Michelle Obama’s #1 Shalom Bayit Tip

Michelle Obama’s #1 Shalom Bayit Tip

I still haven’t forgiven the President of the United States for his Obaminable speech on Israel a few days ago. But in the spirit of good sportsmanship, I have decided to take this opportunity to officially commend First Lady Michelle Obama for some fantastic marital advice she gave during an interview with O magazine (and which I heard about from All Victories’ Chaya Houpt).

Michelle Obama recalls that when her husband was elected to the US Senate, she had two small daughters and a demanding career. And at that overwhelming point in her life, she experienced “a growth point in our marriage that I’ve talked about before—the stress of needing help, and then finally realizing that the help doesn’t necessarily have to come from your husband. It can come from anywhere.”

I also came to this same realization about 8 years ago, and I cannot tell you how profoundly it improved my life and my marriage.

I was introduced to this “No Dependence, No Resentment” approach during a talk by Rabbi Taback who told us that the happiest mother he had ever met was a mother of 12 who received almost no help in the home from her workaholic husband. When Rabbi Taback asked this mother how she managed to be such a happy person considering all the overwhelming responsibilities on her shoulders and how little help her husband gave her, the mother explained to him with a smile, “I realized a long time ago that if I was, G-d forbid, a single mother, then I would manage somehow. So now I just pretend that I am single mother. That means that I am organized and I take care of myself and I get outside help and I get help from my children, and on those rare occasions when my husband comes home early from work and is able to help out, I am very grateful. And if he doesn’t help, I am also just fine.”

Up until I heard about this happy mother of 12, I had expected my husband to do his 50% of the Weisberg family housework. And even though that wasn’t a realistic expectation, since my husband’s working/learning schedule was and is extremely demanding, I resented him for the fact that he didn’t help me more. I was, as Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller says: “a woman who expects her husband to be a husband as well as half a wife.”

But after hearing about Rabbi Taback’s “single mother” of 12, I stopped blaming my husband for the fact that I felt like an overworked martyr. I realized that I definitely needed help, but that that help definitely did NOT have to come from my husband.

Instead, I started doing what Michelle Obama did when she became a senator’s wife. That was when I first hired a cleaning lady. That was when I started bringing in babysitters on a regular basis to help out so I could get a break. That was when I started bringing in a repairman to fix all the things I had been waiting for months for my husband to fix when he came home exhausted after 12 hours at work.*

That was the point when I really started figuring out how I could take care of myself and also take care of my home and family, so that when my husband walked in the door at 6 PM I was smiling rather than scowling.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against men helping out in the house. My husband, thank G-d, does help me out in different ways in the house. But as a result of Rabbi Taback’s class and the transformation it brought about in me, I know that if my husband ever did become too busy to help me out like he does today, while it would be a bit of a tough adjustment initially, I wouldn’t feed resentful. And I know I would manage.

Because I know today something that I wish I’d known when I was stuck in the help-from-hubby dependence and resentment cycle of my early marriage.

Today I know that I definitely need help in the house. But that help, I also know today, definitely does not have to come from my husband.

*My examples of help I received all cost money. But there are ways to get help that are 100% free. Here’s a few ideas:
-Getting help from older children (this doesn’t only help you. Helping out in the home is an important part of a kids’ education)
-Trading off afternoons watching kids with another mother, so each of you gets an afternoon off.
-Making a food-preparation “kibbutz” in your community, so a different mom prepares for all “kibbutz families” one day a week.
-Using barter to pay for help: my friend is giving English lessons to “pay” her cleaning lady.

I would love to hear any other suggestion you have of free ways to get help below…

Related posts:

Why I'm Hopeful Despite this Pedophile Mess
The Naughty Boy's Blessing (7-Minute Mommy Peptalk)
The Accident that Led me Back to Hashem by Karen (Purim Semifinalist #6)

28 comments

  1. Call it a bad day for me to have read this article but I have some issues with it. First,as you said, the easiest and best ways to get help outside of a husband cost money if you don’t have the money….it’s not an option. Second, for those of us who work (because of a monetary need, not because I want to) as well as being an at home mom (without outside help), it is not so easy to say “a woman who expects her husband to be a husband as well as half a wife”. Sometimes I feel like I am supposed to be a wife and half a husband! I don’t think I should feel bad that I need help with my two kids under two,from my husband, when he comes home for work. Especially since an hour after he gets home is when I start working my “other job”. I usually agree and love the articles on here so I am sorry to sound so negative about this one….just struck a nerve!

