Ask Team Practical: Kids Without My Partner

How do you know when your partner doesn't have it in them?

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 husbandprojects 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 stilleven 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 enablingsomething 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!

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  • macrain

    I know this question isn’t about cleaning, but I SO FEEL YOU on the cleaning issue. I’ve learned to cope with it by just not killing myself making things immaculate. Also, denying that a problem exists as a means of dealing with it is not uncommon, and I have also experienced that before. You are not alone.

  • Sara P

    I don’t have any advice for anonymous, unfortunately, but I do want to say: thank you, Liz, for this. I’ll read it again.

  • Laura C

    I’m going to take part of what Liz said, cosign, and then change one word:

    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.

    Replace “parent” with “partner” and it’s kind of the same story. There are no small people involved, so the implications are between two adults who can fend for themselves, so it’s not as huge an issue. But if you’re already resentful and he’s either not noticing or figuring that your resentment is a fine tradeoff for him not having to do any work around the house, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed way, way before decisions about kids are made.

    To be honest about where I’m coming from on this, my partner is also incredibly messy, and it’s THE ongoing issue in our relationship (and I’m no neatnik). The one thing that makes me able to deal is that I do believe he’s trying. He understands that I am neither going to spend my life cleaning up after him nor tripping on piles of dirty clothes that he dropped on the floor when he took them off. He understands that it is his job to pick up his own crap and do his share of the dishes, even if the execution of that understanding is haphazard at this point. I understand that we’re working on undoing a lifetime of habits and it’s not going to be fast. But the day he stops working on it is the day we have a major, major reckoning in our relationship.

    • I second this. The person who cares less shouldn’t get to have all the power. Whether that be regarding a reasonably clean house or caring for kids or any other shared living task.

    • Erin E

      Yep. It’s the “trying” part… the “being willing to work on it” part that’s important. If your partner can’t or isn’t willing to validate your concerns (about cleaning or future parenting) and make an effort to change behavior or make compromises with you, that’s a giant waving red flag, in my opinion.

      • Violet

        Yup. Yupyup.

      • z

        Trying is great, but what about succeeding? She should be real about whether he will actually do the chores, or just “try”, and whether she’s willing to live with that. Myself, I couldn’t marry someone who didn’t have some level of basic competence, and definitely couldn’t have kids under those circumstances. “Trying” is cold comfort if you’re still doing 99% of the work yourself.

        • Laura C

          For me, trying means progress. If he wasn’t making at least a little slow progress, I wouldn’t believe he was really trying, at least not while the overall level remains low (on the theory that it’s a lot easier to move from 20% to 30% than from 90% to 92%).

    • Liz

      The biggest help in our housekeeping routine was establishing “places” for things that were more natural for my husband. I’m the neat one, he’s the one who wants to just drop things where they fall when he’s home. I’d prefer he carry his shoes to his closet, he’d prefer to kick them off by the door. I think the remote controls go beside the TV when they’re not in use, he wants them in arm’s reach from the sofa. So, there’s now a “shoe mat” by the door (they’re in the right place = I’m happy, he can just kick them off and set them there when he comes in = he’s happy) and a “decorative caddy” (Target $1 basket) for the remote controls on the side table. Etc etc etc throughout the whole damn house.

      For the rest- we don’t, for example, have a busboy style bin for dishes midway to the kitchen, because… ridiculous- we take a few minutes each night and grab those bits before bed. It takes like 5min and I’m able to relax surrounded by the piles during the day because I know there’s a deadline when they’ll be put away.

      • Yes to baskets! We have a shoe basket by the door, a remote basket on the console, a mail basket on a side table… baskets everywhere! I don’t think anything is *actually* cleaner, but I feel so much better when everything is in its place (basket).

        • Kelly

          For real, BASKETS. That is the only thing that keeps me from finding his pocketknife tangled up in our sheets.

          He has caught on to the basket tactic, but I don’t even care. It works.

          • Lauren D

            When my husband and I first started dating, I discovered a hammer and wrench in his bed. They had apparently been there for months.

          • This is really funny.

        • ktmarie

          omg this is so us! I am actually the clutterer in the relationship and when I ‘discovered’ baskets it was this huge mental breakthrough for me. If I put baskets EVERYWHERE then i can still just toss things places but it looks organized. amazing

        • Katherine

          In my house (and in my parents’ house when I was growing up…probably not a coincidence), we have areas that can be cluttered, and areas that can’t be. I really, really want the dining room table to stay clutter free, so my husband tries not to leave piles on it. I’d prefer that the kitchen table stay clutter free too, but we’ve both decided that it’s a less important space. Our desks, while both in the same office, are personal space, and neither of us has any input into the state of the other’s desk.

        • macrain

          Totally finding some baskets to add to our registry!

      • Laura C

        Yeah, we have a nightly round of picking up things like dishes and Starbucks cups, and it’s really clarified parts of what my fiance needs to work on. He genuinely doesn’t see things — he’ll be wandering around the house looking, seriously looking, for dishes that need to go in the dishwasher, etc, and will walk right by the same glass three times. His intent is there, his ability to pick up a glass and put it in the dishwasher is there, but his ability to notice needs a whole lot of work. And why wouldn’t it? His family had a cleaner come in twice a week throughout his childhood and his mom was fine with picking up after him at other times.

        • Mary

          OMG…this is my husband, and it drives me crazy. Last night, he knocked something off a table, then stepped over it, and when I said something had no idea that he had done either.

      • Meg Keene

        We need to do this. Any advice on socks? Seriously: shoes, socks, keys, wallet. It’s like the marital fight that never ends. (I mean, bless, that that is the fight I’m complaining about, but stil. Still. The GODDMAN SOCKS.)

        Edited to add: I’m obviously super flawed and a terrible cleaner. But I just like thing TIDY. Ha. Life.

        • jashshea

          SAME. Why do they need to come off your feet in so many places around the house?

          • enfp

            omg the socks!! Who knew this was a thing. My partner is way neater than me, but his socks are everywhere. Beside or under any object that can be sat on.

          • jashshea

            Actual conversation we’ve had about a particular sock that was missing the partner:

            *folding laundry*
            Him: Any ideas if this one had a match?
            Me: Didn’t see it in the wash. Have you tried looking….everywhere?

          • enfp

            Ha! Definitely going to use that line.

          • Alison O

            actual LOL

        • Liz

          Get a dog who eats them?

          • Alison O

            or train the kid to collect and hide them? fun game! where are daddy’s socks?!

          • Kelsey

            My nephew does this untrained. Except they start on you feet.

        • MisterEHolmes

          Real Simple magazine had the suggestion that each family member had a laundry bag (the kind you throw in the washer) just for socks. Bonus: No lost socks!

          • YES! That was the solution I just read that i mentioned above!!

        • Audrey

          The pile of socks next to the shoe closet is one of those things I ended up letting go. At least they are in one place (well, when the cats haven’t gotten to them).

          Not sure how I’d feel if they were all over tho…

        • Laura C

          This hasn’t actually worked for me yet as far as getting him to actually pick up the socks on a regular basis, but I get a grim pleasure out of it while I’m doing it: I did the laundry today. I work from home, we live in a building where it’s hit or miss getting a washing machine at times a lot of other people are home, makes total sense I do the laundry most of the time, I have no issues there. He knew it was laundry day, but there were suspiciously few socks in the hamper and suspiciously many on the floor on his side of the bed. So he is likely to run out of clean socks in the next week, and it will be his problem when he does.

          • 39bride

            I love it! Pre-engagement/cohabitation, the subject of how I felt about dirty clothes left on the floor came up. I smiled my very sweetest smile and said, “I am happy to do the laundry, but I only wash clothes that I find in the hamper.” After 1.5 years of marriage, there are occasionally socks/sweatpants next to his side of the bed, but never for more than about 12 hours. As others have mentioned, thinking about functionality as it relates to a partner’s habits is very helpful, too. For example, we have a hamper in both the bathroom and the bedroom. Between the two of them, dirty clothes tend to stay off the floor (I did the same thing for our nieces when they moved in–they have multiple hampers).

        • LM

          Eep, I am the guilty sock-leaver in our relationship. I leave them everywhere along with water glasses that I scatter all over the apartment. In our current arrangement, he doesn’t touch them (because having piles of socks thrust at me reminds me of being a teenager when my mom would straighten up, and I get surly) and I try and be better about getting the socks and glasses to their final destination.

        • lady brett

          get a colder house. no stray socks all winter because you can’t walk around the damn house barefoot, so you don’t just take them off wherever. of course, then you end up with…a dozen damn socks in between the sheets?!

        • Sarah

          For me it’s the belt! He just takes it off and flings it wherever as soon as we get home. I guess I need to get him a hook or something. He also does this goofy thing when he takes off his pants, where one leg turns inside out but the rest doesn’t. No idea why this is so satisfying to him. Both of these really bug me, but I’m trying to let them go as the “price of admission” as Dan Savage says.

          • Aubry

            I just had to pipe up for the belt!! OMG, they are so hard and lay perpendicular to the floor and have pointy metal bits = killer foot pain. Like, lego equivalent. And he always leaves them in heavily traveled areas often navigated in the dark: between the bed and the hamper, next to the couch, in our super narrow bathroom. I think a hook next to the hamper might be a good call. make that two, another one for ties…

          • Sharon Gorbacz

            I’m the one-pants-leg-turner in our relationship ;)

        • Wait, why are socks a problem? (I actually read a solution to this the other day with regards to kids’ socks but I will have to find the article.) Socks aren’t really a problem around here. (Also we have a dog who eats them if he can ever get into the closet/hamper.) But why/how do people shed socks? I’m so confused.

          • Aj

            I’m not a sock shedder to the extent described above BUT I do like to get into bed wearing socks because cozy and then kick them off because hot. They accumulate at the bottom of the bed until they are a huge lump when we make the bed. Previous partners have complained about this. R promised in her vows to always check the end of the bed before doing laundry (she thinks it’s a cute quirk). Also, we share socks so it’s in her best interest to get them in the laundry.

        • Nugget

          I put a laundry basket where he normally flings his socks when he gets inside. Now, he makes an effort to make sure they get into the basket/hamper and he can still ditch them right inside the door. Not the prettiest thing but when I have company, I can just grab the basket of dirty socks and move it lol. It makes me happy and him happy. Compromise at its best.

