Q: I am fairly certain of my desire to have children. My husband would be fine with kids or without, but is on board with having them because it’s something that I want. I think he’ll be a good father. My concern is that he likes comfort and dislikes inconvenience. I already feel that the distribution of labor in our household is unequal—our house is perpetually dirty because I became so resentful over being the primary housekeeper that I just quit cleaning. (And yes I have tried talking to him about this, and no it has not resulted in any change in his behavior. He doesn’t think the house is that messy, and doesn’t want to spend time cleaning it. I don’t enjoy cleaning, either. So—messy house.) We both work full time and intend to continue, even if we have kids. I am not averse to hiring a housekeeper, but it’s not going to be in our budget any time in the foreseeable future.
I am realistic about the fact that I will almost certainly be the primary caretaker of any children we have. I’m sure he will interact with our kids when he is in the mood, and will probably defer their care to me when he’s not in the mood. All of the child-associated detritus—laundry, baby bottles, messes in general—will almost certainly fall to me most of the time. How can I avoid feeling resentful when I feel like I’m doing the lion’s share of the work? Am I crazy to consider having children in this situation? How have others handled disproportionate divisions of labor when the other person doesn’t think that it exists? Statistically speaking, women still tend to have more of the burden of household chores, so I know other people have lived my probable-reality.
A: Dear Anonymous,
You guys need to be a team. That’s probably a happy little platitude that you’ve heard before (or even read on this site), but stop to think about what it means. It means that you approach everything as one unit, addressing it with one united goal, tackling it together.
Sure, we all have independent interests. There are a bunch of things that I take on, by myself, independent of my husband—projects and plans and hobbies that are just solely mine, for me. But you know, even those things impact him. They sometimes mean I need extra money from our budget, extra time in our calendar, a specific schedule on specific days, or a break from my half of the household responsibilities. My personal interests impact my husband, and the bigger the project, the more it affects him. Which is why we look at all of it—even the stuff that’s “just mine”—as “ours.”
So for sake of argument, let’s say babies are your thing. Your personal project, your independent interest. Even still—even if we think of these tiny humans as a hobby (which is troubling), it’s still fairly impossible that you can have them in your house without it impacting your husband in some way. He has to be on board. Completely. Not just, “Whatever you want, dear,” but more, “I’m ready to tackle this with you.” That doesn’t mean that one partner can’t decide to have kids for their spouse. That happens all the time. But that person has to decide to do the thing wholeheartedly and with great love, even if it wasn’t exactly their idea (originally).
Even if you do manage to do all of the baby things on your own, without his help, there’ll be times when you will need him. Days when you’ll hit a wall of, “If I hear the word Mommy ONE MORE TIME I’m going to jump through plate glass,” and midnights when you just need to get three consecutive hours of sleep before you lose your mind. Women do this on their own all the time (saints and superheroes, I don’t know how). People manage in difficult situations. We’re resilient and all that. But I don’t know many (any?) women who have done that with a partner in the other room obliviously napping/playing video games/whatever and had their relationship remain in a healthy place. Not to mention kept their kids in a healthy place, where they felt loved by both people who brought them into this world.
Put another way: if I was overwhelmed, unhappy, and at the end of my rope with something, and the person who claimed to love me best wasn’t doing anything to relieve that pressure for me, I would be pissed. Or whatever the far huger word for pissed is.
And kids are not ONLY mess-makers. The kind of support and care that they demand extends beyond diapers and bottles. We’re talking soccer games and dance recitals for the next eighteen-plus years. Careful and thoughtful discussions about sex and drugs and whether or not your goldfish went to heaven. Possibly censoring music and TV, maybe ridding the house of some of the terrible foods you normally eat, and being available to kiss boo boos, ease nighttime fears, and encourage first day of school confidence. These are intangibles that you can’t break up on a chore chart (or even rock-paper-scissors the way my husband and I do with diapers), and they don’t pop up conveniently just “when I feel like it.”
One lady could certainly do those things alone, but imagine what that spells for your children. Having a dad who’s only there when he wants to be, and not when you as a kid need him to be, is a special kind of emotional neglect that is difficult to shake. It damages people for a lifetime.
That’s the kid stuff. I clearly have some, ahem, opinions, but in honesty, go hash that end out with a counselor. “To have kids or no,” is a big decision, and one that could use the steady help of an objective mediator. The rest of it, you can start sorting now. Not just because it’s annoying to trip on his sneakers every night, but because it’s telling of a larger inequality in your relationship that is obviously hurting you (no matter what statistics you quote). Compromise is important, but compromise most certainly isn’t the same thing as enabling—something that will make your life more difficult now, but that becomes flat out dangerous when we’re talking about parenting.
It’s not your job to make your partner a neater, cleaner individual (just neat and clean enough that you can tolerate being in the same house as him). But, it is important that you make sure your partner isn’t being a shitty parent. That’s what a lack of involvement and “just when I feel like it” is: shitty parenting. At that point, it’s not just about compromise, not just about your interests vs. his, not even really about him or you at all; it’s about these small people you brought into the world and that you’re in charge of protecting from all of the dangers of life (including uninvolved and distant parents).
So, yes, work together to figure out a livable situation between his messiness and your neatnick tendencies. Chances, are neither of you will be completely enthused about the results. But, the kids decision is a different story. Make sure you’re both wholeheartedly on board with that one, for their sake as much as your own.
Team Practical, how do you divide household effort in your relationship? How do kids factor into the equation?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!