Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week… What do you do when you’re stretched too thin and your partner isn’t sharing the load when it comes to household chores or child care? How do you get them to change? Have your own questions? Email [email protected]
Dear Scary Mommy,
My husband and I have three kids (ages 12, 9 and 5), and we both have full-time jobs. I’ve been working from home since March, but my husband’s job was technically considered an essential job so he’s been working outside the home. Even though I work at least as many hours (if not more) than him, I’m taking on all of the child-rearing and household responsibilities. I’m finding it impossible to get my work done as efficiently as when the kids were in school so it’s taking more time now too. Instead of seeing the chaos around our house and pitching in, my husband retreats to the backyard after work to “decompress” with a book or to listen to music. Once every week or two, he might throw a couple steaks on the grill, but I still do the grocery shopping and cleaning. I’ve tried talking to him about it, but he just mumbles something about “being at work all day.” I feel completely unsupported, and I’m at my wits’ end. How do I get my husband to pitch in more?
First of all, you aren’t alone. In fact, data shows that women in heterosexual relationships spend an average of nearly 50 % more time each day on household activities and childcare than their male partners.
But just because you aren’t alone doesn’t make it right. This bullshit needs to end. ASAP.
Marriage is a partnership between two adults, and it sounds like your spouse is acting more like another child in the family. Just because your partner happens to work outside the home doesn’t make their job more “valuable” and your time less valuable. You need and deserve to have a partner in all of this, not to mention your children deserve a parent who is involved in the family.
That said, marriage doesn’t mean everything is equal all the time. In fact, it’s often said that marriage doesn’t mean each partner does 50%; it means each partner gives 100%. So you don’t need to create a tit-for-tat list of household chores, and I can assure you that keeping score is a great way to accomplish nothing but resentment. We all have different strengths and weaknesses too. For instance, my husband does a much better job of helping our kids with school work, but I do a better job of loading the dishwasher. He enjoys grocery shopping and cooking; I loathe both things. The key is that neither of you feels like they are carrying more of the burdens of raising a family and running a household than the other partner – which isn’t happening in your family right now.
So sit down with your husband and talk about all the things that happen in the house and with the family – include things like scheduling doctor appointments and registering the kids for school, along with obvious household chores like cooking and grocery shopping – and then decide who is going to do what. Remind your partner that it’s important for your kids to see both parents being actively engaged in raising a family and maintaining a household. Be firm and demand that your time and energy be respected. After all, the less time and energy you have to spend doing household chores, the more time and energy you’ll have to spend with your husband and kids. It’s a win for the entire family.
Then step back a bit. Your partner is a full-fledged adult so make them act like it. They aren’t a child who needs to be taught; that’s demeaning to both of you. So resist the urge to micromanage how your husband folds the towels or loads the dishwasher. Bite your tongue and don’t make “recommendations.” In other words, let your husband act like the grown-up that he is.
If you’ve tried all this – the honest conversation, no micromanaging or nitpicking, etc. – and your partner still isn’t pulling his weight around the house, well, then as hard as it might be, I think you need to take a very serious look at what they are bringing to the relationship and the family. Are they a kind, loving and attentive parent? Do they support you in your career goals? Do they help you be your best self? Do they make you feel good about yourself? If you can’t answer these with a resounding YES, then I think you need consider what you’re getting from the relationship. Based on what you’ve said about your relationship, it sounds like your partner isn’t bringing a whole lot to your relationship or the family right now.
If this is the case, I would highly recommend therapy – both individually and as a couple. Your partner may have some undiagnosed or untreated depression or anxiety. You make need the help of a third party to navigate some of these issues.
If you’ve tried all that, and you still don’t feel like your partner is a drain on you and your family, then it might be time to consider whether you might actually be happy apart. Many parents worry that a divorce will harm their kids, but in reality, a toxic marriage is more harmful to the kids than a divorce. Your children deserve to have a happy mom who isn’t running herself ragged taking care of a partner who refuses to act like an adult. You are worth more than that, and so are your kids.