Sunday, 27 March 2011

How far would you trust your husband?

Nope.  I'm not talking about lap-dancing clubs, or boys' weekends away, or suspicious-sounding dinners with attractive ex-girlfriends.

This is much more important.

Would you trust him with the stuff that matters?

Can he sort out the delicates from the not-delicates?
Can he plan and shop for a week of meals that the children will actually eat?
Can he leave work on time to get to the doctor's for the immunisation appointment?
Can he do the washing-up when it needs doing, and not twenty-four hours later (and dry it up and put it away afterwards)?
Can he get them up, get them dressed, tidy their rooms, make their beds, do their hair, get them fed, sweep the rice krispies from under the table and still get them to nursery on time?

Would you trust your husband/partner to look after your children and your home properly?
And does "properly" only really mean: "the way you want them looked after"?

Because I'm not sure I can, and do.  And I know I should.

When we had just had L, and were talking about our options for working and childcare, there was never any question about whether I should go back to work.  I like my job, I'm good at it, I like my colleagues and it brings (brought) in useful money.  I was also, at the time, better paid than B.

So we had a conversation. It went a bit like this:

Him: Well, I could always go part-time and you could go back to work full-time
Me:  No.
Him: Ok.

It was instinctive.  I didn't, and don't, want him to be what Rebecca Asher calls, in an article in yesterday's Guardian magazine, the foundation parent.  Partly that was a visceral wanting to be the person L (and now the others) turned to with cut knees, or sore fingers, or broken hearts, and partly that was because I knew that I didn't trust him.

Not that I didn't trust him to love them as much as I do, or to notice when they were ill, or to throw himself into traffic for them.  B loves our children as much, if not more, than I do, and is, in many ways, a better, certainly in the sense of more relaxed, more instinctive and more prepared to make an idiot of himself, parent than I am.  But I didn't trust him to do all the other stuff that still seems to go with it.  I knew, and remain convinced that I was right to know, that what would happen was that I come in every evening, tired and stressed, only to find that the house wasn't tidied (to my standards), the supper wasn't cooked (to my standards), I had no clean knickers for the next day, and I was left, grumpily and resentfully doing stuff that, in my head at least, we had decided was his job.

So instead, I am the foundation parent, and especially now that my working days take up an even smaller proportion of my week, I take on a much larger share of the day-to-day running of children, house and general administrative stuff than B does.  As (by extension) I've just admitted, that's my job...

And this is, Rebecca Asher says, normal.  I am normal.  What happens is that when women are at home on maternity leave (the first six months of which, despite changes being brought in next month, will remain the preserve of women), we start taking on all this stuff that used to be shared.  We are at home, we are bored, the baby is asleep, the washing needs doing, we want, when our partner gets home, to be able to sit and talk like we used to and not nag about state of the kitchen floor, or the shopping list for next week, so we do it.  And then:

even when mothers return to work after maternity leave, the responsibility for the domestic chores accrued in that time often remains with them.  In fact, women carry on performing almost the same number of domestic tasks when they switch from looking after their children full-time to working outside the home part-time. And even if they work outside the home full-time, they are still more likely than their partners to take responsibility for household chores, and to take time off work to look after an ill child.

What Rebecca Asher doesn't, of course, address, is whether this is also, but inversely, true in households where the father is the foundation parent.  Do stay-at-home, or part-time working, dads also do all the other stuff?  I suspect that my feeling that I would still have ended up doing it says more about my latent Monica-ish-ness than it does about the nature of parenting as a whole and there are plenty of dads out there who are just as much of a dab hand with a mop as I am.

Whatever the case may be there, Rebecca Asher maintains that for women returning from maternity leave domestic inequality becomes a habit, and, presumably given that she is here only talking about mothers who do more paid work than I do, a habit that I am likely to have fallen into more heavily than most.  But it's not just that.  Apparently I also take on this stuff, and do it, however grumpily, because I like the control, or I want to be a martyr, or because I want others to think I am supermum, however much of a myth we all know that last to be.  And, as a result, husbands and partners make even less of an effort, because they know that when they do, they will only be criticised:

The forks go in that drawer, not that one...
The sheets aren't ironed...
They had fishfingers for supper last night.... 

To be honest, I'd probably stop trying too.

Now, obviously, I have no solution to this.  Although it would be nice to say that parents should have a discussion about sharing the chores, or a rota, or some sort of organised division of labour, it's also true that, at least where B and I are concerned, I think both of us would resent our shared time with the children being taken up with the dull household tasks when instead we could be doing things as a family, and it's not as though I really want him to be sorting out laundry when he could be sitting on the sofa giving me a cuddle once they're in bed (although it would free up some handy blogging time...).

