About two months into our marriage, I confronted my husband.
We were both young working professionals with no kids, two full-time jobs—and yet every day he would come home from work, change into casual clothes and lay his work clothes on our bed, and go about the rest of his evening.
I turned to my normally incredibly organized, neat-freak husband and exasperatedly said, “You never hang up your work clothes! Why are they always on our bed?”
He looked at me a little sheepishly and responded, “I don’t know. I didn’t realize I was doing it. I guess my mom always hung up my dad’s clothes when he got home from work and I just assumed that's what wives do for their husbands.”
Before I retorted with “Are you kidding?" I got to thinking about the preconceptions we all unknowingly bring to marriage—from little assumptions about laundry habits to big decisions like how to communicate or raise our children. I realized that we were being a little naive thinking two completely different people would blend seamlessly together—and that our marriage would resemble the marriages we grew up watching.
Your marriage will be different than your mom's, for several reasons. From my own experience, here are a few of them:
01. You and your mom belong to a different generation.
Thanks to technology and the evolution of cultural norms, our generations' conceptions about marriage and family have changed dramatically in the last few decades. While our parents may have had to pick either breadwinner or homemaker, both husbands and wives of our generation can have a career and play an active role in raising their children.
These days Millennial men are far more interested in domestic duties than men of prior generations—and understand that their role as a father transcends the role of a financial provider. In fact, we are experiencing a surge in Millennial men demanding more flexible work hours in order to spend more time at home and with their kids. And stay-at-home dads now account for 20 percent of stay-at-home parents.
What does this mean for marriage? Well for one, it's less obvious whose job it is to be picking the laundry up off the floor.
I work part-time and also function as a full-time stay-at-home parent. My two other married sisters also hold down jobs with kids. The ability to work from home—either all the time or occasionially—gives us advantages that our mom was never able to have. We can contribute to the household income and grow professionally while still being present to our kids. My husband has flex hours that allow him to go to work early, so he can leave early and help out around the house.
However the reality of work-life balance shakes out for your family, one thing is for certain: Daily life is a whole different ball game in 2018 than it was in 1988 and that means your marriage will be, too.
02. You are different people than your parents.
It’s common relationship knowledge that many women end up choosing men that resemble their fathers, both physically and emotionally. This can sometimes lead us to the false assumption that everything about your parents' marriage is applicable and right for your own.
A good friend of mine learned this the hard way when she had her first baby. Her mom, preparing her for motherhood, told her under no circumstances should she wake up her husband during the night to help with the baby. “He has to wake up and do his job in the morning, and it’s your job to take care of the newborn,” she explained. But after six weeks with a terribly colicky baby and sleeping less than two hours a night, my friend had to confront the reality that what worked for her mom was not going to work for her family.
Even though it may seem like you are walking in your parents’ footsteps, it’s important to realize that you and your husband are unique individuals with unique strengths and weaknesses. Some of the ways your parents chose to do things might be a good idea for you and some might be a disaster waiting to happen. Admitting that you need to approach things a little differently to accommodate those differences is a step forward for your marriage, not an admission of failure or a sign of betrayal.
03. No marriage will measure up to yours.
My mother-in-law told me once that each spouse comes to marriage with a box. A box full of preconceptions, desires, and assumptions about your union. The first few years of marriage are about you and your spouse sorting through those boxes, deciding what to keep and deciding what to throw away. It’s a very hard moment when you realize you will have to throw away a tradition or a way of doing things that was so fundamental to the way you were brought up. But it’s so, so necessary.
Letting go of those norms is absolutely essential if you want to have the kind of marriage that pushes you past your boundaries and inspires you to build something new with your husband. It’s only when we start with a clean slate that we can really learn about each other and about the form that we want our own unique family to take.
And so even though it went against every ounce of my common sense (and maybe I still roll my eyes on occasion), I hang up my husband's clothes when he comes home from work. But not because his mom did it, or because that’s what wives do for their husbands, but because it’s a little way for me to show him I appreciate him and where he comes from as we press on in this great big project of building our own new family culture.
On the flip side? He’s always in charge of making dinner.