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…