Why Married Women Get a Raw Deal

I’m a dating coach and author.

My wife is a stay-at-home mom.

I work from 9 am to 5:30 pm.

My wife works from 6:15 am to midnight.

I support the family monetarily.

My wife supports the family in every other way.

I’m writing a piece on my blog right now.

My wife is taking a two-hour nap because she’s so exhausted.

I’m not sure if we have a traditional marriage (because I’m the breadwinner) or a modern marriage (because I work from home and assist with childrearing).

What I do know is that my wife has it MUCH harder than I do. It’s not even close.

What I do know is that my wife has it MUCH harder than I do. It’s not even close.

When I wake up, I go to the gym.

When my wife wakes up, she gets our 5 and 6-year-olds ready for school.

When I get out of work at 5:30, I play with the kids for an hour – bike riding, board games, reading, or basketball.

During that same time – after my wife has gone food shopping, called the insurance company, picked up the kids from school, helped them with homework, and driven them to and from soccer – she prepares separate dinners for us and the kids.

She knows that this hour is the only time I have with the kids all day and she wants me to enjoy it. I do. And I do try to take a few things off her plate at the end of the day, including bathtime, tooth brushing, goodnight stories and dishes.

At 8 pm, we watch a few hours of TV and I go upstairs to read a book. My wife then starts on two loads of laundry, answers emails for the first time all day, handles treasurer duties for the PTA, and writes a list of a dozen things she has to do the next day.

By the time she winds down, it’s 1 am, at which point I’ve already been asleep for over an hour. It all begins the next day at 6:15 am.

On weekends, my wife gets to sleep in as late as she wants while I handle the kids, but it’s a pittance compared with the daily load she has to bear.

On weekends, my wife gets to sleep in as late as she wants while I handle the kids, but it’s a pittance compared with the daily load she has to bear.

We talk about it all the time. I offer to help ease her burden. She doesn’t even know what to delegate. All she knows is that she can never rest because, while I’m paying the bills, she does all the thinking for the entire family. It’s not just the thankless work itself that tires women out; it’s bearing responsibility for the whole family that is so draining.

If you want to compare my work with hers (because I pay all the bills), don’t bother. Maybe if I had to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, to support everyone, I might feel the same way. But I don’t. I can turn off at night and on the weekends.

My wife never turns off. She’s not alone.

Over 850,000 people have shared this brilliant Harper’s Bazaar piece by Gemma Hartley on what it’s like to be a woman who has to handle the emotional labor in a relationship. When I forwarded this to my wife and watched her read it in the kitchen, her eyes began to well up with tears. That’s how it felt to have another woman articulate her unspoken feelings about how she never gets to relax.

Even with an appreciative, communicative, work-from-home husband who always offers to help, my wife, like most wives, bears the emotional labor in our home. Despite this realization, we have been unable to balance the scales. The situation is even worse for women with full-time jobs who also handle the vast majority of household labor. It’s beyond unfair.

The situation is even worse for women with full-time jobs who also handle the vast majority of household labor. It’s beyond unfair.

Check out this searing excerpt, which cut to the heart of so many marital disputes.

“My husband is a good man, and a good feminist ally. I could tell, as I walked him through it, that he was trying to grasp what I was getting at. But he didn’t. He said he’d try to do more cleaning around the house to help me out. He restated that all I ever needed to do was ask him for help, but therein lies the problem. I don’t want to micromanage housework. I want a partner with equal initiative.

However, it’s not as easy as telling him that. My husband, despite his good nature and admirable intentions, still responds to criticism in a very patriarchal way. Forcing him to see emotional labor for the work it is feels like a personal attack on his character. If I were to point out random emotional labor duties I carry out—reminding him of his family’s birthdays, carrying in my head the entire school handbook and dietary guidelines for lunches, updating the calendar to include everyone’s schedules, asking his mother to babysit the kids when we go out, keeping track of what food and household items we are running low on, tidying everyone’s strewn about belongings, the unending hell that is laundry—he would take it as me saying, “Look at everything I’m doing that you’re not. You’re a bad person for ignoring me and not pulling your weight.”

Bearing the brunt of all this emotional labor in a household is frustrating. It’s the word I hear most commonly when talking to friends about the subject of all the behind-the-scenes work they do. It’s frustrating to be saddled with all of these responsibilities, no one to acknowledge the work you are doing, and no way to change it without a major confrontation.” 

I, for one, want to acknowledge any woman reading this for her emotional labor. I don’t think most men understand what it’s like to have a second job after your first job ends. If anything, on the whole, we’re somewhere between clueless and selfish. Sure, we can spin it by saying we’re better than our fathers, who never changed diapers or cooked dinner, but really, that’s pretty faint praise. We have to do better.

We can spin it by saying we’re better than our fathers, who never changed diapers or cooked dinner, but really, that’s pretty faint praise. We have to do better.

And we want you to help us. This is not “victim-blaming,” in any way, shape or form. It’s an acknowledgment that being married is a lifelong collaboration, and couples need to communicate without attacking or rancor.

Sometimes, after dinner, when I’m sitting on the couch reading my phone, and my wife is still going 75 mph, I feel it:

The karma deficit – where, no matter what I do, it’s a fraction of what she does.

“Honey?” I say, “I feel awful. Is there anything I can do to help you out?”

Her nightly reply? “It would take longer for me to explain to you what to do than to do it myself. And chances are, you wouldn’t do it the way I want it done, anyway.”

Bearing the burden of all the household knowledge is, therefore, a curse.

I can’t pack the kids’ lunches because only my wife knows what they like, which changes day to day.

I can’t get their clothes out for the next morning because I don’t know if the school is having a theme day and whatever I choose will never adequately account for the different weather at 7:30am and 2pm.

I can’t organize a pool party because I wouldn’t know which serving plates to use for which chips.

Last night, I asked about something as simple as folding laundry.

I was told that there’s only one way to do it – her way – and that if I deviated from it, she have to refold everything, so why bother?

