A Good Wife Knows Her Place

When I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher made us memorize the prologue to the Canterbury Tales in the original language:

“Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote.”

(That’s only the first 2 lines…it’s much longer!)

The original language is English, but an English of Medieval times.  When I got to college, I took a whole class on the Canterbury Tales (something I likely wouldn’t have taken had it not been required) and my professor, who did her doctoral thesis on this very work, insisted that we read it directly from the middle English, and not a modernized version.  I couldn’t make heads or tales of it in certain parts, so I had to read both versions: the middle English and the translation.

I hope Dr. Harris isn’t reading this because I’m not sure I remember much of the Canterbury Tales.  That’s besides the point, though.

I’ve seen this list before several times, as it really gets passed around.  It’s from a magazine article from 1955 that outlines how to be a good wife.  I know 1955 isn’t quite middle English, but I still think we have a hard time making heads or tales from it:

  • Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have be thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.
  • Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.
  • Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
  • Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives. Run a dustcloth over the tables.
  • During the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
  • Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet.
  • Be happy to see him.
  • Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
  • Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first – remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
  • Don’t greet him with complaints and problems.
  • Don’t complain if he’s late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through at work.
  • Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or lie him down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.
  • Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.
  • Don’t ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
  • A good wife always knows her place. 

Wow.  I know, right?  As a woman it’s easy to want to rip apart this list piece by piece.
I’m beginning to see the traces of wisdom in here.  Stay with me.  It’s Valentine’s Day, after all.

First off, this does not include the man’s list.  There was not an article published in a magazine for men on how to be a good husband.  It’s one side of the relationship portrayed.  I don’t think that for a second God designed woman to serve man.  I think he designed us to serve each other.

So a good wife would know her place…just like a good husband does.  She should look for ways to sacrifice to make her husband’s life easier, and he should do the same.

What I’m trying to say is that I think that the wording is outdated, but perhaps the intent isn’t that awful.  Here’s my own modern version for us stay-at-home moms:
 – Try to have supper ready.  Make his favorites.  Surprise him with dessert.  Plan ahead and get the kids involved in “spoiling Daddy.”

-If you have more than 3 bodily fluids smeered across your clothes, do a quick change before he comes home.  If anything, put a big smile on your face when he walks in the door, no matter how exhausted you are.  It’s not because you’re pretending, it’s because you are genuinely happy to see him.  Don’t act like he abandoned you by going to work.

-Don’t unload your issues from the day he steps in the door.  You have no idea what kind of day he’s had either.  He’s not your trash can.  The evening can be so much more peaceful if one of the parents is determined to keep the joy, and don’t wait to see if he’s going to do it.

-Ask him how his day is before you tell him about yours.  He’s your best friend.  Be his.

-Is there one thing in your house that if it’s wrong you can’t concentrate?  Is it water on the floor that distracts you?  Is it dishes, laundry or or toys in the entryway?  I know for my husband, I could have been washing drying, folding, putting away clothes and cleaned out 4 closets, and he doesn’t notice unless I tell him.  Really, when he walks in the door and sees dirty dishes he has trouble relaxing.  I need to realize that if I can just get the dishes down, his whole night is better.  He’s my best friend.  If my mind is on him, I’ll make a priority of his needs.

-Be happy to see him.  (I don’t think there’s anything old fashioned about that.)

-Ask yourself: do I want him to dread coming home, or look forward to coming home?

-Don’t think that just because you’re home all day, that the whole evening shift is his.  He’s had a day shift too.

-Build him up.  Unless your husband is a CEO, he’s probably not given much importance.  Maybe his boss puts him down, maybe no one notices how hard he works, maybe his boss hates every idea he ever presents, maybe he’s dealt with people all day long who don’t care at all about him.  Maybe a customer chewed him out for something that wasn’t his fault.  Maybe he dealt with a student or employee who disrespected his authority.  Don’t let his home be one of those places.  Let it be the one place where his ideas are heard, and he knows he can come to you and just be himself.  Let him know how highly you think of him.

-Don’t let home be a prison either.  Both of you need a break.  His workday is not his “break”.  Take turns making sure you each get a chance to do something fun.  Don’t keep score.

-Give him a chance to unwind before jumping into home duties.  Yes, he may need to watch the little ones for a minute so you can finish up supper (or start!).  Maybe he needs to give you a rest from dealing with one of the children being ornery and deal with the child for awhile.  Give him a moment to switch gears, though.  Don’t throw him to the wolves.  If you don’t know how he relaxes best, ask him. 
-Don’t treat him like one of your kids.  Just because you’re the boss when he’s at work doesn’t mean you can boss him around when he gets home.  Let your home be his safe haven from people picking him apart. 

-Keep your goal in mind: uplifting your spouse, being an encouragement to him, and a source of freedom and love in his life.  Your goal is to show Christ to him from the moment he walks in the door.

Now, like the magazine article from 1955, my audience is primarily women.  If I wrote to men primarily, I’d have a whole separate post for them.  I understand many families don’t run like mine.  In most families, both parents work, or work separate shifts, and sometimes the dad stays at home.  Shouldn’t the sentiment be the same: serve one another?  Put the other person’s need above your own?

I think that in America, we’re in the mode to fight for our rights lest we lose them.  There is a time and place for that.  Our homes, and our marriages aren’t the place.  Our marriages are supposed to mirror our relationship with Christ.  With that image in mind, I think: “While we were still sinners…Christ died for us.”  I think the ideal marriage is the cycle where spouses try to out give to the other.  Too often, though, neither one wants to start that giving snowball affect, and wants to guard their rights and make certain above all else that they never become a doormat.

I’m no genius.  I’ve been married 9 1/2 years.  Most of that time we’ve been happy, but we’ve had our dark times too.  I don’t claim to know each situation, or be a couples counselor.  I’m just saying that the message found in this “good wife” article may not be all that bad: serve.

Here’s why I don’t think it’s that bad: because Christ serves us.

Now, I don’t get this whole list done, and I’d like to shake the hands of the woman in 1955 who accomplished that list, (along with that Proverbs 31 woman) because I don’t think she had children who were anything like mine.  It’s just not my reality. 

But I think the message stays the same, and I personally think it’s more of an idea list on how to love your spouse.  I hope you enjoyed reading it anyway.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


  1. says

    I have seen that list also, and I remember before I was married (and even at the beginning of my marriage) thinking it was completely ridiculous. But, like you, I have come to see the wisdom in the idea behind it- the idea of loving and serving each other. Also like you, that list does not get accomplished in its entirety in my home, but it does remind me of the goal to love and serve my husband. :) Oh, by the way, Randy walked by, saw the title of this post, and wholeheartedly approves. :)

  2. says

    Thank you for sharing this. God has been speaking to me lately about the role of a wife and while I have a long way to go I am already seeing how our marriage is being blessed.

  3. Anonymous says

    Great post! We had a counselor advise us by saying “Wake up every morning thinking ‘What can I do to make my spouse’s life better today?'” It really does work.

  4. says

    Great words to help us shift gears out of thinking about ourselves first. You had really hit the nail on the head for them, and I need to be reminding myself of this daily. Thanks, Gretchen!

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