The Good Wife’s Guide

Somehow a photocopy of an article from Housekeeping Monthly dated May 13, 1955 has ended up under a magnet on our fridge door. It is titled The Good Wife’s Guide. I don’t know who put it there but I have my suspicions.

The illustration at the top of the page is charmingly retro (think June and Ward Cleaver from the 1950’s sitcom Leave it to Beaver). The wife is standing by a stove, a smart apron tied around her waist. She is warmly greeting her husband who has arrived home from work, his hat in one hand and a newspaper tucked under his arm. Two very cute children, spick and span, are playing beside them.

Unsurprisingly given the article was written a half century ago, there are several pieces of advice in this short guide that are obnoxious. These include helpful pointers to the stay-at-home wife such as:

  • Don’t complain if he’s late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone though that day.
  • Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.
  • Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

For the record, if my husband stayed out all night without explanation I’d be doing more than arranging his pillow and taking off his shoes; I’d be arranging for a divorce and taking off with his CD collection. (I like the sound of the “master” bit though but I digress).

Despite these howlers, the article makes some good points once suitably updated for the 21st century to include both stay-at-home wives and stay-at-home husbands. There are three pieces of advice from the 1955 Good Wife Guide that bear repeating, with my commentary:

Be happy to see him.
Totally agree. Whether it is a “him” or a “her” who returns home after a day in the salt mines, it is important to welcome them back in a way that reinforces their decision to come home. Home should be our warm haven where we are reunited with a warm hug and a kiss. Absence from our partners should make our hearts grow fonder.

Don’t greet him with complaints and problems.
True, even though it is easier said than done. Dealing with daily minutiae as a stay-at-home wife or husband can be frustrating. Because it is futile to complain to the kids or the dog about the sink backing up again, it is hard to resist complaining to a partner. Rather than complain or nag right off the bat, better results will probably be achieved once the partner has had a chance to relax and unwind, perhaps with a glass of wine. And a foot rub.

Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
This goes both ways. Both the partner that works outside the home and the stay-at-home partner may need a lift. It’s a good strategy to remain interesting to ourselves, and consequently to our partners. Stimulating conversation is important to the vitality of a relationship, so it is good to gather “material” throughout the day to share at night with our partners—perhaps something interesting we heard on the radio, some silly thing a colleague or neighbor did, or a juicy piece of office or neighborhood gossip.

It is fun to go back in time, and laugh about how our parents and grandparents related to each other. What is always interesting to me though is not how much has changed over the generations, but just how little has changed. Irrespective of who stays home, there are some good practices for greeting one’s partner at the end of the day that will determine how well the rest of the night unfolds.

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