Ten years ago, my husband Dan and I reversed roles when we started a retail business. I ran the store, handling the staff and operations, and he worked from home, managing the books—and our boys, who were ages 4 to 14 at the time. I became immersed in the world of business, and Dan dominated on the home front.
Our role reversal made sense on paper. We owned a scrapbook store, which primarily catered to women. It was natural for me to deal with people and products I enjoyed. I learned how to hire (and sometimes fire) staff. I learned about purchasing, merchandising, marketing, customer service, and all kinds of other professional skills that have served me well in many other arenas. But mostly I learned how much I respect and value my husband.
Here was a man who was equally skilled in the marketplace as at home. He had been at the helm of a previous business we owned and had run that enterprise efficiently and effectively. I never fully appreciated the burden he carried when he was the primary breadwinner until I had to shoulder that responsibility myself.
At home, I watched him call on many of the same principles he had used to run our sandwich shops in the way he managed our family. He trained the boys on how to make their own lunches, do their own laundry (even sorting the whites, lights, and darks), and clean the house.
I would never have done this. As a mom, I would have sighed heavily every night while laboriously spreading peanut butter and jelly on slices of white bread lined up on the kitchen counter. All the while reminding our children how much I did for them.
Not Dan. He created a spreadsheet of weekly chores and put the boys on a rotating schedule so no one got stuck doing toilets every week. He did all the grocery shopping, all the errands, and he fixed a home-cooked dinner every night and insisted all the kids be at the table by 6 p.m. I barely had to lift a finger when I got home from work.
Granted, I worked hard at the store. I was on my feet many days for 10 or 12 hours. But even on those days, Dan would bring me a plate of whatever he had fixed at home so that I could have a nice meal on my supper break.
Until now, I've rarely told other women how much Dan does at home. I know no other man who manages his family so capably and completely. I don't even know a woman who manages domestic stuff this well! I certainly never did when I ran our home.
For all my gratitude for how well Dan has embraced running our home, I sometimes lament not being the one who gets to do what he does. I've never been a super-domestic woman. And yet over time, I started to lose touch with my domestic side almost completely. Dan and I would trip over each other when we'd try to work in the kitchen at the same time. I'd get defensive if he tried to correct my cooking techniques. Utensils appeared in unfamiliar spots, and the pantry was filled with food I had no part in selecting. I felt like a foreigner in a strange land—and it was my own home.
I never realized how much I naturally nurtured my family through acts of domestic service, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, and driving kids around town. Absent these daily tasks, I struggled to find tangible ways to show my love. So much of my love language toward Dan had been built on simple acts of service. But now he was the one doing all the serving.
Switching roles has taught me to love my family in new, intentional ways—ways I'm still learning even after a decade of bringing home the bacon so that Dan could fry it up in a pan. Even still, I sometimes wish I could have my role back. Maybe it's a desire to lay claim to my space again (especially the kitchen) and regain a little control of our domain. Or maybe it's a longing to feel competent—I know how to be a mom and manage a home; I had been doing it for 15 years before Dan took over.
Whatever stirs this longing for a life that's more focused on home instead of work, I know this: switching roles with Dan has shown me the breadth and depth of his abilities, our ability as partners to flex and adapt as circumstances warrant, and my ability to concede the kitchen—not something most women can do well.
Melissa d'Arabian would back me up on this point, I'm sure. She's the Food Network chef who focuses on cooking cheaply and well for the family—including picky eaters. Melissa epitomizes everything I wish I could do for my family, but which Dan is ably handling. TCW contributor Laura Leonard interviewed Melissa recently. It turns out Melissa's love of food came out of a painful life story. Be sure to read all about it in "Life Around the Table."
Decorating expert Terry Willits shares why building a beautiful home is about more than just external appearances. In Cindy Crosby's interview with her, Terry offers specifics on what rooms to first focus on when remodeling or decorating, how to reconcile your tastes with others in your home, and how your home décor affects your relationships.
In Kelli B. Trujillo's brief exploration into the life of Lydia in Acts, we see that her spiritual gift for hospitality extended beyond dishing up meals that would earn her a place on Chopped. Lydia reflexively opened her home to whomever needed the blessing of her care. She saw her home as a place where she could do ministry. I'm guessing there were times when her home wasn't in perfect order, and she may have had to scramble to tidy things up before letting guests in. I could use a little more "Lydia" in my life.
Home isn't always a haven, though. For women who suffer domestic abuse, home can represent terror and trauma. In "Don't Wait Too Long," Anne Peterson tells a sobering, sad story about the domestic abuse her sister endured. It's a cautionary tale for anyone living under the specter of an unstable, abusive partner. If this is your plight, or you know someone who is affected by domestic violence, I hope Anne's story will prompt you to seek—or offer—help.
Like Lydia in the Bible, we can use our homes as a tool for ministry. Whether we simply open our door to someone who needs a refuge, or create a safe, secure sanctuary for our family, take some time to explore how you can use the physical space God has given you to serve others.
And please, share your ideas. I need all the help I can get!
Marian V. Liautaud