(Christopher Serra / For…)
Wouldn't it be easier to stop the juggling act and be a housewife and a helpmate? Wouldn't it be better for her spouse and children if she were to opt for a more traditional role — full-time wife, full-time mom, full-time writer of thank-you notes — a choice that continues to be embraced by many forces in our culture?
Consider this: Three-quarters of Americans believe both partners should contribute to the household income, according to a Pew Research Center study from October. Meanwhile, only 37% of mothers who work outside the home want to be working full time, that same study reported.
Maybe those women are just tired, stressed out by the complications of everyday life amid a recession. Maybe it's easier to idealize so-called simpler times (1945 to '65 anyone?) amid difficult ones. Or perhaps we should examine the role of pop culture and TV, which has a tendency to clothe domestic life in perfect little cocktail dresses.
After all, the much watched women of Wisteria Lane seem to be more interested in "feminine arts" such as gossiping and scheming than in holding down a corporate gig. The housewives of the Camelot-era "Mad Men" seem to have nothing better to do than mix martinis, look fabulous and inspire a partnership with Banana Republic and a slew of cocktail recipes that are listed on sites such as Oprah.com.
Whatever the source of their inspiration, a small contingent of women are turning to the Internet to champion the importance of being a good wife and partner. Some of their voices are sincere and straightforward. Others toy with the notion of 1950s housewifery, viewing it through a lens that seems clouded with nostalgia. It seems doubtful any of them would endear themselves to the editors of Ms. Magazine, but they have tapped into a longing.
There are bloggers like Kathi Browne, a fortysomething mother of three in Maryville, Tenn., who stopped working in the corporate world after her third child was born and summarizes her philosophy at Wingspouse.com as "an alternative to the traditional career choices some executive spouses are forced to make. Rather than requiring a choice between a career or family, the wingspouse career unites the two — creating a partnership between the executive and the spouse, and leading to mutual success."
A wingspouse can help analyze an executive's ideas without fear of reprisals — or theft. A wingspouse might accompany his or her partner to a speaking event and help work the room — or simply stand back and read people to see if the message is getting across. Or provide comfort on the home front. "Another wingspouse shared her secret to making her husband feel settled sooner," Browne blogged last December. "She hangs the same plaque in the front entrance of every home they move to."
A wingspouse can be a man or a woman, but Browne acknowledges that she believes she is writing primarily for women.
In the San Diego area, Kelley Lilien, 30, a graphic designer and work-from-home mother of two, lets her inner eccentric housewife run free with MrsLilien.com. Hers is a splashy website with themed posts on perfect picnic outfits and snacks or Grace Kelly tributes, each entry enhanced by a fanciful poem.
Keeping everything tongue-in-cheek, Lilien also extols the virtues of another nuclear family stereotype, the mother's little helper. She is not afraid to mention booze, pills and retail therapy on her blog. While her alter ego might be the one to show up at your cousin's wedding in a T-shirt-length magenta kaftan to match her super-sized Cosmopolitan cocktail, the real-life Mrs. Lilien is slightly more subdued, happily affixing her fingers with the cocktail rings her husband gives her each Valentine's Day, never leaving the house without lipstick and believing that a good dinner party "is just what life's about."
And then there's Taryn Cox, who isn't afraid to put it all out there, unabashedly writing about stereotypically uxorial topics ranging from themed baby showers and creating her own cocktail-style dresses to the art of ironing a newspaper and how to clean with vodka at a blog she has titled TarynCoxTheWife.com.
Cox's posts showcase classic glamour and gorgeous parties as songs such as "Sunny Side of the Street" play in the background.
"I've always just been so completely fascinated by the idea of marriage and dedication," says Cox, a trim 26-year-old with a penchant for pastels and an e-mail address that starts with "stepfordwife."
No, she's not married and she doesn't have kids, but "this [blog] is for those dreams and fantasies. I believe my own vision. I believe there's an art to being a good wife."