I saw a lot of disgruntled and disappointed day-after-mother's-day posts in my Facebook feed yesterday. Women who were just hoping for a little break, some hard earned recognition or for just one day to have their wishes come before the matriarch who just won't step down. I wasn't one of these women yesterday, but I still understand what they were feeling.
Husband bashing is a common sport among women with young children. It ranges from harmless joking between close friends to venomous public shaming over social media. These women feel frustrated and unheard and need to get it off their chest somewhere. When it falls on deaf ears at home it's going to come out elsewhere, depending on the severity of the situation.
Most of these women aren't even married to useless, deadbeat fathers. Their husbands are loving men who work hard at their jobs, spend time with their kids and at least attempt to pull their weight in household duties. Then why is it such a problem?
1. Men put on their oxygen masks first before assisting others.
Most fathers seem to have no trouble meeting the basic needs of life, even when they have young children. They manage to eat, sleep, dress, use the washroom and groom themselves on a regular basis. Unless it's a life threatening situation, they will tend to these things when needed and don't understand the big deal their wives make when they try to. Men are surprised when met with dirty looks when they attempt to make their 3rd trip to the bathroom in one morning or take their second shower in one day.
Meanwhile many women hold their pee for hours, miss meals, only poop in the middle of the night and forget the last time they washed their hair because they only make it priority to meet these needs when everyone else is fed and dry and clean and happy. Which rarely happens all at once.
It would be better for everyone involved if women acted more like men in this regard. I know it seems like a great decadence to spend 5 minutes sitting down to eat your breakfast or to empty your bursting bladder BEFORE tending to a crying child, but we're of more use when we're physically comfortable and certainly have a better attitude, which children pick up on.
2. Men are blind to the minutia
When it comes to the basic details our husbands generally get it. The kids need to eat, bathe, wear clean clothes and go to the doctor when they get sick. They either help with, or are at least AWARE that these things need to be done. But what about the rest? Do they buy a birthday present and card to bring to the party their child is invited to? Do they dig out the clothes from storage when the seasons change or a size is outgrown to swap them out? Do they fill out the forms that come home from school and send money for special events? Do they book dentist appointments or return library books or mend torn clothing? Not usually. Do they even have any idea that their wife is doing these 85 extra child related tasks per week on TOP of all the other basic duties that they are also sharing? Not likely.
Women tend to keep track of and deal with a whole host of tiny details that while invisible to the naked eye are essential to things running smoothly for the children. It's not even that we expect or even want our husbands to deal with these things (because our multitasking minds have it all covered), it's that want want them to NOTICE that we're doing them.
I remember one Saturday long ago when my husband was complaining that he had SO MUCH to get done one weekend. I asked him to write down everything he had to do and I would do the same. He had 3 items. I had 17. He was a little shocked.
3. Women want it done THEIR way.
We really wouldn't have to much to do if we learned to delegate and trust a little more. It drives me nuts when my husband just throws all the cutlery in the drawer willy nilly, but the fact that he's washing and putting away the dishes still saves me a lot of time and effort. I trust him to safely parent both our children so I've learned to just back off and let him do his thing. I let him dress the kids in whatever mismatched combinations he comes up with and feed them whatever random stuff he can find in the fridge for lunch and save my effort for the things that I just can't let go of (like the laundry, due to all the gorgeous outfits that have been ruined from his complete disregard for stain remover).
4. They seem to have all the fun and take all the glory.
After spending a long day putting out fires and trying but failing to get 'anything done' your husband finally gets home and takes them off your hands so you can just freaking cook dinner in peace. After a few minutes you hear hysterical laughter coming from the next room and your heart both glows and sinks at the same time as you realize that you've been with your children the entire day and not once did you hear them laugh like that. Suddenly you feel like Cinderella slaving over a hot stove with a scowl on your face while he gets to swoop in and be the 'fun' parent.