I told her I could probably follow directions and, even if I got it “wrong,” she’d still be able to fit the clothes in the kids’ drawers. Isn’t getting things 85% right better than having to do everything yourself?

“But then one shirt on top would look different than the rest of them,” my wife replied.

She did the rest of the laundry while I watched the baseball game.

The result didn’t feel good – for either of us.

I will continue to ask my wife to delegate things, to lighten her load, to ease her worried mind, to give her a rest whenever I can.

But I remain frustrated – both for her and for women who carry the disproportionate emotional labor for their families. All too often, your husbands often don’t know – or care – how all-consuming it is to be the primary caregiver, to feel like the overloaded computer with the spinning beach ball.

All too often, your husbands often don’t know – or care – how all-consuming it is to be the primary caregiver, to feel like the overloaded computer with the spinning beach ball.

It’s tiring. It’s unfair. And it has to change, for the sake of everybody’s sanity and well-being.

Since I’m still grappling with this in my own marriage, I don’t claim to have the answers, but I would suggest this: if you have a good man who loves you and wants you to be happy, please share this article with him.

He may not understand what it’s like to walk a mile in your shoes, but he probably wants to do better than he’s doing today.

Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.

Join our conversation (91 Comments).
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Comments:

  1. 1
    Stacy

    I was happiest when I got divorced. Obviously, the primary reason was that my now ex husband was incapable of being faithful BUT I actually had MORE time to myself as a single mom with two kids. I now have every other weekend completely kid free. And they’re older now where I don’t have to worry as much about the little things (they can take a bath on their own, are well behaved quiet kids, etc.). When I was married, I was not only doing for the kids, but I had to do equally for him AND I never had a day to myself.

    Eh…I try to look at situations not in terms of fair vs. unfair because that could just make a person bitter and it’s not productive at all. I mean, rarely are things ‘fair’.  However, I will say that marriage in MOST situations in the way it is traditionally balanced tends to be a VERY shitty situation for the woman. I grew up where my mom cooked (Everyday), cleaned, sewed, helped with homework, made sure everything was everything with the kids, etc.  That’s just the way it used to be.  I am glad it’s changing as women (at least in the West) are realizing that they have a right to be treated ‘human’.  Maybe that’s why marriage tends to make men live longer.  Women tend to bare the ‘burden’ of not only having to work (most times), but also bear the burden of being over 80% on average for the household and the child bearing in addition to have to make major sacrifices career wise. And while I consider myself ‘lucky’ and feel that now I have my life back while still being young enough to ‘be’, I understand that many women get no breaks.

    When my daughter is old enough, I would not push her to get married or have children.  Sorry, but it’s exhausting and the bullshyt they sell you in Cosmo is a fantasy.  I am probably going to remarry with the man I am with, but only because child rearing is not the utopia that a lot of magazines sell. I LOVE my children to death and will not give them back for the world. But, if I could take away the love I have for them today and can do it all over again and know what I know now, I would not have children.  Or, if I did get married, it would be with a man like the one I am with now but I think they’re extremely rare to find – he can cook and clean probably better than I can and pitches in just as much as I do – it’s just his nature. I would tell my daughter, if she does not find that, stay unmarried.

    1. 1.1
      Withheld

      Stacy

      I hear you regarding hindsight. I was a much better mother to my first child than I was to her after I had my younger two. For one thing, I had undiagnosed mental conditions that were compounded by having three children in rapid succession. I often felt overwhelmed. I also often felt annoyed that my oldest wanted to act like a baby when I had two “real” babies. But, in reality, she was still a baby when they were born.

      She and I recently had a deep talk about my mistakes. At first she was angry. All I could to was listen and say I had been wrong and deeply apologize. I never asked her to accept my apology. I told her the things I did to her were never about her. They were manifestations of my own problems, not hers. My response that time was very different than telling her all the ways in which she had been a difficult child, which is what I used to do.

      She’s twenty-two now and our relationship is better than it’s ever has been. Now when she exhibits behaviors that used to drive me crazy, I recognize that she’s in progress and so I am I and that’s okay.

      My point in replying to you, Stacy, is to say that, I love all three of my children profoundly and I’m grateful every day that I’m their mother and they’re my children. But, if I had to do it all over again. I would have only had one child . I believe I would have been a much better parent had I done so.

      However, when I had my children, I doubt I would have listened to anyone who suggested I just have one.  I just did what I wanted to do without thought of what that might look like in reality given the kind of person I was at the time and how I wanted my life to be.

      Unlike my parents did with me when I was young, I’ve had discussions about these matters with my children. I can only hope they take my insights into consideration as they plan for their futures. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t and sometimes it seems as if they haven’t considered anything I’ve told them about a particular matter but it turns out they did. Sometimes, in conversation, without seeming to realize it, they say exactly what I’ve said to them at one time or another verbatim. These moments always seem miraculous to me.

      I’m glad my children and I can at least talk openly about the things that matter. The fact that we can do so makes me very happy.

      1. 1.1.1
        Stacy

        I SO understand and can relate to this post.

  2. 2
    Stacy

    Should be ‘I am probably going to remarry with the man I am with now, because there will be no more children to be had’.

  3. 3
    Withheld

    Evan,

    I think it’s admirable that you genuinely want to help your wife. I can feel your sincerity in what you wrote.

    From what I’ve written you before, I hope you better understand that it’s my philosophy that the moment any of us perceives that a problem exists it becomes our responsibility to solve it and the solution always begins within us.

    Some problems seem totally out if our control. For a long time, I felt I could do nothing about the bad relationship I had with some family members. As much as I thought with my head that the problem was within me to solve, in my heart, I saw them as the problem. I blamed them for being judgemental and closed minded.

    For decades, I really determined that somehow I’d have a happy relationship with. There were many times I just gave up. They seemed like impossible people who would never change.

    But eventually I returned to my original philosophy with full force and intention. I began to put myself in their place. To consider how I might be as a person given their particular life experiences. I began to listen to them on a deeper level than I’d ever done. Right now it brings tears to my as I write this because I finally have the relationship with them that I’ve longed for for my whole life. This would not have occurred had I not taken 100% responsibility for making the change I wanted to see.

