Friday, March 27, 2009

Whose Tradition?

My husband's family has a lot of arguments about tradition. These often revolve around holidays and are made even more tricky because my husband's parents are divorced. I was married in a Protestant church where the pastor was careful to say to us that family is important, but the most important traditions for us to respect were the ones we established, especially for our children.

There are many traditions my in-laws do not like that we have started. We don't "do Santa." We like Christmas trees, but we don't feel they are required especially in a small home with two dogs and this year two toddlers and a baby. We have decided to have our children wake up each Christmas morning in their own beds. We try to avoid candy in Easter baskets. We don't subscribe to what are necessarily "traditional" meals on holidays (for example: last year's Christmas dinner was shrimp creole and hot roast beef sandwiches and a smoked turkey made by my sister-in-law's father who was with us for the meal).

I can deal with all of those questions and comments as I know when they are coming and have pretty good responses already in store. What catches me off guard is the questions about our everyday life. Particularly, our "traditional" roles.

I was surprised recently to get an email from a friend who was confused/upset because I have blogged that as my husband is a chef, he handles meal preparation and cooking. She felt it was her "responsibility and duty" to inform me that I was abandoning my traditional role as wife and mother by allowing my husband to perform these duties. Now most women, even "traditional" wives and mothers are jealous (in a good natured way) that I have a husband who knows how to pour milk for dinner much less can cook one that is nutritious and tasty.

I have to stop and say here that Jeff and I were dating for three years and engaged for one before we got married, so we knew each other pretty well. We never sat down and had a conversation about who would do what in the household. It was never a matter of deciding that we were a 21st century couple with role reversal, or a modern couple who split everything 50-50 or a very conservative traditional couple in which I would stay home and be housekeeper, cook and mother and he would go off to work each day and mow the lawn. A lot of couples have those in depth discussions and I think that is great. However, for us, we knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. I can certainly make a healthy dinner that is not too bad tasting, but Jeff's is healthier, better tasting, oh, and we might get to eat it before 9 pm. Because I am more consistent, a lot of child discipline is left to me. I also do most of the baking (read: cakes, brownies and the lasagna's) because I seem to have more of a knack for it. And while Jeff can pick out a mean stereo system, it's usually up to me to make sure we don't end up with "extra parts" and it is put together soundly.

In a way, we are following our family traditions. My husband's parents divorce meant both of his parents had less "traditional" roles and he learned to cook out of necessity for his two brothers when his mother went back to work. While my parents are still married (30 years and counting!) when my mother made the difficult decision to go back to work and worked nights, it was my dad who got us up for school, cooked breakfast, signed permission slips, etc. And he began making dinners. I was aghast one night when my dad went to a parent-teacher conference at school and our babysitter said her dad couldn't make a bowl of cereal and the only time he went into the kitchen was to ask their mom what was for dinner (she made this comment after finding out my dad had pulled together a dinner of frozen chicken nuggets and french fries and a can of vegetables, not Julia Child, but it impressed her!). I think I was all of about 10 when that happened. Now that my parents are largely empty-nesters (my youngest brother is in college a few hours away), they have fallen into a routine of whoever is home cooking dinner for the other as my dad has the option to telecommute and my mother works revolving hour shifts. And when it comes to homemade pizza, my half-Italian mother is the only one who can make the dough right, but it's my dad with the wicked sauce.

Our family traditions are right for us. There are many women I know who just would not feel comfortable allowing their husband's to do any more cooking than grilling hot dogs. There are a lot of men who hate the idea of their wives working. Good for them, they know what works in their situation. Just as they do, we have a symbiotic relationship in it's own way. We are not afraid to do what we know works in our home. Sure, sometimes things get a little bit blurry, but we know when we are at a place where one of us can pick up the others slack.

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