I was determined to start married life correctly and quickly set out to find a job. I definitely understood the concept of histadlus and realized that since my husband was learning in kollel, I would need to work. However, I assumed that we would manage to make it even living in New York while working at minimum wage because everyone else seemed to do so.
I accepted my first job working at a business that engaged in so many dishonest practices that I needed to quit after three weeks in order to be able to live with myself. Over the next several years, my husband and I moved several times and I worked at various odd jobs doing everything from teaching to telemarketing. While the fact that we are alive proves that we actually did survive those few years, the term survival is relative. We lived on a small income, legally-obtained government assistance, boxes of spaghetti, and desperate middle-of-the-night calls to my mother for assistance. I would routinely be unable to sleep at night due to my dispair over the financial situation. Despite the constantly-repeated mantra that parnassa comes from Hashem and that one can make it without college, the income was not coming and we were not making it by anyone's definition.
Where was my husband in all of this? Well, the last word that one would use to describe my husband is practical. For years I would ask him to find parnassa, but to him finding parnassa meant doing a quick job for someone and earning $100 a week at most. No matter how many times I tried to talk to him, he just could not get that we weren't managing and he just continued to learn--for years. When I would ask him to get a full-time job, he would refuse to do so because he would only take a job in klei kodesh and no klei kodesh jobs were available. He said that he couldn't take a secular job because he would need to be around women and would not have enough time to go to the mikvah, daven, and learn.
However, the most difficult part of this stage of life for me were the traditionally-female responsibilities of housework and child care. My house was always a mess. Yes, I know many women with neat homes make that claim but mine was bad enough that I feared a visit from the department of health. It was really bad and I just didn't have the orginizational skills needed to fix it.
Even after my first child I realized that I was not a good stay-at-home parent and that I did not have the patience to deal with little kids. For some reason, probably denial, I still wanted to have a large family and figured that I would learn how to manage. Immediately after giving birth to my first and second child I wanted to have another one. However, after my third child's birth I remember feeling that "this is it" and that I did not want any more. Still being frum, that thought scared me as I felt that meant I was a selfish person.
Over the next few months I began to realize how correct I was. I simply am not good with little kids and could not handle watching them. I began taking college courses online and often arranged for others such as my mother or my husband to watch the kids. At this point in my life I felt like a total failure. I felt that I wasn't good at anything worthwhile and that the world would be a better place without me there. My husband would try to help me by reminding me that I was smart and good at learning, and I would explain to him that those things are useless for a frum married women.
Starting college full-time literally saved my life. I did better in college than I had in high school and it gave me at least one area of my life that I could excel in. I then began to realize how odd it is that the expectations of frum girls and frum women differ so drastically. Frum girls are expected to do well at school, at least in limudei kodesh classes, daven regularly, and organize extra-curricular activities, etc. After marriage, however, a woman's focus is supposed to shift to taking care of the home and the children. If the woman works, the work should be viewed as secondary to family life as it is considered wrong for a woman to focus on a career.
The expectations of frum single girls and frum married women are so different that it seems almost impossible for many people to transition successfully. In addition to meeting people with my problem, I have also met plenty of women who had the opposite problem from the one that I had. These women suffered for years in school because they were not academically-inclined, but they are happy as homemakers. Many people in the frum world have also noticed this problem and therefore suggest that girls' schools should solve the problem by not focusing on academics and instead focus on preparing the girls for family life by not assigning homework on Thursday nights so that girls will help their mothers prepare for shabbos, etc.
The main problem with this solution is that it ignores the root problem, which is that not all girls (or boys, for that matter) are the same. Different people have different difficulties and talents, and just like not every girl can do well in school, not every girl can do well as a homemaker and successfully manage a large family. Those who cannot do so well are not doing anyone any favors by attempting to do so. Some women really do function better in the workplace. The problem with Orthodox Judaism is that it takes typical gender roles and codifies them as law, which works for those who fit into those roles and not for those who don't.