As the wheels started to fall off at home I remembered why it was that five years ago I made the decision to give up work that required me to leave the house?
I loved teaching. I loved the jokes in the classroom, the lunches with professional intellectual explainers, the going to the loo on my own. It was fun. But as my husband got busier and more absent it became clear that with three children and another one due to arrive shortly something was going to break. And it was probably going to be me.
It had become increasingly obvious that someone had to do the housekeeping. Either I had to employ a housekeeper or become one. So I made the break, to manage my husbands office and stay at home with my babies.
Life is full of changes. I had a good run at the career girl thing and then at the working mother thing so, whilst sad to leave colleagues behind, I was ready for the new beginning and wise enough to know that this too would only be a stage.
Initially playing at being the housewife I got real satisfaction from getting things in order. Actually having one part of life under control was rather nice, peaceful and a lot less scrabbly. As my now sole-breadwinner husband left the house suited and reasonably crease-free he was happy in the knowledge that there would be supper and some degree of order when he got home. He loved it. I, who had been getting increasingly frustrated with my other half when we were nominally sharing the roles of parent, housekeeper and breadwinner, found that it was much clearer now. He made the money, I made the nest. Much less resentment all round.
That particular irritation out of the way I could take a moment to actually admire and fancy my smartly dressed World’s Worker. He was the epitome of family man, providing for and supporting us with his hard work. I even had time to think how handsome he looked.
Now we are slowly heading back again to the mixed scramble of multitudinous demands and blended responsibilities. Despite the fact that my even-more-frequently-absent husband cannot help but let the domestic duty fall to me I have caught myself, very unfairly, regarding his be-suited retreating back with a creeping sense of resentment that he is ‘escaping’ to his work far away from domestic responsibilities – the lucky so and so. It is making me growl and not in a good way!
But recently I have noticed a funny thing. On my return late one evening from a day of meetings in London I was met by the delightful aroma of Boeuf Bourguignon cooked by a casually pyjama’d and be-apronned husband. Not suited and booted but definitely fanciable: a handsome man in my kitchen.
This has made me wonder about the fickle nature of the female fancy. Is our taste or predilection for a mate based on what we need them to be in the present moment? Are we conditioned to be physically drawn to the man who is most able in the situation. It would explain the cliche of the crush on the ski instructor! In the woods we need a woodsman; in the city an urbanite. In which case the rise of the new man is simply an evolutionary phenomenon. The modern dad, with his air of being able to help, is more appealing to the working woman than the suggested wealth and provision of the Saville Row dressed city slicker. If true – isn’t evolution clever!
The only problem with this biological response in today’s world is that each model of perfection loses his special appeal taken out of setting. If we are programmed to turn our eye to the man of the moment how is a husband to compete? Our female multi-tasking has nothing on this! Our poor helpmates need multi-personalities. He must be the macho man for the woods and the ski slopes, the playful boy for entertaining the kids, the successful man-in-the-know for the city, not to mention the naked chef in the kitchen. Poor chap, I am exhausted just thinking about it.
So if the Good Husband is whatever we need in the moment – it raises the question. What is a Good Wife? Answers on a postcard please.