Sunday, 6 March 2011


Brides for life, wives for life session 
For many women, the highlight of a bridal shower is being taught skills that will keep a man in their bedroom forever. But it turns out that the way to a man’s heart is still through his stomach. Add to that other acts of affection like ironing his shirts and polishing his shoes and you are a keeper for life or are you?
When was the last time you ironed your husband’s shirts? Chances are the house help does all that and more. But does not ironing his shirts and not polishing his shoes make you less of a wife?
This was the subject of a very heated debate with some male friends a few weeks ago. The men claimed that the reason why modern marriages were plagued with so many problems was because women had abandoned their ‘wifely duties’ to the house helps.
The men, ranging from those in their mid-twenties to late thirties, claimed that many modern women do not measure up to the title of wife; and felt strongly about the role of a wife in marriage.
And it is not just my friends who hold such opinions. My search for men with more liberal views about wifehood was dimmed by the kind of responses I got from the various men I interviewed.
If the men who shared their quiet frustrations with the Saturday Magazine are to be believed, then modern women need to be taught how to be good wives if the institution of marriage is to thrive.
The men were unanimous in their belief that, just like in the olden days when wives who had failings would be taken back to their parents for training, today’s women who do not measure up to the standard of a good wife should take lessons on how to be good wives.
And someone seems to have heard the men’s cry. Programmes are springing up in churches and other places to teach women how to be good wives. And these duties have nothing to do with expertise in the bedroom. They are those mundane and routine tasks that your housegirl takes care of; the tasks that our grandmothers used to do themselves but which the modern career woman has little time for.
At the Donholm All Nation’s Church, the women’s ministry has established that just because you found a woman to marry, does not mean that she will immediately translate into your ideal of the perfect homemaking wife.
The church decided to start a programme to train married and unmarried women a few tricks on how to run a home. In essence, it is a programme to turn women into good wives.
The programme was started when newly married men started approaching older women in the church to help them solve a few marital problems. The major problem for which the men sought help was a lack of culinary skills by their wives.
Florence Machio, a marketing manager with a research firm in Nairobi, supports the coming up of such programmes. As a career woman who has to juggle her work with being a wife and mother, Florence admits that more and more newly married women are finding themselves in foreign territory in their new homes.
“It is true that some young women do not have the skills to manage a home. Unlike in the past where mothers would teach their daughters how to cook and run a home, these days, the mothers themselves are rarely to be found in the kitchen. Housegirls do all the work in the home while daughters spend most of their time in school poring over books or when at home, watching TV or chatting with friends. In the end, these girls miss out on the opportunity to learn some of these wifely skills.”
But Florence believes that women should not take all the blame.
“Men should learn how to be responsible and to adapt to the new way of life. It may be true that men appreciate their wives’ cooking and many women aspire to cook for their husbands, but there are certain circumstances when your wife cannot be there to cook. Will the children go hungry because a man is waiting for his wife to come home and make a meal?” Florence wonders.
Patricia Murugami, a wedding planner, runs a similar programme for women. In her Brides for Life, Wives for Life programme, some of the things the participants learn are how to manage the home, plan menus and manage house helps.
Patricia argues that such programmes are important because they help women develop themselves continuously, which translates into better workers, better mothers and ultimately better wives.
“Although most couples are taken through pre-marital counselling, marriage is a full time job and both men and women need to keep learning along the way,” Patricia says.
On the thorny issue of house helps doing all the work in the home, Patricia advises women to set boundaries.
“Different homes have different circumstances, but I get surprised when I hear of a househelp who cleans a couple’s bedroom and even makes their bed. For me, a househelp is an assistant; you cannot delegate all the duties to her. Your bedroom should be a no-go zone for anybody but you and your husband,” the wedding planner cautions.
Patricia, a wife, mother and director of Executive programme at the Strathmore Business School, knows from experience that women, especially those who are working or in business, have quite a handful on their plates. But she believes that the secret lies in setting priorities and learning to manage your time. She says that women who take pride in their homes, and who value being wives, set aside time to do the things that pertain to that role.
But even as women juggle the different roles of having a career, being a wife and mother, the men insist that their wives need to do the seemingly mundane tasks if they are to continue being called wives.
The days when women used to clean up, cook for long hours, raise kids, and sit pretty in time for their husbands’ arrival are long behind us.
The modern wife is a career woman. You picked her out because she was beautiful, a go-getter, a high achiever with a good income and her own life. She works full-time from eight to five, attends evening classes till late and finds you at home after a long tiring day.
She has employed a dedicated househelp who makes sure that you find a hot meal waiting for you when you get home, that all your clothes are washed and ironed, that the house is tidy and welcoming, and that the kids have someone to watch over them when both of you are away. With everything running like clockwork, some women wonder why a man would still be dissatisfied.
But men who shared their sentiments with the Saturday Magazine explained that they felt more loved and cared for when their wives took time out of their busy schedules to do the seemingly mundane tasks for them.
Men still desire a woman who prepares his meals, cleans and irons their shirts, makes the bed and performs all the duties that pertain to being a wife. To the men, those little chores that women have delegated to their househelps are the very ones that separate an ordinary wife from an extra-ordinary wife; a lasting marriage from a short-lived one.
Samwel Kaba, 55, has been married for 20 years and he still derives joy from eating a meal prepared and served by his wife.
“I do not enjoying eating food cooked and served by the househelp. Even if my wife is not the one cooking, she should supervise the househelp and make sure that she is the one who serves me food and not the househelp. When my wife serves me food she has prepared herself, I feel deeply loved and find her more attractive,” Samwel says.
To Samwel, a woman’s full involvement in the running of the house makes her more desirable. He sees these little acts as an extension of his wife’s love for him.
“Women should understand that we are not trying to make slaves out of them. This is the language of love we understand. If your wife does not do these things, there is probably a woman who will be willing to do them for you, that is why some men begin to see the housegirl in a more alluring way. And if my wife is not doing these things, why did I marry her?” Samwel asks.
The jury is out on the traits that make a woman qualify to be called a good wife. Men and women alike have varying views on whether the ideal wife only exists in fairy tales. There are men who yearn for a wife who does all those loving things their mothers used to do, while some women feel overwhelmed trying to have it all.
On the one hand are liberal men who do not fuss over their wives not doing chores. On the other hand are the die-hard traditionalists who believe that a woman can only be a good wife if she does wifely tasks like cooking, at least once in a while for her family. But both men and women agree that these personal development programmes can make a difference.
Rita Mugo, who attended Brides for Life, Wives for Life, says her husband, noticed positive changes after she enrolled for the four-month programme, three years ago.
“Such personal development programmes help you become a better woman and this translates to positive results in every area of your life including being a wife,” she says.

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