    I said all this as a preface to making a suggestion to you, which I hope I’m communicating in a way that resonates with you:

    From everything I’ve read that you’ve written about your wife, I have the impression that she loves you very deeply and would never want to hurt you in any way. I believe that she would do anything to not do that.

    Therefore, I suggest that instead of thinking you would be helping her by taking on more of the responsibilities, get in touch with how it hurts you to not do so. When you can find that hurt within, you can then communicate it to her from your heart. If she believes that you not helping her deeply wounds you, I have no doubt she will to give you what you’ve been asking for — the opportunity to balance the workload at home.

  4. 4
    Withheld

    Evan

    With my family members and many other times when it seemed impossible to get what I wanted, things seemingly changed overnight when I got real with myself about what I really wanted. In those times, it always came down with me being of two minds. Someone once described this as driving with your foot on the brakes.

    In regards to my relatives, I said I wanted a better relationship with them but in reality there were perks to living with the status quo and I didn’t want to give those up. It was my own lukewarm intention that prevented me from manifesting the change I said I wanted.

    Some perks were superficial. For instance, no one expected me to carry the weight for certain family responsibilities. Sometimes I felt guilty about this but it also made things easier for me to not have to do those things. I’d ask to take on some of those responsibilities but the relative in charge wouldn’t “let” me. I chalked her behavior up to her “control issues.”

    But when I looked squarely at what I really wanted compared to what I said I wanted, I saw they didn’t align.

    It was then that I began to see that holding on to the very traits I said I didn’t like about my siblings was preventing me from having a better relationship with them. What’s more, holding on to these traits prevented me from being the kind of person I wanted to be.

    I had identified those traits within myself long ago. I knew I needed to work on them. But it wasn’t until I threw my whole life into changing myself that my relationships changed for the better and profoundly  — not only with my relatives  but with others too.

    Regarding my controlling relative, I knew the change had come when she “let” me share the load at my request. But things got even better. She started listening to my suggestions and actually following them. Things got even better. She starting asking for my opinions nd putting them into action. Things got even better. She invited me to be part of making plans.

    I can’t explain how phenomenal it’s been to see this change happen. It’s like I’m living in a whole new world that I would never have entered had I continued to see the problem as one that began outside of me instead of where it really began — within.

  5. 5
    Em

    When I read this article a few weeks ago, I told my boyfriend about it and told him how grateful I am that he isn’t that way. I feel like the luckiest woman in the world, because he is so incredibly competent. We’ve been living together for just over six months, together for almost two years. He did most of the cleaning (because I have a long commute) until I suggested getting a cleaner so that the burden wasn’t always on him. Now he schedules and pays the cleaners. He found a vet and a puppy class for our new pup, and took her to her first appointments – I had to get the vet’s number from him when she got sick while I was working from home. He does all the reservations for travel (I’m more of a spontaneous traveler…), except for the few times when I found a flight that was cheaper. He keeps track of all the stuff that needs to be done around the house, except for the garden, which is my pride and joy. He does his own laundry. His parents’ birthdays and Mother’s/Fathers Day are all him. Admittedly, we don’t have kids yet (and I know way more about kids than he does, due to babysitting and younger siblings), but I would trust him with keeping track of anything. Because isn’t that partly what it’s about? The fear that if we don’t do it ourselves, it won’t get done, or won’t get done right? Letting someone else do it means letting go of control of how it gets done, and that’s hard. We women have internalized the message that only we can do it right, and men have internalized the message that it’s not their problem.

  6. 6
    Jeremy

    A couple of thoughts on this, Evan, as it looks a bit like my marriage did before I hired help in the house.
    First, what you describe is a problem from both perspectives – the husband’s and the wife’s.  The husband needs to acknowledge the emotional work, as you wrote, and not wait to be asked or micromanaged by his wife.  AND, the wife needs to be willing to share the work, and not insist on always having it her way.  If you offer to fold the laundry and she declines because she doesn’t like the way you fold it, there is a serious problem with her mind-set.  In the same way, I would load the dishwasher only to have my wife sigh heavily and undo my work because she likes to load it differently.  That is territorial bullshit, and it is a common problem IME.  On the one hand, many wives feel frustrated that they aren’t helped with their work.  On the other hand they only want it done the way they would do it, and feel that their exhaustion is a source of identity.  Who would they be if they were less exhausted?  What would their badge of pride be among the other women?

     

    Would you believe that my wife often gets together with her female friends and as they complain of their heavy workloads, she feels guilty that hers isn’t as heavy?  Guilty!  It is an identity issue.  How many women on mommy chat-groups ignore their husbands’ needs (and their own!) because they feel they need to compete with what the other moms are doing – like spending an hour massaging kale for their kids’ snacks every night, or just perusing all the chatgroups to make sure they aren’t missing something they *should* be doing? How much of the work needs to be done, or done in the way they are doing it?

     

    Regarding the imbalance in emotion labour you wrote, “It’s tiring. It’s unfair. And it has to change, for the sake of everybody’s sanity and well-being.”  Agreed.  And it has to change from TWO perspectives, not just one.  Both ways need to be discussed.

    1. 6.1
      Emily, the original

      Jeremy,
      The husband needs to acknowledge the emotional work, as you wrote, and not wait to be asked or micromanaged by his wife.  AND, the wife needs to be willing to share the work, and not insist on always having it her way.  If you offer to fold the laundry and she declines because she doesn’t like the way you fold it, there is a serious problem with her mind-set. 
      Yes. The world isn’t going to shut down if the dishwasher is loaded slightly differently or if the laundry is folded slightly differently. If you want help and help is freely offered, you then can’t complain because the other party has a different way of doing it (unless they just completely botch the job).
      On the other hand they only want it done the way they would do it, and feel that their exhaustion is a source of identity.
      Yes.
      I’m wondering, too, (it’s a question, not an indictment) how much more is expected of parents now that so many are … well … to use the current term … “helicopter parents.” Are parents creating a ton of more work for themselves to the admittedly already difficult job of parenting?