          • StevenPortland

            Socks left on the floor drive me crazy. Socks left on the floor IMMEDIATELY NEXT TO the hamper really drive me crazy.

        • I bought this – when we moved into our new apartment and it is WONDERFUL. We keep our keys, coupons, mail etc here and there’s even room for a phone or a wallet on top and we have it posted right next to our door so there’s no excuse. For the other stuff we carry through our front door (loose change, headphones etc.), we leave a tray on a bureau in the hallway. Doesn’t have a spot for socks though : ]

        • Kara E

          Hah. I like things clean and don’t care so much about tidy. My husband likes tidy and doesn’t want to clean. We have compromised on a cleaning lady once every 2ish weeks, so that it’s BOTH for a day or two and we can both do a better job on the rest of the stuff in between. He’s never going to like laundry folding though (and will sit for hours next to a basket of clean laundry) – but after 2 years of marriage the dishes (even the bottle and breastpump parts!) get magically washed every night. Talk about love…

          HOWEVER, the glaring difference between me and the original poster, is that my husband and I are a team on everything. Sometimes (often?) an imperfect team, but we’re in it together, not just when we feel like it.

          • Sharon Gorbacz

            Mine does the laundry because I can’t manage the stairs into the basement well, but the compromise is that I have to fold anything he brings up in the basket.

        • Caitlin

          So again with the baskets. I got my husband a basket to put on his dresser. When he leaves stuff around, I just throw it in the basket and then he always knows when searching for said things to look there first. Yes, I still have to put things in there, but that doesn’t bother me for some reason.

      • sarah l

        I’ve gotta say, the best thing we’ve done for our marriage so far is hire a monthly cleaning service. We cut back in other areas to afford it – ends up costing about two meals out. obviously we’re privileged to be able to do this, but the ability to outsource a major pain point (while also working on the underlying issues of power and gender and respect, etc) is totally worth it. If we have to make a major lifestyle change, I’ll be sewing my clothes back together and eating nothing but ramen before we touch this line item.

      • This is us, too! I am an everything-has-a-place, organization-loving person. Husband drops stuff wherever it lands, then wonders why he can’t find his things half the time. Having lots of ways to corral things, in the places that make the most sense to keep them, has been HUGE for us.

        To be fair, he is much better about germ-y cleanliness than I am. So we balance each other out.

    • Meg Keene

      OMG. This is brilliant advice. Need a job? ;)

      Seriously. Exactly exactly right. In fact, as partners we can have WAY huger problems than neatness, and it can be a total mess. But as long as everyone is trying, even if it takes the form of teeny tiny baby steps, you’re doing ok. Not trying? I couldn’t live there for very long.

    • Sarah E

      Yes, absolutely. Corrie and Erin said similar things already, but it’s not AT ALL about the dirt on the floor. It’s about conflict resolution and power dynamics. All my red flags popped up at “yes I’ve tried talking to him and there’s no change in behavior.” If he’s already not addressing minimal conflict, like cleaning the damn house, when huge conflicts come up later (as they necessarily do with kids), you’ll be stuck where the non-caring party or the party who is fine with status quo always wins, simply by not playing. You don’t have to have solutions to everything before having kids, but having strategies for finding solutions seems like a high priority for any partnership.

      • I agree that there is something about power dynamics that could be happening in this situation. I have been in the question asker’s place before, dealing with unequal chore/household task distribution and wondering what in the world would happen with kids with a partner who doesn’t like to do things that aren’t “fun.” I felt very uncertain about kids, probably largely because of this issue.

        I think some people resist (to the extreme) doing the un-fun things of life and feel like they just shouldn’t have to. They want someone else to do all the un-fun stuff for them, so they can just focus on the fun. Then there are other people who are willing to suck it up and do the un-fun stuff when necessary, and those people end up carrying the heavier load when in a partnership with someone who resists the Un-fun. I, unfortunately, have no wise words on what to do in this situation…I just wanted to say that I know exactly what that is like.

        I wish the original poster the best in working through this with their partner…

  • Wow, Liz, this was an incredibly well-thought-out response. I was reading the letter and hearing brakes squeal–I’d be outta there in no time. The idea of counseling is an awesome suggestion. I wish this was a more accepted activity for couples to do–head off problems with a pro BEFORE they happen, maybe even make your relationship better in other areas. HIGH FIVE FOR GREAT ADVICE!

    • emilyg25

      The NY Times had a series on their website where they caught up with couples who had been featured in the Vows section ~30 years earlier. Many weren’t married anymore, but one of the things I noticed about the ones who still were is that they all hit a rough spot and went to counseling. I talked about it with my mom and she said, “Oh yeah, Dad and I went to a counselor when you were a teenager.” I had NO IDEA. So people go to counseling all the time because marriage is really fucking hard. But society definitely needs to be more open about it!

      • ART

        Agreed, and same goes for counseling just for yourself. Sometimes life is really fucking hard, and going and talking to someone about it (who doesn’t know you and is trained to just guide you through talking and not weigh in like a friend might) can be sanity-saving. But we are so ashamed of it that we don’t talk about doing it, and then people don’t do it. I’ve been during two different rough times in my life, and it was so useful.

      • Jess

        There’s being open about it (we’re in/we went to therapy because we were having trouble operating as a team), and there’s dumping your relationship issues on your children (your father is a terrible person. He’s probably cheating on me. I hope you find somebody that treats you better than this. All he does is make fun of me).

        My only advice: don’t do the latter.

      • Nikki

        If you have a link, please share! I’d be fascinated to read this.

        • emilyg25

          Yes, the whole series is wonderful. I discovered it when I was about to get married and all the features were so helpful in providing a picture of what marriage looks like, for better or worse. Plus, I love the then/now photos and the funny stories!

          Also, I was wrong. It’s not former Vows couples; it’s couples who have been married 25+ years.

      • Tamara

        i remember reading an article in the NY Times a while back that said most couples go to counseling too late (i have 2 or 6 years too late in my head?) — “too late” as in: the deep hurt and anger over the problem is too entrenched; the marriage most likely won’t be saved no matter what efforts are taken at this point. i took this to heart and now have a moto that if things are basically still super great but there’s even just one or two things that aren’t working themselves out, then THAT’S when you go.

  • Lawyerette510

    I can’t imagine having kids without a partner who was 100% ready to be my partner in that life-long endeavor, or just doing it on my own. The thought of having a parent who was physically present but only kinda there based on their personal whims is horrible to think about.

    I came from a home where I knew I was wanted and supported by both parents, but they were shitty at being a team. This has made a lasting mark on me, and I’ve had to do a lot of work with professionals and just personally to process through that, and I’m still not done. Their resulting divorce after 20+ years of being crap-tastic teammates has lead to all kinds of tension coming to the surface and remaining unresolved for the past 8 years since the divorce which is playing out around my wedding (which is in 32 days!).

    As for household chores and responsibilities, one of the things that made a big difference was talking to my FH about how I felt when I had to ask him to do things around the house (I felt like I was being a nag) and hearing how he perceived it (he just didn’t notice the things until I asked him to do them). We settled on a system where there are certain things that are just his thing: taking out trash, recycling and compost, most of the dog-related care, and car-stuff, dinner on Monday nights, and some that are my thing: cat-care, most other meals at home, menu planning, cleaning out the fridge, dinner most other nights. For everything else, if one of us notices it, we try to make time to do it, and because things just don’t get on his radar as quickly, if I see something that needs doing and I don’t have the time or energy or inclination to do, I’ll bring it up to him.

    It’s a pretty common thing for on a Friday night or Saturday morning for me to say here are the five things we need to have done around the house before Monday morning, which ones do you want to take on and when will you have them done by? We’ve worked out this phrasing because it doesn’t make me feel like the burden is on me to do things, or that I’m nagging, because once he chooses the things he’ll do from the list, I don’t say anything until after the estimated deadline he has chosen. Similarly, in the rare situation where there is something he sees as needing to be done but that is too much for him, he’ll take a similar approach.

    For what it’s worth, we’ve taken a similar route with wedding planning/ execution. Every weekend we divide up the list of things we need to get done for the week, and then because I am the “keeper of the list” he lets me know when it’s time to cross something off.

    • jashshea

      This sounds like a good system! Especially if the weekend list is a set number of items so no one feels overly burdened.

      • Lawyerette510

        Thanks. It took years to get to a place where we had a way of communicating about chores that felt ok, and sometimes even good for both of us. It even involved my crying about it while he was driving and we were stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge. Not necessarily a tactic I would recommend, but it was what lead to the break-through to try what evolved into what we have now.

  • There are two parts of your question which make me pause. In the first paragraph you say “I think he’ll be a good father,” but in the second paragraph you say “I’m sure he will interact with our kids when he is in the mood.” These two thoughts are very contradictory. As Liz emphasized, parenting is far more than dirty diapers and day-to-day running of things. It’s something much bigger and worrying that his interactions with your children would be based on his mood is very worrisome to me.

    • Meg Keene

      That’s what stuck with me too.

  • HannahESmith

    Great advice Liz! I have to admit, I feel so bad for the person who wrote this letter. I completely agree that keeping the house clean and parenting are two completely different issues. I really wonder if anonymous has actually talked to her partner about the kids issue, or if she is just projecting, making the leap from “if this is how he handles house work, then he will probably treat parenting the same way.” If that’s the case, I don’t think it’s a fair leap to make on her part. Granted, if her husband has explicitly said this is how he would approach parenting, then that is really sad.

    • Anon for this

      I agree completely – I’ve made that leap before. Many times over. It’s not fair, but it’s really the only semi-legitimate personal life comparison I know how to make. Meaning, to me, our home is “something we create/maintain together,” which is how I’d view child-rearing for our future hypotheticals.

      My husband is also a giant slob (shoes/clothes/stuff in all corners of our house, not anything that is medically hazardous) and I do wonder if the laissez-faire attitude would spill over into childcare. But. It’s not fair for me to take two things that I personally equate and then logic leap from that to “this is how he would be as a dad”. Neither of us know how we’ll respond to kids – maybe I’ll relax my cleaning standards, maybe he’ll up his, maybe we’ll hire it out. Good reminder that extrapolating isn’t always a good predictor of outcomes.

