American Culture

Wise up, 21st-century women: it's still either work or family

Well, I didn’t expect my return to Scroguedom after six months would be in the form of a personal screed, and on domestic topics no less (as in “household”). However, as the feminist mantra of the 1970s claimed, “the personal is political,” a statement as salient today as it was then.

I’d like to be writing about clean energy or debating health care policy. I wish I could add something astute to the discussion about the future of democracy in Iran. But to do so would mean investing the time to follow these issues closely enough to have something worthwhile to add. And then there’s the time needed to actually write something. I’ve already got four or five unfinished posts languishing on my laptop.

Yet, in the words of my 14-year-old son this morning, who is angry at my asking him to pitch in around the house prior to the arrival of weekend guests, and who can’t understand why I won’t just drop everything to pick him up from the lake with his friends later today, I don’t have a “real job” — so why can’t I be like a good stay-at-home mom and craft my life exclusively around his? If I didn’t have work to play at, I could keep the house up by myself and still have time to provide unlimited taxi service. He can’t understand why, if Dad is a doctor, I still “have to work.” (Never mind that my husband is a family physician in a small, self-owned private practice in a very affluent community – which makes us solidly middle-class amid the wealth of Boulder). My son thinks I ask him to do too much in exchange for offering too little – at least in comparison to most of his friends, whose mothers are not so audacious as to work.

No doubt his barbed comment struck too sharp a chord in me. It is too often I who question whether I have a “real job.” I mostly freelance, as a copywriter and editor. This past year, it’s been full time, which is why I’ve had to shortchange this blog, despite the gratification it’s provided for me intellectually and as a really-wanna-be journalist. On top of that, I teach off and on as an adjunct at the University of Colorado, where I finished a Ph.D. over a decade ago. No, I don’t have a “normal job with an office,” as my son pointed out. Nor benefits. Despite protestations, I don’t even get an “exclusively mine” desk at home – everyone’s always encroaching on it. Unlike more highly esteemed grad school peers, I did not pursue a tenure-track position, since I did not see how it could possibly fit with the life I had by the time I graduated, with a toddler and an infant and a husband who was often on call and never gets home till 6:30 or 7:00.

As a high school political junkie I had a T-shirt that said “A woman’s place is in the House…and Senate.” I grew up in the heady feminist days of the 1970s believing that, and believing that I could be a success in the house (small “h”) and the public sphere as well. Both, I felt, were integral to the life I wanted to craft as a woman.

I’ve done my best to cobble together a sorry-looking version of “having it all,” which means a half-assed pseudo-career; a lot of guilt about being a mother who is only half there, half the time, for her children; a house that despite my best, often solo, efforts to keep semi-ordered, usually looks like a small tornado blew through – and a chronic level of stress and sleep deprivation, not to mention perpetual frustration over not being able to do any of what I do as well as I could have if I were more singularly devoted.

Why didn’t I get a full-time nanny so I could pursue the full-time career? Which, theoretically, I might make enough at (though likely not, as an academic or journalist) to afford a housekeeper to do all the scut work I resent? I didn’t, because I chose to be a mom, and I felt it was better for my kids if they had at least one parent available to them at more than just breakfast and bedtime. And since my husband makes substantially more money than I am able to, it makes sense for him to be the primary earner. But what I didn’t know, when I made that seemingly obvious choice back when to “do it all,” is how hard it would be, and how little valued I would feel on every front, not least in my own estimation. (And yes, I realize these are the quandaries of a privileged Western woman – but that is my culture.)

The struggles that American women – and we are still talking primarily about women — continue to face as they pursue a multiplicity of identities, particularly parent versus professional, are every bit as relevant, entrenched and seemingly insoluble as they were when I graduated from high school nearly three decades ago. My conclusion, almost 15 years into parenthood, 11 years post-Ph.D. and the entirety of that time spent negotiating the “juggling act,” is that little has changed for women. I bought that whole ‘80s bill of goods that you can have it all and do it all well, and I’m here to tell you that it’s a load of crap. The reality is, in the vast majority of situations, that as a woman today you still must foreground either family or work or suffer the fallout of trying to combine them.

