Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun



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Equality Blog

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Appreciate This

I have a problem with appreciation. Occasionally I hear well-intentioned parents suggest that the best way to get your partner to do more around the house is to shower them with appreciation when they perform a certain task. At first glance it seems like this is a better option than the "stick" approach of nagging, complaining and the like but something still doesn't fit for me.

Today was a typical Thursday at our home. After biking home from work, I did some food shopping with the kids, went to the local playground, prepared dinner, cleaned the dishes, and packed lunches for tomorrow. Conventional wisdom might advise Amy to heap some praise and loving my way to encourage this behaviour in the future. That might work in the short run if my motivation was fairness or even a sense of obligation to lighten my partner's load. But neither of these factors inspire my actions fully.

My day was filled with exactly what I needed to live a balanced life. I got paid for work I enjoy, I got some exercise, I played a role in keeping my home running smoothly, and got to spend time outdoors laughing with my kids. I don't want appreciation from Amy for doing the dishes (or any other chore) any more than I want appreciation for biking home from work.

ESP gives both partners the opportunity to create balanced lives while they tend to their relationship together. Now that's something I can appreciate!

8 Comments:

Blogger JohnMcG said...

I guess what I'm not sure about in this post is that it seems to assert that there's a norm about what a person should enjoy.

Of course, mothers have this worse than fathers, with the cultural assumption that for women, there should be no greater joy than spending all of one's time with small children.

In this case, the assumption is if one is a good husband and father, one should enjoy a day like Marc describes, and have no need for praise or thanks. Indeed, praising someone for doing what they naturally enjoy is absurd, similar to praising someone for being tall.

Still, there's some things people may not want to do. I suspect there are some things that enlightened ESP parent Marc has to do that are not a joy. The toilets need to be scrubbed, the floors need to be mopped, the car's oil needs to be changed, the grass needs to be mowed. For sure, there is satisfaction to be derived from doing these things well, but I'm not sure I want to say that if someone is rightly ordered, that should be sufficient.

And I think part of what might help one see these tasks as value-added rather than drudgery is appreciation from one's spouse.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Dennis said...

Marc, that's great that you enjoy everything you do, particularly chores. A lot of us don't enjoy doing chores and it is nice to hear some appreciation.

We have a fairly ESP household and some tasks fall to me and others to my wife. I take out the trash, fold and put away the laundry, and empty the diswhasher much more than my wife does. I don't particularly enjoy doing those things, but they need to be done. Conversely, my wife is usually the one who gets the kids' snacks and stuff ready for school, does the meal planning, and other stuff. Again, I don't think she enjoys all of that, but it needs to be done.

I like hearing from wife that she recongnizes and appreciates that I do those things, and I'm pretty sure she likes hearing it from me. It has nothing to do with trying to encourage the behavior. It's about acknowledging at the end of another busy, tiring day that you love and appreciate each other and you know you're both working hard.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Marc said...

Thanks guys for helping me work this out. I don't feel totally comfortable defending a position against appreciation, but I struggle with the definition of what is "naturally enjoyed" vs. uniformly agreed as undesirable.

In my example, we can agree that I shouldn't expect appreciation for my bike ride home. I thoroughly enjoy this part of my day, and indeed my life. But where should the appreciation begin? How about hanging out with the kids for the afternoon? Again, I don't need to be a Zen master to enjoy this great opportunity. Sure, sometimes it's trying, frustrating, etc. but I can't expect appreciation only when I can't seem to enjoy the opportunity.

Similarly, needless to say, I don't always enjoy the tasks but is it possible that receiving appreciation could be a false incentive to not enjoy my day? This may be a stretch but I prefer to take responsibility for my own enjoyment. If the task at hand is less than desirable, my strategy is often to focus on the big picture instead. I may not like cleaning the toilets but I can enjoy a life that includes cleaning toilets. It keeps me connected to my life instead of frequently wishing someone else would clean my toilets or wishing I had more money to pay someone to do it.

So, I'll deflect the faint praise and own my perspective instead of the defense of the enjoyment of every task.

Dennis, I generally agree with the overall appreciation of the shared roles we play by walking in each other's shoes on a regular basis. I think I'm just hyper-sensitive to the "praise your man into doing more" sense of appreciation.

9:15 PM  
Blogger JohnMcG said...

I think the praise is advised as somewhat strong medicine in marriages where the "stick" approach has been worn out.

In your case, you have probably reached a state where that medicine is no longer necessary. And even though you may not need praise, I suspect you would not be thrilled if what you received was criticism -- did you put sunscreen on the kids before you went? You didn't let Jimmy climb on the big ladder, did you? Why did you buy this? How come you put the dishes in the dishwasher that way? Don't you remember Billy hates turkey? And why do you insist on riding that bike to work?

I suspect the above pattern is all too typical, and thus the praise advice is prescribed, kind of like teaching a beginning bowler to exaggerate the follow-through. It takes concentrated effort to break habits that have become natural.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

Amen to that John!

I highly advise guys to stand up for their own way of doing things. This may cause some tension but I believe it can spur a couple to create the family standard instead of battling over who's way is right.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Dennis said...

Marc, I agree with you about not liking the "praise your husband to train him to do chores" theory that is espoused so much.

On the issue of doing things your own way, what I've experienced is that women tend to feel that they are being judged (by other women) on the cleanliness of the house, the behavior of the kids and so on. So they don't want to give up ownership of the household because they feel if things are done up to the appropriate standards, it reflects negatively on them. That's why they have such a hard time letting go. And I've also found that this fear is justified because women do judge each other on these things (as a generality, obviously not every women does this).

9:19 PM  
Blogger Dorea said...

This is usually given as gendered advice (i.e. wives praise your husbands so they'll do things around the house), but I've been trying to think how "praise" plays out in our two-mom household. We actually thank/praise each other a lot. I'm guessing we each thank or praise the other several times a day. I do tend to particularly thank Angela when I notice she's done something I really didn't want to do, or I knew we were both avoiding. Am I "praising" her so she'll do more of what I don't want to do? I don't think so, though I suppose it is a possibility (and if so, she may be using the same trick). But I do think I'm more likely to notice and appreciate when she's done potentially unpleasant tasks, because I do them pretty often, too.

3:25 PM  
Blogger anne said...

I agree with Marc that using appreciation to get partners to do more around the house has some problems, but I do think appreciation is an important part of a couple relationship. Even if we share equally and see what we do as part of a well balanced life, it’s still nice to have our efforts noticed. I may enjoy cooking, but it also feels good to have someone say, “That was a great meal. Thanks.” Occasionally letting our partner know we’re glad they’re there and that we appreciate our sharing relationship helps keep that “we” feeling going. Parenting isn’t always fun. When the kids are throwing up or vehemently expressing their developmental need to separate, it’s comforting to have someone say, “Guess you got the rough shift this week! You handled that really well.” Anne

12:16 AM  

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