  7. 7
    Alyssa

    As your post clearly demonstrates, it’s also up to women to be willing to give up control. Who cares what dishes are used to serve chips? And men are perfectly capable of looking at the weather to figure out what the kids will wear. For women to think that men can’t handle these tasks is just enabling the whole situation. “It will take too much work to figure out how to delegate” is really just an excuse that perpetuates the cycle. Yes, it might feel that way at first, but in the end, it works out. Just like teaching a kid how to clean–for awhile it’s not much help, but they’re learning how to do it and learning it’s expected.  Yes, maybe there will be a few days where the kids go outside without a jacket. But moms aren’t perfect either. My kids’ father loves taking his daughters clothes shopping. I’ve learned to accept the decisions they make when they do so (since I hate clothes shopping.) We finally have men understanding how much of a burden it all is–now it’s up to us women to GIVE UP CONTROLLING EVERYTHING and accept that it’s a learning curve, whether you’re male or female.

    1. 7.1
      Beth

      That’s exactly what I was thinking….controlling and acting like a martyr.

    2. 7.2
      Lucy

      I agree.

      There’s a number of things I do to make my life manageable as a single parent with two daughters.

      My wardrobe choices are simple. I’ll wear the the same skirt for a week and team it with different tops, and a scarf. It works in my career field.

      Clothes for my kids are bought at the beginning of the school year and need to last all year.

      My daughters became independent early. They clean their own rooms, make their own lunches, do household chores including their own laundry, and know how to fix sandwiches and a simple dinner.

      Our stripped-down life isn’t always fun, but it works and I have my sanity. Both my daughters are great students, BTW.

      1. 7.2.1
        Nissa

        I so agree with that. Most kids have tons of crap (clothes, toys, games) they don’t need. Why not buy just enough for one week, wash it once a week and be done with it? If the kids want more, they can wash it themselves. Then again, that’s part of why I don’t have kids. My mother was a martyr to motherhood and I learned early that I never wanted to put myself in that position.

  8. 8
    MebeforeMom

    I am all for nannies, maids, chefs and chauffeurs. Just the thought of doing all of that with a husband & kids is exhausting.

     

    If any man interested in dating me is not cool with the hiring of staff, I’ll happily remain single & child free! Lol

  9. 9
    Withheld

    I have a hard time understanding the situation.  At work, I have to delegate tasks.  If I didn’t, I’d be at work 12 hrs a day.  If I chose to do all the tasks myself because it would take longer to explain what needs to be done, I’d be considered an ineffective manager.

    I applaud you for wanting to help take on more, and I don’t see these as your shortcomings.  Perfect is the enemy of good, and I know all too well b/c I have those tendencies as well.  I would suggest she try to work on letting go a little control and take care of herself more.  Will your kids remember how their clothes were folded in their drawers when they look back on their childhood?  I would rather see my Mom happy and enjoying her life more.

     

     

    1. 9.1
      Name Withheld

      Withheld,

      It seems we have the same username. I’m not the person who wrote the comment I’m replying to right now. I wrote those that begin: 

      Stacy, I hear you regarding hindsight. 

      and

      Evan, I think it’s admirable

      and

      Evan, With my family members and many other times when it seemed impossible to get what I wanted,

      So to prevent it appearing that I’m you and you’re me, from here on I’m “Name Withheld.”

  10. 10
    Iris

    Interesting that you should bring this up, Evan. This has been an important topic in conversations with girlfriends who are married and have children.

    Since I have no children and don’t live with my partner (yet), I feel I have little to add to the discussion. I’d just like to point out this cartoon, by Emma Clit, which to my knowledge was the first to pick up on the topic:

    You should’ve asked

    1. 10.1
      Name Withheld

      Iris,

      Loved, You should have asked!

      I’m a mother and ex-wife who still is infinitely more emotionally connected to my kids than my ex, their father, is and infinitely more in-the-know than he is about the ins and outs of their daily lives. There are plenty of times he doesn’t even know they’re in the house, let alone knowing stuff like our oldest is living with her former boyfriend, and our son smokes weed occasionally and the girls he likes doesn’t like him back and vice versa, and our youngest feels like the boyfriend she just dumped was too beta while she’s too easily irritated.

      So the question for me becomes, what do I get out of having this dynamic in place in which I “get” our kids and my ex doesn’t? It’s unhealthy for everyone — me, the kids, and my ex.  Our kids should see a healthily balanced relationship at play, not the one they grew up with or what exists now. Our family is not a good model for them and this doesn’t have to be the case just because their father and I are divorced. I have friends who marvel at how well he and I get along but this current discussion shows me we can do better.

      What it really comes down to for me is I can do better.

      I think it’s about me wanting total control and needing to feel special. To create the kind of family I really want, I have to relax  both of these desires —  not get rid of them completely but ease up. If I do this, everyone will benefit.  I especially want to change for my children, to give them a model of what a healthy relationship looks like. This is also a big reason why I want to find the right mate for me — so they can see me in a healthy loving relationship unlike what the one they witnessed growing up.

      Back to the drawing board I go.

      1. 10.1.1
        Name Withheld

        Not that it matters in relation to my revelation about myself but when I said:

        There are plenty of times [my ex] doesn’t even know [our kids are] in the house…

        Until very recently, they lived with him, not me.  It was during this time that, more often than not, I knew they were at home, in his house, and he didn’t.

    2. 10.2
      Nissa

      Eh, I think the cartoon, while funny, completely forgets the point that a lot of women DON’T ask and then complain. That’s a HUGE part of boundaries. We are each responsible for stepping up to ask for what we want, when we want it, and how we want it. If most people just did that every time, their partner would either conform, or get out of the relationship if he doesn’t want to step up. Women should be saying, I want you to empty the dishwasher. I want you to do you your own laundry. I want you to cook dinner twice a week. I want you to pick up the kids from soccer. I want you to schedule the doctor appointment. Men, just like women, learn by doing, including doing it wrong. When he does it wrong, just smile and him and say, what did you learn from that? Because next time he’ll know before he does it wrong. But he will never know if you treat him like a child and expect nothing from him. And you end up with not an equal partnership but an extra child.