My husband gets to leave the house every day and go to a job that, while taxing, is still gratifying and comes with a good measure of status. He doesn’t worry about whether there’ll be clean underwear for the next morning or (imagine!) whether the kids will have clean underwear. He doesn’t think about what they’ll eat for lunch or negotiate daily battles with them over fruits and vegetables versus pop and ice cream. He doesn’t have to interrupt his day multiple times to admonish them to turn off the TV or the computer and do something more productive, or summon the emotional energy necessary to brace for yet another conflict if he dares ask them to unload the dishwasher, vacuum the cat hair off the sofa, or wipe the splatter off the bathroom mirror. He doesn’t stress about how he’ll make his 5:00 deadline if he has to leave to go pick up his son who accuses his mother of being a “micromanager” if she has the gall to ask him to pin down what time his social occasion might wind up, so she can work around it – even though she doesn’t really “work,” in his youthful appraisal.

I’ve had well-meaning individuals give me two versions of advice. The more traditional set says, “This is just a season. The kids will be grown before you know it (they will – and that’s also why the attitude issues and constant conflict hurt so much); make them your focus, don’t worry about work – there’ll be time for that” — as if it’s just a little hobby. The others say, “Just don’t do it.” Let the house go. Let them worry about their own laundry. Let them eat as much junk as they please. Forgot about monitoring grades; it’s their future. Don’t worry if your husband’s parents get birthday cards or Christmas presents – it’s not up to you.

There is truth in both perspectives. But I can’t seem to embrace either. I remain torn in a maelstrom of expectations: to nurture these children I’ve brought into the world and to keep a semblance of domestic order, since I have this flexible schedule and work at home. And also to use this able brain I was born with, this analytical mind, this creative energy that, even if I were to try to subordinate, will not be repressed. Despite my son’s puzzlement, I don’t work because I “have to,” to make ends meet. I have a luxury in that regard (though he might not be skiing and traveling like his peers, were that not the case).

What I’m holding out for, I guess, is that it won’t be all over for me by the time I hit 50. Once my kids are off to college, my time-balance should shift. What I’m clinging to is the hope that society might have changed enough since the early days of feminism so that midlife women can make fresh, vital contributions and be rewarded for them with the pay and status they deserve, even if they’ve chosen, by default, the silly-sounding Mommy Track.

Am I a fool to have such faith? If the past 30-40 years of feminism’s limited accomplishments are any indicator, maybe so. As long as we live in a culture in which privileged 14-year-old boys see their mother’s choice to work as self-indulgent, progress seems elusive. But I’m also holding out hope that by making the choices I have – not to abandon my children, as so many in my generation were through divorce or neglect, and not to forsake my own gifts and goals – my son and his younger sister may grow up to see the value of both sets of commitments. Whether society will evolve to support women so that they can combine them more effectively is another matter.

Wendy Redal hopes to post more regularly in the future, with a focus on the politics of everyday culture.

27 replies »

  1. Great article, one of the best I’ve ever read, absolutely amazing. I empathize with you as my late, lovely wife went through roughly the same situation. How she coped, I’ll never know, but she always had my admiration for giving up an extremely successful career to start a family. I never made her give up her career, that was her choice. I do feel regret that she was never able to reach the pinnacle of her profession. However, she was the Chris Evert regarding her career as a full time mother, the best.

    Thanks for putting it down so succinctly.


  2. It might be said that something is worth only what you’ll sacrifice for it. Children are blessed beyond the comprehension of their youth by what a mother gives.

    That society does not recognize the value that mothers add by way of their sacrifices is an unfair shame.

    Call your mom.

  3. I finally realized around February of this year that the business I’ve started, in all my spare time as the stay-at-home mother of a three-year-old with some very special needs, is worthwhile precisely because “I want to.” It is creative work, another big marginalizing (if that’s a word) designation.

    I want to do this work.
    I want uninterrupted time to do this work.
    I want to do this work into the future and explore its possibilities.
    And whether or not those around me think it’s serious enough or worthwhile enough or profitable enough, I want them to shut the fuck up if they have a negative opinion about it – because if they love me and want me to remain sane and whole and myself, I need to do this work.

    Not many people, according to my trusty shrink, have a need like this. I refuse to be half of myself any longer. The kid goes to preschool in the fall.

  4. And by the way, I also go back to work part-time to pay for it. I’ll continue to shuttle her from therapist to school to activities… but the rest of my time? MINE.

