Sharing the Load
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In the end, though, no matter what the cultural, psychological, or biological forces may be in our lives, we still have to make choices based on principle. You are entitled to make a case for certain values, to say what you think your children need, and to name what you feel is fair or unfair. Here are examples of principled responses to various objections we've heard fathers make to carrying more of the total load; please adapt them to your own needs and voice:
- "I'm not as good at it as you are. Plus the kids go to you anyway." Like anything, you just need to practice a little. The kids will get used to you doing certain things, and I'll direct them to you more. Plus you could initiate and not wait for the kids to come to me. Additionally, even if I'm the one who always washes Angel's hair, you could still help more by reading to Michael or cleaning up the kitchen.
- "You always interfere, and I've quit trying." I don't always interfere, but I do sometimes. I'm trying to help, anyway, not interfere, but I can understand that you feel crowded, so I'll promise to back off.
- "You just want someone to do things for you." Nope, I want you to do things with me. It's not just about getting stuff done. When you do your part, it makes me feel connected to you, like I'm not alone and we're in this together. I made a baby with you and I would love for us to share that experience in a happy way together.
- "I do more than my dad did." That's great, and I appreciate it. But there is still more to do if we're going to be fair about it.
- "My job is so stressful that I need to rest at home." Remember how you nearly fainted with relief when I finally got home after you were alone with the kids that one time for a few hours? Now imagine doing that for many hours instead of a few, and for a thousand days instead of one. If we're talking about getting a break based on the stress level of our typical day, in fairness I deserve rest at least as much as you.
- "Making a living counts for more than raising children." I believe that it's the other way around. Child rearing counts for more since it so directly impacts our precious children. And it's usually harder, day after day. I am not setting child rearing above making a living. But it is at least equal.
- "I make all the money, so you should handle the housework and kids." I do handle the housework and kids while you are making money. I'm talking about what you do when you're not commuting or at work. You wanted children and now we've got them. You can see that it's best for them when we are both involved in the morning, at night, or over the weekend. Speaking personally, it does not feel fair for me to keep on going while you watch TV or go out with your friends. How would you feel about someone at work who did that sort of thing while you kept getting things done? Would you feel resentful? Would you be eager for them to do their share?
- "I make more money than you." I appreciate all the money you bring in to our family. But that does not change what is good for our children and our relationship, when we are both at home in the mornings, evenings, and weekends. (And follow with the points just above.)
- "It's because you're working that the kids need so much and there's so much housework." I think that's hitting below the belt. If l didn't work, our kids would still need you to help out in the evenings and weekends. We need my salary, and even if we didn't, I have as much right to work as you. Besides, we could just as well turn the point against you: The kids wouldn't need so much if you, their father, stayed home. In fairness, the hard choices between career and time with children should fall just as much on a father as a mother. We both work, we both need to parent, and we both need to do housework.
- "That's woman's work." There is no law that says so. You did dishes before you met me, and it wasn't women's work then. I don't think you take it easy while I wash clothes or give the kids a bath out of high moral principle, but simply because that's your personal preference. You're just as capable as I am of putting a child to sleep or feeding a toddler.
- "Quit telling me what to do." I don't want to tell you what to do. Usually I try not to. And if I ever do, it's because you won't make a reasonable agreement with me about who does what - or you make one but don't stick with it. I'm the messenger of what our kids or home needs, so please don't be angry at me for just bringing the message. If you saw what needed doing in the first place, I wouldn't have to bring a message at all. Besides, why is it fair for you to tell me what to do about the car or computer or mutual fund or whatever, but I can't tell you anything about what to put in a lunchbox?
- "Get off my back, or else." I'd be glad to talk about this when you're calmer. But I'm going to ask: What's the "or else"? Are you really going to hit me or walk out on your kids because I'm tired of picking your socks up off the floor? Because I'd appreciate it if you'd get home sooner? Your kids need you to be more involved, I need it, and our marriage does, too.
More on: Children's General Health
From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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