that is jobs around the house, a compliment or a cuddle) to show you love them is what it’s really all about.

  17. Post author

    good call Mrs P. id certainly rather be working on my marriage – just hanging out, being together, enjoying each other, loving life, having sex…than cleaning :-P

  18. We’re lucky that most of us girls were raised as independent souls. But, that being said- it makes it a little harder for us to fit into the old definition of a wife. I thought it’d be pretty neat to be a Suzy Homemaker type – but, that is the complete opposite of what I’ll ever be. My husband & I are not neat & tidy by any means. In fact, I’d be mortified if my in-laws ever showed up unannounced and saw how completely disorganized we are. However, if that did happen – I’m sure the mister would take half the responsibility. Just a side note: A History of the Wife, By Marilyn Yalom is a great read if you have the time. Completely fascinating. Almost as fascinating as your blog :o) I love your work!

  19. A good wife makes a good husband makes a good wife, i think what i am trying to say is you both need to be good partners and if you both want to make the other happy you both will be happy and happy to make the other happy (is this comment full of loops?). you know what i mean when one partner doesn’t try the other at first tries harder before giving up. be happy be yourself.

    i’d love to compare floordrobes one day mine has a system developed over a many many years that makes it easier to find stuff than it would be if the fairies actually came to the house and hung it up and like you it gives my two cats somewhere to chill out all day as i type away on my laptop.

  20. Jennie

    It’s difficult not to envision the stepford version of “good wife”. Although present day gender roles are very different from the 50’s, we still grew up with these images and are heavily socialized with these gender social ‘norms’ (i.e. girls wear pink and don’t play in the mud; women are just “better” at household work). My definition of a good wife? A happy woman. If cooking is your passion, cleaning makes you feel better, and your main focus in life is to raise children, then you will be happy with this arrangement. If not, you will be miserable and resentful…most likely towards the husband in front of you rather than society. To me, that is no good for ANYone involved. Maybe partners would like to have a housewife (hell, I’d like to have one) but I don’t think anyone who cares one bit about you would wish you into a role that’s not yours!

  21. Natalie Brown

    Brilliant post! I chuckled while reading it! The way you describe your house is exactly the same as mine.
    I certainly wouldn’t be happy being a stay at home wife, the conversation would be completely one sided on the ‘how was your day dear?’ chat and I would probably end up resenting my partner for expecting that of me. A marriage is a partnership, but each individual has to do what makes them happy to make a happy marriage, whatever works for you both.
    The ‘Good Wife’ of the 50’s are the few exceptions (although I haven’t met any!!!) in modern times,who manage to, look after children, shop, cook, make herself look fabulous and still find time to pleasure her husband at a click of his fingers… but the perceptions of women have been turned on their head in the past 60 years. I’m proud to be part of a generation of women who are driven and determined and manage to juggle careers, social lives and still maintain a happy (if messy) home. Surely these traits are what make our partners love us all the more?

  22. That was like reading about myself minus the cooking part, have to cook as I have a dietary restriction or else it would be takeaways often. I’m so glad that I’m not the only one with a floordrobe! I also have a sofadrobe a desk chairdrobe and a towelheaterdrobe too. If anyone remembers the advert for a washing liquid where clothes would explode from various places, that’s what our home looks like. I also have the long haired cat hair everywhere. We have way too much stuff for an apartment the size of a wendy house so yep, everything is on show too. I won’t go into the washing up situation. This place is tiny but it’s been our first home together for the past 5 years, it may be an utter mess but it’s an utter mess that we’re blissfully happy in. I’m definitely not a domestic goddess and convention doesn’t suit me, but I think I make up for that in the humour department, it’s always good to make each other laugh and we do frequently. I’d far rather laugh in mess than have a show home and a sour face. That won’t be changing once we get around to getting married.

  23. You know, its like reading a documentary on my own housewife-y skills, right down to the floor-drobe! Like you I run my own business and spend most of the day glued to some piece of technology or other, and I have no affinity to either the hoover or the oven! I’m not really sure what the answer is, or what a modern day wife’s responsibilities should be. As long as you’re both happy – thats really all that matters!

  24. Markie

    I Love this post!
    Floordrobe is totally me!

