Keith made a comment to me last night that I thought was interesting. He said:
One of the things I love about really busy days at work is that I can get all kinds of things done, and rush around and be occupied all day, but I know what I'm doing. It feels great. I feel so competent. I hardly ever feel that way at home because I don't know how to do much!
Now my husband is a doctor, so he's a very bright person. But he's at a loss when it comes to looking after a lot of the stuff that goes into the house and the kids.
It's not like he can't do housework or cook. On the contrary! When we were first married, we pretty much split everything. I was no better at cooking than he was, because we both had about as much experience. We often cooked together, or took a few hours on the weekend to clean up our apartment. Either of us could do anything. And when we weren't looking after the apartment, we were both studying, because we were both in school.
Gradually, though, things changed. I became more interested in recipe books. He became busier at his studies and his job. When the kids came along, I organized the apartment for all their stuff. I had to figure out a schedule for laundry, because I was now home full-time, and Keith was working more than full-time. I figured out how to keep the kids busy all day.
It's not that Keith couldn't do laundry or couldn't cook; it was just that because I was the one who primarily did it, I set up the systems in our home as to how it was going to get done.
And it was the same with food. I started researching nutrition, and decided to cook a certain way for our kids. I decided to branch out with the fruits and vegetables we were eating. I experimented with new grains. And suddenly, the spaghetti and shepherd's pie that we used to make together in that small apartment weren't staples anymore. They're always enjoyed when we make them again, but I tend to add more vegetables now. I add different spices. I make it more elaborate, and he sometimes feels inadequate.
Keith still does cook occasionally, although when he's responsible for dinner, he often goes the frozen entree route. He often mops and cleans up when I'm away, to get the house nice for me to come home to. He can do laundry, I suppose, but I don't know when the last time was that he threw on a load. I use homemade laundry detergent now, and he doesn't know how much to put in. But if he ever had to, he could. And if we ever need something installed, he does it! He's the one who put together this closet organizer for our oldest daughter:
But on the whole, he brings home the bacon, and I cook it.
What happened, I believe, is that we both specialized. When we were first married, we both pretty much did the same things. But as time went on, he got better at work and making money, and I got better at organizing the household and the kids. It's only natural. When you spend most of your time in one sphere of life, you become better at it.
That's not a bad thing. That's one of the main benefits of marriage. When you specialize, you get more efficient at things than when both of you try to do 50% of everything. You can't really enjoy this level of specialization, though, if you're afraid that your marriage won't last. If your marriage is in jeopardy, then you're worried about doing everything should you have to. It's a much less productive relationship. And indeed, in the book The Case for Marriage, the authors show study after study which demonstrate that couples who specialize tend to make more money, have nicer homes, and better behaved kids, because everyone concentrates on what they're good at and works hard in their primary sphere of influence.
Of course, both parties have to be able to step into another's sphere in an emergency. You never want to be in a position where you have to work, but you have no skills, or you have to look after the finances, but you have no idea what accounts you own. Or what if your husband had to cook a meal? But I don't think we should resent the fact that we're good at certain things, and he's good at others. It's not sexist. It's just natural.
Nevertheless, if your area of specialization takes up absolutely all of your time, while he has plenty of free time, that's an imbalance in your relationship that needs to be fixed. If you're both working, but in different areas, that's fine. If one of you is taking advantage of the other, it's not. Are any of you in that position?
You also don't want to get in a situation where the husband feels that he's not WANTED in your sphere of influence. Whatever you do, ladies, never, ever, push your husband away from your children because "he doesn't do it right". The children deserve a relationship with their dad which will be different from their relationship with you. Encourage that relationship, even if dad does things in ways that you wouldn't. I know many women who end up pushing their husbands away because when they come home from work, they wreck the routine the moms have going, or they make more work for everyone, so it's easier if they're away.
Don't do that. If you find yourself resenting your husband when he's home, change YOUR routine. Include him. Plan more family things, and fewer solely kid-centered routines. It's as much your problem as it is his if he doesn't feel welcome.
But beyond this, don't sweat too much if you find yourself cooking most of the meals and him working more, even if you swore you'd always have an equal marriage. I swore that, too. But my definition of equal has changed. We both work hard in the areas we're called to. That's what's important, and that's what makes us tick so well!
What about you? How does specialization work in your home? Do you need help stepping back a bit and letting your husband in? Do you need help getting your husband engaged with the kids? Let me know, and let's see if we can help each other in the comments!
Labels: chores, cooking, housework, marriage