I have a show coming up at Buckman Performing Arts in Levy Gallery in September focusing on my encaustics. I found some old magazines from Flashback I'm incorporating into the work. I brought them over to my parent's house yesterday thinking my mom would get a kick out of the ads from 1955 Better Homes and Gardens. We laughed and laughed, but it really opened up a dialogue on how she was raised vs. how I was raised vs. how I raise my girls. All the ads showed women doing housewife work. One woman even won an award for "Best Homemaker of the Year." The pictures were hilarious, but the language was between funny and disgusting. One ad said, "Do you come home to a companion, or a tired and stressed housewife?" I don't even know what it was advertising, but I am hoping it was for a spa service for the tired and stressed housewife! My guess is that it was for an appliance that would make her work easier. Another ad said, "Imagine ME telling my husband about air conditioning!" How dare she be educated on home cooling systems! Who would have thought she was smart enough to do that? Funny yet sad. My mom and I got to talking about the "traditional marriage" and traditional roles women play in marriage. I was raised with Dr. Laura on the radio. I listened intently growing up, and as a result of the morals instilled in me when I was a child through my own upbringing as well as the influence of this radio host, I stayed in a marriage way past the expiration date. My first thoughts whenever I examined divorce were, I can't divorce, then I've failed at marriage. I'm a failure if I can't make this work. I have failed my children and disappointed my parents and grandmother.
I believe in the family with man and wife as partners in child-rearing, but how can I say that this is the BEST way to raise a family when my own family is broken? Why would I put that stigma on myself as a divorced mother? Then it sort of makes me feel obligated to go out and find a replacement "dad" as soon as I can. Which I refuse to do. With all that is going on with me today, I think it has opened up my mom's eyes as well to the changing roles of women and how marriage itself has evolved. My mom and my mother-in-law both know all the gory details of my marriage as it crumbled, and BOTH of them gave me permission to leave. It makes me sad that I needed permission, but I needed to know I was going to be okay in a non-traditional family. They both gave me permission months before I actually pulled the trigger, so when I did, neither one of them were surprised, and both of them stepped in to comfort me in separate but equally endearing ways. I tend to see it as it being their generation that was one of the last to conform to the stereotypical "stand by your man" housewife mentality. My mom is an RN, one of two choices in careers her own mother gave her to pursue. My mother-in-law has a high school education, and that's it. Both are highly intelligent women. Both could talk to you about air conditioning, as well as the stock market, saving for retirement, what might be wrong with my car, and how to decorate my home on a budget. But both at times were very unhappy in their marriages. My mom would have left years ago if she felt confident she could take care of her children financially, during the time my dad's drinking was out of hand. But as a housewife what is she professionally qualified to do? She stayed, and it seems to have worked out because they generally have a great relationship. Not to mention, she has the courage now to step outside of her housewife role and work another job. She also puts her foot down now and tells him when she won't cater to his demanding ways. Dinner on the table at 5pm? Not always an option when you work in retail. My mother-in-law was stuck in a city she didn't know, with a family that didn't accept her, and raising four children. At times five children when she would take in her nephew. When she hit a rough patch with her husband, she couldn't leave. But as she got older, she compensated by finding other interests outside her home and began volunteering. The woman can clean a kitchen unlike anyone I've ever seen, so she put her talents to good use and did this in an assisted living facility. Both women are amazing and I admire them very much. But because of their own experiences, and knowing that I did my best to exhaust every effort to make my marriage work, they gave me thier approval so I said "enough."
Today my daughters ask a lot of questions. How do they avoid getting divorced? How do they avoid being hurt? They are little girls raised by Disney Princesses, and have a notion of Happily Ever After that fuels the Happy Housewife lie. They have boys at school that they "like," or are their "boyfriends." My oldest daughter once told me that she is now #2 on the list of girls that a boy likes, and she is sticking around until she is #1. It got me to thinking, that is what I am in my marriage, #2. I told her, "honey, don't EVER be somebody's #2." That weekend when my husband spent a three day weekend biking and running with his best friend for a total of 10 hours, I asked him if he could go for a walk with me that evening. Just around the block. He said, "I can't walk with you, because I will never be able to give you the kind of love you need. I'm gay."
I asked him to leave the house for good that night. This was 9 months ago and he is currently with another woman with two little girls. Good for them. I wish them luck and a life that is drama-free. As for me, I am working on setting a good example for my girls as to how they deserve to be treated and what opportunities lie ahead for them, and to be prepared when something happens to them that is out of their control. My daughter's crush did indeed become her boyfriend, and they were "boyfriend and girlfriend" the entire school year up until the last few days of school. My daughter told me she wanted to break up with him. I knew this little boy would be devastated, he had been glued to her for months. When I asked her why, she said that he was too clingy and getting too serious. And that she wanted a chance to play with her friends at school, and he wasn't allowing her space to do that. I can't help but feel that as a divorced mother of two girls the actions I took to take care of myself emotionally are being absorbed by them now, and in a healthier way than ever before. I was proud of her for recognizing her needs and taking care of herself, and thrilled that she asked for my advice and I gave it to her. Most importantly instilling in her that it may hurt in the short term, but in the long run it is the right thing to do.
There is much more to the story of my marriage than what I will share in this post, and maybe I will someday. I can't dwell on the "why's" and "how's," but I do know that I feel more empowered than I ever have, that I'm a great artist but terrible housekeeper, and that my girls are healthy and happy and don't look for happiness in roles they are expected to play. They don't seek happiness from others, they are learning to find it within themselves. And I am proud to say that I no longer feel the need to live up to a certain ideal, but am happy for the woman I am, and proud that I can impart words of wisdom to my children as well as live by example.
On a final note, we finally told my grandmother about the divorce. I was terrified and expecting a lashing on keeping the family together at all costs. To my delight she said, "well, Lisa, you are a strong woman and I have no doubt you can do this on your own successfully."