I Used To Hold Myself To The Standards Of A 1950s Housewife (Then I Woke Up)

by Meredith Ethington
Originally Published: 
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I’m just slightly obsessed with mid-century modern furniture and 1950s style. Something about the A-line dresses and pearls makes me swoon, and I find myself yearning to wear a full skirt with a pretty hat and matching purse while sitting on a mid-century modern couch in my heels.

But what I didn’t really expect was that somehow this idea of living like a 1950s housewife crept into my mind when I became a parent too. And if I’m being totally honest, it started ruining everything.

I did not grow up with this sort of home myself. And being a child of the ’80s, I didn’t even really watch shows like Leave it To Beaver on TV. We watched shows like Roseanne and The Cosby Show where women worked and still had to run a household.

So I’m a little bit perplexed by where this idea came from that dinner had to be on the table when my man came home and a smile had to be plastered on my face even if I had the worst day ever. Because dang it, I should be grateful to get to stay home, so I better not ever look frazzled or frustrated.

I know this is all a bunch of BS, but I couldn’t help but feel that way.

Here it is, 2017, and I’m still fighting this stereotype that somehow crept into my mind way back when. But I finally realized it’s just too damn exhausting (and disingenuous) to make it a reality.

And did women back then really make it all happen by themselves anyway?

The answer is no.

My mom worked most of my childhood, and so did my dad. We were a middle-class family in a small Texas town, and yet I still thought I’d grow up and do better. And I think my definition of “better” somehow warped into being a 1950s-style housewife.

I remember telling my husband when we were newlyweds and both working full-time that all I wanted was to be able to be a stay-at-home mom. I promised to have a homemade meal on the table every night, and a clean house, and happy kids, if I could have that.

*Insert maniacal laughter here*

We both thought me staying home would be good for our kids, so when our first was born, we figured out a way to sacrifice so that we could make it work financially. Eleven years later, and he’s still the financial provider of the family, and I’m still the backbone of the house, which means I take care of pretty much everything else.

I pack the lunches and remember deadlines, school projects, and what day soccer practice is. I do the shopping, yard work, laundry, transportation, and make sure my kids don’t kill each other. I cook dinner almost every night, and we only eat out maybe once a week. I make sure our kids learn how to complete basic chores and that there is toilet paper in the house (and on the roll).

But I realized a year or so ago that I was chasing this ridiculous idea that in addition to all those responsibilities, the house had to be neat and tidy and dinner should be warm on the table when my husband got home. It was killing me to live up to this lofty ideal I had in my head.

My husband never once has suggested I do things a certain way. He wasn’t expecting me to have pearls on with a casserole in the oven, so why was I?

My best guess is that somewhere in my childhood, I got it in my head that the 1950s housewife was the picture of motherhood perfection. And being a perfectionist myself, I wanted to reach that standard even though I never saw that modeled in my home or any of my friends’ homes growing up.

I realize now how dangerous this idea was for me to try to live like that, and I’m finally letting it go. It is dangerous because I also struggle with anxiety and depression when I don’t measure up. I felt like a failure if he came home from work and we were eating chicken nuggets for dinner. Remember how I promised dinner would always be ready?

It sounds ridiculous, I know, but my guess is that I’m not the only one who was (or is) trying to live a perfect life.

But I’m done. I no longer strive for that standard. It was making me miserable, and it was making my entire family miserable in the process. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it was, but one day I woke up and realized that I wanted to love myself more than I wanted to look like I had it all together. And that was the shift for me.

There is no one keeping score (thank goodness) in my house. No one is tallying how many healthy meals there are versus how many hot dogs I serve. No one is judging me for how often I wash the towels or if I forget to take my kid to piano lessons one week. No one cares if I work or if I don’t. No one ever was tallying any of those things except me. The question is, why was I doing that to myself?

So if you find yourself trapped in this warped idea of 1950-ish suburbia like I was, snap out of it. Nobody has a perfect life. Nobody has perfect kids. Nobody has a perfect family, and nobody has pearls on, a casserole and homemade pie in the oven, while wearing a cute A-line dress with an apron when their man comes home. (Also, the phrase “my man” makes me cringe.)

Embrace the chaos and the beautiful mess that comes from being a modern-day woman trying to do all the things. Pat yourself on the back for how amazing you are at balancing all that is required of you, and punch that 1950s housewife ideal in the face. Because trust me, you’ll feel a whole lot better if you can let that crap go and start to really enjoy the imperfect life you already have.

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