      • HannahESmith

        I’m also a major projector. My husband regularly has to remind me that he’s “not an asshole.” (He’s really not. He’s a wonderful person, and I love him very much.) I have a bad habit of assuming that because he acted a certain way once or or a completely separate issue that means he would act a certain way. My assumptions are rarely fair, and do not take into account all the wonderful and kinds ways he acts 95% of time. Reading the letter made anonymous’ husband sound so terrible that it didn’t seem realistic, and it sounded like a projection. Granted, it’s totally possible that it’s true, and if so, that is very sad.

      • Jacky Speck

        I’ve known messy people who are AMAZING parents, so a laissez-faire attitude about cleaning doesn’t necessarily mean someone doesn’t care about parenting.

        I sort of include my fiance in that, even though he’s not a dad. He’s been known to leave clothes draped over a chair or forget to do the dishes from time to time, but often babysits for family members and is great with kids.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        And also it’s helpful to remember that each of you get to decide what kind of parents you want to be. You may not agree on everything when it comes to child rearing.

      • Briana

        YES totally to the comparison of cleanliness vs. parenting not necessarily being an accurate one. I am a total slob at heart, while my husband is pretty extreme in his tidiness. To make it work, he agrees to refrain from reorganizing my things without my permission, and I make it a habit to clean up after myself a lot more quickly than I would if I were living by myself.

        We have a 4 month old, and I can say that my messy ways don’t translate at all to childcare. I might have trouble picking up my pile of maybe-clean clothes off the bedroom floor even after my partner asks, but I certainly won’t leave my kid stewing in a dirty diaper or screaming for me without responding. If anything, having a baby has helped make me *more* organized, because my time, space, and sanity are extra precious these days. That said, I was also very gung-ho about parenting in general.

        That’s my experience, and I think a person’s house-caring habits may or may not translate to child-rearing…but the main issue here, as Liz and several commenters have said, is the teamwork aspect of things. My personal tendencies towards housework (or childcare or any other bit of our lives) are no longer the only reigning force in how I decide to complete my daily tasks big and small. I now factor in what habits will make my partner happy and less anxious, as well as what I can do that helps run our household smoothly. Sometimes it’s a pain, but generally living among other people whose needs you have to consider is kind of a pain. But worth it!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      It depends on what “clean” is, and also your parenting style. My sisters are significantly younger than I am, enough so that I had some responsibility in keeping the house clean/safe when they were born and certainly throughout their childhoods. In my mind, a lot of what it is to care for children is keeping dangerous and breakable things off the floor and low shelves. If there are issues with a parent never putting things away, that could actually be dangerous, not just annoying.

      OTOH, parents tell me that in their parenting style, the antique lamps are left within the baby’s reach, it’s just the baby and parents are trained to always distract the baby from the lamp.

    • Meg Keene

      I think that’s really true. If it’s just a leap, that’s a problem. If it’s something deeper (and you know deep down), then you have to check yourself before you wreck yourself (and some kids).

      And I think you do know, deep down. You don’t know exactly what kind of parent someone is going to be, but you know if they don’t have it in them to be a non-negligent one.

      • Jess

        Do you know if you have it in yourself to be a non-negligent one? (Real honest, fear packed question)

        I could see people saying some of those things about me, saying that I probably wouldn’t be the best parent because it’s not something I deep-down-in-my-heart want. Because I would be coping with being a parent, not dreaming of it.

        I don’t know what kind of parent I’d be, I don’t want to be a bad one… but what if I am?

        • Kara

          THIS! This is part of the reason I struggle with the thought of having children. They require a shit-ton of energy and work.

          Honest answer: I don’t know if I have it in me to handle it–mentally, physically, or emtionally.

          My husband is amazing. He’s great with our niece, great with our friends’ kids, and amazing around the house. Me, not so much.

          • Violet

            I’m wondering if part of the answer is in the fact that you’re asking the question in the first place. Not just saying, “Oh, sure, if you’d like to have kids, that’d be fine with me. It’s not like it’s going to affect me, so I’m fine with what you decide. Either way. Whatevs.”

          • Kara

            To me, it’s like the saying “know yourself”. If just thinking about having children gets me anxious and panicked, having real ones probably won’t alleviate that anxiety.

            I mean, as an adult, you can get a job, and then you can change it/quit. You can get married (or not, depending on your state), and then you can get divorced. You can buy a house, and then you can sell it. However, when your in a loving, committed relationship, once you have kids, you really can’t give them up. It seems like the one thing with a “no take-backs” rule.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            True. But I don’t know. I got panicky about having kids still get panicky having had one and yet it is ok. I mean, it is sort of an anxiety inducing commitment to make. So all in all, I think this is pretty normal.

          • Jess

            Yup. I feel like if I wanted kids (not 100% want, like 2% want), maybe I would be a little more confident that I have it in me… As it is, I’m trying to figure out if I’m going to be the kind of partner that won’t be a parent “when it’s convenient” And I just don’t know if I have that in me.

            Everyone has had a lot of good things to say about it. Maybe it’s ok to just kind of handle it on a day-to-day basis, and get through? Can we do that without feeling like we’re giving up something in return? I don’t know.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          This might be a strange kind of consolation: The actually abusive parents I know, think they’re great parents. I agree with other posts that say if you’re even asking the question, you’ll probably be fine.

          • Violet

            Such a good point.

        • Liz

          “I don’t want to be a bad one…” is certainly the start.

          I think
          sometimes the “deep-down-in-my-heart” desire in relation to parenthood
          can sometimes be overblown. I didn’t deep-down-in-my-heart want to be an
          older sister (frankly, I wasn’t consulted in the matter at all). But,
          when you have these small people in your life and you’re faced with the
          choice to love them or brutally neglect them, I think that love option
          is fairly natural (unless you have a history of baggage that you need to
          cope with). In my personal experience (not nearly professional or
          authoritative in any way), terrible parents either don’t care about
          being a good parent at all or are just too overwhelmed by their own
          baggage/trauma/abusive past to be a good parent.

          In regards to
          all of the things that parenting entails… I mean, I don’t know if
          anyone dreams of changing diapers, wiping noses, incessant
          “mommymommymommy,” and all the rest (maybe they do. I did not).

          1. you face the gross stuff and deal with it because of the good (like
          getting up for work everyday because of the paycheck on Friday [please
          don’t tell my son I compared him to a job] or all of the marital crap a
          person deals with in order to have the nice parts of marriage or
          cleaning the cat litter box so you have a snuggly cat friend on your
          feet at night.

          And 2.
          That’s why you make damn sure you have an amazing partner to hand off
          the child when you just handle any more of the bad. Because that for
          sure happens to even the people who dreamt of kiddos since they were
          small themselves.

          But you know, this is why I don’t have a dog. I don’t warm to them. They smell bad. So, the amount of work and inconvenience they take would not balance out favorably for me- but I do know that I care too much about not destroying another little being that if I somehow had a dog thrust into my life, I’d take care of its needs.

        • I’m a mum to a 1 year old. A 1 year old I NEVER imagined myself having.
          And I’ve fought post natal depression along the way to boot.
          So, that said.
          I know I’m not negligent. I also know I’m not the best I could be. I also know that a lot of that is not 100% my fault.
          At the moment I’m coping. And I’m doing ok. Right this second I’m taking a 5 minute break at the computer while not-happy-for-some-unknown-reason 1 year old screams in his cot.
          I’m doing the best I can, and I think I’m sufficient for him. I love him, I tend his needs. I cope, I dont thrive.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            For what it’s worth, it sounds like you’re doing fine and doing the best you CAN for RIGHT NOW and that’s OK. Hugs.

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          Or you could commit to doing the best you can with your kids with the resources you have (time, money, energy, health, etc) and find satisfaction with that. Not using “good” or “bad” to frame parenting at all.

    • enfp

      I agree. To tie this into other comments made about the importance of being a team, what was worrisome to me about the letter was whether the letter writer felt like she was a team with her husband. I mean, as Meg said below, you can’t really know exactly what kind of parent you or your partner will be, but there are some basics you can know. I think you can assess whether you and your partner are functioning well as a team. If you’re a team, then at a certain level you can trust that you’ll be able to figure out how to be parents – together.

    • That’s a good point – about a clean house and parenting being totally separate. Housework is a HUGE bugbear for us and I’ve just had to come to terms with the fact we have different approaches and VERY different standards for cleanliness. I think T will be a great parent as he’s great with kids and has experience with them (unlike me). That said, if he were to be a stay home parent, and at this stage it looks like that would be the more practical choice, he would also need to be the one to take care of the house, and I can’t help but feel he would not do well on that front. Good with kids, great cook, terrible at housekeeping.

  • Emmers

    I just read “Lean In,” and there’s a chapter or two about how important the support of a partner is for women to be successful. The author also talks about kids, and the division of housework, and how it’s not a good situation (but a very traditional one) if you haven’t worked out a balance together. Some of the comments from the original poster’s letter really remind me of that.
    I don’t agree with everything Sheryl Sandberg says, and I can’t remember if she offers strategies in having conversations with your partner about this, but it may be a helpful read.

  • Violet

    I guess I have something in common with your husband, because I also like comfort and dislike convenience. But darn, if that doesn’t desribe 99.9% of people! The thing is, people do the tough/annoying stuff anyway. Even though they don’t like it. Especially when it’s important to their partners. Without then acting like martyrs, or keeping score. I agree with Liz- this isn’t about cleaning, or even kids. It’s about being a team. Time for a huddle.

    • Guest

      edit: “like comfort and dislike inconvenience”… obvi

    • Whitney S.

      Ha! I was thinking the same thing. If I just stopped doing the things I don’t like to do, I wouldn’t be doing much of anything ;)

    • Meg Keene

      It is 99.9% of people. Sometimes (as I struggle with it on the daily) I think part of growing up is just getting over it. Or, more particularly, working to get over it with grace.


      • I agree. I think a big aspect of growing up and becoming an adult is learning to do the Un-Fun stuff in life, simply because it just needs to be done sometimes.