  5. True parental equality will only be achieved when BOTH units can have their cake and eat it too: the children will just fucking raise themselves and stop getting in the way of the previous generation’s personal ambitions. Message received!

  6. Although I live half way around the world from you- this very week I’ve been grappling with the same topics you mentioned. I am a full time writer working from home. Because of that every thing gets laid at my feet because I am here and husband is at work and kids at school. I threw all of my toys out of the cot this week- screaming that no one appreciates my work despite the fact that last year I made the most money of anyone in this house AND made sure everyone was washed and fed and clothed and the house was tidy and and and and ….. you know the list- you’re living a version of my life there in Colorado.

    Like you I can’t just sit back and leave them to it. The house would very quickly become infested with rats. I can’t continue to accept that since I’m home I must do everything. And can I let you know- things don’t improve when the kids leave- my two kids are at boarding school most of the time and the problem is still there. I don’t know what the answer is but I suspect it lies with my husband. Why oh why can’t men do 50% of the work? An even fair 50%? This is 2009 for god’s sake. Yeah I’m fed up. I know why so many women here in Botswana have just given up on marriage all together. My writing partner is a single mom and her son does things- her son sews! He sews his own clothes. I go back to my intial suspiscions the problem lies with the husbands. For all of their metrosexual babble-talk they are living in the 1950’s.

  7. I think this is a thoughtful post, though I don’t quite agree with every conclusion. However, I want to address the comment from Lauri.

    I think my husband does more than 50% of the work, as do I. Though everyone in our home is expected to do housework, yardwork, help each other, etc, I do not see how my husband is required to do 50% of the housework. He does not require me to do 50% of the financial support of the family. He has never asked me why I didn’t help him out on a contract or budget proposal or any other of his work. He has never resented my not doing so.

    I trust him with all of our children, with making meals, with taking care of our home. I never have to worry about that if I am gone, for instance. He is the first to take over when he sees that I am overwhelmed or stressed out and has even sent me away with a friend so he can take over for me. However, I just don’t see how if I am a homemaker, it is his responsibility to take care of the home as much as I do. If we both worked outside of the home things would be different, but that is not the case.

    My husband has never, not once, complained that I don’t “carry my weight” in supporting the family the way he does. I see no reason to complain that he isn’t “carrying his weight” in housework. We both support our family in different ways and are both willing to pitch in to help the other.

  8. Well, there’s your answer, Wendy. As Smithee has shown us, there is obviously no middle ground between totally subsuming your own identity into parenthood and throwing your offspring to the wolves.

    And Lauri, I’m entirely sympathetic (although perhaps not as hygienic), but I have to believe that half the responsibility for any situation created by two adults lies with each partner. If your contract, explicit or implicit, has been negotiated a certain way and you want to change it… you can probably expect chaos and arguing and rats in the laundry room for a while. You may even find out that there is no negotiation which will end with the same two people married to each other – but that’s a last-ditch conclusion.

    Without blathering into a dissertation or ten, I guess I’m saying that if someone doesn’t know what you need, he or she can’t supply it.

  9. Ann — Moreso it’s about the psychological battleground that is growing up with parents that see their children as threats to the fulfillment of their dreams (and believe me, even when it’s not as blatant as this, the kids pick up on it). Honestly, this post struck a nerve. In this case, I don’t see ill intent, but I do see children pitted against their parents’ “real lives,” a phenomenon I can assure you is not isolated to this blogpost. Absolutely I see a double-standard in what’s expected from dads vs. that of moms when it comes to the home and the career, demonstrated here in the father’s freedom to COMPLETELY check out and be Mr. Studmuffin McLadderclimber thanks to his glam career, but my point here is that the end result is even kids in some of these treasured “two-parent families” net maybe 0.5 parents — the other 1.5 just have better things to do than raise children.

  10. Thanks to all who have continued and expanded the conversation I started. I wrote it — or more accurately, it wrote itself — on the heels of an emotional conflict with my son that elevated certain aspects of my always ambivalent perspective on these issues. The flip side is that I recognize I am also fortunate to get to have some of ‘everything’ — family, flexibility, an outlet for my ideas, proximity to the university, and the chance to use at least some of my abilities that go beyond domestic tasks and calendar management.

