I had been crying regularly for three weeks when Michael gave me the ultimatum.
"Either you quit something or I'm going to quit it for you." His voice was filled with compassion, but it also carried an edge. "You're going crazy, Ann, and you're taking me with you."
I burst into fresh tears. "I can't quit anything, Michael! I have to work and I'm not quitting school and you know I'm not going to stop being involved at church! And—and—there are always dishes! I paused for a second before continuing, "We're only three months into marriage and I'm already failing!"
It had been three months since Michael and I had gotten married. In that timeframe, I had started graduate school as a full time student, was working two jobs, had responsibilities at church, and felt the new and added burden of trying to keep our apartment sparkling and make dinner every night, not to mention trying to learn what it meant to be a wife. I was trying to do it all and was, in my mind, failing—the apartment was a mess, I was too exhausted to cook on most evenings, I was fighting to stay up on my graduate work, and I was constantly stressed.
"Ann, you're not failing!" His voice softened. "We are not failing." Michael was concerned. "Where are all of these expectations that you're putting on yourself coming from? It's not like I care if everything is perfect in the apartment or if dinner is on the table every night. Who are you comparing yourself to?"
And the lightbulb went on: my mom.
My mother is one of my best friends. She is bright, beautiful, and has more energy than anyone I know. She is also a spectacular wife, employee, hostess, small group leader, cook, and church member. On top of that, she only needs about five hours of sleep every night to be able to get up and do it all over again.
In that moment, God revealed the expectations that I had unwittingly—and unconsciously—placed on myself. Somewhere, deep down, I went into marriage believing that in order to be a "good wife," I needed to be my mother. I never spoke the thought, never even realized how much I believed it, but it was coloring our young marriage.
My mother is a fantastic cook, and as a child, Mom had homemade dinners on the table nearly every night, so I assumed I should be able to do the same thing. Mom always got the dishes done after dinner, so I thought I ought to be doing that as well. She worked part-time and was completely capable of opening our home to school and church groups in the evenings, and so I expected the same thing of myself. It wasn't that my mother or my father or even Michael had required these things of me—they all, in fact, told me to not put so much pressure on myself. But my mother was the model that I grew up with, and I had internally swallowed her wonderful capabilities and took them on as expectations for myself that neither God nor my husband asked of me.
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Ann Swindell is a TCW regular contributor. She spends her weekdays as a college instructor of writing, her weekends as a pastor’s wife, and every day of the week as a wife, mom, and coffee drinker. Connect with her at AnnSwindell.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter at @annswindell.