    • I need to add that I also am very Blessed with a husband who not only enjoys helping but does so without being asked.

      • Deb, I could at least understand it if your husband works hard too. You know what it’s like to come home from a stressful day at work and just want to unwind. But my hubbie only works an hour or two a day–so you bet I’m demanding about him helping around the house! In general, I find a lot of shalom bayit tips don’t help if you don’t “fit the mold” of what a family is supposed to look like. If your DH chooses to stay home and do housework and you’re the one off to work–resentful and harried–then so be it, and create your own tips! One of mine: sit w/him and negotiate permanent duties, so you don’t need to “boss him around” every day. Ideally something you hate doing and he doesn’t mind it at all.

        • Hi Chana,

          My husband works very hard at a job all day and I work part time from home. I am not resentful and he isn’t either. All I meant was, exactly what you said, we obviously don’t “fit the mold”. We both work hard and both help out. I just don’t think that when I have had a bad day or something that he shouldn’t help out. I am not a feminist,but I grew up with a dad who did not help at all……maybe that’s why it is so important to me that my children see their dad help and why I feel it is ok for him to help! I just disagree with the blanket statements of “the husband should never have to help”….. I do the dishes and laundry, I think it’s ok to ask him to kill the ants and take out the garbage! He feels the same way…

  2. Elisheva

    High School girls who need chessed hours…or seminary girls (though on the other hand I’ve heard from women that they felt bad asking these girls to do all that they needed since there was no pay involved)…anyway, I’m in this transition stage myself, where I’m starting to realize that I really need some non-husband help, though I haven’t gotten it yet…

  3. I’ve realized this too, even WITH a husband who helps. If my husband says he’ll put the kids to bed for now on, I take it with a grain of sand. I do not wait around for him to do it, but when he does do it, I’m extremely grateful. So when he falls asleep on the couch at the exact time that he’s “on duty”, I don’t get upset – I just continue on with putting them to bed because I do not expect him to do it ALL the time.
    Free help doesn’t work for everyone either. My kids won’t just listen to a teenager who comes over unless she’s REALLY good and creative. And I can’t trade off with another mom cuz my 4 year old will be like, “I don’t WANT to go to her house…” Maybe another idea instead of relying on help (cuz there isn’t always the perfect solution) is to ACCEPT a mess!!! ACCEPT that kids will be demanding all at once, and the house will be an insane mess etc… but it’s okay – who cares anyway?!

  4. I like that one- ACCEPT the mess- I realized this week – and it usually happens when I’m either sick or really over exhausted from a trip etc…that when I am not stressing about the house, food, shopping , laundry, etc…that I just go with the flow attitude where cereal is dinner and I didnt comb their hair with the lice comb, i sent everyone to bed a little later than I should, etc- I go to bed early and let my oh so loyal housework wait for me another day. I came home after dropping everyone off and saw my husbands pile of clothing that had a mix of dirty clean and ironed and I got upset and thought I would tell him as soon as he came home- no mincha no dinner go to your room and put away your mess! and then I visualized it- I saw how he would probably just throw everything to the laundry and maybe hang just the suit jackets- and he would also be thinking how trivial my reasons are for being a martyr since he will never grasp how much i do in one day and why its dafka his mess i cant stand…so i laughed to myself as i started sorting a few things out (i had a load of laundry to fill) and i try to remember that if I dont get outside help i have no one to complain to, even if it costs the money you dont have- one day a week to get out so you feel you can be in…its a must. i dont know why i havent done it yet- the yetzer hara gives me excuses to just deal with it all. I also like dividing up house work -and sometimes this is hard, like I’m in middle of putting laundry away and then i start to organize their closets and then the bookcase and then im screwing in the light fixture thats been dangling the whole year round and then i have the screwdriver in hand so im looking for other things to fix and i see handprints all over the kitchen cabinets- and i start wiping those down and then the floor looks so bad and i say ill do it just one wipe over with a mop but then all the dirt gets in the way so im sweeping and washing like a mensch and then its 1pm and i gotta run and get the kids—not before i change my haircover from mommy maid cover to all together matching mensch. meanwhile a bunch of things are left unfinished- so as hard as it is i try to make lists of what i need to do and i emphasize not doing them on days that i am only ironing and cooking or windows and floors, or cabinets and organizing, etc- limit to 2 things so you can eat breakfast and lunch and maybe catch a 20 minute nap, and read the blog.

