There were times throughout our 15-year marriage when he’d make boyishly stupid remarks. “You’re nothing like the woman I married,” he’d say, like he’d gotten a bum deal or as if I’d somehow knowingly hoodwinked him. He couldn’t have known how much those comments rankled me.
I was raised Mormon, and the marriage advice I learned meant that a good wife is nice. A good wife is kind. She smiles and nods and quietly commits to change when her husband says such things. And anyway, I didn’t blame him. On some level, I understood what he was saying.
We were kids when we met and kids when we sealed the deal.
Because we cemented our marriage upon the stuff of youth, we only recognized each other when we assumed these very traditional husband and wife roles. We were either apologetic and unsure and mildly co-dependent, or we were completelely unrecognizable to each other. There was no in-between.
There was also little space for growth or change. In fact, growth and change scared us. We’d agreed to one plan at the tender age of 19 and 21, which was: marry young, birth babies, dad works, mom stays home. In our uber-religious, cultural context, this way of life was the epitome of success. And so it was.
We said our “I do’s” believing we’d be building the next great “All American Family.” Him, a tall, dark, and handsome wage-earner; me, a sweet and doting stay-at-home mother of four. This was what we’d both been taught by our religion, parents, and peers our whole lives — that this sort of traditional, patriarch-led existence was living; that building the classic, picture-perfect 1950s family was what life was all about.
It will come as little shock to lots of moms, especially the ones who live the stay-at-home life, that this type of life isn’t one-size fits all.
It’s not for everyone. Staying at home and raising your kids comes with tremendous personal sacrifice for both parents, but particularly for the mother. You give up your body, belly, midnights, minutes, freedom, opportunity — and in a big way, you give up you.
This isn’t to say there aren’t tremendous benefits to being a mother and having children. It’s only to say that the experience of being a mother, while utterly fulfilling, left me largely lost after 12 straight years of it all.
I’d poured so much time into my husband’s career, his schooling, and supporting him because he needed time to “relax” after a hard days work. I’d given so much time to rocking, cuddling, loving, caretaking, doting, toting and raising. On the outside, I was doing it all right — I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing — but on the inside I felt like screaming.
I wanted to stand in my front yard and scream “I am here!” I wanted to stand anywhere but a PTA meeting and scream “Please tell me you see me!”
I felt like all the things that made me me — ambition, independence, whimsy, creativity — were bottled up and suffocating. I’d spent so many years denying them, ignoring them, not having time for them that they’d become pressurized.
I was bottle of bubbly begging for the cork to be pulled.
And so I started a blog. It sounds small and silly now. But eight years ago it was a simple way for me to reach out into the world and tell people I was there, I was alive, and I had things to say and talents to share. It gave me a voice, a personality, something that I had created all by myself. And eventually, it gave me an income.
Two years into blogging, companies started noticing me. They started flying me places. They liked what I was doing and wanted my input. Suddenly I was more than just a mom. I was more than just a sideline supporter. I was a respected and sought-after contributor in the food blog world.
And slowly, I began to realize, I was changing.
There were times throughout our marriage when he’d say boyishly stupid remarks. “You’re nothing like the woman I married.” But this time, I was telling him.
Standing in the middle of the kitchen, whispering quietly so the kids wouldn’t hear. On the tail-end of a fight which left him frustrated and fleeing the house.
I’m not the woman you married.
I’m not the college girl with worried eyes and hopeful whimsy.
I’m not the doting sidekick, content to sit every game out.
I’m no longer willing to be “Baby” in the corner.
I no longer wanted to be just a wife; I wanted to be a partner. I wanted equal respect, I wanted give and take, I wanted to grow up. He reacted surprisingly well that day. Cradled me in his arms for hours. Said he understood. Said he didn’t need all the other things I’d always been.
Less than a year later, he asked for a divorce.
“You’re not the woman I married,” he said.
I knew he was right and it was okay. Because letting go of her finally made it okay to be me.