    I agree there is a lot of pressure to do everything, I sometimes feel like a 50s housewife and I’m not married yet! But my beloved fiance is actually more like a child that than breadwinner, I’m the chief earner and look after the purse strings, he is thoroughly pampered, but possibly not by choice, as Im a control freak, and need to do it my way to know its done right!! But we agree that we are a team, and hes always there when i need him, and grateful of all my efforts and care of the house and him.
    But my mantra is, its me or the house! so he cant comment when i slob around in my scruffs!!!!

    …and is Dita trying to put the teapot in the oven?!?!

  25. Kelly

    Kirsty Hall I loved the comment about the flashing, that is totally why my man is marrying me!!

    Although I love baking and would dearly love to be able to sew, i’m much better at organising other people (am a PA).

    I recently discovered the joys of online supermarket shopping when I hurt my knee and couldn’t drive and was amazed at how easy and efficient it was, i’m quite excited about having 2 more hours baking or snoozing at the weekend than scuffling around the supermarket!!

    In share mode, I started to feel quite overwhelmed in the summer, work was crazy and I was looking for a new job, i’d just moved house, wedding plans had hit a plateau, choir was taking up a lot of time, house was a pigsty and I just didn’t know where to start so i didn’t….. I slept a lot and stopped taking care of myself properly until I realised that I was just putting too much pressure on myself and started delegating and saying no to people; am also seriously thinking about getting a cleaner in a couple of hours every other week just to take care of the BIG clean and take the pressure off :)

    Its very sad that women take so much upon themselves and muddle along, we would never let our friends or children put themselves last and I’m so pleased Kat that you bought the subject up of a ‘good wife’ because I really felt I was ”letting the side down’ at the time…..anyway nuff said….guts spilled!! xx

  26. Post author

    Hey Kelly
    I WISH i could get into internet food shopping but ive done it a few times and for some reason when its gets delivered it always feels like theres nothing there – maybe cos you miss the 241 offers etc when you dont go to the actual shop. also when they substitute things that freaks me out “couldnt get cheddar cheese? have smelly stilton instead” er, i think not haha!

  27. I think we all gave ideals or being the perfect wife in the old 1950s sense. We must do or how does Cath Kidston make so much money selling flowery aprons and table cloths. The thing is I don’t know how they had so much free time.

    I do run my own business too but I am at home all day with a toddler and I have no time to bake or tidy. If I do manage to mop a floor or put some toys away they’re all out again and there’s food all over the floor again hours later.

    I think women put pressure on each other to be a perfect ideal and have a top career, look immaculate and have a perfect home. Most men don’t notice a bit of dust or a carpet that needs hoovering. To test this theory ask them to do some cleaning and you’ll see they don’t see dirt like we do!

  28. Hi Kelly, well it doesn’t have to be flashing, I’m just uncouth!

    But it is important to learn your partner’s ‘love language. For example, I sit and watch quality TV shows with my guy because he *loves* showing me new and wonderful things. It took me years to understand that he wasn’t nagging me to watch pointless television but that he saw it as bringing me a shiny gift. Film and TV is hugely important to him, it’s what he writes about and it’s a massive part of his world. Once I understood that he was using it as a form of communication between us then sitting watching TV got a lot easier for this restless chick. It also helps that I can knit while I’m watching.

  29. I constantly feel guilty that my other half does a majority of the household stuff. He’s always washing up, and his threshold for mess is much less than mine so he ends up tidying up. In fact he’s much more domesticated than I am. However he says he doesn’t mind that I don’t do as much as him (and I think he is actually telling the truth!) . And on my part I’m trying to do more of the bits he doesn’t like – putting away clean plates and the laundry for a start…

    I am gradually learning that when he says that he loves me as I am, he really means it. He doesn’t expect me to change, and I’m trying to do my share because I don’t want to take him for granted. It’s very sounds all very mushy, but as long as we’re both happy who cares?!

  30. Charise

    I teach high school English, and wouldn’t you know it, my students always amaze me with something insightful and wonderful.

    This week, we were talking about what it is to be “a man” and somehow we got on to the idea that sometimes the woman/wife/mother can take on “the man” role. And then just now, I thought, “What if we took away wife and husband roles and just made them partner roles?” So, instead of, “Am I a good wife,” you would ask yourself, “Am I a good partner?” Chances are, we’d all be easier on ourselves. We wouldn’t think about what we are supposed to be or do as women, but more along the lines of what we are supposed to do or be are part of a partnership.

