Dear Patricia: My stay-at-home husband won't pull his weight with child-rearing
Published 14/02/2010 | 05:00
MY husband and I have been married for 17 years and have two boys and a girl. I work full-time in a job that pays really well, and at which I am very good. He is home full-time, which definitely makes it much easier for me to do my job, and I appreciate him being there to do the drop-offs and pick-ups and homework, and all that invisible work that I know is so demanding, and sometimes difficult.
My husband was self-employed earlier in our marriage, but it proved to be a dead end. Given the pressures of my job, we both agreed that he would be the stay-at-home parent. I really appreciate what he has done to support my work over the years.
That said, I feel he's quite half-hearted about his role as full-time father. Perhaps he never saw himself as a stay-at-home parent, perhaps it did happen more by default than by design, but it adds huge stress to my life. For example, he sometimes doesn't cook dinner in the evenings, so that when I get home I never know if the shopping has been done, or if there'll be a meal on the table, for any of us. My daughter's having difficulties in school, which the teachers say is due to her regular failure to do homework. And my husband allows the kids to eat a lot of rubbish, despite the fact that the two boys are putting on weight. I often come home and he's watching TV while the kids are just hanging out, unsupervised.
When I raise any of these issues with my husband, he accuses me of being bossy and unfair.
I guess the thing is that despite my very busy job, I have to pick up a lot of the family-related slack. Of course I want to be there for my children, but it's always me who buys the birthday presents or checks that they're OK when something comes up to make them unhappy. I'm the one who meets the teachers, does the laundry, reads the bedtime stories, shops for nutritious meals, makes sure hair and teeth are brushed. I feel I'm being exploited.
Maybe my husband is right, and I am being unfair. But I want a happy home life for my kids and there are things that I think they are missing because my husband doesn't play the role that I guess I think I would play if I could be with them. I don't have a choice. I have to work. We have a big mortgage and lots of expenses and can't even save much, despite my large salary. Switching to part-time work would probably help, but it's not an option.
I often feel trapped and angry, and wish so much that I could make things better for me and my children. But I'm doing as much as I can and I feel my husband could do more.
Maybe he feels trapped too. I recognise that. But I also envy him his lifestyle. He often goes away for weekends with his friends. He has his mornings to himself for his wide range of hobbies. And he doesn't feel the anxiety and stress of professional life like I do. The situation is becoming increasingly unhappy and I don't know how to change things.
PSYCHOLOGY is sometimes a terrible thing, distracting us from practical solutions. Maybe your husband is half-hearted about landing the job of home-maker. Maybe he did slide into it because of a failed career. My guess is that that's what happens in most cases. And maybe he does feel somewhat resentful and trapped. I don't think many men grow up with the dream of keeping house. It's also decidedly beside the point.
Why have you no hired help? With three children and one partner working long, arduous hours, why on earth isn't someone in doing basic housework and the laundry? Why this conservative "do it yourself" approach to domesticity? Why not pay someone decent money to make your lives easier?
And don't say you can't afford it. It's a question of prioritising real quality of life.
With that sorted, you need to sit down and agree a serious division of labour. My guess is that you and your husband never worked out what his part of the bargain actually entails -- too much sensitivity around the issue of kept men and working women and all that ego stuff. So you smoulder with anger instead.
Not good. With basic housework and laundry sorted, it would seem self-evident that a home-maker has dinner on the table. That doesn't mean always cooking. It does mean taking responsibility for the weekly Chinese take-away, or for booking a table at the local pizzeria. And why wouldn't he do the shopping on his way to the golf course?
You also have to talk about standards, since you clearly differ. This can be tricky, so tread carefully. If the children eat nutritious meals most days, the odd bit of rubbish shouldn't send you into the stratosphere in rage. It won't, either, if you feel the basics are in place, and you're not full of resentment. The same applies to children's homework. It could be nice for you to supervise your daughter, since you're now free of the laundry and shopping. You get the picture.
Finally, take responsibility for your own pleasures in life. So your husband goes away with his friends some weekends. Fine. Why don't you do the same, if that is what you want?
I won't go on here. You know the score. If you're the breadwinner, you can't resent it. Just as we won't allow your husband resent his home-making role. The task is to make it work, for everybody. Get cracking.