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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 5/24/07

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Dear Rachel,

Like most girls (I suppose) I always dreamed of getting married and establishing a home of my own. I would picture myself puttering in my kitchen, keeping things pretty and neat and whipping up meals for my family and guests.

The honeymoon was barely over when I awoke to reality. My heart sank when I arrived home from work on a Thursday evening, all set to dive into food preparation for Shabbos. The kitchen hardly resembled the one I had left in the morning. The counters were strewn with a mess of vegetable peelings, and my shiny new pots were boiling over on my once spotless stovetop. (So much for dreams.)

Call me old-fashioned, Rachel, but I grew up with the notion that a kitchen is a woman’s domain. Sure, a man should have responsibilities − bookkeeping, miscellaneous chores around the house; help with shopping/running errands, etc. But the kitchen?

To make matters worse, my husband (who is not dimwitted in any sense of the word) doesn’t get it. He fails to understand why I am not less than thrilled by his culinary “expertise.” Oh, have I mentioned that he loves to cook? And that sticky countertops and cabinet doors, and spills all over the place don’t faze him? If I dare voice my dismay, he comes back with, “If you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen”

We both work, and my husband − who sometimes gets home before me – insists that he is obliged to “help out.” Sounds great, I know, but how “thoughtful” is thoughtfulness that causes me endless exasperation? And while cooking leaves me with a sense of accomplishment, I wish I could say the same for cleanup − left for me to deal with, of course.

So far, I’ve succeeded in coming off as “critical” and “ungrateful.” How do I reclaim my rightful place in our home? (I don’t mind cleaning up after myself, which is by far less tedious and time-consuming.)

Am I missing something? Has kitchen-duty become a gender-neutral activity? I never thought I’d come to envy the woman who grumbles about her husband’s inability to boil an egg.

Beyond Boiling

Dear Boiling,

Your upbringing was obviously a traditional one, and there is much to be said for the woman who is a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. Yet today, husbands and wives are both often out in the working world − especially before children “arrive” on the scene. Under such circumstances, it certainly behooves the husband to lend a helping hand in keeping things running smoothly, and your husband is to be commended for his noble intent.

Your frustration, however, is understandable. Women (as well as men) who appreciate living in an uncluttered and orderly environment will identify with your aggravation.

The good news is that you don’t need to give up on that childhood dream. There’s this great recipe that you may want to try, which is sure to dissolve the friction that is impinging on your shalom bayis. It combines the ingredients of ingenuity, patience and planning − along with a generous helping of TLC − and may even serve to turn your dilemma into an advantage for you both.

First of all, your husband (is he listening?) needs to understand that a happy wife makes for a happy home. It is the woman of the house through whom Hashem sends down His blessings. With this in mind, your husband should (at all times) show more sensitivity to your feelings. You can, nonetheless, take the initiative to turn the tide.

Make arrangements to take your husband out to dinner one evening after work. With both of you at ease in the relaxed environment of a neutral setting, you can casually inform him of how grateful you are to have such a talented mate. Compliment him on his cooking acumen. When you have him eating out of your hand, launch into a wistful “All my life I looked forward to cooking” Maintaining a soft and non-threatening tone throughout, let him know that you are feeling increasingly deprived of the great mitzvah of preparing food for Shabbos.

Ask his help in planning a schedule that will allow you equal billing in cuisine concocting. Heaping lavish praise on a tried and true dish of his that you can honestly admit to having enjoyed, suggest that he continue to make it (his delicious chicken soup, for example) while you will prepare the fish. Prefer your chulent to his? Leave the kishka for him to stuff. If he turns out a super potato kugel, savor it − and bake a cake (and challah, if you are so inclined). Hey, this way you can have your cake and eat it too! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Watching another perform a chore that you would do differently can become quite unsettling. Immerse yourself in another project while your husband’s at the stove and avoid getting all worked up for nothing. (If at all possible, rearrange your work hours to allow you to get home earlier − at least on Thursdays.)

If you haven’t already done so, consider hiring cleaning help for at least a few hours a week − a must-have, especially for the working woman.

A lesson in life to take to heart: A little praise goes a long way. Even where criticism is justified, it can come across as arrogance and turn a potentially pleasant atmosphere into a glum or acrimonious one.

With a growing family G-d willing, today’s nuisance may yet prove to be tomorrow’s blessing (if he won’t tire of the routine). Patience is the key, and teamwork the technique to coordinate your talents for a long time to come. The secret lies in working together instead of against each other.

“Achdus” is our strength, both as individuals and as a nation. Standing at Har Sinai, we were like one − “b’lev echad” − and thus deserving of Hashem’s presence in our midst.

Wishing all a wonderfully inspiring and blissful Shavuos!

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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