    At least that’s how I feel right now. It’s Friday night. I have the weekend free. And I just has three glasses of wine with my soon-to-be-in laws, one of whom is a feminist. (I consider myself lucky!)

  31. Interesting article! I have been married for about 3 years and my role as a wife naturally changed once I also became a Mum 2 1/2 years ago. I now gave another baby due this month. The household is crazy, and multi tasking has a whole new meaning! But spending time with my Hubby is now more focussed. We make s real effort to go out on family trips, eat around the table together and have lots of outdoor adventures. We reley on each other much more to keep the family cogs running with all the extra stuff you have to fit into the day. I stopped working in the city to go into Campervan hire full time to fit with childcare. Times have been frugal but there is one luxury I have held on to like a limpet … And that us my cleaner coming round for one day a week. She is a godsend and I would happily give up face cream and new pairs of shoes just to keep her on! Luckily our little business has really taken off, and my show collection is back on form! :-)

  32. Kitten

    In our house, Shaun does by faaaar more of the cleaning than I do. He is very houseproud, and does shift work and is very happy to spend any time off cleaning. We bring entirely different things to the house, he is more into the cleaning whereas I am more in charge of spider removal/laundry/dealing with pretty things in the house. When we have kids it will probably be him that stays home with them as that is far more his thing than mine. As long as there is some sort of equal balance somewhere, it doesnt matter who wears the pinny and who ejects spiders, as long as everyone is happy with the situation. x x

  33. Joy

    When I was at uni I had a laundry bag that said ‘A spotless house is the sign of a wasted life’ I pretty much still agree with that. In the case of being a wife and mother I try to make my husband and daughter feel valued by giving them my time and attention (along with concentrating on a billion other things at once) rather than a clean house they are scared of messing up. Mr B and I did a marriage course quite soon after we got married and it made me realise the things that make him feel loved and appreciated aren’t the same things that make me feel loved. Changing the way I show him I love him, which can include the occasional hoovering of the house and clothes washing, is way more important than being the perfect stepford wife (but oh to have the wardrobe!). Whatever works for you as a couple is the best way
    PS Kat, you are a great blogger and it’s awesome seeing so many women be honest about how they feel about married life

  34. nila

    I really work hard on cooking well for my man just to see his satisfaction with the food. I like the feeling of making him happy through cooking because he can’t cook anything but rice and pasta with ketchup. It’s insane. I never want to be that Stepford Wife but I do want to do my best to make my man happy, and for me the simplest way is cooking something so delish he smiles constantly.

  35. I have been married, well lets say a few years… on our first anniversay my Husband gave me a framed page from a vintage book ( Housekeeping Monthly 1955), it reads ( these are just a few examples):

    The Good Wifes Guide:

    Have dinner ready. Plan ahead.

    Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so that you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make up and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work weary people all day.

    Be a little gay and more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it for him.

    Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time.
    Let him talk first – remember his topics of conversation are more important than yours.

    Dont greet him with complaints and problems.

    Dont ask him questions about his actions or question his judgement or integrity.

    REMEMBER he is the master of the house and as such will always excercise his will with fairness and truth.

    A good wife ALWAYS knows her place…..

    I have this hanging in my kitchen, alway have to remind me how a lady should behave … so that I can do the exact opposite ; )

    Denise

  36. Alexis

    I LOVE that 1950s house wife guide. It reminds me of the give and take. Of how he worked hard all day. I have way to many feminist friends who think being a home maker excuse me. A Domestic Engineer means doing what they want all day including watching hours and hours of soap operas and never dusting. I would rather treat it as my Job. (even if its a job I enjoy) I would make a few amendments. I think conversation should be give and take. He should want to hear about my day. But he also never talks about his. I want him to. I feel that if he says nothing about his day but asks 20-30 questions about mine Im being interrogated. I also think a women should be modest and serve her husband. I dislike the notion that there is something wrong with me because I strive for perfection in my home. I have other interests I even study during the day and have a a full time job. Which I hope to be able to quit when My first child is born. Who is anyone to criticize how others choose to live. Be a CEO be a house wife. It is your life to live. But don’t feel sorry for me because you think I am “chained to the sink”

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