So what this eventually made me think was not how badly I am treated, or how unfair my life is (that was last week's rant), but actually how unfair my feeling like this is on B and the other men like him (because, after all, I am, apparently, normal).  Because I do trust him, of course I do, I wouldn't have married him, much less had children with him, had I not done so, but I've never really let him prove himself worthy of that trust. 

I'm not in a position to go back to full (or indeed part-) time office-based work (I'm not qualified to work in Scotland, so failing a career change, remote working is my only option), but maybe it's time for a girls' weekend away.  If nothing else, we'll find out if he can trust me...


  1. What is it with your blog? I've just written a lengthy comment, and Blogger went and lost it. Have you got some anti-Iota setting switched on or something?

    In a nutshell, I was saying that in my experience (both my own and watching other mums), this comes full circle over time. As a mum, you feel differently as your children get older - less in need of being Family CEO.

    Then there was a lot of waffling, and it ended "so hand B that Tesco shopping list"!

  2. Hi, saw this post over at BMB. Has your hubby been in charge of 'everything' yet? My hubby has and that's why I'm in charge - lol! He sounds like your hubby - he's great with the kids etc, etc. I had flu over xmas and was really ill. He looked after the kids (ie fed and played with them) but absolutely nothing else got done. I could have died and he wouldn't have noticed. He got up in the morning and left me in bed without checking on me or offering me food or drink. He had to gets the kids to school/nursery and he hadn't even set off by the time they were supposed to be there. There is a decided lack of effort on the chores front even though his flat was always pristine when I first met him. I have a bit of a moan from time to time and he shows willing for a while and then we go back to the status quo. The house is often a tip and needs a spring clean but if he doesn't like it then he'll have to pick up a duster! Life's too short to stress too much about all that stuff anyway.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. oh, and ps Iota, no, I turned that setting off... don't know what it is, sorry. (And cross. Would have like to have seen the original comment) x

  5. and pps Tilly - you are very welcome and thank you for visiting!

  6. Iota - to be fair, he's just got back from Tesco's, having written the shopping list himself, and done the washing up, and hung out the washing (all entirely unasked)... (hence why the email I owe you might have to wait until tomorrow while I look suitably grateful)

    Tilly - not yet! I did go to Singapore with the eldest leaving him with the other two, but he also had his mother...

  7. My husband is the foundation parent as you call it, does the school run and .... yeah thats where it finishes. I work full time and to fair he will and can cook but all the time, no, clean all the time, no, menu plan > I don't think he'd no where to start. I didn't think it would be like this becuase he did used to work and we did share but now, it seems that we share as in I do it!

  8. My husband has been a SAHD for over six year now and it's a role-swap we should have considered sooner. He is much better at the "household chores" and has far more patience with the children whilst I am better at the "earning the pennies" bit. He still has a meal on the table every night when I come in from work (it feels very very traditional if that makes sense).

    It's a situation that we were forced into and I found it incredibly hard to let go after 14 years of being the main parenting parent but we now know where our strengths lie.

  9. Ok, well to cut a long answer short and put it in a nutshell; No! He's good with Amy but doesn't have a clue how to look after her "properly". He can't cook (I'm not much better), he doesn't know what a washing machine, hoover or duster looks like, and the other day I need a bunch of bananas from the shop. It was a trip to the post office and a pop in the co-op at the same time; but he wouldn't go in the co-op while I was in the PO because he just didn't know what to look for. I wanted bananas. How difficult is it to find a bunch of nice-looking bananas?

    He'll never change. And neither will I!

    CJ xx

  10. I'd trust mine (and do) with everything but the washing, when we first got together I had quite a number of ruined items....he'll never change on that score, we just now have a 'don't even think about trying' linen basket and a 'fair game' linen basket, although I have to admit, he does the washing more often than me, now we have our Plan B for keeping my delicates safe!

  11. I know that I ask Dave to look after the boys then I have to expect that things will be done differently. Its taken a while but I'm ok with that now. After all, who says my way is the perfect way anyway?

    That said, any way would include putting the clothes in the washing machine which he appears not to have mastered yet...

  12. MadDad can and has done everything at some point and he is much better at it than me. I learnt pretty early on that I wanted to the the foundation parent or influencer in my boys life, however, I also learnt that the best way to encourage Drew to do things was to let him without criticising him. Before I went in to hospital for the dreaded mastectomy, I write him a book with daily jobs in for both the house nad the children. I went online and ordered 4 weeks worth of food to be delivered and then he managed. In the end I was in and out of hospital for 3 months and he did an amazing job.

