Shani Orgad, Associate Professor in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has a recent interesting piece on theconversation.com. Titled “’Wifehood’ is not old-fashioned–here’s why it matters,” she discusses what wifehood means in today’s marriages, but focuses on the marital context that includes motherhood. What is ‘wifehood’ or the role of ‘wife’ in a childfree marriage? From interviews for Families of Two and qualitative data on heterosexual childfree married couples I’ve continued to collect since its publication, here’s the broad stroke of three that stand out.
Division of Labor
In a traditional marriage, it’s customary for wives to take the lead on domestics, and things related to managing the home. I’ve found that this is not commonly the case for childfree wives. Many childfree couples find their own formula for balancing who does what when it comes to domestics. The childfree wife’s role can often include what has generally been associated with traditional male roles, such as being handy to do house repair projects and managing financial affairs. The couples divy up day-to day living activities and responsibilities in all sorts of ways.
Co-facilitate Partner’s Success
In Orgad’s piece she discusses how many of the women she has talked with have “admitted that they have unwittingly deferred their identities to their husbands’. When the two-earner household could not cope with the pressures of both partners combining paid work and parenting, it was the woman who gave up her job.” Orgad goes on to write that even though “today’s wife may no longer be reliant on her husband’s status or money,” “the role of wife continues to shape, if subtly, the pursuit of her desires.”
Now, obviously childfree marriages don’t face the challenge of combining work and parenting. However, is the childfree wife as likely as a wife who is a mother to defer her identity, goals and dreams to “facilitate her husband’s success?” I have to say, it’s not what I have learned from many childfree couples. I hear more about how they find ways to pursue their dreams and goals individually and together. Said another way, a childfree wife is in the marriage with her partner, not ultimately for her partner.
While more than not childfree wives keep the space in their marriages to pursue their desires, they also feel equally committed to their partners’ as well. As I write in “Why Childfree Couples Have it All” about committed childfree relationships in general, part of the role childfree wives see for themselves includes dedicated support of their partners’ goals. As Cory Jones, who ran the site, DINKlife, says about childfree couples who “have it all,” the same goes for the role of the childfree wife: She not only values her partner’s pursuit of career and personal goals and ambitions, she encourages and is really there for her partner in the pursuit of his passions.
On balance, I have learned from many married childfree women that their role of “wife” is theirs to create with their partners. And I use the word “partner” deliberately. More often than not, these partners describe their marriage as one in which no one person is “in charge.” They co-create their lives individually and together, with husband and wife roles they design and that work for them in a partnership that is all their own.