My Valentine’s Day Resolution

February 15, 2011

One thing I have always loved about my beloved Writer Dude – going back to the days that we were only friends and dating wasn’t on the table – is his self-sufficiency.  Especially in the kitchen, but also with most household tasks.  Laundry, repairing broken items, building items, interior design …. you name it.  Couple that with his complete lack of sexism (COMPLETE lack), and it you have one very equal partner.  But then, if you couple that with a wife who maybe – just maybe – drops her part of the bargain, and you have an unequal partnership.  Which is bad.  Hence my Valentine’s Day Resolution.

My first marriage was to someone who was raised in a very conservative Christian home.  The wife’s job was to respect and honor her husband.  His mother used to wake up at 5 a.m. to make her husband (my ex’s step-father) a full breakfast before he went off to work.  His church (and mine) preached the importance of a submissive wife, and both cultures supported the wife taking care of the children and the home while the man … I don’t know.  Did manly things.

That did not work for me.

The first reason it didn’t work for me is because — cleaning.  Ick.  Cooking.  Bleh.  I’m really not very good at those things.  As I’ve made very clear.

The second reason it didn’t work is because – well – it’s unfair.  It’s disrespectful.  It’s WRONG.  Also, because the ex was in grad school the whole time we were married, I had no choice but to work so that we could do things like … eat.  And buy diapers.  Stuff like that.   But the fact that I was doing this “manly thing” such as “bringing home the bacon” didn’t change the fact that cooking, cleaning and tending to children’s needs was beneath him.

When WD and I were dating, I was thrilled to be sharing recipes, talking about cooking ideas, etc.  There were times that I would make pizza dough, and then he’d come over with the toppings and we’d cook and eat the pizzas.  That was fun.

Then we became a family, and I started law school.  We started out taking turns cooking, and taking turns shopping.  But school was intense, and even though WD was working full-time and battling the train and commute hours, etc., he slowly started taking on more and more of the cooking.  He would get up early before work and prep a marinade, or fill the crock pot, rush home to finish up and get dinner on the table.  [Yes, he is, in fact, Prince Charming.]

Our rule back then was what I think is a typical one – one person cooks, the other cleans.  And I did a really shitty job, and he’d get irritated with me when he woke up the next morning to prep the night’s dinner, but the things he needed were still “soaking” from the night before.

And at the same time, as he took over lion’s share of the cooking, it stopped making sense for me to do the shopping.  I would get the wrong things.  Make substitutions that didn’t work.  It wasn’t the smoothest thing in the world.

So the shopping became “his.”

I recognized, at that point, the inequity, and in an attempt to balance things out, I said, “okay, I will do your laundry.” Because up until that point, I did my laundry and the girls’ laundry, and he did his own.  He squirmed at the thought of having me do his chores, but I convinced him that because of the way things evolved in the kitchen, it was  – actually – fair.

But somewhere along the way, I stopped cleaning the kitchen after dinner entirely.  It just stopped being my job.  I think he declared it in a huff, and I’m sure there was resentment behind it.  But by that point, I’d started working, and my hours were long, and we’d shifted the work/home balance so that he was not working outside the home, and it seemed relatively fair.

It also seemed relatively fair because this husband of mine … he is picky.  He has a way that he likes things done, and to him, it is the right way.  It is not ‘a good way.’  It is the way.  The only way.  So even when I was putting forth a solid effort, he was less than thrilled with the way that I loaded the dishwasher, or dried the bowls, or put soap on something that he didn’t think should ever be touched by soap, or put a wooden spoon in the dishwasher, or whatever else he had an idea about.

Then  –  yes, more little stepping-stones of imbalance – I stopped doing his laundry.  Again, work, and the hours and oh my!  His laundry kept getting put off and he’d run out of underwear, and after a few months of giving me very sweet and respectful hints (that was not sarcasm), he just started doing it himself.

Somewhere around the end of 2010, start of 2011, WD has been expressing some frustration at how much people leave for him to take care of.  Initially, I didn’t take it too seriously.  I even made jokes with friends that I was like a bad husband from the 1950s.

But this frustration wasn’t just about ME.  It was also about the girls.  When they were younger and had less activities and less homework – they had regular chores.  Put away the dishes, load the dishwasher, clean the bathroom, etc.  That system has broken down since they have gotten older.  They set the table for dinner, and they are responsible for taking their own dishes from the table and into the dishwasher.  If I ask them to clean the bathroom when guests are expected, they do (with little complaint).  They do their own laundry, and are supposed to clean their own rooms.  But there are no regular chores that benefit the household at large.  (Well, except for the cat litter … )

They have been dwindling in their consistency with putting their things in the dishwasher, and WD is stuck with the mess to deal with.  And he was expressing frustration.

I didn’t blame him, and I helped to reinforce with the girls that they need to do better.  But it was impossible to ignore that I was telling them to do things I was not doing myself.

I took a closer look at what was going on.  I saw how many evenings I’d head to bed with a book while WD headed to the kitchen for 45 minutes or more of clean up.  How my dishes would sit in the sink because “the dishwasher is full!”  Like I was one of the whiny teens in the house.   There are also many times where the mess is huge – whether because it was a big dinner or for whatever reason.  Even though there are some things he is particular about – there is nothing preventing me from picking up part of a large task.  Nothing preventing me from saying, “hey, let me help.”

And that is what I’m trying to do.  I am deciding to be a better partner.  I am deciding that just because WD can take on the cooking and the shopping does not mean that he is my servant.  Because he is so willing to be an equal partner does not mean I should take advantage and become the unequal partner.  Even if something is officially “his job,” it does not mean that I cannot be there to support him in it.

It is true that since we now have people cleaning the house that I feel more able and available to be work on these things.  The stuff taken on by the housecleaners are mostly (but not entirely) things I used to be responsible for (even if they didn’t actually get done).  But in general, the house is a lot cleaner now, and because it is a lot cleaner, I feel like it’s easier to get it to perfectly clean.  And I’m not resentful about the mounds of dust in every corner, or the bathroom that isn’t touched unless I touch it, or the many other corners and issues that used to cause me great stress.

Maybe next year’s Valentine’s Resolution will be to take back his laundry …. but baby steps, baby steps.




One comment

  1. The difference between women and men tho, is that whereas you feel guilty about this, men never feel guilty when their wives shoulder the bulk of household responsibilities. (I’m just jealous b/c my husband is of the neanderthal variety.)

    I’ve moved to your neck of the woods, btw. We love it here.

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