Confusion over family roles occurs when wife works outside the home


3/2/1989 A few weeks ago I wrote a column about the importance of women being able to choose what they do in life. Pat Harris from West Jordan wrote this interesting reply.

“Your article of Feb 2 titled Happiness Means Freedom of Choice was thought-provoking. The subject of employed vs. non-employed wives and mothers elicits opinions from everyone.

“When we marry, we bring with us our own separate backgrounds and our perception of roles in the home. Agreement as to roles is difficult enough in a “traditional’ family were rules are preconceived. But different families (step-families, families where the woman is the main breadwinner, students, single parent families, for example) struggle with acceptable roles. I feel families with an employed wife also struggles with roles.

“It would be nice if employed women worked only out of freedom of choice. But most women who work outside the home feel they must do it for economic reasons. This affects a woman’s attitude about going to work. Frequently she must take a low-paying job and here in Utah she has the added prejudice and criticism that she has left her family at home. These attitudes foster guilt and or defensiveness.

“In the 1990s, employment will become a reality for most women unless our economy change drastically. It isn’t possible, conceivable or necessarily desirable for all men to be doctors, lawyers, engineers or other professionals who earn enough money for the wife to be able to make her choice to work outside the home for personal-fulfillment reasons alone. Many families feel it is better for both parents to be gone during the day than to have the father work day and night jobs in order to enable the wife to stay home.

“It is also not possible for all women to be school-teachers who are able to more conveniently fit their children’s holiday schedule and schools into their work schedule.

“If a woman feels that she has to work and she doesn’t want to, she will have to learn how to be happy in her circumstances. Men have had to do this for years. But finding such happiness can be a struggle when she faces prejudice in the workplace, criticism from relatives, friends and others, and confusion about her own role.

“Even if she makes a clear decision to work outside the home, many stressful adjustments must be made. Can she and her husband work out equitable rules for the working lifestyle? Will both help with the housework? Will the wife allow her husband to cook and help even thought he messes up the kitchen dreadfully? Can the wife deal with a house that usually gets cleaned thoroughly only once a week or will she take out her frustrations on the rest of her family because the house isn’t as immaculate as she would like it to be? Is she trying too hard to be superwoman?

“Can the husband learn not to expect to be waited on or catered to? Who does the laundry? Who does the ironing? (Does anybody? How do children fit in with chores? Who helps with homework? Does anyone have any spare time? What about recreation? These are real problems to be addressed. If equitable solutions aren’t found, both parties will be unhappy.

“Many women have grown up expecting someone else to make us happy. (Our parents, our friends, our boyfriends and finally our husbands) We have to learn to be responsible for our own happiness. We must make logical and good choices, take responsibility for them and make lemonade out of lemons, if necessary. It is so easy when things are difficult to envy the other person. No family is perfect and idyllic 100 percent of the time. No job is fulfilling every minute of the day.

“The next decade will be interesting as we try to sort out our roles and adjust to the realities of women working outside the home. However, I feel society is up to solving the inherent problems. Oriental cultures have been living this way for years and have traditionally had strong families. We can overcome the hurdles and also learn to adjust.”

We thank Pat for her insights. 

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