        • Sarah

          That’s what I have to say sometimes “we’re grown ups now, and grown ups need to put dishes in the dishwasher, not leave them in the livin groom”

    • Sarah

      I had a friend whose (thankfully now ex) bf truly believed that “being an adult means not having to do things you don’t want to do anymore.” She liked to cook, he didn’t, and also didn’t like to clean. So if she cooked, she cleaned. And he didn’t even care if he got to eat any of the food. So basically, his not caring about anything dictated their life. If she wanted anything, she had to make it happen herself. His sentiment about what it meant to be an adult was so jaw-dropping my the opposite of the way I think and live, I could never forget it. To me, never having to do things you don’t want to do is the definition of an immature child…

      • Yes. That mentality feels very toddler-like. Or teenager-like (depending on the teenager…I know some amazingly mature ones).

  • Jules

    I think we had a conversation about animal heaven but not sex when I was growing up. I feel that the latter would have been far more practical.

  • SarahG

    It seems like the nature of most relationships that one of you is more into/worried about/good at X than the other; it’s that whole John Gottman thing about your perpetual unsolvable conflicts vs. the ones you can solve. To me, the difference is that both folks need to be on board with a team approach. In my relationship, we tend to default to the feelings of the more risk averse person on certain decisions. One example: my fiance prefers what I consider to be overkill in terms of birth control — we use a hormonal method AND condoms. I feel like this is over the top, but it’s important to me that he feels safe and respected, so we do that. I think that happens all the time in relationships — one of you is more into something than the other. The key is not erasing those differences, but developing a team approach that you are both on board with, so resentment doesn’t develop (and dude, we still have cleaning issues, so I’m not holding myself up as a paragon of relationship excellence here). Good luck!

  • EF

    thissssss: ‘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).’

    As a kid who was very clearly not wanted by my father growing up, please please please don’t do this to children.

  • anonny

    ” 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”. This perfectly describes my husband. I didnt realize he’d be like this. If I had, I wouldn’t have married him. He’ll play with our daughter 5 mins here or there, but if I need him to watch her so I can take a shower he huffs and sighs like its the biggest burden. It’s so frustrating to have him in the next room playing video games while I’m struggling to get dressed or go to the bathroom and watch my daughter at the same time. He can hear me getting upset, or hear her getting into something she’s not supposed to and he does nothing. I’ve talked to him about it and he’ll be better for a week and then go back to normal.

    My advice… Don’t have kids with this man. It will ruin your marriage and destroy your sanity.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh lady. Huge heartbroken hugs to you.

    • Oh man.
      My husband huffs and sighs and gets inordinately stressed over little things now that we have a little one.
      He was always (ALWAYS) the most laid-back dude you could imagine. I never saw him frustrated for more than a moment or two, briefly.
      Now? Its as if he sees our baby as an inconvenience a large portion of the time. When he wanted to have children substantially more than I did – I think he’s lost his rose-tinted glasses and is not happy about it.
      I feel your pain

    • Sara

      Are you my aunt? Because that describes her life perfectly. I’ve seen that struggle up close and I just want to give you a huge hug.

    • Anonny and Basketcase, I send you hugs too. Your comments make me feel like I am seeing what my future could have very well been like had my life not taken an unplanned detour… I wish you both the best…

  • ruth

    Wow, great advice, Liz! I heartily agree that it’s essential that one’s relationship be in good, solid place before adding kids into the equation.

  • lady brett

    one thing i will say about division of labor with kids is that the kid is going to have a lot of say in that. our first placement included a 20-month-old who would *not let me touch him* for two months (like, screamed bloody murder if i got within about 2 feet). which meant that all of our carefully theorized fair division of labor suddenly morphed into my spouse having to do *everything* baby-related.

    the thing is, if a kid decides that what they need to feel safe and taken care of is your partner’s attention or care, well, your attention and care aren’t going to fill that need – even if you’re awesome at it, and are filling other needs. which doesn’t mean he has to do the extra laundry (that really is between y’all to figure out), but it does mean that he needs to step up to the interacting with the kids part (’cause that’s between him and the kids, and isn’t negotiable to them).

    • Meg Keene

      YEAH. TRUTH.

      In that, we have a kid who just needs me a lot to feel safe. If David wasn’t willing to step up and do extra around the house to keep things balanced, I would probably die.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    I think it’s difficult to predict what kind of a parent a person will be until they actually ARE a parent. I say this because there are soooo many what ifs that impact our behaviors and so many things can happen between now and then. So no I don’t think you’re crazy to want to bring a child into the marriage of “one person thinks the house is not dirty when it really is.” And honestly, I don’t think that’s as big of a deal as you’re making it as far as projecting what he will be like with the kids. He doesn’t sound like he’s less into housework from you’ve described. He sounds like he has a different definition of dirty and a different criteria for when the house needs to be cleaned. That’s something that may never change because hey, you’re two people and have your own opinions. My husband likes a cleaner house than me, always has and no, I have not gotten neater or cleaner in 5 years of marriage. So sometimes our house is really clean, sometimes really not and most of the time somewhere in the middle. The other thing I’ve learned also is that you have to state your demands/desires and give room for them to be carried out. Thus, as a father, while he might not volunteer to handle the kids as much (which is what ideally you might want), if you want or need him to pitch in more, you hand him the baby and leave to get your nails done or take a nap. You let him make decisions regarding the kids. If he asks what are the kids eating, tell him to decide that and you’re sure whatever he picks will be fine. I think men often defer when it comes to kids because WE like to be the ones making the decisions or the decisions made have to be the way we would like it.

    • Violet

      Totally agree about not knowing, and not making assumptions. But as for the house cleaning in this account, I don’t really feel confident I know what he’s thinking, just based on one account. She said he doesn’t think it’s messy AND doesn’t like cleaning, whereas she doesn’t like cleaning. How do we know he actually doesn’t think it’s messy? Couldn’t that just be a rationalization for why he doesn’t clean at all? When I don’t feel like cleaning I try to convince myself it’s not that messy. And I succeed in convincing myself. But if my partner asked me to move something or clean something because it mattered to him, I’d do it. Again, why I don’t think this is about cleaning. It’s about honoring your partner’s concerns as just as valid as yours.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        I mean, it’s her husband and I feel confident that she knows him well enough to make a statement that he doesn’t think the house is messy and doesn’t enjoy cleaning it. She’s given no reason to doubt her on that score. Not sure where you’re going with this.

        Claiming it’s not about the cleaning and about something else is just as presumptuous, no? I mean, it could really be as she said: he doesn’t think the house is dirty so he doesn’t feel the need to clean it. They have different standards. This happens all of the time. In my house in fact. I wouldn’t frame this as not honoring her concerns (bc on the flip side, one could argue that she’s not honoring the fact that he doesn’t think the house is dirty and shouldn’t be made to feel guilty bc he doesn’t want to clean it). Food for thought.

        • Violet

          It’s entirely possible that you’re right, and I’m just projecting here. I was basing my concern for her situation not on a difference of neatness styles (which is soooooo common, I actually don’t know of a single couple who agree completely on what constitutes neat/clean) but on this statement: “And yes I have tried talking to him about this, and no it has not resulted in any change in his behavior.” I interpreted that as he either wouldn’t listen when she tried talking, or he heard her concerns and dismissed them (as evidenced by not at least making an effort).

          I 100% agree with you though, that someone’s cleaning style cannot predict their future parenting style!

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            Got it. There’s a third option too: No amount of talking is going to make him see the mess in the same way she does. Thus, no action.

            Take me for example. I tend to do laundry when it is overflowing. My husband does it every weekend. Bc he is inclined to do laundry more often, he does more laundry overall. I still think it’s fine to do the laundry when it is overflowing. Unless he specifically says “hey, can you help with the laundry right now,” I won’t do it sooner than I see fit. He’s learned to just ask. Makes for happier us all around :-)

          • Meg Keene

            I think the key for me here is that when asked, you make the effort. (I mean, this is our relationship too, with chores. But when asked, I know I need to try.)

            I’ve known women married to men who just. would. not. try. They simply didn’t care to. Which, better them than me, because I would have killed someone. (By the way, in one of those cases there WERE kids. The dad was actually a pretty ok father and a pretty terrible husband. In that, he was totally emotionally available for the kid, but never lifted a finger to wash a bottle, change a diaper, pick up a toy, no matter how many times he was begged to. Not surprisingly, they divorced, which was better for everyone.)

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            Well yeah, you should make the effort when asked.And I also know when asked I need to try but he also understands it requires supreme effort on my part so I mostly fail at this. So he’s ok with asking and doesn’t upset about it and I don’t get upset being asked. But the asking scenario for the poster isn’t clear to me. Is she asking generally “hey can you help with housework more,” he says yes and then nothing happens? Bc that one makes total sense to me and I can see why it’s been ineffective. Is she actively cleaning and saying “hey can you vacuum while I dust” and he’s just sitting there and ignores her? PROBLEM.

          • z

            I used to consider it my responsibility to ask my husband to step up, and devote a lot of energy to listening to the “I just don’t see clutter” routine, managing the to-do list, and devising various ways to help him be neat. But since we had a kid, I just don’t have time for that, and I can see that it has been bad for my marriage. He can do his chores without making it my job to remind him. He can be neat without my coaching. Those are things I do for my child, not for my husband. Once I realized I was leading and coaching them both in the same way, I just had to stop. It was killing our sex life to see him as another child.

            It was a tough transition, in part because I had let him lean on me for so long. But ultimately, pushing him to complete his chores independently has been a positive thing. Turns out, he can “see” clutter after all. What a surprise.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            Well, I think if you need your partner to step up, you need to tell them bc to me, that’s part of communicating what you need. So yeah, I think if I need something from my partner that he isn’t providing, it is my job to communicate that to him and give him an opportunity to make it right. He’s not a mind reader and what I need and what may be considered “stepping up” changes from time to time. But that doesn’t mean an adult has has to be coddled.

          • Lauren

            I agree with both of you to a point and for a long time had a really tough time reconciling both points: 1. Believing that asking for what I needed was important and necessary, and so 2. constantly communicating what chores needed to be done. But then I landed where Z ended up, which was feeling like it was on me entirely to constantly ask or remind. (i.e. if I didn’t think about it and then say anything, it wasn’t getting done. period.), which lead to a lot of resentment. I used to wonder, if he did what I asked, and I believe in asking for what I need, why am I still so resentful?