    We are a partnership, it works for us. I gave him a list of things that he is expected to do each day bins, dishwasher etc and he does it and more, I had a lie in this morning and he had put on the washer, hung the stuff in it on the line, fed, dressed and cleaned with the boys and they were all playing monopoly when I came down. He is a keeper my man

  13. Same as Iota, long reply. Sorry no postee

  14. Wow, what a great post. I confess DH does most of our laundry, and I let him, learning to live with the greay whites and the felted handknits rather than seem ungrateful. Part of the reason I am reluctant to leave him with the Girls is that I am convinced he would do a better job than me in my absence and I would feel even more redundant.

    We are 'lucky' I suppose in that we had already discussed in advance and knew that I would be a stay-st-home-parent because their is such a disparity in our earnings (he has a career. I *ahem* don't) but that doesn't mean we're not both regularly frustrated with our lot and resentful of the other person. Hopefully we'll survive ;-)

  15. Interesting post

    I guess I'm lucky in that I have had to leave Mr Muddling in charge on lots of occasions and whilst the chores don't tend to get done (he doesn't seem to be able to combine childcare and dishwasher emptying for example) he does generally survive. And I'm fairy acerbic when he says it was tough, given I get to do the same...

    We've had a fairly frank chat around him reducing hours and whilst it would be nice its career suicide, but should I stay working full time just so he doesn't feel left out? Not exactly the best decision really if we can afford it

  16. This post really struck a chord with me too. Mr A thinks he'd like to be the foundation parent and work part time while i go back full time. But on some level I really don't want to. I haven't really sat down and analysed why I feel like this and is it just social conditioning because as a woman it's expected and 'normal' or is it because I feel a deep seated need to be the foundation parent? But why should Mr A be excluded from taking up that role if he really wants to? His Multi tasking ability is rubbish though! And this morning he got them to nursery an hour late as I was away. Hmmm question answered perhaps?!?

  17. Really interesting comments! Thank you all, especially new people - will be popping over to visit you soon, I promise.

    Must first apologise to the ever-loving and very supportive B, who actually does significantly more than his fair share of the helping round the house - just not always to my satisfaction. I suspect though that's more my problem than his...

    BNM - the funny thing here is I can't remember what we used to do before children. I'm sure it was more equally shared but I just don't remember...

    Nickie - really, really interesting. Thank you so much for the comment. I can't imagine "giving up" the reins of the family after fourteen years. I'm taking off my metaphorical hat to you for doing so, and, more importantly for making it work!

    CJ - hilarious! Reminds me of a guy I was at university with who didn't buy bananas for the four years we were there because he was scared of getting to the till and finding out that he had to weigh them....!

    Helen - to be fair, B is much more anal about washing than I am. If he had his way we'd have about forty five different loads each with three things in.... I've not ruined anything yet...

    Pants with Names - I think that's my problem. I haven't yet realised that the way I do it, isn't perfect. Even though clearly I, my family and my house aren't perfect...

    MadMummy - am really interested in the way you manage this. I've never thought of giving B a list - I sort of expect him to read my mind and work out what needs doing... after all, if I can, why can't he. But it clearly works for you! Hmmm....

    Inallmybrondays - so sorry! Kelloggsville had problems too. Don't understand, it's not the spam filter and I haven't done anything clever/stupid, honest. Really sorry anyway. on the upside though - warned by you and Iota I copied and pasted this comment before clicking "post" and lo and behold it lost it! But I still had it.... ha ha blogger, you can't defeat me....or something.

    DomesticGoddesque - interesting. I've never really thought that he might resent not being me - having the time to stay at home with the girls etc. He's certainly never said that he does, even after this post, but will have to ask...

    Muddling Along - I guess you prove Rebecca Asher's point don't you - there you are, working full time, two small children, but still being the person who can combine the childcare with the laundry... How does that happen and why do women let it? I didn't realise you were contemplating working fewer hours though...?

    MummyDichotomy - I think it's odd that it's such a visceral reaction isn't it? It totally was for me. In many ways it made lots of sense for him to do it, but there was no way I was letting him. As you say, why???

  18. My husband is better at all of the above, even though I'm the one at home with the kids. He still comes home and tidies the kitchen and saves me when I've forgotten to put a wash on. I'm feeling very guilty about it these days, but that's the way it is. I'm pretty good with the kids and taking care of them, but the tidying and household stuff I just can't get a grip on.


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