• Fri, Feb 1 2013

My Husband Is An Amazing, Involved Father, But I Still Feel Like The One ‘Responsible’ For Our Kid

equal partnershipMy husband is really awesome. He does dishes. He does laundry. He handles bath time. He is the epitome of an involved father, completely taking on 50% or more of the domestic chores without so much as a harrumph. He never complains about needing to help out. And yet, any time my husband makes dinner or takes my daughter to gymnastics or vacuums the floor, I find myself rushing to thank him, and then feeling slightly guilty that he had to help out with the “mom work.” Is it really an equal partnership?

When we debate “the parenting gap” and the amount of work mothers are still expected to do when they get home from a long day at the office, we sometimes miss an important part of the equation. It’s not so much “the parenting gap” as it is “the responsibility gap.” Even when women have amazing husbands who are more than happy to pull their own household weight, we still feel like we’re the ones responsible for the work. What’s more than that, we feel a little resentful that when a husband does the dishes, he’s “helping,” but a woman washing dishes is just doing what needs to be done.

I am not saying this responsibility gap is men’s fault. I’m not saying that my husband should somehow make me feel less guilty about our situation. For me, the guilt I feel over having a husband who folds the laundry and takes over playtime is all personal. The only one who can fix that problem is me.

That being said, I don’t think that I’m alone in this issue. I think there are lots of moms out there who spent their lives hearing that they needed to be all things at all times, an amazing mother and a successful careerwoman, and we carry around this shame anytime someone has to step in and help us.

In a recent New York Times‘ ‘Room For Debate,’ Bruce Feiler and KJ Dell’Antonia discuss co-parenting and why so many moms are still the primary caregiver, while husbands take a backseat. They suggest that the real problem is women who don’t want to give up the power of being in charge of their families. These “Mean Mommies” are shutting the dads out, refusing to let the poor guys be in charge of anything.

I think it’s possible that there are different motivations these two are missing. Maybe it’s not that women don’t want their husbands to step up and take an active role. Maybe they’re just like me, feeling guilty anytime they fall short of superwoman-status. Even when we aren’t the ones doing the cleaning or the childrearing, we inherently feel like those duties are our responsibility.

Have you ever heard a woman say, “My husband is babysitting the kids today”? He’s their parent, but he’s not the one who is normally responsible for the kids. No husband would ever say, “My wife is babysitting the kids today so I can watch the game with my friends.”

If I leave my husband home with our daughter to go do something for myself, like getting a massage or getting my hair done, I thank him when I get back. I walk in the door and say, “Thanks for taking care of her while I was out.” My husband would never consider thanking me for being home with our daughter while he was out with friends. (I’m not saying that he should.)

Women still feel responsible for the childrearing, even if their husbands or partners are picking up 50% of the slack. And I think it’s this gap in responsibility that continues to cause strife for lots of co-parenting couples. I’m not sure how much we can do to change it, other than make sure we raise our children to understand what parenting is always supposed to be a partnership and that they should expect equal effort from each partner, no matter what their gender. Maybe once a generation grows up with this idea in their heads, we’ll be able to stop debating so much about “the parenting gap” and where it’s coming from.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/houde.veronique Véronique Houde

    Thank you for this. This reflects my issues with modern feminism – the “we run the world” mentality that many women have, wherein they must be both maternal AND bread winning, where they bulldoze over men in an effort to take up an important place in modern life. I have to say that many men nowadays don’t know what it means to be a “man”.

    • lea

      I think it is a mistake to equate a few “we run the world” women with modern feminism. The very core belief of feminism is equality for the sexes. Some people don’t understand that and use the term incorrectly, and that is a shame for everyone.

      But I don’t feel one bit sorry for men who don’t know what it means to be a man. It is the responsibility of each individual to figure out who they are as a person, and where they fit in their families, communities and relationships.

      The boo hoos oh noes the womens are doing all my jobs type men need to suck it up.

    • http://twitter.com/enbrown Elizabeth

      “It is the responsibility of each individual to figure out who they are as a person, and where they fit in their families, communities and relationships.” SO important, so true, so often overlooked in discussions of man and woman and adulthood …

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

      It may be geographical bias or simple selection bias but I rarely run into people like that. I’ve known 2 true misandrist in my life that I can think of and that’s it.

  • http://twitter.com/that_darn_kat Kat

    Over the holidays, I had a job where I was working graveyards. Most nights, I was getting home around 4 or 5 am, if I was lucky. Sometimes I wasn’t home until 6 or 7 am. Even though I knew my husband had gotten a full nights sleep, and I knew I desperately needed mine, I was always guilty of any sleep I got on the weekends. If I slept 5 hours, I felt I shouldn’t have slept that long to be there with my kids. If I took a nap, I felt guilty that my husband had to come home from work and take care of the kids while I slept. I was working, too, and my job was longer hours and actual physically strenuous (my husband works on computers). I had nothing to feel guilty over, but I did. Every time I closed my eyes, I was burdened with guilt.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

      My wife and I both feel that way (neither of our jobs is physical though). She’s working mid shifts 3pm-midnight and I have a more standard 8-5 or 6 job. We both feel guilty for taking time away while the others there to do basic things like…sleep, read, work out, etc but we’d go crazy if we didn’t.

      I will confess when we’re both there my wife deals with Sam more than I do (can’t say exactly how much).

  • Daisy

    This gap definitely exists in my family (albeit the other way around). My dad makes the vast majority of household income, cooks, cleans, mows the lawn, shovels the walk, takes out the garbage, does the dishes, etc. etc. My mom works part time and feeds the dog. And she thinks she should get a gold star and a cookie every time she picks up a dishcloth. My dad is just expected to do everything, but when she pitches in at all, it’s a big deal.

    • http://twitter.com/that_darn_kat Kat

      This sounds like how my grandparents were, before my Grandpa had a stroke. It was up to him to cook, grocery shop, clean up the dishes, etc. What did my Grandma do? Laundry, and took care of hiring the lawn people and a cleaning lady so she didn’t have to do it. If she did something “extra”, like make dinner one night, she expected praise and thank yous from everyone. Things drastically changed when Grandpa had his stroke. Now almost everything falls on her, except for paying bills and grocery shopping, Grandpa is back to doing those.

  • Shelly G

    My husband is in the rare breed of stay at home dad. I thank him, every day, for having the house clean, the child clean and happy, and the dinner on the table when I get home. He thanks me, every day, for being the one that works. The truth is that we haveboth found what we want to do. He loves being at home and I love my career. I take on the daily dishes and half of the weekend cleaning- something we discussed and agreed upon. I don’t think the thank yous we exchange are born of guilt so much as “I love this person, appreciate what this person is doing to make my life easier, and I feel that this person should know that I feel this way.”

  • it’s only me

    I’ve never felt guilt and I frankly don’t understand the women who feel guilt. These are the same women who would be resentful if their husbands did nothing but play GTA all day in the basement. You can’t have it both ways. And doesn’t the father and child deserve that relationship with each other as well as a rightful place in the HOME, not just the income earner? Get over yourself. A famlily is a team… be thankful for having a great one.