            And the way I think about now is: communicating what I need and asking him to do a specific chore are often two different things. If you are leaning more toward lots of the latter, and not doing enough of the former, that’s more likely to breed resentment and discontent. Because so often what I really needed when I asked him to sweep, was not just a swept floor, but not to feel like the house maid.

            If what I really need is just a swept floor, then I’m fine to ask away without resentment. Like now, if we have guests coming over, we divvy up the responsibilities to get the house in order so I’m likely to ask point blank: can you sweep the floor?

            But when my needs are really about something more, like not wanting to feel like a nag or to carry the burden of housework, that’s when constant asks won’t do. And that’s when other tools like a chore chart or whatnot can come in handy, along with deeper conversations about the roles we play, to shift some of that burden off of my shoulders. It’s not that I expect him to read my mind, it’s that through this lens–when I’m truly communicating what I need–it’s more about him being more of an equal partner and showing initiative about things that he knows matter to me. Or in other (fewer) words, it is the difference between a reactive and a proactive response.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            Ooh I sooo agree with this! Ultimately, I think there has to be balance and lot of effective communication. Constant reminding and “nagging” (if that’s what HE hears) is ineffective and both parties end up resentful. I think when you treat people like kids, they kind of act like them.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            On communicating when a partner needs to step up, and how: Our marriage has this dynamic that my husband has ADHD, so he may truly not be able to “see” the clutter. But what I’ve learned from the issues I’ve mentioned in Happy Hour the last few weeks is that I need to communicate what I need, but he needs to take me at my word and direct his limited attention/executive function to what I say are my priorities (not at the expense of his priorities, but just allotting the energy he’s putting into the marriage), even if they don’t seem like big deals to him.

            For example, one week my mind may be focused on finances, so I’ll tell him that he really needs to get on top of challenging some suspicious medical bills. Other times, I may be planning on vacuuming, so he needs to take an afternoon and clear his clutter. Even with ADHD, he can “see” the clutter, he just has to look for it 5 times instead of twice. But he can’t clear the clutter the same day he deals with the bills, and he certainly can’t call the insurance company while clearing the clutter, like I can. That’s what I have to work around.

    • Meg Keene

      I agree with you, if the issue is just “not good around the house.” Because hell, I’m not that good around the house. Where I get worried is, “I’m sure he will interact with our kids when he is in the mood.” Which is a huge, troubling statement to make about your partner. In that, we often know people deep down, and sometimes pretend that we don’t, resulting in bad decisions. And if she knows that is the truth, that’s the red flag to end all red flags.

      THAT SAID. If, what you’re saying here is right, and he’s just bad at cleaning things, obviously that has nothing to do with your skills as a parent, and people step up.

      But I’ve seen the opposite play out. Women who knew deep down their husbands were not up to it, who had kids anyway, and who’s kids were damaged beyond belief.

      So at the end of the day, it’s really about asking herself some hard questions, I think. And one of those questions is a simple as “Does my partner make an effort when it’s really needed/ when I really need him?” and “Do I think he can be there for kids, or deep down, do I know he’s not up to it?”

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        Your last two questions, I don’t think are entirely clear from the post. For one, she starts out saying she thinks he will be a good father. She also says she’s talked to him about the cleaning with no action (see my reply to this to your response below). So maybe she can explore those? The answers are not clear to me from what was written.

        Here’s my other thing about that statement about interacting with the kids and deferring to her. I don’t think this has to be DAMNING to the relationship. I don’t think this necessarily means he has horrible parenting skills. He might have to LEARN. A lot of men do this — they defer household chores and care of kids to wife. We know this. So I suppose my questions for her are the ones you asked and also, is she willing to be patient and show him HOW to be a better partner to her? That means, giving room for people to step up. I

        • Meg Keene

          Agreed on letting people step up, and asking yourself if you can wait while someone steps up.

          I’m just taking a time out to point out that not everyone CAN step up. I really wish this wasn’t true (there would be fewer people in my life who ended up as collateral damage, for starters). And she does start by saying he’d be a good father. And then she finishes by saying he would only step up for his kids when he felt like it. And those two things are incompatible in my book. Which means, really, she’s got to do some thinking.

          But there is NOTHING wrong with giving people time and space to step up as parents. Or hell, throwing them in the deep end, like I did with poor David and diapers. (Not my fault! I thought he’d been doing them in NICU and he didn’t tell me otherwise for weeks! But still.) You just need to know that they will step up, when that’s required of them.

          • La’Marisa-Andrea

            I hadn’t changed a diaper in 20 years so we were both in the same boat! *cackles* Though to this day (gee, it’s only been 2 whole years), Chris does look to me like I’m some sort of expert of kids. “What should we do about …?” and then my shrug and “Hell if know…”

          • z

            Or, how long should a child have to wait for their parent to step up?

    • Bets

      “It’s difficult to predict what kind of a parent a person will be until they actually are a parent.”

      I would add to that: “what kind of parent/adult do they want to be? how do they want their kids to remember them?”

      This is unrelated to housework, but one of my coworkers, who’s in his 50s with kids in university now, would tell me how he used to have severe travel anxiety when he first got married, but when he had kids he pulled it together because he felt like he had to set an example for the kids. Then he started travelling with his wife when their son was a 6 month old, and their family has gone on major trips every summer ever since. I know that’s an optimistic, happily-ever-after story and might not apply to the OP’s husband, but in my coworker’s case he realized he wanted to be a certain kind of parent/role model/responsible adult so he got his shit together.

  • ruth

    Some observations on the cleaning / household chores issue (cause this seems like a big one for a lot of us!) My hubby and I used to fight about chores all the time – now we don’t. What changed is we both went back to doing the same amount of housework we each did when we were single. This means I do a bit more (since I care more about things like homecooked meals than he does) but he still does the same chores he used to do for himself (i.e. I don’t do his laundry for him just cause we’re married.) This really cut down on the resentment, because I figure, I’d be doing these chores anyway, and did (without resenting them) for years as a single person. We do plan on sharing the responsibilities of child-rearing equally, however (as much as we can, obviously he can’t help gestate or breastfeed) because child rearing isn’t just about chores / to-dos – childrearing is an all encompassing emotional commitment for life – and I think both parents need to be 100% on board with that before embarking upon the adventure of having kids!

    • jashshea

      Really good point on this as well. My husband has tons of clothing and I’ve always been more minimal (read: cheap), so I have to do laundry more often than he does. I let myself get so worked up when I do the laundry, leave the pile for him to put away, and he doesn’t put it away. The easy solution is to do my stuff and some of his. Not all of his because there’s a pile.


      Why is Occam’s Razor always right?

    • That’s a really good idea – if only my husband had lived alone! He went from family house to us moving in together.

    • BD

      This is pretty much what husband and I do, and it’s worked well – we both still wash our own clothes; he’s a stickler about mopping the floors because it’s something that was always important to him; I’m a stickler about washing the linens for the same reason. The only thing I seem to do more of since becoming a wife is washing the dishes, but that’s mostly because he has a back issue that makes standing over a sink (we have no dishwasher yet) for an extended time excruciatingly painful for him.

  • jashshea

    I’m no neatnik, but I’m much more orderly than my husband. I like all my flat surfaces to be clean and clear. I open mail, then recycle or file. I keep my keys, sunglasses, and wallet in the same bag and the bag is dropped next to the bed when I first get home. My husband is the opposite (” where are my keys/badge/wallet” is a common game).

    But what’s critical is that we both agree what is acceptable/presentable vs. not. If someone is coming over, there is a non-negotiable baseline of clean that the house has to be. There are certain places where items can accumulate (ex. shoes can pile up by the door or in out of the way nooks, but not in a normal walking path). I don’t move his things (because if I do, it would be my job to remember where I put them). If someone cooks, the other person does the dishes. I’d say I still do the vast majority of the inside cleaning, but less than half of the cooking and very little of the outside work.

    We just bought the house last year, so money is still too tight for cleaning help, but that’s my dream. Definitely a work in progress.

    • carolynprobably

      Just agreeing about the non-negotiable baseline for company. I’m the messy one but something suddenly clicks at the prospect of PEOPLE WE KNOW seeing my, ahem, untidiness.

  • CPR

    “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.”

    ^This. 1,000 times this.

    My fiance’s dad was this guy. The guy who parented when he “felt like it” and left it up to his wife the other 95% of the time. I beg you, don’t do this to yourself or your (potential) children. The emotional damage for everyone involved is more than you can probably imagine right now, but it will be all too real.

    • L Dub

      Yeah, my mom was that parent. She never wanted kids and ended up with 2 of them, me being the oldest. I cannot ever, ever put into words what it was like being 4-5 years old and my mom telling me she hated me on a regular basis.

      Do I think that the OP’s partner would necessarily tell their fictional kid(s) he hated them? Probably not. But kids are incredibly smart, and they figure out who wants them around, who loves them, etc.

      • bummed

        hugs. i have seen a letter my dad wrote to my mom after their divorce “reminding” her that he never wanted kids anyway, so why should he have to pay child support. i say “reminding” because i don’t know for sure that this is true/that he ever expressed it to her that way before we came along, but it still chafes a lot when i interact with him and he thinks all’s well.

  • Tamara

    I second the suggestion that you guys really need to go to couple’s counseling. it exists for this reason (among others!) — because this is about communication and team work, not just differences in personal cleanliness. he may never clean a toliet if left to his own devices, but that’s not reality: he shares a home (and a toliet) with someone who DOES care, so scrubscrub (or, even if you have the lion’s share of cleaning on your chore list, what things is he exclusively doing INSTEAD to balance that out? i do most of our cleaning, but my hubby does a lot of other stuff, so, whiel i don’t love scrubbing the bathtub, i know he’s working hard on other things). Point is, even if you guys feel differently about what “clean is,” you share a space so there has to be some middle ground, and it doesn’t seem like working on it alone, just the two of you, is getting you to it. Hence, therapy. and god bless it. i think therapy will be a good venue to discuss your expectations for parenthood, too. what, in your mind, is a good dad? what do you hypothetically expect him to do as a dad? and what does “dad” mean to him? it’s not right or wrong, it’s just may be different and it’s nice to have some of these things discussed beforehand (knowing, of course, “best laid plans”…..) Anyhoo, best of luck!!! (also, i would think long and hard about whether there isn’t something else in your budget that you guys could sacrifice — cable? — to get a housekeeper. even just a once-a-month deep clean, ooh girl. some things are just worth it. ;)

  • Jessica

    I love reading all the advice and discussions on this topic! I’m concerned I might be less invested in raising kids than my husband–but I only think about that from my view right now, not the view from when we actually want and make the space for children in our lives. I just never wanted to be a parent while growing up, and it’s going to take some time to fully come around to all the things that means (and what it doesn’t mean, but I only believe it to be one way or another because of traditional gender roles and how we were both raised). I do know that I want to have kids with my husband, and that was actually a huge leap for me to start with. Time and talking about everything will help settle the rest of my concerns/anxiety about children in the future.