    • yehudit

      sara, that is just hilarious! I am cracking up, meanwhile the cake is burning…. i think i’m gonna go scream at my husband to take it outta the oven…. 😉

  5. great advice – my free help tip is to call your local sem and ask if they do a ‘helping girl’ scheme, and if they don’t, offer to arrange it! where i live, the deal is that the sem girls help in return for a home cooked meal, so everyone feels like they’re benefiting rather than taking advantage.

  6. Sorry but I have to agree with Deb. the other problem is that if you start behaving like you are Chas v’shalom a single mother and just get on with it, the danger is that you can emotionally behave that way too. a very dangerous road to go down.
    It’s great advice if you can afford the help and it allows you to invest time & emotion to your marriage.

  7. well, I think this could have been written without using Michelle Obama, we don’t need her.
    We could work on not needing our husbands, BUT they can’t get off scott free. Can the Rabbonim work on teaching them skills? How are the mothers supposed to raise large, growing, stair-step children and the husbands are just free except the ones who were so well raised that they are so involved.
    Too much detachment can, as someone said here, lead to emotional detachment and affect the marriage at another time. Theres more than just Michelle Obama. She had other issues, but we have issues of Torah, our lifestyles have some differences.
    I think that some of those ideas are good, but it is still very important that the husbands be taught….by the rabbonim (etc) how to help, and also the wives need to learn how to “train” their husbands to take some responsibility. Then when we’re all taking our share of responsibility, we can feel good. HaShem should help that we all get to that ideal balance. Until then, we do need to be a support to each other and come up with some systems…..its not a simple issue….

  8. Hello, I read in the book Chochmas Nashim from Rabbi Arush the same idea but it had another twist. He said that women have the merit on their husband´s Torah but they have also the responsibility for their husbands bittul Torah. That if you want a husband/babyssiter ok, you´ll get a husband/babysitter, but if you want a husband Gadol be Torah you cannot have a babysitter husband you have to let him learn Torah and do his avodas HaShem. If the husband wants to do chesed with his wife and help, that´s gemilus chassadim but he has no obligation to do so, he has another job!. Lehavdil, I think that because Michelle Obama let her husband do what he had to do, instead of bossing him to help around the house, is that her husband could dedicate to politics and eventually HaShem put him in the place he is now.
    Moreover we, that our husbands have greater responsibilities than Obama´s, they have to sustain the world with their Torah, no matter if they study two hours or eight hours a day.
    My husband is in part time kollel and a long time ago I realized the same thing of that 12 children´s mother, that pretending my husband to do the 50% of the housework it´s unfair, even than I worked too part time. I hired cleaning help, and babysitters, traded watching neighbours kids and even payed babysitters with sewing lessons. And my marriage was saved because I didn´t resent him, he has another obligations.

  9. Just want to say I am enjoying the give-and-take. You’re ALL “right” because there is no marital advice that works for everyone. Every woman is given one man and her lifetime job is to figure out what makes him tick and to squeeze in fun little ways to provide happiness for herself. Go, Chana Jenny!

  10. Yehudit

    So from a different angle: when I had back to back babies my husband had to travel. I panicked. I couldn’t wrap my head around which help, when, how, how much, and then… I remembered. I looked up and said: Hashem, why am I worried? I don’t want to pay for help. I hate having other people underfoot, You can help me! I am putting myself in Your Hands.
    And it was amazing, I managed. Everything went smoothly. When my husband got home it was as if a spell had worn off, and I was back to needing his help, when he was around. I really felt the siyata dishmaya…
    So for the best free home help, just dial 1800-HASHEM!!

    • JewishMom

      I also LOVED this comment. When my husband has to travel I also dial that same number:)

  11. oh my gosh Yehudit – that’s so me!!! My husband travels sometimes and I am so scared to let him go. But then I come through amazingly! He comes home and says “Why is there a glow around you?” Cuz I am just so proud of myself for doing it all alone. The kids are happy, the house is a wreck but I’m still sane – and it’s such a wonderful feeling:)

    • yehudit

      OK, well I can’t say I get a glow when he’s gone (unless maybe a radioactive one from the over-use of the microwave) but otherwise, yes! It’s a great feeling to be able to manage alone, and I’m happy to be able to rely on my other half the rest of the time. And I’m even more than happy to be scared to let him go, too: it means he’s an important and vital part of my life, and that’s why we are married…. Baruch Hashem. I’m proud to depend on my husband, and he’s never too proud to tell me he depends on me, too.
      I guess the main thing for all of us is to have shalom bayit at all costs, in our own way. Resentment and complaining, OUT, rethinking and cooperation, IN !!

