Last week I had a great time celebrating the engagement of a couple of my friends while eating Indian food, and it turned out to be a quadruple date of married, engaged, and dating couples all in our early 20s. After dinner we went to my house and drank hot beverages, and the conversation inevitably led to romantic relationships, marriage, and adult life.
My engaged friend and I talked about the expectations that Southern culture (meaning the American South) puts on young women, especially married ones. We're expected to take care of the home, keep it clean, make it spotless if visitors should come over, bake bread, have a tidy and pretty appearance, make pies, be hospitable, cook gourmet and homemade every night, eat dinner at the table as a family, take care of children, be genteel at all times, and make ridiculously amazing fried chicken and biscuits from memory. (I'm noticing a pattern of food expectations... ha.)
Quite honestly, I'm not exactly sure where all those expectations come from. Much of it, for me, came from my family and watching the kind of home my mother created for us. It came from the stories my grandmother told about making biscuits and chocolate gravy from a young age. I heard it in the tales of my great-grandmother Julie preparing a giant spread every morning, complete with eggs, pancakes, ham, sausage, hash browns, biscuits, etc. for all the farm hands, then cleaning it all up and immediately starting on lunch. I saw the southern hospitality my mother and grandmother showed, and our house was never wanting for visitors.
I know that a lot of the vintage community also has these expectations as we look to women in the past for our inspiration, so many of you may have felt these things, too, whether you are married and American or not.
Before you begin to draw the conclusion that I'm now going to hammer old gender stereotypes to pieces with my modern fist of feminism, I'm going to clarify:
I love these expectations, and I want to meet them.
I have always wanted to be able to make a good pie. Who doesn't like pie? I take pride in a clean home and a tidy appearance. I want to be genteel and ladylike, respected by those around me. I want to be hospitable and to open my arms to those who need help. While my life's goals and ambitions are not limited to these things like women may have been limited in the past, I take pride in and value this part of my heritage as a Southern woman and strive to meet these ideals.
However, in these first few months of being married and graduated from university, I've found these expectations to be a huge burden. I simply couldn't keep the house as clean and the dinners as exquisite as I liked while figuring out a full time job and this guy living in my house, and it frustrated me to no end. As I failed to meet many of these expectations every week, I felt more and more like a failure as an adult and wife. It had nothing to do with my husband, who remained encouraging and supportive all the while; it had everything to do with my own expectations of myself.
I finally came to the conclusion and revelation that I need to let go of the idea that I can be the perfect Southern woman magically by slipping on a wedding ring or receiving a diploma. I reminded myself of truth and came to these conclusions:
My mother didn't have it all together when she was my age either.
Even though I aspire to a home like the amazing one my mom created for my family, I've reminded myself that her skills were honed over many years of wifely and motherly experience. I can't expect to do everything she did because I'm only 6 months into getting a handle on this stage of life!
I'm not living the same kind of life as the women before me.
I live in the modern day, and there are all kinds of different pressures, responsibilities, and expectations that the women who have lived before me did not face. It's not the same world, and I'm not the same kind of person. I also haven't grown up with the same tools the women before me had, and I've grown up with resources they never could have dreamed of. I can't perfectly replicate lifestyles of the past because our environments are very different.
I need to proportion my Southern expectations to my life commitments.
Right now I'm working to help put my husband through school, and I am very glad to do it because I believe in what he's doing. However, that means I'm not a stay at home wife like I'd like to be someday. I simply don't have time for a pristine home and all the gourmet dinners because I'm working full time, and that's okay. I'm not forfeiting my Southern woman aspirations; I'm simply exchanging them for other ones that are more important right now. Perhaps someday I'll be in a position to do more of these old Southern things, but for now I need to prioritize.
I need to give myself more time to learn.
For some reason I've expected myself to adjust to adult married life in a snap. Our world is moving so fast, and we assume that we can move just as fast. Ridiculous! Humans are complex and deep, and life transitions are complex, too. I need to be more patient with myself as a learn a completely new set of skills and learn to handle the load of details involved in adult life and marriage. I'm not going to get things right every time, and I need to be patient with myself as I adjust.
I can make my life Southern-beautiful in small ways.
I don't have time for all the things I want to do, but I do have time for many of them. Whether it's making a pie for my husband or sprucing up the living room, doing what I can to beautify my life and doing it well brings me a sense of achievement. I know I'm building a home and marriage to last, and that happens one small brick at a time.
I will grow my skills and efficiency over time.
While not expecting myself to do everything, I do know that I can become more intentional and efficient over time. By working on one skill or life area at a time and getting a handle on it, I slowly build up my repertoire and increase my capability to handle more. Of course, my ability to handle more activities won't go up forever (it WILL hit a ceiling), but I will be able to better cope emotionally, mentally, and spiritually with life as I get older. That being said, it's okay to have fewer things going on in life right now. I'm adjusting, and simple is good in times of adjustment.
Even if you aren't Southern (or even American!), what are some lessons you learned about yourself early on in your marriage? If you're single, what curve balls did adult life throw you that you learned to overcome? What lessons would you share with young women about adult life?
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