    As for the division of labor and overall cleanliness, I highly suggest popping over to the blog Unfuck Your Habitat. They have checklists and advice on how to start being a cleaner person when dealing with everything from just laziness (it happens to everyone!) to chronic depression (it happens to a lot of people!) and to chronic illness or feelings tied between abuse and cleaning (both probably also happen to a lot of people!) The article that feels most appropriate for this conversation is ” How do I keep the Place Clean When No One Will Help Me?” I don’t agree with all the advice as applied to spouses, but it’s still an important thing to address.

    • Briana

      Thank you for the UFYH suggestion! Husband and I will be looking through that one together!

    • jashshea

      I use the 20 minute rule (forget if it’s actually called that) for all manner of unpleasant tasks (wedding thank you notes, cleaning, updating resume, boring work stuff). Love UFYH.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        Employing this rule in my life IMMEDIATELY.

  • Carrie

    Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I was thinking as I was reading the question:

    “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.”

    I don’t really have any advice, other than the perspective of someone who grew up in this type of family:

    When I was growing up, my mom did everything. Even when my dad was unemployed and my mom was working, she still did all the cooking and cleaning and parenting. I had friends in high school who were genuinely surprised when they found out I even had a dad, because he was so invisible. He was there, and if he was in a good mood he’d come out and act like a person, but it’s taken me years to fully realize that it’s not my fault that we don’t really have a relationship. I never learned to talk to my dad, or felt comfortable going to him with problems. I spent a lot of my childhood wondering what was wrong with me or why he didn’t like me. He and my mom are still together, but I feel very much like I was raised by a single parent. And not only that, I’m realizing now that being raised by a mom who does everything and a dad who does very little has imprinted in me this weird belief that men just can’t do things. It affects the way I treat my FH, in a negative way, and it’s something I have to consciously work on.

    (I seem to be having my own little pity-party on APW today, sorry guys. In real life I’m a reasonably well-adjusted person, I swear!)

    • Channa

      My dad too, even though I love my dad! He was kind of an absentee-while-right-there dad, and only recently have we all (everyone except dad that is) figured out that there is probably a pathological reason (he’d never see a professional but the strong suspicion among basically everyone who knows him is that he has something-like-what-we-used-to-call-asperger’s that was never diagnosed).

      We don’t really have a “relationship” and I don’t go to him with problems, but we’re in touch because he always picks up the phone for 5 seconds when I call mom. If something ever happened to mom – which it could, she’s not in great health right now – I would have to step up and try to keep in better contact with him. And I would, because he’s my dad, and I love him.

      But what it did for me was the opposite of what it did for you – it imprinted on me that mom married the wrong kind of guy (I know how that sounds…) and that if I marry such a man, that’ll be my life. She does *everything*, even when she got sick the house just didn’t get cleaned, although dad worked very hard to earn the money necessary to pay the bills, including her medical bills, and keep the house toasty warm all winter (which increases the heating bill – they used to keep it on 63). I don’t even think he felt guilty that she was doing all the work…even when he was briefly unemployed (to be fair he did hunt for a new job like it was his full-time job to do so).

      So I became a hardcore “you do this stuff or we’re over – this is a DEALBREAKER” sort, at the same level as cheating, alcoholism, smoking (because the smoke gives me migraines, not just the health problems the person suffers), sexism, committing a felony or kicking puppies. I know men are capable of doing all this stuff, and gosh-diddly-darnit, I was gonna marry a man who DID do this stuff, and did it happily without having to be trained! And I did!

      I love my dad, but I would have never married someone like him.

    • And not only that, I’m realizing now that being raised by a mom who does everything and a dad who does very little has imprinted in me this weird belief that men just can’t do things.

      Totally! My dad was away a lot when I was growing up, and was a less involved parent in consequence.

      Not only have I had to convince myself that, actually, my husband is actually someone who I can trust to do chores without my input, but now that we’re thinking kids I’m having to continually remind myself that he might actually have opinions on how we raise them. Which… baffles me, because men don’t have opinions on child-raising, surely?

  • On the off chance that you’re sold on the idea of kids, but not so much on your husband, maybe could consider having kids by yourself? I was raised by a single mom in the truest sense (no visitation rights, no child support) and I don’t feel deprived of a dad one bit. However, I know a lot of folks whose dads parented with one foot in and one foot out, and now they have a lot of emotional baggage because of it. Single parenting is brutal, but it sounds like in a lot of respects you’d be single parenting even with your husband around. The way I see it, it’s better to be a single mom than have your kids feel like annoying burdens to their father.

  • Emily

    I would love.
    if APW would feature an article on the first part of this letter.

    Husbands who are fine with or without kids.
    Husbands who are mostly on the “fine” end……because the wife wants them.

    Wife feels sad that this is mostly her “thing” and that she’s dragging husband along for the ride. Husband is obliging her and not genuinely looking forward to having kids.

    No one can change the attitude of the husband, but wife would just like to feel that the husband shares the same excited anticipation as she does if they’re both headed into parenthood territory.

    Most people are scared of parenting. Most people are informed as to what they’re getting themselves into. For some reasons the fear/dread seems to be more resident in the husbands, though. This endeavor is obligatory for many of them. And as the wife of such a husband, I am sad. I don’t know how to be unsad. I have talked to my husband about this and he assures me he’ll be devoted and all that. But I know how crazy our lives are already (living in an old house always needing work, him commuting an hour from work out of a big city where he deals with rush hour everyday, etc.). And I know he feels like he can’t keep up with doing what he’s meant to do in life as it is. I feel like I will be robbing him of his life a bit by making him do this just because I want it. That he will probably always harbor resentment for it. Just, sadness everywhere.

    The letter above started describing my exact situation and I got quite excited for a minute before it went in another direction. If APW would ever address the kid aspect of this…..thankfulness forever.

    • lady brett

      i was totally that husband (except for being a wife). i can’t really speak for how my honey feels about it from the other side. but as someone whose brain seems to be wired in a “masculine” direction, i would suggest starting with the logistics of your situation. if it’s that stressful – that’s kind of a problem as is, and also, hell yes having kids will make it more stressful. but that’s assuming you’re adding kids on top of the life you have with no other changes. and for one thing, that’s not realistic, lots will change. but for another, you really need to dig into the things that are causing stress and problems and change them on the front end (with or without kids if it’s a problem). i know that’s not always feasible off the bat (people have jobs to keep and stuff), but a *lot* is possible if you’re planning long-term. can you make a 5-year (or whatever) plan for a more well-adjusted life and talk about bringing kids into that life?

      the other, more emotional/relational side of that is…i felt just like you on the other side: “I feel like I will be robbing him of his life a bit” about *not* wanting to have kids when i knew my honey did. that loss is true on both ends, so remember that for yourself (and it’s likely he recognizes that).

    • ElisabethJoanne

      lady brett’s comments, also:

      I feel like this is where Meg’s insight about all our great modern reproductive technologies making having children, and when, choices (to a large, but not complete, extent) rather than just something that happens to you make the emotions harder, or raise our expectations about the emotions to an unreasonable extent. Because we CHOSE to do this and CHOSE when, we have to be the BEST at it and be EXCITED. When, no, we have to be not-awful at it and just content with the choice.

      A good friend of mine comes from a conservative religious background. She had kids out of a sense of obligation. She was not expecting to love her children, but she thought she could go through the motions and be an ok parent. You know what? She loved her kids. Her kids love her. I met her when the kids were grown (early 30s now), but I’m sure she was a great mom. She tells stories like she was a great mom. I’ve met one of the kids, and the kid is a great person.

      So we don’t always resent the things we do out of obligation, especially when we get to see the living, breathing people who benefit from our efforts, every day.

  • Anon

    “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?”

    As the mother of a 13.5-month old, I am here to tell you that laundry, baby bottles, & messes in general add up to a very minor part of the equation that is parenting. You know this, I’m sure, but I emphasize it because my recommendations to you are (1) don’t think of laundry, baby bottles, or messes in general as work. You will feel resentful if you do–if not of your partner, of your child. (2) marriage counseling. Before pregnancy. (3) ask broader questions. Bigger-picture questions. More questions. These things that you’re focusing on, I get it–it’s what you can see, it’s what you can imagine. But what you aren’t imagining is sleepless nights. Past the newborn stage. Who is soothing the baby to sleep every night, multiple times a night? Doctor’s visits. There are a lot of them, even for a healthy baby, in the first year. Who is rearranging her (his?) work schedule to attend them?

    I love, love, love my son, more than literally anyone, & this year+ has been filled with wonderful moments, lots of them. But he is also the very definition of inconvenient. There’s no running out to the store–add 20 minutes, minimum, to any errand, because now you have to get a baby into the car & out of the car & into & around the store & into the car & out of the car. It’s a complete lifestyle change. For your sanity, for your marriage, please be sure that it’s something you & your partner are both on board for.

  • As the half of the relationship who had to persuaded that I at least didn’t NOT want kids (and then decided I would like to do it afterall), I would advise you not to have them until you have sorted this out.
    My husband was far more keen than I was for children (multiple, preferably two).
    And yet, I still have to do the bulk of the work. I still have to make the bulk of the decisions.
    And sometimes, I am resentful of him for that. Even though he is an involved dad as much as he can be.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Can you flesh out about your taking on the bulk of it – especially the decisions? I don’t worry about dynamics relating to who wanted kids, but I worry about off-kilter dynamics because I have more medical knowledge (thus, maybe better at making medical decisions) and because my partner has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. So far, the ADHD means I do all the noticing and directing for the household, which can feel like taking on the decision-making.