      1. 10.2.1
        Coco

        “I think the cartoon, while funny, completely forgets the point that a lot of women DON’T ask and then complain.”

        Nissa, I don’t think the cartoon forgets the point – I think that is the point. Women shouldn’t need to ask and teach and tell. The whole point is that always carrying the mental burden of seeing what needs to be done, figuring out ways to do it, remembering appointments, etc, means that women become “household managers” (I can’t remember the exact term) which means they end up doing 75% of the work (even if some of that is mental).

        While I completely agree that women who choose not to delegate because “he’ll do it wrong” or “it’ll take longer to explain” are making a rod for their own back and probably shouldn’t be complaining, I don’t feel that we should need to treat men like children, micro-manage them and tell them everything we “want” them to do. They have eyes and a brain so if they choose not to do these things, they are purposely leaving us women with the mental load.

        By the way, I totally agree with everything you’ve said if you are teaching a child how to be independent. The reason many men end up being so incompetent at home is precisely because their mothers didn’t teach them exactly the things you mentioned above.

  11. 11
    Jenny

    Evan:

    Thank you for writing this article! The situation you described sounds typical for most families I know, but I think the big difference is that you acknowledge your wife’s hard work. Thoughts like this would never have crossed my ex-husband’s mind, and that certainly didn’t help our relationship.

    I think problem like this is two-sided. Most men didn’t grow up with the expectation of doing house chores (not entirely their fault), and most women I know grew up having to learn how to run a house hold AND work outside the home. On the other hand, I think it would ease women’s burden to let go of the perfection mentality (clothes need to be folded a certain way,  meals have to be cooked exactly this way, etc). You can’t always measure the fairness of everything in a relationship, but if men are more appreciative and women delegate more it would certainly make both parties happier.

    1. 11.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Thank you, Jenny. My thoughts entirely. I’m surprised at the comments (here and on Facebook) that are telling me to seize my wife’s duties in some sort of coup. That’s not how it works, people. She’s an independent woman with her own personal (and somewhat flawed) systems for how to run the household. I can’t just take over without her buy-in. That’s why it’s a perpetual discussion that I initiate. I’m more than willing to assist; I need her to tell me where my efforts are most necessary and appreciated. And I remind everyone: I used a personal anecdote, but this post isn’t about readers fixing what little ails my marriage; it’s about acknowledging women who bear the emotional load of their entire family, especially those who don’t have husbands who “get it.”

  12. 12
    Rampiance

    I’ll take laundry as one example.

    Having been a bachelor for many years, Evan, you know very well how to care for your own clothes, and by extension, the clothes of children.  And you can look up how to care for anything you don’t have experience with, like perhaps cotton velvets, or satin silks.  I’m saying this to support you as a capable man, as you know yourself to be.

    Your wife has one way to handle laundry, and you have another equally as good.  Shall your children grow up NEVER knowing how to do laundry if it’s too much hassle for your wife to teach them (or to show you her way)?  I think it would expand their minds to teach them your way AND your wife’s way (if she wishes to take time to share it) AND Tide(TM)’s way AND MamasLaundryTalk’s way AND more.  Learn and teach the pros and cons of various methods.

    This is a fabulous learning opportunity for you and your daughters, a research project and at-home laboratory, because it’s an important life skill better learned earlier than later.  They can begin learning as soon as they can drag a stool over to the washer to reach the dials (as mine did).  If your wife doesn’t want her clothes (especially her dainties) to be part of the experiment, no problem, totally understandable.  There will be a learning curve for your daughters: handling mistakes is an important part of learning the life skill of resilience.

    Learning how to manage their clothing drawers and closets is an important life skill, also.  Not knowing these things can be crippling to a child’s growing sense of self-actuation.  Wouldn’t they feel important designing their own clothing storage methods (folding their own clothes and putting them away) and then SHOWING THEIR MOM how they manage their operation!  What a feeling of I-got-this and can-do!

    Laundry management something you can initiate as a father who feels responsible for his children’s education.  When I homeschooled my children, I considered laundry and other home maintenance to be an important part of their education.

    1. 12.1
      Jeremy

      Interesting idea.  I don’t disagree on principal, but….I think another basic life lesson is even more important – task delegation.  In a traditional marriage, certain tasks were the husband’s responsibility and certain tasks the wife’s.  In today’s era these tasks can be muddled, leading to uneven workloads.  So divide the tasks!  What is my role, what is yours?  As long as every task is BOTH of our responsibility, there will always be one spouse who sees the responsibility differently.  The one to whom the job matters more is the one who will end up being the task-master and feeling resentful.  Because, for example, while Evan’s wife cares deeply how the laundry is folded, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that Evan doesn’t care that much how it’s folded – his way or hers.  In such a case, SHE will always be the taskmaster.

       

      What is the best example to set for one’s children?  Redundancy in work, or efficient working?  Working hard, or working smart?  This is not an issue of right-or-wrong, but rather what we choose to model.  A marriage where everything is everyone’s responsibility (which, IME, tends not to work so well) or a marriage where tasks are evenly divided, each person with his or her responsibility and source of pride?

  13. 13
    S.

    I don’t know.  I read article that about the emotional work a few weeks ago.  How to explain that to men? It’s not just about chores, it’s about keeping all that running minutiae about your family in your heads the way you do a spreadsheet at work, or whatever work you do outside the home.  That’s what I’d want help with.  Remembering.  I have an excellent memory but I could use a break from using it sometimes.  Remembering appointments and things that matter about the household.  Even if you aren’t married, women still take on a lot of emotional work in a relationship.

