A couple of months ago I blogged about how women often have a hard time knowing what we want to be *when we grow up.* What we want to commit to outside of family life. And about the eternal question: Why?
It’s occured to me that our mothers may have played a role. Many of our moms came of age in the ‘50s and ‘60s when expectations were dramatically different than they are now. Though things were evolving, it wasn’t easy to keep pace. This left many of them in a confusing and ambiguous place. Hence mixed messages to us, their daughters, about what choices to make.
(My own mom urged me to consider going into law, which she called “a good field for a woman.” By that, she explained, she meant flexible enough to allow part-time work and fuse well with family life yet respectable, and well-paid. I don’t think she realized it wasn’t all that flexible, yet the intention was the same.)
But our mothers are just one possible answer. Another — less obvious but lots more fun to blog about! — is our husbands. The chance to explore this was a big part of my inspiration for Veronica’s husband, Didier.
As you may have seen, Dider is eager for Veronica to succeed as an artist. So eager, in fact, that’s he’s lost his patience with her ambivalence about painting and her apparent leaning toward becoming a full-fledged stay-at-home mom.
What’s more, he doesn’t keep this bottled up inside. In Chapter 10, he confronts Veronica with the question of what exactly she wants to do with her life if not paint. His tone is blunt and accusatory. No taking the gloves or tiptoeing around this sensitive topic. With his European-Moroccan mindset, that’s just not his way.
Chances are he wouldn’t get away with that here in the States, where it seems political correctness creeps even into marriage, making certain topics so sacred, so taboo, that spouses don’t dare call each other on them.
But I wonder: When husbands (or wives) who are secretly disgruntled about being the sole breadwinner keep this frustration bottled up inside, could they actually be holding their spouse back from discovering what she or he is really capable of? What she or he is made of?
My own French-Italian husband spoke his mind, and to this day I’m grateful for the wake-up call. After a couple of years of giving the traditional model of having me stay at home and squeeze in some writing while our then-baby was with a sitter or asleep, he told me point blank that he just couldn’t do it. He felt too burdened as the only breadwinner, too anxious about the future and too limited in his choices.
It was a hard pill to swallow, and yeah, I silently blamed and begrudged him for cramping my style. But I also knew that if he wasn’t happy, no one in our family would be. And to my surprise, I learned what a powerful, positive force the lack of an option can be. Knowing unequivocally that I had to find gainful employment I could feel passionate enough about to commit to 100% for years to come and that would be compatible over the long term with writing forced me to figure out just what that employment — and the passion behind it — would be.
There are other ways our dear husbands can shape our identities and goals. If they like the idea of us staying home and taking care of the house, the kids, and them, I think we’re easily swayed. And if they’re ambivalent yet maintain a supportive stance about whatever we choose, it can make it hard for us to find the drive to act if we’re not naturally driven.
I know — in this context *blame* is an overstatement and there’s lots to be thankful for, too. Plus, I’m personally the type who tends to always blame only myself. But still I can’t help thinking that who we become depends a lot on our spouse.
How has your spouse’s reaction influenced your personal decisions?
What do you think of Didier’s take-no-gloves style?