Ask Allison: 'My husband has completely dropped the ball on housework and parenting'
Our resident psychologist answers your queries about life and relationships
Q I recently gave up working full-time to spend more time with my two children and to give us all an easier life. I still work - freelance from home - and would spend about 30 hours a week doing so. Since I have taken a step back, my husband has completely dropped the ball when it comes to parenting and housework. Basically, I am left to do everything and am criticised when it isn't done. I am so frustrated but don't know how to have the conversation without screaming at him like a banshee. Can you help?
A If you are in the house on your own right now, I give you full permission to scream like a banshee. If not, a muffled version into a nice pillow will suffice. Adults have temper tantrums too - why, for nearly the exact same reasons as toddlers do; they feel frustrated, they can't say what they want to say, they feel misunderstood and they don't like being told what to do, all day long. Especially when only their 'bad' behaviour is pointed out. The only difference, really, is that you have the ability to regulate your emotions and self-soothe. Breathe in through your nose for four, then out through your nose for four if you feel overwhelmed.
First, we need to soften and then soothe why you feel angry. Ask yourself, does life as it is right now feel fair to you? I'm looking for the part in your life where it has become easier for you? I am stirring away at a concept revolution for adults to live a life with more quality, less quantity, less burnout and more moments of joy, or, at least, a moment to breathe. A necessary revolution and paradigm shift where equality and equity also happen at home.
The workload is exhausting and suffocating for too many, leaving you with what I call the three 'I's - and they are irritable, intolerant and impatient. The combination of these three make non-reactive conversations difficult to achieve. So your husband's criticism will be acutely felt when rather than being thanked and appreciated, you are corrected. This imbalance in the division of labour and gender expectations can really impact the connection in your relationship. So the repair attempts need to have a dual aspect in terms of changes in the quality of life for you and within your relationship.
What you need is a healthy rant. Put your feelings on paper. This is a private, cathartic exercise which you can rip or burn upon completion. Write out your anger, frustration and the words you have been pushing down. By doing this, it releases the psychological pressure cooker.
I saw this quote today and it resonated deeply with your question: 'We expect women to work like they don't have children and raise children like they don't work.'
How does this pan out in reality though? It shows up as feeling stressed, anxious, always on, nothing ever finished with the dread of so much more to do.
The maths you've presented in terms of your work week aren't adding up. If you spend 30 hours on your freelance work, add two children, homework and/or activities, constant interruption and the emotional load that goes with running a home without forgetting the washing load, I can see why you are feeling banshee-esque.
Listen to what your anger and frustration is telling you. Ask your husband, would he swap roles? If he wouldn't, say that you can't do it either. Tell him you don't like how you are and feel upset and constantly stretched, irritable and disconnected from both yourself and him.
Leah Ruppanner, a sociologist, studies housework, more specifically the relationship between the unequal distribution of the housework and divorce. In particular it was found that when the wife's contribution wasn't acknowledged, this was correlated with divorce. I am not saying you will get divorced, as many households and people will understand the stress you are under. However, it is helpful to identify behaviours that erode marriages and relationships - and chronic criticism is one of them.
As an experiment, this week I want both of you to acknowledge all the good things that you both do.
Ruppaner says never use the 'H' word. H is for 'helping' - he is not helping when sharing the responsibility of housework or parenting. You need to sit down together and divide and conquer, or at least share and conquer.
I'll leave you with the miracle question to get you started. Imagine you went to bed tonight and a miracle happened. When you woke up, what would you notice about your life that would show how it was different? Start there.
If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org
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