    Think of this work that women do as a job.  Asking a woman not to care about how well she does her job is like asking an accountant not to care how their numbers turn out.  Your job is a reflection of your competence, in a way.  It’s like asking a man not to care about his job or to ask to help him with it.  And you like your job!  You like the details.  Evan’s wife really loves what she does.   Those details matter to her because that’s who she is.

    Still, he could call the insurance company or pick the kids up from school.  Maybe they could alternate days.  For me, I don’t want one-off help.  Either someone is doing their half or I’m doing it all.  That’s how I am. It’s not perfectionism.  When I need relief, I need real, true relief.  I need the other person to do the emotional part too.  I know how it sounds. Let the guy put the dishes in the dishwasher!  If that was my issue, I’d just make it his job and I hope he’d do it well and completely.  If we have a party and he hasn’t run it, then we’re stuck. He’d have to remember.

    This emotional work has to be thought of as an actual job.  Yes, you get some training on the job, but after a while it’s yours.  No reminders, mebbe a few meetings.  🙂 But when the big corporate event or evaluation comes up if things go wrong, you’re screwed.  I don’t know if men really feel screwed like that when things go wrong at home. I’d ask them to invest in their home lives the same way.

    Most moms I know take pride in knowing these details.  And I’ve never been at a job outside the home where someone told me that being a perfectionist was a problem. They may help you re-prioritize or redirect that perfectionism, but attention to detail is mostly appreciated.

    ——

    This comic is helpful if you don’t like walls of text.  The picture that hits the point I’m trying to make is the one with the woman sitting on the couch with her man with the thought bubble of dry cleaning, booster shots, and dinner above her head.  That is what it is like.

  14. 14
    Tim

    Evan. I think this is spot on if you consider the primary caregiver and don’t assume it’s always the wife. In our house, I assume this role. I am not a stay at home dad. My wife and I both work, but it is I who gets up with the kid at 6:30, feeds her, makes most of her meals, changes most of the diapers (and orders all of these items on Amazon, because I’m too busy to shop at the store), and does bath time tooth brushing and bedtime stories. I get three hours a week to watch my one football game (taped, fast-forwarding through commercials, so more like 1.5 hours) and that’s pretty much it. We do have help during the week, so I am not on 100% kid duty, but let’s not just assume it’s always the wife!  Your buddy, Tim.

    1. 14.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Thanks for posting, Tim. I didn’t work out for the first four years of my kids’ lives – until they were both in school – so I could help out in the morning. I, too, no longer plan Sundays around football. So I get it and I appreciate that you’re an involved Dad. There are tons of us. I wrote this to point out that, even for involved Dads, like the one in the original article, a good portion of things still fall on the wife’s shoulders. In a “traditional” marriage where the wife is a stay at home mom and the Dad works, that makes a little more sense. But in a dual income household, it seems unfair for the wife to do 90% of the labor, plus 100% of the remembering of school forms, organizing playdates, packing the diaper bags, etc.

  15. 15
    Lisa

    I applaud you for offering to help over and over and for recognizing how hard your wife works, you are in the minority of men.  My best friend has three kids under the age of 10, I work 60 plus hours a week as a trial lawyer. My job is nothing compared to what she does!  Her husband works full time and he can handle the kids on his own for maybe one night but not much more than I can say for my own Father or Fathers of that generation.

    So what gives with men? I think there are a few factors. First deep down many men still think the role of primary care taker is that of Mom. Even when the men tell you they believe in equality many still hold deep rooted beliefs they are not even conscious of. So they don’t feel so bad about letting Mom take the lead even when she works as much or more outside of the home as he does. Second women are multitaskers by nature. If a man is playing with or bathing the kids that’s all he’s doing.  Women are on the phone, or speaking with their husbands or doing laundry. Which leads me to 3 because women are multi taskers they are quicker to not only spot that something needs done but jump in and do it. A woman sees it needs done and does it. Now most men I believe would eventually get to the task but we as women beat them to the punch. If a man was left to parent alone he’d get it all done.   The reason he does not with a wife is because she beats him to it.  Fourth men often feel outwitted and outplayed in the domestic arena. Many were raised by Dads or even moms that did not nurture them. They don’t know how to parent or do housework. It makes them feel insecure and even worse when they attempt and their partner criticizes them. No not that way or you did that wrong!

    So I think the best thing for women to do is to step back and let the man parent. If she does not get to laundry leave it be see how long it piles up. Take a weekend away. Don’t feel bad for your husband let him take care of things. If the woman keeps doing most men won’t.

  16. 16
    Mrs Happy

    Language is important: “what can I do to help you” infers all the housework is hers, and he is helping is he does any. Help deserves directions, thanks and praise and so the expectation is set up.

    I agree with the article, but women are complicit in not halving home duties with their partner. It’s insanity to do 80% of the home duties is you’re in paid work.

    If any man is going to the gym every morning, while your wife does the whole morning kid feed-wash-dress-organise bags-comfort routine for the send off of the young kids, that’s selfish. Perhaps alternate mornings so she gets to go the gym every 2nd morning (or sleep in).  My husband would never hear the end of it if he were that selfish. It’s not rocket science to learn what to serve at breakfast and pack in a lunchbox.  Keep a calender of school special event days and the parent “on” for that morning’s routine just checks the calender. Or both stay home in the morning – 2 sets of hands are better to do all the jobs with – and gym once kids are at school.

    Evan, if your wife is working until 1am running a household of 4, she’s working inefficiently. I realise she’s obsessive and may not want to delegate, but chores until 1am aren’t necessary, and indicate pathological perfectionism, and/or inefficiency probably partly secondary to cognitive dulling due to serious sleep deficiency. Also, realistically if you’re up till 1am you have to give up the community volunteer work – pick it up in a few years when the kids are older.

    If you can afford it and your wife can let the jobs go, hire help. I hire lots of help. I have young children. It’s very freeing.  Some women don’t want to delegate or hire help. I can’t understand them, but live and let live.  I’d hate for my non-paid-work time at home to be spent cleaning rather than being with the kids. I do less than 2 hours of housework a week. My children are going to remember their childhoods as being with their parents, not as mum running around cleaning and stressed.

