Depressed housewives. Bored housewife. Lonely housewife.
These are some of the top search matches for women who find my page and the things I am asked about most often. They are also the reason so many women feel helpless and hopeless when faced with the back-to-work or stay-at-home decision. For most, neither option presents as palatable, but it need not be this way. There are answers and solutions for depressed housewives, and for most of us, the solutions are closer than we think.
“Do you ever just feel like there is no point?” one reader recently asked.
“I just feel like I’m treading water and not going anywhere.”
“I know I should be happy. I’m lucky to be able to stay home with the kids. Not everybody can do that. But I’m not happy. I can barely get off the couch these days. It all just feels so pointless.”
These feelings of dissatisfaction and hopelessness are rampant today, and that’s not surprising when you look at the societal atmosphere that we are living in. The glorification has been misplaced and now goes to those who have achieved much success and accumulated great amounts of money and on those who have managed to capture youthfulness (by any means necessary.) But would it surprise you to learn that the emotional challenges facing you, dear depressed housewife, are exactly the same as those facing most highly successful Hollywood movie stars? You don’t believe me? Take a moment right now and try to think of one person who you know who isn’t unhappy in some way. Go ahead. Think about it.
Right. None. At the very core, you and they are the same. We are all the same.
The only difference is that for most housewives, the answers and solutions are more readily available. That is, once you understand the real issue at the heart of the matter, which is that we, as a modern society, are lead to believe that we ought to be always happy. We are told that we have a right to be happy and that we should not settle for less than being deliriously happy. We are taught that if we are not happy then there must be something wrong with our circumstance or with our mind. Medication is typically prescribed. But it’s a quick fix that seldom fixes anything. Why?
Because nobody teaches us where to find true happiness, and certainly nobody mentions that in order to find it, you must first endure suffering. We all must. Suffering is part of life–everyone’s life. Nobody mentions that. And why would they? It goes against the grain. It clashes with the constant barrage of inspirational messages we are inundated with daily. It’s not popular. And, sadly, most believe it’s not true. But it is.
Instead we need to start teaching and learning that into every life there will be unpleasantries and suffering, but it is through this very suffering that we are here to learn meaning and find true, deep satisfaction within our lives.
Do not fret. I am not here to tell you that you must endure many more years of unhappiness. The suffering that you must endure needs only to last as long as it takes you to change your mind about how you think about the challenges at hand. And that is what we are going to do today.
Let’s begin with a little historical review. Think back to what you know of pre-historic times. Imagine life back then. The Middle Ages? What do your recall about that timeframe? And how about more recently. Let’s say the early 1900s? What was life like? What was happening in the world? What was daily life like for each of these stages in history? Now let me ask you this. Think about the life of a pauper. And now of a prince. A Hollywood actress? A corporate executive? Your dentist? What do all these things have in common? I can tell you without hesitation that no matter what time frame, no matter what era, and no matter what station in life, everyone experiences difficulties and sadness. Everyone. Some will have difficulties and sadness to a larger degree than others, but everyone suffers.
I can also say with absolute confidence that it will not matter whether you are a stay-at-home mom or the president of a large corporation. You will not escape your feelings of unhappiness. So stop feeling guilty about being unhappy. It’s pointless.
Life, however, is not pointless. Realizing this truth–that we are all subject to boredom, tedium, sadness and unhappiness, is the first step toward climbing out of the abyss of misery. Once you realize that some pain is going to occur, you may proceed to the next step, which is figuring out if our pain is avoidable or unavoidable.
If avoidable the answer is simple. Remove all sources of suffering that are indeed avoidable. For example, you don’t rip candy out of a child’s hand just to hear them scream. You don’t spoil a child and then have to bear their tantrums. And you don’t stick your hand in boiling water. Only masochists do things to purposely create suffering in their lives just to experience the pain. Most of us are not masochists.
If you are experiencing discomfort that you do not see as avoidable, after all someone must clean the house and cook day after day, someone must care for the babies, then you must take the next step, which is to begin to look into that suffering to find purpose.
