Monday, September 03, 2007

Not Very Traditional, But We Make It Work

My wife has blogged today about how very different our family's life is from the "stereotypical" family in the United States. I say "stereotypically" in a guarded fashion, because I suspect there is much more diversity in today's USA families than we any of us recognize. And it's not even adoption I'm talking about at this point (although that piece does make our family somewhat unusual from those on the block in which we live in our fairly typical midwestern medium-size city).

I'm talking more about roles and responsibilities in the household. In our family I am the nurturer; my wife is the boundary-keeper. When one of our children feels the need (deserved or not) for sympathy or understanding or mercy they turn to me immediately. I used to think that was quite a noble place to hold in the family structure, but I recognize what a difficult place it can be for all of us when dad is the perceived "softy." It means that I have to be constantly aware of what boundaries I am being asked to breach and how my response might upset the stability in the home. I try to check in with Claudia to make sure what communication has taken place before the entreaty comes my way, but it becomes tiring (for both of us, I am sure). And I suppose I will always resent the perception on the part of some of my children that I am weak because I am compassionate.

I am also the person who balances the checkbook, pays the bills and is most anxious when it comes to our financial affairs. (I suppose that this may be more "stereotypical" for the "husband" to care for this task). I suppose the traditional rationale for the male figure handling this task is that he was the one to be the major (or sole) breadwinner and consequently he should be the one to "decide" how the money is spent. In our family it is not the male who is the major breadwinner (unless you take into account the "whole benefit package" which includes a housing allowance, insurance and pension coverage), so that explanation doesn't fly for us. It is simply that I am the more detail oriented and perhaps, in this way at least, the more controlling.

I am the chief grocery shopper and cook, which may still be a bit nontraditional for the rest of our neighbors. For today's picnic with friends, I am the one who plans, prepares and serves the food items our family contributes to the picnic. My wife is the one who organizes the other details (issues the invitations, decides who is riding with whom to the event and the like), and I am quite content caring for what I enjoy doing most. It's funny, I suppose, that in our family it's dad that the kids ask about cooking questions or food preparation. I can explain the difference between a paring knife and a serrated knife, the distinction between an heirloom tomato and a hydroponic imposter. I know which store has the best price on milk this week, and I know when the Oscar Mayer bacon is on sale. Truth be told, I am most happy when shopping for and preparing meals for the family. I think it probably hearkens back to the days I spent my beloved grandmother, learning more than I ever thought I was learning, about the value of familiy togetherness surrounded by tasty items to eat. I recently inherited some of her utilitarian serving bowls (circa 1970), which nearly every day I use to serve my family, and which every time makes me remember my dear grandmother, as I utter a prayer of gratitude to God for having known her in my life.

My wife is the one who handles the sports, medical, education and church schedules. She is the one who invites friends to our home (I am the one who prepares the meal). When the guests arrive I am the one finishing up in the kitchen as she welcomes them to our living room to chat until we are ready to pray and eat together. She is the one who keeps track of how much money eat child has earned, how much money our college-aged sons have "saved" with us and who will be taking lunches to school this year and who won't. That she handles all these tasks makes me all the happier that I can focus on the cooking and (some of the) cleaning tasks in the house.

Because the nature of my vocational life affords me few opportunities for closure (there is always one more person who needs a pastoral visit, one more wedding or funeral to plan, one more sermon to preach, one more book to read, one more meeting to lead or attend), there is little I enjoy more than laundry. Tonight I am sitting in a bedroom with clean curtains, clean bedding, a vacuumed floor and a progressively less cluttered (can't claim success quite yet) space that is directly attributable to my "labor day" ventures.

It's a funny world to many, but I am glad to not be stuck in a relationship where all the "traditional" male roles would apply. When the kids are looking for comfort, I love knowing that is usually me they seek, and when they need to have expectations clarified it is their mother they consult. I find great joy when my family sits down to eat a meal I have prepared, and even greater joy when it is their mother who knows the family's schedule.

We are not very traditional, but we make it work, and I can't help but believe that it's good for our children -- all ten of them -- to live in a home where being a unique and fulfilled human matters more than being "male" or "female."

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