    I agree with the implication in Ann’s comments that it is NOT wrong to want to find a middle ground — a chance to be something in addition to a parent without causing harm to one’s children in the process. No one told me I would be expected to entirely jettison other dimensions of myself when I opted to have children. I just never expected how hard the trade-offs would be. I guess it’s that that has concerned me most, and that prompted my admittedly provocative — though honest, I think — title: women still do not get how difficult it is to try to ‘do both.’

    Re: Smithee’s 6/26 reply, I take issue with the suggestion that my kids are experiencing distress because they perceive themselves as obstacles to my dreams. What they do perceive, at times, is that the universe revolves around them, and I don’t think that’s a healthy perception to cultivate in any human being. We live in a culture –and very much so in the privileged community of Boulder, Colorado, where I reside — that gives kids such a sense of entitlement for very little expected of them. I see this rampant among the university students I teach: easy As are expected, even demanded, with little investment of time or effort. I don’t think it’s a moral transgression, or even selfish, to ask my children to be partners in the upkeep of our home or to undergo the inconvenience of riding their bike occasionally in lieu of a ride, because “Mom is working.” On the contrary, it’s important to instill an awareness of what it takes to keep four busy lives, two pets and a house going; to cultivate a sense of mutual partnership; and to encourage sensitivity to others’ commitments alongside one’s own needs and interests. My kids are 14 and 11; they are old enough to start recognizing these things.

    And finally, I have to add that I chuckled at the notion of my husband as a Studmuffin Ladderclimber with a glam career… He is the most humble, earnest, non-fashionable, hard-working, devoted, old-school family doctor you could ever want to meet. He struggles to keep his practice financially stable in an era where big insurance companies steadily reduce what primary care physicians are paid. He is vexed at how to pay his own employees’ health insurance, when premiums keep mounting for small business owners. He’s a lousy typist, so ends up bringing home two hours’ worth of charts to dictate for electronic data entry. He’s not a jerk — just too busy, not very efficient (his patients love that he spends 30-40 minutes with them!), and very singularly focused. It’s the latter that grates on me most — he simply does not think about domestic details much, because he doesn’t have to. He “helps” when I ask him to. But I get stuck managing everything. What’s tough for me, vis-a-vis Ranee’s comments, is that I am also working full-time, or close to it, and yet 95% of the domestic load is on my plate, because I work at home with a ‘flexible schedule.’ How we address such a situation remains a puzzle to me when one partner is out of the home 10 hours a day. The only situations I see in which both working parents share domestic duties and also enjoy roughly equivalent careers are those in which each has a flexible schedule. That’s perhaps a segueway into a follow-up post on what we need to create, in terms of a social structure, to make work and parenting more compatible for women and men both.

  11. I’m not married to the studmuffin in question, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of your assessment.

    I agree that people who are incapable of adequate nurture and who are unwilling to change their lives should not have children. I have never yet seen a parent who was capable of fully comprehending the extent of that change before it happened – although some of us test ourselves for a long, long time before we even consider the idea, there’s just no vicariously experiencing the reality. Then there are those who just get knocked up because hey, things happen or isn’t that what most people do or… who knows. I imagine it’s rather like dying or killing or giving birth; you have to do it to really get it, and once you get it, you’re already there. No prep course, no do-over. And no excuse for neglect or selfishness, just an observation: even the most brilliant, loving, dedicated people can get the crap knocked out of them by parenting.

    I used to see and talk to the “.5 parent” all the time. They occur in a dizzying array of manifestations, and of course you’re right. It shouldn’t happen. They are one end of a spectrum, however, and as in most things, the opposite extreme is unacceptable as well. I know, from formal education and practical experience, that losing all sense of self in one’s role as a parent is very, very bad for the person, for the partnership and most importantly for the child in that parent’s care.

    Your child does not become your life; what a horrifying burden to inflict on anyone so open and fragile. Your child becomes (perhaps, I can’t speak for everyone) the most important part of your life. There is a balance to struggle toward that is best for all concerned.

    At least, I think so. Ask me in forty years.

    ETA: We must have been simultaneously posting. I won’t allow reality or spousal bias to destroy my idea of the Redal husband as a studmuffin.

