Tell Him What You Want Him to Do?
That Parenting.com 'Mad About Dad' article sure has been making the rounds on the parenting blogosphere! It was covered last week at the Motherlode, and also here and here. Reading through many of the comments left by readers of these blogs - at least the ones that are attempting to be constructive - I'm left wanting to shout some ESP principles into a megaphone.
So many commenters focus on making fathers do their share of housework by suggesting that mothers need to ask their husbands explicitly to do what they want them to do. They aren't mindreaders, these commenters say; so stop complaining that your husbands don't cook and clean and do the laundry - sit down and communicate with them instead. Ask for help! Easy answer, right?
We need to back up here. Back way up. Do we mothers want to be in charge of our husbands' housework assignments all the time? Do we want to be always asking them to help us with what should fairly be shared? Did we sign up to be their hiring managers, trainers and supervisors? Yuck. And did our husbands sign on to be our underlings? Ick. Communication is great - it really is. But if 'communication' is defined as "Honey, could you please help me by loading the dishwasher tonight (and please make sure the knives go in the right way and the glasses are all loaded downward on the top shelf), and could you help me get through this pile of laundry (and please make sure that you fold it properly and put it away too, in the right drawers)," I'm not feeling the love.
We all know a better answer. And rather than type it out myself, I'll let a reader tell you in her own words (with her permission). This is from Margret, who wrote to us earlier this week:
I'm in my third trimester of my first pregnancy at an Advanced Maternal Age (41).
I realized as I was browsing your site and reading through things which piqued my interest that I have a lot of unstated assumptions about how having a child is going to go down, with respect to the mommy/daddy dynamic and the division of labour/fun and the work/life balance.
It occurred to me that in all my musings about what is to come, and in my discussions with my husband, I have had an implicit assumption that even were he to take on the lion's share of the household duties (including being the primary care giver for baby-in-progress), I've been thinking I would be the Alpha Parent and he would be essentially an unpaid assistant making sure that my will is enforced. Devolving responsibility, I have discovered in reading articles on your site, means devolving ownership rather than task completion. [bold mine]
This is a phenomenal resource which I will be sharing with my husband tonight, so that we can discuss what it means to balance and which version of ESP looks right to us. Of course, I expect that the realities of baby-having will adjust our theoretical balance in a couple of months. Nevertheless, I am gratified to have a set of issues to start talking about and through with him. The whole parenting world is new to us, I am a control freak, and it didn't occur to me that I was going about THINKING the wrong way (making mental lists, assigning tasks based on the best seeming "natural" fit, and believing that come hell or high water I'm the one with the ultimate say-so).
So, thank you. As scary as this all is, you've let me see I'm doing it wrong before I start doing it. You're going to save someone years of therapy and seething resentment (maybe all 3 someones involved).
Margret, you definitely made our day - heck, our week! As we can tell, you know that ESP means true equals working together as a team - sharing the work, the responsibility, the remembering, and the decision-making. Then we can transcend telling anyone what to do, or asking for help with what together we decide should be shared.