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!
Originally published on March 13, 2012.
Photo from PhotoStock.
*** To see a great TV interview with Allyson Reynolds on this topic, visit this video from Studio 5.
Telena Hall says
I remember several years ago during Sunday lesson hearing someone share many of the same comments. It struck me then and has stuck with me since how true these concepts are. We’re better st this home/mommying thing because we do it all the time! Thanks for this great reminder!
Alisha Gale says
My husband is great with our kids and the house and stuff–really fantastic. But sometimes it can be hard to not have everything my way. I’d like to think I’m getting better at it though…
Julie P says
Point #4 about “undermining our own efforts to validate our work as a mother” really hit home to me! It really makes sense and I can see that in myself. I hope that being aware of that helps me not be so hard on my husband in the future. Thanks for this!
marc mccutcheon says
So one study of a limited number of participants “proves” that women are better than men at multitasking? Hardly. What it proves is that one group of women outperformed one particular group of men in this one particular study. If we could prove superiority with one study, then wouldn’t this season’s Apprentice program, in which the men have won nearly every task against a team of highly competent women, prove THEY’RE really the superior ones? Of course not. This is not science. Also, it’s incredibly offensive. Can you imagine crowing–on the results of just one study–that blacks can’t multitask? Let’s not perpetuate stereotypes with such limited data. It does nothing but foster discrimination.
I am an older mom and if I ever had a chance to give advice I would say Include, Include, Include, your husband everyday before the baby is born, afterwards and always. Include him in daily things, trials, successes, needs, etc. Some days may be a small Include and other days a bigger Include. Just something I wish someone would have told me a long time ago. Good Luck and God Bless.
My husband and I have discussed this a lot. He stays home with our 3 year old, homeschools my 13 year old brother, and generally tends to the home and family. He has improved significantly over time at things like multitasking and homemaking but didn’t seem to take to it “naturally” as I did when we were first married. I’ve crammed my work week into 3 days so we get lots of time together as a family. I used to feel like I had to somehow rescue him from the housework and take care of everything because I was wired for it and he wasn’t. However, I came to resent the fact that I worked at a money-making job three days a week and worked at homemaking four days a week, which left my husband three days a week of homemaking and four days a week of acting like a stereotypical husband.
As we discussed things further, though, we realized how much of it was the fact that he had never needed to multitask or learn any domestic arts and was actually prevented from it. His training from small childhood was limited to those things boys were expected to do. On the rare occasion he babysat for a cousin, he was just expected to make sure the kid survived the evening. When I babysat (which was my main weekend activity for years), the moms usually expected me to fix supper, clean up the kitchen, provide activities for the kids, get them to bed, and would often leave a list for me of chores I could do around the house after the kids were in bed to earn a little extra money. I was basically a stand-in mom. In my own family, if my mom was out in the evening, it wasn’t my step-dad or brothers whom she expected to step into her place, it was me. My husband’s mom wouldn’t even let him near the stove and the only household chore he was allowed to do was run the vacuum.
Once we realized that I had decades of experience ahead of him, we were able to stop assuming he was just hardwired to be incapable and instead let him learn his capabilities. Will he ever be as good a multitasker as me? I don’t know. But I do know he is now able to juggle the kids, phone, and dinner all at once like any stereotypical housewife. I know he can be carrying on a conversation with a mom at a playground and notice a tot falling out of a corner of his eye–and miraculously arrive in time to catch the little one. I know that when something spills, he grabs a dishtowel to mop up faster than his brain can register that something happened. These are all skills I used to think were purely female and that he certainly did not possess a few years ago. I remember telling him to grab a towel and him looking at me blankly. My how far we’ve come!
We’ve learned too that we are now having some of the same problems in reverse as many families we know–I do things wrong in the kitchen, I fold the towels backwards and inside out, I put things away and he can’t find them. It’s not that I’m an incompetent housekeeper; it’s that he is primarily responsible and has worked out his own systems, which aren’t the same as mine. I suspect the same is true quite often of more typical families.
I think allowing our boys to learn to keep house as well as our girls is important in preventing the same problems in the next generation; meanwhile, giving our husbands some grace as they learn or being patient when they do things differently can benefit our families hugely.
Oh man!! You totally described my husband in those first few paragraphs. Cereal is exactly what he fixes them for dinner — sometimes even dry cereal!! LOL! You brought up some good points though. Love it! Thanks!
Mr Whoobly says
I work from home so when we had our first child it made sense for my wife to return to work and I would carrry on doing what I do while I have our daughter through the day.
It was very hard for my wife to let me do things the way I do them but it works and all is well 😀