    Why do all these women shy away from confrontation? Not halving chores or pointing out the unfair division for fear the man will be upset – are you kidding me? What bubble are you putting your partner in?

    Write a list of the chores, weight for time spent in paid work, pay for help doing at least some if you can, then halve the rest, time-wise. Problem solved. Oh and women, once the job is his, let him do it.

     

    1. 16.1
      Jeremy

      Have I said before that I like how you think, Mrs. Happy?  So logical  🙂

    2. 16.2
      Evan Marc Katz

      I can’t weigh in on how efficient my wife is, but suffice to say, we’ve had many conversations about why it takes 3 days to throw a backyard BBQ and a week to pack for a long weekend away. She is a bit OCD and doesn’t feel good about being a stay at home mom who gets help from a nanny. Long story short, this post was not supposed to highlight my marriage as much as it did; next time I will reveal less information to keep the focus on the concept of emotional labor, rather than inviting everyone to dissect the minutiae of my life. Lesson learned.

      1. 16.2.1
        Mrs Happy

        As soon as I posted yesterday morning, I realised I’d been too personal – my apologies to both Evan and his wife. Straight after I posted I was swimming laps in the lovely sunshine, which should’ve been relaxing, but I felt bad.

        In all of our marriages there are quirks, acts and unspoken agreements that if publicized would attract judgement. Then well-meaning people would offer suggestions to help, which would frustrate most of us; generally we have already considered those solutions.

        Evan, you were giving enough to offer examples, and we have in these replies done wrong by you.

  17. 17
    Sylvana

    I have the upmost respect for any woman who (willingly or not) has children. Not only the horrendous physical issues that come along with it, but the years and years of near overwhelming responsibility they take on.

    There is absolutely no way I would ever do it.

    Hats off to all you mothers out there!

  18. 18
    ScottH

    As much contempt as I had/have for my ex, I have to say that she was so much better at managing the kids and things around the house than I was.  She knew what was happening at school, with the activities, etc… and I was wondering how the hell she was plugged in like that.  I was glad she was because I had no clue and it did seem that the other women didn’t want any guys around.  It always felt awkward to be the only guy among a group of women at a school function, but maybe that was just me.  I remember feeling that they had their own language and ways of communicating when it was just them.  I had seen them behave in ways that they didn’t in other social situations.  It was so awkward.  And my ex still is better at some things than I am.  Just the way we are.  Not to say that I didn’t pull my share.  I sure did, and at things she had no clue about.  And the kids knew who to go to for each particular situation.  Almost sounds like we were a good team.  It makes me laugh to remember doing the laundry when the kids were young and wondering how those little clothes could actually fit onto a human being- they were so small.  She knew the sizes they wore, the styles, etc… I couldn’t even keep straight which clothes belonged to which kid.  I still can’t and have to ask them whose clothes is whose, or have them go to the laundry room to get their own stuff.  But then again, I did fix the washing machine once when it broke and replaced the dryer within hours when it finally failed.

  19. 19
    Pistola

    This post is SO important. It’s why moms are resentful and dads feel left out of their families. It’s why so many people divorce within the first five years of a new child in the family. It’s why so many younger women are rethinking marriage and children.

    Sometimes I wonder if the problem is the shift in our society that decided that “kids come first.” A healthy marriage HAS to come first or the kids won’t have an intact family as they grow older. Focusing too much on the every possible need of kids erodes the marriage. There has to be balance in the system, and the adults, the drivers of the boat, have to make sure they put on their own oxygen mask first, that mask being love and support and honesty from and with each other.

    When I work with moms, when I ask them why they don’t talk to their husbands about this stuff, the answer I hear the most often is some version of, “I’m afraid he’ll get angry.” A huge part of women’s conditioned emotional labor is “Don’t let anyone get angry or upset.” But in order for big changes to happen, somebody’s gonna have to get uncomfortable. Everyone has to understand that suppressing resentment erodes the marriage, the foundation the kids need to feel safe and secure.

    It’s not like the women I see are married to threatening men–not at all. But in a lot of cases, he wasn’t as sure about wanting kids. Or he didn’t want so many kids. Or he didn’t want them so soon. The woman feels guilty, that the kids were “her” idea. She feels like she can’t ask for more because she “got them into this situation.” But he agreed to the situation, and he’s the other parent, so that perspective has to change. Regardless of whether or not the kid situation came out the way he wanted, once the kids are here, he owns half the work of them.

    I also think that a lot of women just didn’t realize how hard it was really going to be. And families are on their own because our culture doesn’t respect women and doesn’t provide social support for parents to have a break of any kind. Parents are on their own. They are doing too much. They are exhausted and frazzled and depressed and sad and hopeless. This is not an individual problem; it’s a societal problem, one directly intertwined with the lack of respect for women and children in our society. It’s an attitude shift that has to happen, something at the core.

    1. 19.1
      Stacy

      Pistola said, ‘I also think that a lot of women just didn’t realize how hard it was really going to be. And families are on their own because our culture doesn’t respect women and doesn’t provide social support for parents to have a break of any kind. Parents are on their own. They are doing too much. They are exhausted and frazzled and depressed and sad and hopeless. This is not an individual problem; it’s a societal problem, one directly intertwined with the lack of respect for women and children in our society. It’s an attitude shift that has to happen, something at the core.

      *STANDING Ovation’

    2. 19.2
      John

      Pistola said:

      Sometimes I wonder if the problem is the shift in our society that decided that “kids come first.” A healthy marriage HAS to come first or the kids won’t have an intact family as they grow older. Focusing too much on the every possible need of kids erodes the marriage. There has to be balance in the system, and the adults, the drivers of the boat, have to make sure they put on their own oxygen mask first, that mask being love and support and honesty from and with each other.

      This is an astute observation. When I suggest this to friends of mine with kids, they insist that the kids come first. Their marriages are all on the rocks and their kids are messed up. I have also used the “oxygen mask” analogy and my married friends with kids would say they would put the oxygen mask on their kids first. Every time. Sad.