  12. Great dialogue.

    To add my two cents, I have come to the realization that women are always right. I can’t name one time that my late wife was wrong about the big things, Women are higher evolved emotionally than men, and are much tougher while they silently pick up the pieces that men leave undone. Women are the rock. My new friend loves the fact that I feel that women are always right, and she finds if flattering. I leave many decisions such as ordering wine, picking out furniture, etc to her. Women are better than men in so many things. Their only downfall is that they let men believe that we are better. Most traumatic monetary losses in a relationship are caused by men who get emotional about an investment, take their savings, and blow it in the market, against the woman’s advice. Personally, except for money(which I’m a pro) I defer to women in everything from ordering wine to the clothes I buy. I salute women and put them on a pedestal as they have to put up with all our BS.


  13. I hope my input helps, even with the knee-jerk tone. (Honestly, I am embarrassed.) Full disclosure follows.

    My experience is this: I had one parent who withdrew almost completely and another who, on seeing society’s expectations of her as a single, working mom, turned the tables and expected her kids to be the ones to make every sacrifice possible (including family and friends) so she could be “more than just a mom” and chase into the ground and beyond a dream that had long since kicked her, with a giant bag of obligations and multiple mouths to feed, out the door and driven off laughing and flipping her the bird.

    Wendy, given your obvious involvement in your children’s lives and the very inner struggle that prompted you to make this post in the first place, it was irresponsible of me to even allude to similarities between your situation and those of the self-centered pieces of Boomer trash that I got stuck with my parental units. I guess I am the walking, talking example of a person in turn chewed up and spit out by people who were chewed up and spit out by the America that for them once was, while the well-meaning and fecund such as yourself and Ann help keep it on life support, and could even help revive it with children that end up as educated, productive members of society as opposed to bitter, wayward curmudgeons who type 90 words per minute. God, I hate those guys.

  14. Ranee @ Arabian Knits,- I think our situations are slightly different – I like Wendy- work for money just like my husband. My husband from the time the kids were babies participated actively in raising them. This does not make him a saint, it makes him a parent who is doing his job. Women NEVER get halos for changing nappies – why should men??? (This debate seems vaguely familiar, very retro I’m afraid)

    Ann- You are absolutely right- we must communicate. I have repeated my needs so many times at so many decibel levels I’m thinking of recording it on a CD just to give me some relief.

    As for parenting, I think in many instances modern educated parents (esp. Americans- I have American sisters) are ruining their children by giving them everything, just as Wendy has said. You are doing your kids no favours by making them believe that that situation even tangentially resembles the real world. Kids gain more by seeing their mothers as people, not robots programmed to their own personal remote controllers.

  15. I see Smithee’s point (even if it might have been expressed better), but Ann is absolutely correct in saying that children shouldn’t become the parents’ lives. The parental task is to prepare, teach, and help children become functioning adults with the tools to achieve their needs and desires.

    But…there’s no glamor in that. It is, essentially, the role of educator and this site has spent a fair amount of time discussing how low education is on the importance scale in America. Our common definition of success is one that prompts parents to put their efforts into careers and shower the children with the material benefits of any success. (And it doesn’t help that we are an incredibly self-absorbed society.)

    Raising children isn’t about doing everything for them or what you give them…well, it is, but not superficial stuff. My mom was something of an hard-ass when it came to things like table manners and our responsibilities. I’m sure it helped her sanity to hand off, for example, the lunch packing duties to those who were actually going to eat the lunch. But in the bigger picture it was an important piece in raising three boys who all knew how to cook, clean, etc. by the time they left the house. More importantly, they knew that it was expected of them.

  16. Wendy,

    This was a wonderful post, and I’ve spent some time trying to digest it to formulate a response. I’m just going to check in here briefly to defend the children of Boulder a bit. CU admits about 10% of its students from the Boulder Valley School District, which means maybe 5% are from Boulder, proper. So, only about 1 in 20 of your students is likely to be from Boulder, and I think we have a mutual acquaintance, a young lady from Boulder and one of your students, who really doesn’t fit the profile you gave, don’t we? As I recall, she’s holding down a 30-hour-a-week job while maintaining a straight A average.

    Yes, I know Boulder children who are raving narcissists, but I also know a young lady from Boulder who is foregoing admission to a prestigious medical school in order to become a midwife so that she can more quickly begin a career in the third world reducing infant and childbirth mortality. I know a young Boulder man who is building a hydroelectric facility for a third-world village so that whole families no longer have to freeze to death in the winter. I know another young lady from Boulder (22 years old) who is producing her first musical off-Broadway (I just contributed to the production’s cost).