      • z

        I remember a great post on Bitch, PhD on that some years back. The idea was that the noticing and directing counts as work in itself. So, for example, in my household “make to-do list” counts as a task on the to-do list.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          Yeah. I’ve given myself that “credit.” I’m just curious how it will work with children, where the list is longer and the choices faster. For example, it’s taken my husband 7 months to choose a new therapist. You can’t wait 7 months to choose a pediatrician. But he chooses our investments and directs some of our charitable giving, which we do once a year; and we work through other decisions together (vacations, new apartment, whether to get kale or spinach this week) in a timely way, I think.

          But if I have to notice every time the baby needs a change, does that mean it’s only fair I never actually have to change the baby?

          • Liz

            I’m the to-do-lister and noticer in our house, and baby has been very different from other chores. For one, because it’s a baby. I mean, yeah, it makes sense for us to talk about all of the work involved with raising children, but at the core of it all, these are little relationships, making an entirely different dynamic. My husband doesn’t notice clutter gathering on the bedroom floor because he doesn’t care about it. He notices when my son stinks of needing a change because he does care about my son and is motivated to care for him (unlike, for example, the cat- whose litter box is my husband’s responsibility, but I need to remind him when it’s overdue for a change). There are pieces of this that play out like the rest- I make the pediatrician appointments, that sort of thing. But mostly it’s very very different from anything else.

          • z

            Well, the list is longer, but sometimes a kid is motivational. I find that I make decisions faster because I have less free time. Or one of us will research and decide and that will be that– no hemming and hawing. There’s a lot more satisficing and a lot less optimizing, and that’s fine. I also just care less about a lot of things.

            But I know ADHD can be really hard on a marriage, so if that’s the route cause maybe you could focus on addressing it directly. The advice for normal couples won’t necessarily apply.

      • Its the little things – that its time for dinner / bath, whats for dinner / lunch etc.
        And being home all day with the baby (I’m going back to university soon, so have opted not to return to work in the meantime), means I do all the grunt work, and get to know all the details – so it makes sense for me to make those decisions, right?
        But, it would be nice for him to be capable of deciding on the weekend that now is morning tea time, or now is dinner time, and this is what I’m going to offer. But because he doesn’t do it, he never thinks of it – or if he does, he turns to me with “whats for lunch”, so I have to do it.

        • z

          I totally feel you, baby feeding is a relentless grind and it really got me down. 7-8 months can be a really tough age! But it gets easier when the kid can just eat whatever you’re eating, and when they can use the spoon. Won’t be long.

          But if he’s not taking responsibility, why does that mean you “have to do it”? Why don’t you ask *him* “what’s for lunch” and see what he says? When you go back to university, he’s going to have to step up, so he might as well have some practice before then.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          All that totally makes sense. Thank you. People elsewhere are saying that caring for a baby is not like caring for a home, but – I don’t have kids, but I remember when I and my sister were kids – and deciding what to feed ourselves for the next meal doesn’t seem that different from deciding what to feed the baby, for example.

          We’ve confronted unequal expertise in cleaning, meal planning, finances, etc. head-on, by saying, for example, “I pay the bills more often, and I’m worried it won’t get done if I’m sick or busy with work. Let’s sit down and make sure you can do it.” Now, we had that conversation the first week of April, and decided he’d pay the bills during May. You obviously won’t usually be able to have that kind of delay with baby stuff, but complete cross-training of household tasks has always been my ideal for marriage.

  • z

    Wow. Red, red, red flags. Others have made great points so let me just touch on a few. I totally agree that you have to be a team, and if you are raising concerns and he doesn’t try to meet you in the middle, that’s a problem. Managing a two-adult household in a mutually satisfactory way is the foundation for managing a family home. If you can’t work housekeeping out with just the two of you, it will be really hard to work it out when there are way more chores, less free time, and a lot more sleep deprivation. Motherhood is my life’s greatest joy, but holy cow it is toil unrelenting.

    You say he “dislikes inconvenience.” What does that mean? It is not convenient to be pooed on in your work clothes, or to commute with a baby. It is not convenient to stay up all night catching kid barf, or to miss work to go to the pediatrician. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a healthy kid, they have appointments all the time. It makes every little errand more complicated. You can’t make any plans– you can’t even step out to the mailbox– without considering how and by whom the child’s needs will be met. It’s a constant source of chaos.

    Money. Let me be tactless: if you can’t afford a cleaning service anytime soon, can you afford a baby? It is really important to understand the financial commitments of parenthood, whatever they are for you, so that money doesn’t become another source of tension in your marriage. Is your husband willing to put other financial priorities aside for a child he didn’t truly desire?

    Most importantly, what if something happens to you or the child that requires your husband to really, really step up? PPD. Twins. Sprained ankle. Chemo. Even if you are willing to do most of the work, you might not be able to. What if you have a special needs child, how would your husband and your marriage handle that over the long haul? Would your husband be able to cope, and what would that mean for your child’s well-being?

    Sorry for the parade of horribles, but these issues are just so important. It seems like you and your husband have a ways to go. I hope you can work it out.

    • StevenPortland

      I agree — “red, red, red flags” here. Liz’s initial response was great. But it was understated. When she wrote that there would be days when you hit the wall and need him to step up and help isn’t true. That will happen each and every day that you have kids. (At least in my humble opinion.) You will need his help every day. And each of those will be an inconvenience, a burden, a task that he’d much rather be doing three dozen other things. Both of us really wanted kids and wouldn’t have it any other way, but it can drive you and your relationship to the edge when you are all trying to juggle work and home and cleaning, etc.
      I don’t think the fact that he doesn’t clean itself is a red flag. People have different levels of comfort around that. But if it is a big deal to you, then as a partner he should be willing to sacrifice comfort/money on your behalf to hire a cleaning person. Now multiple that by a hundred and that’s the amount of sacrifice/discomfort he will need to be willing to have in order for you 2 to be parents.

    • Granola

      This maybe be my favorite sentence ever: Motherhood is my life’s greatest joy, but holy cow it is toil unrelenting.

  • Channa

    I agree totally with Liz’s answer.

    True, a lot of people one generation back grew up with a mom who was always there and a dad who was always at work, but considering how lucrative therapy is as a field, I would say maybe that didn’t turn out as well as our forebears thought it would.

    And I really don’t want to poop all over him, so this next paragraph is my personal experience only and meant to clarify the feelings behind what I’m going to say below: this is a dealbreaker for me. I know a lot of people think I’m crazy for saying that I would not have married any guy who did not do a fair share of the chores, that this is a small thing people compromise on, but actually it’s huge. My husband, if anything, does more chores than I do (he works a slightly less crazy schedule), and I knew that before I married him because we lived together. I would not have married him without living together first, because I did really need to see that he would do his fair share and you truly can’t know that if you don’t share a living space (people say you can figure it out from the cleanliness of his space, what he does when you’re around etc. but I don’t believe that’s true only because I know a few people who’ve been blindsided by a new spouse they thought was pretty clean and turned out not to be). I wouldn’t have married him **or anybody** who would leave me in such a situation. I’m nobody’s mama an I’m nobody’s maid, but I won’t tolerate a very messy space (a little messy is OK) and a lot of dirt is unacceptable (a little dirt is OK if it’s temporary). Obviously if something happened in terms of being apart for awhile (school, work) or a health/mobility problem I’d step up and do the work of 2 people, but those are good reasons: not just “he’s just not that into cleaning”.

    Yes, I would end a relationship over this.

    But that’s just me, it’s NOT a judgment on your relationship. Just so y’all can understand that I feel very strongly about this.

    I see red flags too: not “he doesn’t think it’s that dirty” but “this attitude reminds me of a Seth Rogen character at the beginning of some awful Judd Apatow film”. He doesn’t sound like he’s grown up. Which is okay if it’s just the house, you could even argue you two are compromising on the level of messiness, as people do (although you seem to be doing all the compromising). Disinclined to clean? We’re ALL disinclined to clean, but it’s not like you can go through life not doing it! Sometimes I’m disinclined to brush my teeth, but I do, because it’s what you do. The fact that he thinks he has a choice in whether or not to do his share to maintain your home is a sign that he doesn’t have an important piece of emotional maturity vital to adults, especially adults looking to have children. In a true compromise, he’d do a little more cleaning than he’d like, and you’d tolerate a little more mess than you’d like. It wouldn’t all be on you.

    So yes, if I find it pretty horrible even without a kid – thinking you have a choice in whether or not to clean (to a reasonable degree) is so funny it’s sad – then you can imagine that I think couples therapy is more than necessary if you are going to start popping out babies.

    • z

      Me too. I just could not be married to someone who didn’t pull his weight domestically, so I made dang sure I married someone who did. After we had a kid, I became even more of a hard-ass. I just didn’t have time or patience for long discussions about how he “just doesn’t see” mess– time to start seeing, or shit’s gonna get really unpleasant. And lo and behold, turns out he could “see” the mess after all. What a surprise.

      Adults keep their commitments and pull their weight, without making it someone else’s responsibility to remind them or clean with them. That’s part of adulthood. Reminders and conveniences and cleaning together is what we do for children, not our partners. The original poster is right to be concerned– if the disparity is bothering her already, it’s only going to get worse with kids.

      • joanna b.n.

        So, yes. I agree that I need to be married to someone who could pull their weight domestically. And that that is a mark of maturity. But… while my hubby is super great (beyond great) now at doing more than his share, he wasn’t always. It took him a while to learn, and to mature. And so let’s just be careful that we’re not assuming that people can’t learn, if perhaps they were brought up by parents who never let them lift a finger at home. It may just take some conversations, learning, and patience.

        • I totally agree with this: “I agree that I need to be married to someone who could pull their weight domestically. And that that is a mark of maturity.” Obviously the specific division could vary hugely, but I think being invested in carrying a fair weight of the work, given the specific circumstances of the couple, is an act of of maturity. And I now know I need a mature partner, if I have one again someday.