      1. 19.2.1
        Mrs Happy

        John,

        you are alive today because in every generation of your ancestors, all the way back to the apes, each mother experienced ‘primary maternal preoccupation’ as described by Bowlby and Winnicott. This allowed her child to live long enough to pass on its genes. Hence, you exist in 2017.

        It’s no good ranting that parents should prioritise an adult above their kids – they can’t, they’re not evolutionarily programmed to do so. The parents that could deprioritise their babies and kids, had their babies more likely die, or not successfully reproduce, and thus those genes are rarer, and those ‘able to care less’ parents and especially mothers, are rarer.

        1. Gala

          I think this is a highly idealistic depiction of what was happening. Children throughout history were abused, killed, beaten by their parents. Sure hormonal attachment and the bond with the mother was there, but at some point reality was kicking in. Add to that various disease and wars and such, and children mortality rate was astonishing – until very recently, by historical standards. When people were having 10 plus kids and half of them would end up dead anyway, how much attention do you think those mothers were able to devote to their surviving offspring? Not much, and given the mortality they viewed this process very differently. We are here because our ancestors got lucky and had stronger immune systems. Not because they were coddled by heir parents.

          Today, when people are having fewer kids by historical standards, they focus too much attention on them. The result of that is overcoddled, spoiled generation…. this is completely unhealthy and I agree that the adults should come first, not children.

      2. 19.2.2
        Pistola

        John,

        All I know is, in all the happy families I know (and I know quite a few), the adult relationship is prioritized. As one couple in their 80s with a thriving family (kids, grandkids, soon great grandkids) said to me:

        “We always lived WITH our kids. We didn’t live FOR our kids.”

        Seems to have worked out.

        1. Mrs Happy

          Gala and Pistola,

          in reply to your wish for families to more often have adults prioritise one another first:

          Evan’s blog is not about what should happen, it is about what does happen in life.  Anyone can state “adults should prioritise their spouse first, then their kids”, but the reality we mostly see today is that mothers (at least) prioritise their kids.  I suspect most normal mothers would give their life for their kids.  I don’t know that most mothers would give their life for their spouse . That is how it is, and no amount of ranting about how it shouldn’t be that way will change things.

          Of course it’s good for the family if the parents have a strong bond, I’m not disputing that. I merely offered a genetic explanation for the common focus on children.

          It’s a fallacy to imagine that just a few hundred years ago, when a child died, a parent felt less because they had other kids.  Human emotional response, evolutionary change, doesn’t move that fast. Parents these days are devastated when a child dies. Of course parents generations ago were devastated when a child died.  By Shakespeare, from ‘King John’, just after Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died age 11 in 1596:

          “Grief fills the room up of my absent child/ Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,/ Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,/ Remembers me of all his gracious parts,/Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form.”

           

           

        2. Pistola

          Ms. Happy,

          All I will say in response is that I do not know a single competent couples therapist who would support the idea that the kids should come ahead of the spousal relationship. I assume there are good reasons they are all in agreement about this particular issue despite having very different styles of helping families and couples.

    3. 19.3
      CaliforniaGirl

      I see married men at my work going to gym or happy hour after the day is over and married women are running to pick up their children from childcare/schools/make dinner/do homework. I see married men bring lunches every day that their wives made them, there is not one women at my work who’s husband prepares her lunches. If a child is sick, a woman stays with him and she takes her personal PTO and husband keeps all his.

      When I was married I did the majority of housework and worked full time. But I had no children, so it wasn’t that hard but still I felt that my ex-husband got a much better deal than me.

      After a divorce I was shocked how much less time I had to spend on house chores and how much more money and time I could spend on myself. Marriage is much better deal for a guy unless he is wealthy and a wife can enjoy it. I really don’t get why women want to get married, especially second time.

  20. 20
    AdaGrace

    1. Don’t know about others, but the first thing that suffers when I get sleep-deprived is usually the ability to articulate a complex system of dependencies.

    2. The part of my brain that seeks out disorder (so that I can make it into order) tends to chunk information in such a way that I get “stuck” when

    – clothing, towels, etc are not all folded the same way
    – dishes are in the dishwasher (or sink, or on the counter, or on a shelf) in a way where they are not (approximately) even
    – bedding is tucked in a little differently on each side of the bed
    etc.

    This means that if someone’s helping me out, I feel very agitated by inconsistencies in their work, because the result will keep triggering my “I need to do something about this mess” gut reaction.  Don’t know if this true for your wife?

    2.  You’re asking your wife to separate a task from a huge set of interdependent tasks… that’s hard!

    When someone else is holding a complex system in their head, sometimes they’re not consciously aware of all of the interdfependencies, and it would take a LOT of work for them to get the information into a form that someone else can use effectively.

    However, if the would-be helper can sometimes make a difference by taking the initiative to ask simple questions.  e.g.

    “do you know why folding the clothing a different way bothers you?”
    “what is your first thought as you prepare to put out clothing for the kids?”
    “What other kinds of things do you consider?”
    “Where could I look to find out which activities the kids have scheduled that day?”
    “Would you mind me asking you each evening whether additional activities have been scheduled, so I can put them on a physical calendar that I would maintain and both of us could refer to?”

    etc.  Figure out how, on an ongoing basis, you could get the information you need to complete a task “well” without adding a lot of complexity to her plate (you taking the initiative each day to ask her a simple question or two may be fine; asking her to maintain a written calendar may or may not be asking a lot)

    When you have a possible plan in mind, sketch it out for her, including the kinds of things you would consider, and the specific information, if any, you would be asking her to provide.  If something sounds “off” to her, probe a bit, non-judgmentally –“why” something doesn’t work for her may reveal additional dependencies in the system you could figure out how to manage.  Refine your “algorithm” accordingly.   In addition to (hopefully) coming up with a workable plan, you will probably also get a better feel for how she organizes information… which can only be a good thing, really.

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