On any given weekend in millions of homes across globe, wives stand in front of their husbands listing all of the selfless acts they have performed in the last week: “I paid all the bills, bought a birthday present for your mother, read Goodnight Moon five times, took four six-year-olds to Chuck-E-Cheese . . . and that was just Tuesday. . . .”
The husbands return fire: “Excuse me, but did I not make the kids breakfast every morning last week, including the morning it made me late for my presentation, when I really should have gone in early? And I picked up the dry cleaning without being asked, and I did bath duty three times last week. What more do you want?”
A volley of personal accomplishments and sacrifices ensues. Not exactly what we thought life would be like when we eyed each other across the room all those years ago, is it?
Google “happiness and having children” and you’ll find a lot of depressing studies that seem to conclude that we have a national epidemic of miserable parents on our hands. The three of us have to admit that, in some respects, a good response to our own “what happened to my body/career/marriage since I had kids?” questions would have been a fairly swift kick in the ass.
When my first kid was about three months old I reached my breaking point. I was downright exhausted and needed my husband, Ross, to pick up some slack. (Let me preface this by saying that Ross is a great guy. This happened during the early days of parenting when 'he just didn't get it.') One time, I remember telling him that all I cared about was stepping on some sort of exercise apparatus, improving my overall hygiene, and getting a few hours of shuteye. At the end of the day, he was no where in sight. Where's Waldo? I called him on his cell and of course he said he was on his way shortly. And what did I hear in the background? I could swear it sounded suspiciously like a combination of Golden Tee and a keg being tapped.
When it comes to taking care of the kids and the house, are you a Maternal Gatekeeper? Do you micromanage your husband when he changes a diaper or cleans a dish? Do you often find yourself in a tit-for-tat scorekeeping argument because you want things done your way?
Many arguments about the division of labor arise because of our differing standards around the house. Women want things done just so. Men just want things done, period. And they will take that short-cut whenever they can. Do any of these sound familiar?
Top Five Shortcuts Men Use
1. Change the diaper. Put soiled diaper on the floor or on top of the Diaper Genie, but not actually in the Diaper Genie.
2. Take the trash out. Don’t replace the trash bag in the kitchen.
3. Never change the toilet paper roll. Use tissue from the tissue box instead.
4. Place dirty clothes on top of the dirty clothes hamper.
5. Dress the kid in the first thing you pull out of the drawer. Whether it “works” or not is not an issue.
And what about when our husbands are taking care of the kids themselves? They tend to use up all the Convenience Cards, all the easy activities to get them through the day.
As we’ve said, in most relationships, women are the primary scorekeepers. But men play ball, too. In the following entry, we’ll try to unravel the reasons why. Here’s what we think they are (brace yourselves!):
1. To preserve parity. Men feel like whatever they do, it is never enough.
2. To maintain control over their lives. Men express irritation that, often, their wives control (or attempt to control) their relationship with their kids, their home environment and, inadvertently, their free time.
3. They need acknowledgment (just like their wives). If the “Thank yous,” the “You’re working really hards,” and the “You’re a great Dads” are few and far between, they begin to wonder if their wives take them for granted.
Just as most women are stunned by, and rarely happy about, the domestic obligations associated with motherhood, men, at times, rail against the lack of freedom that accompanies fatherhood. Some men despair that fatherhood has reduced their life, outside of work, to one of relentless domesticity. It is this fear (that nagging “is this it?”) that serves as a backdrop to much of male scorekeeping.
“Despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, I have not been able to answer . . . the great question that has never been answered: what does a woman want?” —Sigmund Freud
All Dr. Freud really needed to do was spend a day with a mother of two preschoolers and he would have had his answer: we want a partner, not a helper on the domestic front. We want the gender equality we were raised to expect in our marriages and our parenting. And we’d also like some validation from our husbands to go along with it.
“We had our first kid and almost overnight I felt like I went from being an equal to being the lesser partner in my marriage.” —Becky, married 8 years, 3 kids.
“Why am I the only one in the house who knows where the pacifier, diaper wipes, and sippy cups are? Where the hell has he been living for the last three years?” —Rachel, married 6 years, 2 kids.
In the course of writing about this topic, we realized women tend to keep score more than their husbands. There are two very good reasons for this:
Q. My husband and I are constantly fighting. We fight about who gets up when, who is going to get the baby - day or night. We fight about who has done what, who has cleaned what, who's more tired, etc. He doesn't understand that I can barely get anything done during the day by myself ...
Before you had kids, remember your Saturday and Sunday? Forty-eight hours of R&R. You could stay in bed (together) until noon . . . or not. You could have brunch at your favorite little bistro. Take in a movie. Paint your toenails, paint his toenails. The options were endless. He did his stuff. You did your stuff. Then you did some couple stuff. Remember when the most taxing issue you had was “Hey, what’ll we do this weekend?” Kids arrive, and that question becomes, “You’re doing what this weekend?” The what being fishing, jogging, aerobics, a manicure, work, golf, or whatever activity it is that takes you away from kids and spouse for more than thirty minutes.
“I really resent that he wants to take off for five hours to play golf on Saturday, then he expects me to be oh-so-grateful because he watches the kids while I go to yoga for an hour. Big friggin’ deal.”
—Jane, married 9 years, 2 kids
Welcome to the weekend, the Scorekeeping Super Bowl.
“TGIF? That’s a joke. Thank God it’s Monday is more like it. I kiss my desk on Monday morning.”
—Dev, married 7 years, 2 kids
“Peter and I argue over ‘pacing.’ He’s not in any hurry, but I feel like I have to keep moving or the whole family will be buried in laundry, toys, dishes, and dust bunnies. I can’t stop. And I can’t take a break. If I take a break, then the baby will want to nurse by the time I’m ready to start working again and I will fall further behind. Meanwhile, he wants to relax on the weekend and sip his coffee. I want him to be up and cleaning the bathroom.”
—Kelly, married 8 years, 3 kids
No doubt, you know that one of the things you are supposed to be doing for the health and well-being of your marriage is to have regular date nights with your husband. While a date night sounds like just what you and him need, how great does that date actually end up being?
Q: He walked in last night and asked, wait for it…, “Why is this place always such a mess? The least you could do is clean up around here.” I'm more hurt than angry. He never, ever used to say things like that. I don't want to tell my girlfriends about it because I'm embarrassed. He sounds like a chauvinist. I don't want people to think that about him, but maybe he is. Since I quit my job he's always making cracks about the state of the house. I don't get it. He never cared about that stuff when I was working. I guess on some level, they want it all. The housekeeper, the stripper, the mommy, and the career woman. Help!
A: You are wondering, what does my husband expect from me? You both agreed that you are staying home for the baby, so you ask yourself, why isn't he respecting my new role? Then it hits you. He just doesn't get it - he doesn't understand how hard it is to take care of the baby and the house. Right? What you are experiencing is Whiplash, a sense of the modern woman in you hopping on a time machine and hurtling back to the 1950s. What’s more, it can feel like your husband is pushing the button!