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When you leave your husband home alone with the kids, do you come home to a disaster zone? Can your husband juggle the care of the home and the kids, or does he drive away from the mess and head to McDonald’s? Are you baffled as to why this otherwise competent man who manages to slay the dragon and bring home the bacon every day can’t seem to keep the house clean and the kids fed when you’re not around?

I often hear mothers (sometimes myself) complaining in a “joking” manner about how their husbands can’t handle the complexities of family life when left alone with the kids for a few days or even just an afternoon. They forget about instrument practice. They let the kids watch too much TV. Everyone eats cereal for dinner. They don’t do housework. Why can’t they accomplish the simplest of tasks that we mothers can manage with one hand tied behind our backs? (Or holding a baby, or a laundry basket, or a phone, or a checkbook . . .)

More importantly, how do you respond when this phenomenon occurs?

It’s no secret that women are better at multi-tasking (check out these results from the google search “women vs. men multitasking”), but that’s not what I want to focus on today. I want to look at what happens to the dynamic of the mother-father relationship when your husband’s less than stellar performance (in your opinion) takes center stage thanks to that spotlight you’re aiming at him.

I know this isn’t a marriage blog, but I think everyone would agree that the relationship we have with our spouse influences our mothering as much as anything else. Since we’re talking about having patience with ourselves and with our children this month anyway, why not spend a few minutes talking about having more patience with our husbands?

Now, if your husband really is a big lazy slob who clearly wants nothing more than to sit in front of ESPN2 all day, you probably should find a good marriage blog. But if you have an otherwise willing and helpful husband like mine, it may help you to consider the following four thoughts before saying anything on those days when you come home to a house that has been the recipient of a lot of living. (How’s that for a positive spin?)

#1 He is not in his element. If you are the primary caretaker of home and family and he is the primary breadwinner, you have got to remember that this man is not in his element. He doesn’t do this every day, so of course he can’t pull it off like you! (If you both work full time and equally share the workload at home, this may not apply to you.) As much as dads today are becoming increasingly more active in the home compared to their predecessors (my own husband is very hands on), not all of them were “trained” in the art of childcare and homemaking like many of the women they married. (How often do you hire a young man to babysit?) On top of the extra “training” you probably received, you’ve probably also spent hundreds of hours talking to other moms, and reading books, articles or blogs with tips and insights that you’ve had the luxury of practicing over several years. You should know more than anyone how difficult it is to manage a home and family, so give the poor guy a break! Could you do his job at the drop of a hat without the necessary training?

#2 His way of doing things isn’t wrong, it’s just different. If I had my way, we would never leave the house on the weekends until the house was spotless and we had undertaken some sort of massive family de-junking/organizing project. But because my husband isn’t as tied to every last detail of the inner workings of our home, he’s often much better at detaching himself and knowing when to say when–especially when I’m not there. We mothers can get so used to the home being our territory that we fall too far into “mom mode” and want to control things even when we aren’t there. Let your husband do things his way while he’s in charge. It may not be how you would do it, and some things may even slip through the cracks (or so it seems to you), but part of being patient with our husbands is trusting that there is value in his way of doing things.

#3 He needs a break too. Even though my husband enjoys his job, it demands a lot from him both physically as well as emotionally. (Sounds like motherhood, right?) So why should I expect him to always be “on” when he’s home alone with the kids? (Especially if I’m away on a girls weekend or taking the afternoon off to do some personal shopping). Even if you’re a super organized time management guru who cleans and organizes for stress relief, most of us aren’t wired that way. Don’t you let a few things slide when your husband’s not around? Not to mention the kids never mind a break from the usual routine. Having a loose day with dad every once in awhile isn’t a bad thing.

#4 Don’t undermine the importance of your work. Whether mothers realize it or not, there is an ulterior motive behind the impatient (annoying, mocking) tone we take when asking our husbands why on earth they couldn’t keep the kids busy and happy, get the laundry done, pay the bills, and have a decent dinner on the table. We are looking for them to validate that what we accomplish every day–while seemingly simple–really does require a high degree of self-motivation, organization, and ability to multitask. The irony of us suggesting that they should be able to replace us without a second thought is that it undermines how truly complex and demanding our work is. By insisting that the work is simple, not only do we insult our husbands (who were probably trying their best, doggone it!), but we also negate the very validation we are seeking.

So the next time you leave for a few days (or even a few hours) and come home to find the kids sitting on a blanket of popcorn watching Sponge Bob in their underwear–stop, take a deep breath, smile, and tell your husband that you understand. You’ve been there.

We’ve all been there. And it’s not an easy job.

QUESTION: How does your husband do when you leave him alone for a few days or even a few hours? What’s your attitude toward him when you come home? Does it help your relationship and validate your work as a mother, or undermine both?

CHALLENGE: Try practicing patience with your husband the next time you come home to a less than perfect situation. Remember that he’s not in his element, he works differently than you do, and he needs a break sometimes too!


*** To see a great TV interview with Allyson Reynolds on this topic, visit this video from Studio 5.

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