Let me ask you this. If you were to project your life forward to your deathbed and imagine that you had never married and had children and were now looking back on your life, what do you think you would see? Perhaps you had a wonderful career. Perhaps you traveled the world. But did your life have meaning? Did you matter to the world? Did you matter to anyone in particular at all? Who is with you beside your deathbed? For most, this picture creates a feeling of loneliness and separation.
Now go back to that same deathbed and look back on your existing family. What about then? When you look back at your family, did your life have meaning and purpose? Did you matter? Are they there with you? Are you surrounded by your children and their children? Do they adore you?
It is easy to see the meaningfulness of a life when looked at as a whole. It is very difficult to see the contribution that our day-to-day cooking and cleaning and diaper changing has because we are only seeing those things as individual pieces of the whole. We experience them as individual moments. They are perceived as difficulties in your day, but I want to remind you that we do not find meaning in things that are easy. We find meaning to life in those things that challenge us and in those things for which we make sacrifices.
So how can you turn your experiences around into ones that are meaningful and satisfying? By changing the goals associated with them. You know, for example, that you are going to clean house to some degree every day for the rest of your life. You can look upon those daily tasks as monotonous drudgery, or you can think about them as a cumulative achievement: A goal of keeping your environment sanitary for your family throughout their lives. It’s bigger than just washing that dish. It’s about the big picture.
Did you know that according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman and many other leading authorities, the food you feed your toddler can have an effect on his health thirty years from now? You control your family’s future by your planning and preparing of healthy meals. You and you alone can direct that. Your child has no say in the matter. This is a huge responsibility that only you can bear. You can look at it as fixing dinner, or you can see it as building strong and healthy bodies for life.
You can look at the daily challenges of dealing with crying toddlers, rebellious pre-schoolers, independence-seeking teens and at times irresponsible young adults as painful, boring, tedious experiences as a mother. Or you can look at the big picture and remind yourself that you are teaching these young ones how to be responsible citizens for a lifetime. Your efforts more than any other person’s are going to have the biggest impact on how they live out their entire lives. You are molding their character every day. You, Mom, are their greatest teacher.
You can sit on the couch and watch t.v. all day feeling sorry for yourself or you can declare yourself the matriarch of your family in charge of the care and feeding of all of your descendants and living ancestors. You alone bear that purpose. And guess what? You are in the unique position that you and only you CAN bear that purpose. Nobody else can be you. Nobody else can be your child’s mom. Nobody else can have such a profound effect on him.
And likewise, nobody else is your husband’s helpmeet. Did you know that in Genesis 2:20 the word used to describe Eve as Adam’s helper is the Hebrew word ezer. Traditionally people have taken that word to mean Adam’s wife and mother to his babies. But what you may not realize is that the word ezer is used 21 times throughout the Old Testament. Only twice is it used to describe a woman. The other times it is used to describe military assistance, but mostly it is used to describe God’s assistance to Israel–God as Israel’s helper. God as ezer is described as a shield and as a defense, watching over his people. So what can we draw from that? God didn’t put you here just to be your husband’s housewife. He put you here to be his partner in the battlefield of life. You watch his back. He watches yours. You are important to him. You are his shield and sometimes his sword. You are a team. You have things you can be doing to live up to that role. What are they? Find out and do them.
Your life has great meaning. You are not useless. You are not purposeless.
Victor E. Frankl said “… a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to be happy … ”
The truth is that you can not be coerced into being happy. You can’t be forced to be happy. You can not be commanded to be happy. In fact, you can’t even seek happiness because the very act of making happiness the goal of any endeavor makes it much harder to achieve. (Think about an event you look forward to because it’s going to be “so much fun!” and then it’s not as amazing as you expected. Now compare that to an event you expected to dread but ended up having a wonderful time.) Pleasure has to occur spontaneously for it to be truly pleasurable.
You must change your mindset from one of seeking the end of boredom and of one constantly seeking elusive happiness to one where you are seeking to fulfill your purpose. Only then can pleasure spontaneously occur.
Isn’t it true that you can not enjoy eating your home made cake until you have gathered the ingredients, mixed them, and baked them. Only then can you eat cake. But the true enjoyment comes from the process of preparing it and then sharing it with those you love.
Dear Lady, life is short. Let us eat cake!