I started thinking about shoulds after doing some reading about Rational Emotive Therapy and irrational beliefs. This first one is the irrational belief that is most difficult for me to shake.
Okay, I gave up on expressing them as shoulds and simply wrote down the rules that I internalized while growing up. These aren’t MY guidelines, but the toxic ones I’ve attempted to shake.
Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
A perfectly reasonable guideline, right? Until it turns into “Anything that is worth doing, I must do well”—perfectionism. I won’t do it unless I can do it well. Right. Correctly. Competently. Perfectly. I am a failure if I don’t do everything that is worth doing perfectly.
Where’s the balance? I’ve heard something like, “Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing well or poorly.” I have a visceral negative reaction to that statement, but I know, rationally, that it is true in many ways. A kitchen cleaned poorly is still better than one that hasn’t been cleaned at all. A child comforted somewhat is better off than one who is still terrified.
Decent People hold down at least one full-time job and often have other income-producing enterprises on the side, are involved in their communities and extended families as well as being parents and having good marriages. If necessary, they also go to school full time and make good grades alongside the rest. Decent people do not live in apartments or rent houses—they own their property, which they improve steadily.
That’s the standard I’ve inherited, anyway. I feel like a failure because I can’t keep up with it. It makes absolutely no allowance for chronic illness, and if you don’t fit the “decent people” standard you’re probably sick because you’re bad. Now that I look at it, there’s no allowance for resting, having fun, or being creative.
A Good Mother stays home with her children. She is married to her children’s father, who is a good provider.
Note how this is incompatible with the “decent people” rule? Yep. Women aren’t quite “people,” you see. Good mothers do not get divorced, and they are not married to men who cannot support a traditional family. They just aren’t. Divorce means that you cannot be a Good Mother. It’s marginally acceptable in some circumstances for Good Mothers to be widows. Sometimes. If their husbands died in acceptable ways and provided well enough for their survivors so that she doesn’t have to go to work.
Good Women are always responsible for the appearance and behavior of their husbands and children. They anticipate and provide for all practical needs their husband or children might have.
It doesn’t matter if their husband is in a hunting blind many miles away from her and has been gone for a week—if he’s hungry, she should have packed more food for him. If his shirt is missing a button‐even if he lost it today—she’s not taking good care of him. If her children are dirty because they were playing in the mud at school, she feels shame because she should have raised them to know better.
Good Women cook everything from scratch. They never buy any vegetable that could be grown locally because they garden extensively and can/freeze/preserve the produce. They sew for their families and homes.
They are, in short, perfect homemakers.
Good Women never forget to recognize birthdays, anniversaries, and other important occasions for any member of their or their husband’s extended families (as well as neighbors, children’s teachers, school staffers, church members, sports team members, etc.). They make all gifts for such occasions themselves.
They are also incredible social directors and craft factories.
I actually managed to keep this one up fairly well during my first marriage.
Good Women have homes that are always spotless.
Even if she has been in the hospital for a week if the house isn’t perfect she’s to blame.
Good Wives do not “let themselves go” (get fat, fail to style their hair and put on makeup every single day, allow any gray to show in their hair, etc.)
A woman who “lets herself go” drives her husband to infidelity, is a bad example to her children and probably doesn’t keep house well either. There is no “letting himself go” concept. Men are not expected to adhere to any guidelines regarding their appearance outside of church attendance and formal occasions such as weddings (for which they are dressed by their wives).
Again, I kept this standard fine during my first marriage. It didn’t actually help, as my husband decided that I “just (wasn’t) pretty anymore” anyway.
Good Men keep their homes and vehicles in good repair and appearance and maintain enviable lawns.
Using any kind of repair person for any part of a home or anything within it loses Man Points. Renovations and expansions cannot be contracted out. The advent of computers in vehicles has, however, made it acceptable for Good Men to use mechanics for repairs. They may use body shops only because they probably don’t have access to body shop equipment themselves. They must have enough understanding of automobiles to judge which mechanics/body shops are good and which are not, and maintain some sort of personal relationship with said mechanic/body shop purveyor. Good Men do not, however, allow anyone else to change their oil. That must be done personally. If a man fails to be a Good Man, it is probably for lack of a Good Wife. If, in fact, a man isn’t maintaining the house, the lawn, and the vehicles, a truly Good Wife will do so herself without letting anyone else (including her children) know that her husband is not doing those things.
I can’t tell you how long it took me to get rid of the notion that testosterone=mechanical/handyman skills.
Children from Good Families do not have problems. They make good grades and excel in sports and extracurricular activities.
They don’t make or get into trouble anywhere. They don’t need or see mental health professionals. Their parents never receive phone calls from their schools. They do not have notes sent home from church or school about misbehavior. They certainly don’t threaten suicide, experiment with drugs, alcohol, or sex, or evidence any dissatisfaction with their parents’ values. Of course, if any of that occurs, the child obviously isn’t from a Good Family, and that’s probably due to the lack of a Good Mother. In fact, their mothers probably aren’t Good Wives/Good Women.