  12. From another angle, when you’re used to not relying on the husband’s help, like the ‘single mother’ of 12, how do you go about trying to rely on him at all? Yes he gets off ‘scott-free’ all the time, since otherwise he’s too annoyed if asked to pitch in on the rare occasion, but how do you foster the emotional attachment without any area you do together?

  13. JewishMom

    JewishMOMs, thank you so much for all of your comments! I agree with Rishe that there is no such thing as universal marital advice. You need to know your own situation and what works for you and your marriage.

    You also need to be careful, as many of you have pointed out, that you don’t become a single mother on an emotional level! My teacher, Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi, warns against this all the time. She sees women who have become emotional single mothers, and are so emotionally independent that they are totally disconnected from their husbands. Terrible.

    And yes, I also agree that husbands should help, especially when kids are small.

    What I am hoping to achieve by posting this article is make you moms feel more grateful to your husbands for whatever help they do give you. I know that everyday in my morning davening I thank Hashem for 10 things, and often about 5 of those things are things that I am thankful to my husband for. I thank Hashen that my husband makes a living, that my husband loves learning Torah, that my husband is a dedicated father and husband…etc.

    But if I didn’t have this “single mother” mindset for housework, I wouldn’t be grateful. I would be resentful since my husband does far less than 50% of the housework.

    I read something in rav arush’s book “WOmen’s Wisdom” that made an impression on me. He said that a woman who is resentful of her husband for whatever reason should remember that if she has been married for ten years, she should be incredibly grateful that she has eaten at least 10,000 meals at her husband’s expense!

    But these are things that we can so easily take for granted.

    I heard another great quote from Rebbetzin Heller. She says over and over to her students that we cannot expect our husbands to be everything for us. That’s true on an emotional level and on a practical level as well.

    I believe that (somewhat) independent wives have the strongest marriages.

  14. Yehudit

    So after reading all this I put the question to my husband: would he prefer a well-oiled machine and totally independent wife? Or a wife that needs him and rushes into his arms at the end of the day? So he wisely answered , ‘Mmm, somewhere in the middle?’
    After a few minutes I went back to him and said, ‘hang on, mister, does somewhere in the middle mean a well-oiled machine AND a wife who runs into your arms?? (a cautious nod from him) ‘Well, no deal! that’s called having your cake and eating it!’ I must say, we had a good laugh.

    • JewishMom

      yehudit, I always SO love your comments (and especially your puns!)

  15. I am grateful every day that my husband and I are partners in our family. Maybe a wife may take more of her share of the housework, but when I think about family I want my husband to be involved in our children’s lives in a real way.
    I do think some healthy independence is good, especially because there are times when there is no choice (my husband was just on miluim for three weeks! and I have three small children at home!) but in normal life, where my husband and I both have full time jobs we are partners! I get them ready in the morning, he picks them up in the afternoon. One of us does bath, one of us does story. I generally do cooking and he does dishes. I think I do more housework, but I also think its important not to focus on % is it 50/50 or 60/40 or 70/30 who knows each week is different. And it won’t be the same always, I won’t always be nursing, I’m sure there will be stages where he will be doing more and I will be doing less (maybe with dikduk homework one day) and stages where i might be working less and he might be working more. But I hope we’ll always be partners.