I only work part time, so I'm home with the kids most of the time, yet I often feel like I spend less time actually WITH them than he does. When you're the stay at home parent responsible for most of the housework it's easy to get caught up in the endless battle of what needs to get done and lose sight of what matters. I now prioritize my 'to-do list' to include 'enjoy my children' up at the very top above everything else. I find when I'm more flexible that so many wonderful, fun moments with my children creep into our day in between all the grunt work. When I've already shared a lot of laughs with my kids I no longer feel regret and resentment when it's 'his turn', I only feel happy that they have such a wonderful bond with their father.
5. We make them incompetent right from the start.
When a new baby is born it's such an exhilarating feeling that we throw ourselves into that mother baby cocoon without a complaint. When my girls were very little I couldn't stand to be apart with them at all, so I pretty much took over everything and fought when he tried to take them away to 'give me a break'. When I was their only food source something deep inside me couldn't be apart from them longer than it took to run to the store, and my husband got used to that. Eventually his cure for everything became 'she needs a boob', even long after this was no longer true. As time went on and I really did need a break it had already become the norm for me to be the 'default' parent in everything.
What changed things is the fact that he took paternity leave when our second daughter was born so I could continue to work part time. When he became the 'default parent' to our oldest daughter and in charge of both the few times I went to work he learned to master the tiny details that alluded him when we only had one child. He used to sit around or play guitar while I got her ready to go out, which drove me insane. Now when we have to go somewhere it's unspoken that he gets our oldest daughter dressed and packed while I do the same for the younger one and nobody but the cat sits around being useless.
6. We're jealous of them.
When the going gets rough, the grass gets greener. When you're sleep deprived and touched out, what's on their plate looks oh so tempting. We picture the luxury of sleeping all night, of sitting down and eating a sandwich all in one go, of peeing without anyone screaming and of listening to the radio all the way to work! Oh the decadence! They never have to suffer through morning sickness or painful contractions or tearing. Their bodies remain unmarked and unchanged and while they get to enjoy the love and joy and fun of being a parent, their lives are much less changed than ours are.
What helps is looking carefully at what's on my own side of the fence. I think of the things I would never trade in a million years. The feeling of a little person wiggling and kicking inside me, pressing her tiny feet up against the inside of my tummy. The blissful feeling of a milk drugged infant curled at your breast, filling your body with endorphins and your heart with peace. The times I get to take a nap in the early afternoon when the baby is sleeping, or the sunny days I'm at the pool with the kids instead of in a cubicle. We pay different dues and get different rewards, but it all evens out in the wash. I would never, ever actually want to trade places.
7. Women complain and men take.
The peak of marital discord occurred in our house when our oldest daughter was about a year and a half. For months she had been getting up for the day at 430 am, which meant that I was getting up for the day at 430 am and was a ragged mess of sleep deprivation and bitterness. One Saturday morning my husband sauntered out of bed at 9 am, went for a leisurely jog, took a long shower and then wanted to sit downstairs and eat a relaxing breakfast in front of the tv, making him 'available for duty' right in time for our daughter's nap. I detonated like a nuclear missile and while it got ugly for a minute there, it cleared the air in a remarkable way.
When you're exhausted from motherhood and left with nothing for yourself, you start to keep score of everything. The extra sleep he's getting, the exercise, the time for hobbies or outings with his friends. I remember him proudly showing me his latest painting and being unable to compliment it because I was so bitter that he had time to paint in the first place. The problem is, we don't know what to DO about it except complain about it, and men hate to listen to complaining.
After that day when I lost my shit, I learned to stop complaining and take action. I scheduled time with my friends to shop or go out to eat. I started going swimming or to movies by myself, taking long walks alone or asking him to take them out for a few hours so I could just have some quiet time at home. When I stopped complaining about all HE got to do and started explaining what I WANTED to do instead he was very happy to oblige. Men respond well to specific requests if they know it will make us happy. Now we discuss and divy free time depending on what we both want to do without ever having to fight about it.
Most of our husbands are good men. They want to help out. They want to make us happy. They want us to just stop complaining and tell them exactly what we want. We just need to figure out exactly what that is and how to say it and then everything is great.
(PS the reason my mother's day wasn't a let down is I told him exactly what to buy me and what I wanted to do. And guess what? It happened).