  • Emily

    I haven’t read the other comments (sorry! It’s late). But the thing that I’m continually thinking as I watch people’s decisions on children lately is that we assume we will have healthy children. This doesn’t always happen. What will you and your husband do if you find yourself dealing with multiple surgeries, brain tumors, etc? I’m sorry to be doomsday-ish, but I have first hand experience with difficult, difficult children. They aren’t always just messes and mouths to be fed.

    • Anne

      This is a really good point. Being prepared to have kids means being prepared to have any kind of kids– or at least being able to deal with the possibility.

  • crustaceanisland

    Great post – my comment can be removed, but can I just note that the little side panel with icons for sharing (facebook, email, twitter, etc) tends to lean past the margins of the page, obscuring the text (this is on pretty much all posts on APW). I could zoom out of course, but it makes the text very small (and isn’t a setting I ever need to adjust on other websites). Something to consider perhaps…

    • annon

      I’ve add blocked that side bar. I’ve actually had to add block a lot of things on this site.

      • Meg Keene

        There isn’t much to ad block other than our ads. Beyond add this (which is that plug in) we don’t use third party programs (other than the comments), and have no third party ads.

    • Cathi

      You might just need to adjust your screen size/resolution. That little bar is still a good half-inch away from the post text on my screen.

    • kcaudad

      It you are on a regular computer, you can hover over the icons, and a small black triangle appears below the bar. Click on that and it will hide the bar. Then, just a small triangle will show over parts of the text. not sure if you can do that on smart phones, too.

  • Sparkles

    As a child of this sort of relationship I want to tell you how hard it can be. My mom had kids because she really really wanted to. My mom and dad had the exact same job, but my dad worked harder at it than parenting and my mom juggled both. My mom did most of the house work, and most of the regular everyday superhero stuff that comes along with parenting (driving, bedtime stories, sports events, sitting waiting for us to do things, long talks in the car).

    I turned out great, because my mom put in so much effort. But I have to tell you, that the endless fighting and bi***ing I heard from my mom about how he didn’t participate enough, and the fights they used to have, were awful for me as a child. And quite damaging to my and my siblings’ relationship with my dad.

    My siblings and I all grew up into wonderful adults (not to toot my own horn, but I think I turned out okay). We’re slowly mending our relationship with our father in adulthood. But I’ve grown resentful of my mother as I look back on growing up. She martyred herself for us and now she seems a bit lost. And Meg has written before about martyrdom ( I’m trying to work through that, but it’s hard stuff.

    I don’t want to tell you that you shouldn’t have kids. I have a lot of friends who turned out fine with parents who had worse relationships than my parents. We’re resilient beasts, us humans. I just thought I’d throw out my perspective.

  • Anne

    I so feel you on the housework issues. That was one of the biggest fights I’ve ever had with my partner. From your letter, it sounds like you’ve been sweeping a lot of these issues under the rug (and sorry for that pun). I think you can work through this, but you have to start talking about it. Maybe he just doesn’t realize what a big deal it is for you that he hasn’t been pulling his weight. I know that my partner changed his attitude when he saw how important it was to me. After a certain point, it’s not about subjective cleanliness styles, it’s about whether or not he’s treating you like an equal.

    The good news is that considering kids has made you start to evaluate rough spots in your marriage, which means you can start dealing with them and working on them. I think this could actually be a really positive moment for you.

  • Vic Horsham

    Speaking as someone who doesn’t want kids, but who does remember being a kid…

    Even if you and your other half disagree on what level of cleanliness is needed, or you divide housework up in a different manner (whatever works for you is fine!), it is important that you feel like you can trust your partner to pull their weight enough to cover the essentials, if nothing else. And it sounds – though I may be projecting – like your letter is less about the precise balance of housework in your home than it is about needing, and perhaps not being sure that you have, that trust.

    Life is messy, and people sometimes need help. My aunt had a bout of cancer, and the chemotherapy left her too weak and sick to do anything except sleep for weeks at a time. My nan has had multiple joint operations that have necessitated long recovery periods. My mum has had both scarlet and yellow fever, which required quarantine and hospitalisation while she recovered. A cousin had serious post-partum depression. I’ve had major anxiety/depressive episodes that meant brushing my hair felt like an impossible chore. And of course there are always minor things like seasonal flu, migraines, sprains and the like which happen often. But we’ve all been okay. Because not a one of us ever had a moment where we had to doubt that our family, our partners, would be both willing and able to pick up the slack for us.

    It’s especially important when you have children, because if you’re out for the count, it’s not just about your partner feeding themselves and you, getting laundry done and turning up to work. It’s about changing nappies, sterilising bottles, regular feedings, baths, homework, school, clean clothes, packed lunches, grazed knees, after-school clubs, bed time stories, reassuring the kid that their unwell parent will be okay, and so much more.

  • Samantha

    Anyone else actually have a dad like this? I did and I know it was hard on my mom, but I think I still deserve to exist. It’s like saying that if your children don’t have a perfect existence then they shouldn’t be brought into this world. I have a better relationship with my dad now, but I’ve always been over the moon for my mom because she rocks. My parents are still married also. They have problems, but they love each other and work on it. My dad is much better custodial grandpa (brothers kids live with them) than he was dad. I think that came with age and wisdom as he is 50 now. He wasn’t the most involved and dedicated dad but I still love him and see the good in him.

    • Meg Keene

      Yes. Actually. Close family members of mine did, and their home life was such a mess they were serially and severely abused by abusers outside of the family.

      The question as to whether good children put into bad situations “deserve to exist” is a terrible one, and I’m horrified at anyone framing the question that way. Abused and neglected children have it hard enough, without the idea being lobbed around that they don’t deserve to exist. That said, there is a HUGE difference between dealing with a kid in a bad situation, and choosing to bring a child into a bad situation. As much as I’m obviously grateful my family members exist, I’m horrified by their childhoods. And their mothers would have made different decisions, had they had better information, or been in situations where they had more control.

      That’s like arguing we shouldn’t use birth control because all theoretical future children deserve to exist. Obviously, some people think that. I think that’s unbelievably damaging to teach.

    • Jess

      I just opened this up to review the comments again, and I have to say, I LOVE your view on this in a way. I never really felt especially wanted by either of my parents, and felt like more of an inconvenience than the light of someone’s life. I wasn’t neglected or abused, and I turned out mostly fine, but my family still doesn’t really have an emotional connection the way I read about everyone else having. And I for sure sometimes felt like life for them would have been better without me existing.

      I think it rubbed me pretty hard to have everybody be like, “OMG IF YOU DON’T LOVE YOUR CHILDREN MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF AND YOUR PARTNER ISN’T READY TO DEVOTE THEIR ENTIRE LIFE TO YOUR CHILDREN YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE ANY WITH THEM GET OUT NOW!!!!” Maybe because I never felt like someone felt about me that way as a child, and I don’t know if I can feel that way about a child of my own.

      “It’s like saying that if your children don’t have a perfect existence then they shouldn’t be brought into this world” resonates with me a lot – it takes what a lot of my fears are founded on (I posted below about it – I’m not sure what kind of parent I’d be. I don’t want to be resentful or uninvolved, but maybe I will be?). and just kind of says, you should still exist, you can still have kids and raise them to be ok people.

      • Samantha

        I’m glad my comment was meaningful to you. I was a bit worried I would receive backlash for not having the “OMG IF YOU DON’T LOVE YOUR CHILDREN MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF AND YOUR PARTNER ISN’T READY TO DEVOTE THEIR ENTIRE LIFE TO YOUR CHILDREN YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE ANY WITH THEM GET OUT NOW!!!!” response that everyone else had. I just don’t think that’s a realistic view. And it did upset me too that that was the primary reaction from everyone.

        • Jess

          Same here, I came back to see if I could figure out why I was so upset at everyone in the comments. And then I read yours and went, “Oh. That is why.”

          I’m really glad that you posted even though you expected some backlash. It put that feeling into perspective and put a lot of my fears into context that didn’t make me feel awful for thinking them.

          So thank you!

  • Sharon Gorbacz

    I’ve learned not to resent when hubby doesn’t notice stuff and clean it up on his own, but he will do chores when I ask him to. If your guy won’t even help clean, and you resent it, then it’s time to find room in the household budget for third-party housekeeping services.

  • Sarah

    There are a lot of excellent comments here already so I will just say that if your partner needs to feel comfort and convenience then parenting is not for him. Personally I would much rather go it alone than have my partner be uninterested. My husband and I have our division of labour issues too with regards to housework and I know when this baby comes that I will do more of the baby-related chores than he will. It’s hard to be resentful of that when my job affords me 14 months of maternity leave and my husband has to run his business working 10+ hours a day and a lot of weekends. Regardless of the inequalities in the housework we are most definitely a team. He does things he doesn’t want to do because he knows it means a lot to me and vice versa. Teamwork is key and without it, things unravel. I’m sorry you’re faced with this decision and I wish you all the best in the future.

  • familytime

    I would caution that you don’t actually know that he would not be helpful with kids — you’re projecting that from how he is with housecleaning. I don’t know that that’s a fair comparison — dust doesn’t wake you up in the middle of the night or smile at you with your eyes or yell at you when you don’t pay attention to it. Please don’t make the mistake of equating a different standard of clean with indifference to your relationship or your kids — if you start from that expectation, he’s going to be on the defensive immediately, and that can’t possibly be a good starting point for the very tough conversations you need to have. You love him, presumably, because he is capable of loving you back – give him the benefit of the doubt that he will also be capable of loving and caring for his kids.

  • SarahN

    Oh my – well for me, the last time this came up (two weeks ago), we decided he’d do more/all the cooking; neither would grocery shop, we’d shop online instead (so far, so good), and my neatnik tendencies would be my thing. Sure, he agrees man must wash clothes, dishes and eat. He’s not so sure they need 16 types of washing loads, stain treatments or recycling going to 4 destinations. So he’ll help, and what’s important to me, to be done a certain way, will be up to me. But he can wash a load, or take out garbage, or grocery shop. And no, he won’t pull up the bed, cause as I agree, it won’t change the world (even though I prefer it). Compromise.

    When I’m emotional, it’s a shitty partner, but when we talk it out, it’s working out I can be a shitty partner with a Martha Stewart ideal for my home that he hasn’t bought into.