  16. I took that advice, well, actually I lived that way decades before seeing it anywhere. It works folks. This is not about him getting off scot-free. It’s about making it work for everyone in the picture. I also hate having outsiders underfoot, and they have a tendency to not show up when you need them most. Money was a very, very big issue as well, fast food was way too expensive for a large family and my strength low ebb. If I, or the older children were unable to do something, IT DIDN’T GET DONE!! And you know what? The world went on. As one of the women commented, ACCEPT. Accept yourself, accept your situation and accept life.
    At one point I realized that my children and husband will never remember the gourmet meals, the starched seam in their shirts, or the house that smells of bleach. They will remember how often I screamed, they will remember the resentment I showed towards them, and feel the rege boiling in me.
    A great woman once told me when I had two tiny children, “you might not believe me, but it will get easier”. I used that as a mantra! After raising 11 children, I saw how much that helped.
    Some husbands do help and they have resentment and criticism as an invoice for helping. Is that healthy? How about asking what does he enjoy doing? Let him do that. I did that with a teenager, can you belive she prefered cleaning the house to watching the children in the park? So I got to go out to the park and came home to a clean house and no resentment!
    The main thing is to try to find a way to stay calm, that all family members will remember. Can you imagine how wonderful it was to hear my daughter in law say, “how did you raise all of them without screaming?” It was a lot of work, but I did overcome screaming and resentments through learning to accept and ask Hashem to come into my home and help me. Hatzlacha!

  17. Nechama Dina

    Also working on this. I am blessed with a husband who DOES 50%, but I know it comes at a price.

    We are working on getting me 2 hours a day of help, as my mashpia suggested. It will cost money, but I hope it will be a good investment in my husband!

  18. Again I am reminded to get help- its as if HAshem is showing me all the signs fingers pointing to BABYSITTER!!! so I called one- yes now – I finally did it- this wasnt an issue for me a few months ago but I recently moved to a moshav with nobody I know in sight- so I met a frum lady at the park and she gave me her neices number and I had all the excuses etc etc in the book. I am VERY bad at delegating responsibilities- I knew what it was like to be a single mom before I had kids- I never asked my husband for help- not around the house, not for the car or the bills or loans or banking -nothing! But after having consecutive children and moving to Israel where things are run differently- its such a change – and the need for help was crucial- I do the whole 9- I act as a single mom, I pray and talk to Hashem as if He is sitting on my shoulder all day- we laugh together and He helps me get thru a lot, but there is the weirdest phenomenon happening- the minute my husband is home things start to shake and i have this anxiety/resenting feeling like if something breaks in the course of the evening- like my daughters drawer- just 2 screws and its done- so I tell her- go ask Aba he’ll fix it real quick, and so it didnt get fixed cuz he was showering and then eating and the phone calls then its bedtime and my 2 year old is already using this drawer as a box for his blocks and watermelon slices- so Im asking my daughter to ask Aba ahgain to fix it real quick – after Ive wiped it down and so it disappears and I think its done and then this morning my 2 year old is trying to kill a fly on his wall with it- the banging woke me up- so in my PJs, and with a big smile I grabbed 2 screws from this canister that has everything in it from buttons to nails and rubberbands etc- and i pull out my handy screwdriver from the kitchen utensil drawer (this is a good mommy secret- always have a small hammer-screwdriver, philips and a small screwdriver in your kitchen-he’ll never take it and lose it cuz he doesnt go there)…and I screw the darn thing into place and my daughter who is only six says -ema your smiling but you look upset, are u ok? yes- I am just concentrating so that I do it right….but all the while I have this bubbling yell in my throat of “why cant you do anything around the house when asked???when FINALLY asked, and I know its cuz its all new to me and I am so desperately trying to let go of the dependancy thing- but I am glad I read this blog because I think that I will try the hired help- as hard as it is for me- just to see if it helps with the emotional slide I am feeling- becasue if it does the trick I cant wait to be a nonresenting happily married single mom of 5! and yes I can vouch for the fact that as the number of kids rise the easier it somehow gets- all credit to Ribono Shel Olam who can turn any Teva-natural thing to a miracle.

  19. Leah, I agree with your perspective. That’s my takeaway from the Michelle Obama quote–she could have had her husband’s help, but he probably would have stayed where he was.

    I have chosen a path to personal greatness: being a mother. My husband has a different path. All his chesed in our home builds him as a person. But if I want him to be great, I need to let him be free to pursue his greatness.

    • IT is a wonderful thing that you can feel this way. There are many wives, like me, who know that we need to grow a lot in confidence, perhaps, and are not yet ready to be alone in order to do this. You give a great gift to your husband by being this way, and in the end. you receive, too.
      Food for my thoughts….

  20. I find this article very disturbing. Husbands are using this as esplanation of why they need to escape their responsibilities!! Obama became a president life changed for them in many ways!
    Some people can’t effort cleaning help or other help because simply the husband is not earning millions and spend all the money towards that is ridiculous!

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