It’s often the case that we don’t notice something until it’s missing from our lives. Sometimes what’s missing is me, mom. A few days after each of our children were born; the inevitable and painful era of postpartum recovery began. No more glorious hospital food (ten hours of labor has been known to make one hungry, very hungry), no more placid views of sunsets and church steeples through my un-finger-printed windows, no more leisurely watching of Iron Chef. Its back home with baby, his happy siblings and my dear husband.
Just how are those happy siblings? And the house? Dirty would be an understatement. At this point I’m thinking it might be a good idea to just throw the crusty dishes away, the kids are wearing each other’s clothes and the vacuum is practically flirting with me. Someone has misplaced her shoes and has sandals on in November. It’s a big but happy mess, and everyone can surely tell I’ve been missing.
Sometimes it’s my husband that’s missing. While my husband is on a trip away for a week or so, one can find me assigning lots of tedious chores to my children who pine for his return. There are closets to clean! A basement to reorganize! Oh yes, that reminds me—let’s paint the windows!
Gone are the fun nightly outings my husband can pull together on a whim, the board game extravaganzas, and his sense of humor. I fall into bed early, exhausted. All work and no play…you get the picture. The house will be clean when he gets home, but happy? There are no guarantees on that. Everyone can tell he’s been missing.
I can do anything you can do, better?
When we’re together, which we usually are, the two of us have learned to mold these divergent methods of parenting and housekeeping into a functioning family. This differentiation of work in the family doesn’t always come easily, and it can be difficult in our current social climate to recognize the unique gifts that men and women bring to the family.
As with many women my age, I was raised to believe that there is nothing a man can do that a woman can’t. Accordingly, I also witnessed a lot of tension in my childhood home over who was supposed to do what. I was under the impression that housework was just cause for war.
There was no longer a traditional set of tasks specifically for the mother or the father, and there was little evidence of the sexes complementing each other. To accept complementarity is to accept limitations. To accept limitations is true freedom. But, this is easier said than done.
With God’s (sometimes) gentle grace, I’ve come to see that my husband’s gifts are not my own, and I am thankful to have his help in those areas. I don’t need to compete with him or jealously guard my own talents. We each know where and when our help is needed.
He’s indispensable and, I like to think, I am too
Every husband and wife has to find comfort in their complementarity because marriage often begins like a new pair of shoes, there will be blisters sometimes. Some husbands wash dishes, some wives balance the check book. Oftentimes your husband or wife will not do as your own mother or father did. Arguments will ensue. But your hope lies in the fact that God created man and woman for one another, implying the need we all feel, or want to feel, for our spouse. I love knowing that I need my husband, and I don’t fear the vulnerability of that necessity. This necessity makes him indispensable to me and me to him.
Blessed Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio shines light on the meaning and purpose of sexual complementarity in marriage:
This conjugal communion sinks its roots in the natural complementarity that exists between man and woman and is nurtured through the personal willingness of the spouses to share their entire life-project, what they have and what they are: For this reason such communion is the fruit and the sign of a profoundly human need. But in the Lord Christ God takes up this human need, confirms it, purifies it and elevates it, leading it to perfection through the Sacrament of Matrimony: the Holy Spirit who is poured out in the sacramental celebration offers Christian couples the gift of a new communion of love that is the living and real image of that unique unity which makes of the Church the indivisible Mystical Body of the Lord Jesus.
As spouses, we not only complement each other but work to perfect each other through the Sacrament of Matrimony. Man and woman were indeed created for one another, but they were also created in the image and likeness of God—our complementarity, in marriage as well as in the broader world, is part of that image and likeness. I can only hope that in our union as spouses, my husband and I are helping form a living image of God for our children and for the world around us.