What Makes a Good Wife
When her husband got sick, this writer could no longer be the reluctant caregiver
Women like my grandmother, like my editor—like me—prefer to exercise our maternal instincts in the world at large. It's less dangerous, less threatening, to be a caretaker in areas where such behavior is not psychologically mandated. This predilection sounds harmless enough. Apparently it's not. A caretaking investment in one's own family that trumps all others is still a gender expectation we've yet to overturn. The woman who refuses to be single-mindedly committed, from an emotional standpoint, to her husband or children remains an unsettling figure.
My first husband and I fought over this exact terrain, though I wouldn't have predicted this when we first met and talked about his tomato garden. A charismatic bluster of a man with a shotgun under his bed, he also liked to wrap his hair in a kerchief and nightly mop our floors. He cooked and picked out drapes and bought me skirts at sample sales. He was refreshingly impossible to categorize, falling somewhere between lumberjack and charwoman. But I was away from home a lot (I worked as a waitress), and this started to bother him. During a disagreement about whether I should go to an artists' colony for six weeks, he said, "I just hope that someday, when we have kids, you'll be able to put our family first."
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