    So, I really believe you’re painting with a very broad brush, here.

  17. Smithee, it was pretty obvious that a nerve had been struck – and also that you’d already recognized and admitted it, making you a more than righteous dude in my book. Or dudette. I can’t tell.

    Lauri, unless you were holding a gun to your head or walking out the door with suitcases, your requests probably haven’t yet made it to the top of his to-do list. You know how you can deal with hungry kids, dirty dishes, a doctor on the phone and a sudden dog crap emergency? He can deal with all those things, too – but not in the same way, and it will drive you crazy to watch. Not better or worse, probably, but different. Linear. Think linear.

    JS, let’s be honest: you’ve gone from a broad brush to cherry-picking in one fell swoop. I’m sure a false sense of entitlement is not limited to the progeny of Boulderites. Neither is new money, an obsession with material goods as status markers and the substitution of possessions for parenting limited to the parents of Boulder. I live in a roughly equivalent community; I certainly grew up in one, and if the natural developmental state of adolescence (self-absorption) is reinforced by the permanent attitude of a bevy of immature adults, you get a population like Wendy described, no matter where it’s located. In fact, she mentioned her location exactly once. Talk about hot buttons.

  18. Ann,

    Well, I agree with you, mostly. But my take on what Wendy said was that she was putting all of what she said about kids in the context of Boulder, because she led off with Boulder. While she mentioned Boulder only once, it was at the beginning of her take on “kids these days.”

    As for cherry picking, I left out another 20 Boulder kids I know who are doing wonderful stuff. I just used examples. So, I really don’t think it was as much cherry picking as you assert.

  19. 20 out of…? Get real, statistician. From a rhetorical standpoint, she mentioned Boulder because it’s where she lives, and the post was about her own experience. It’s her context for her story. HER story. Not “exceptional Boulder kids of my acquaintance,” but about a general trend and its specific impact on HER life.

    Although perhaps not entirely relevant to the original post, your comment was certainly interesting, and perhaps a bit more revealing than intended.

  20. All right, you two. Calm down. Go to a microbrewery. Throw a few back. Chill. That’s what the cool kids in Boulder would do. 🙂

  21. Ann,

    Just 20 that I know. I assume there are others. Or are you assuming I know every kid in Boulder?

    Let’s let Wendy comment on her meaning. I wasn’t attacking her, you know, so you needn’t defend her. I was just pointing out that this shouldn’t be about Boulder kids.

  22. Ann — For all intents and purposes let’s just call me a caffeine-fueled, genderless string of ASCII.

  23. As Lauri said, perhaps the crux of the issue is:

    Why oh why can’t men do 50% of the work? An even fair 50%?

    First, let’s take a look at stay-at-home dads (having been one when my son was three months to two and a half). As I always say, women take to the workplace a lot better than men take to the home. Women see work as a challenge or a quest, whereas most men seem incapable of viewing childcare and home maintenance in that light.

    Men might be able to match or surpass their wives in childrearing. But it’s almost impossible to get them to care as much about keeping up the home.

    I’m pretty sure that my wife will agree that I do 50% of the work at home. (Right, dear? Right?) But my sole motivation is to spare her the trouble, not pride in how the place looks.

    Glad to have you back, Wendi, especially with a post this powerful.

  24. Russ, I’m pretty sure that Brian does more than 50% of our house upkeep, too; it may be that men and women have different priorities as to which parts of the upkeep are important. For example, he’s a vacuumer and picker-upper. I can’t stand a dirty baseboard or a bathroom floor with unmentionable spots. I leave a trail of yarn bits and fabric scraps; he leaves crumbs from every sandwich. It’s as though we each have very specific blind spots.

  25. JS, I don’t think Wendy or her writing needs defending, and I didn’t mean to sound that way. I just thought you were missing the point, or if not, then nitpicking tangentially.

    This may be another example of male/female communicative differences. According to Tannen and others, finding flaws or inaccuracies in a narrative, whether germane to the main point or not, is a generally acceptable back-and-forth style among men, and very likely related to the problem-solving dynamic that drives many men-only conversations. So you probably felt that your first comment was simply an interesting addendum to the issue. Women, on the other hand, tend to view this kind of interaction as confrontational, inappropriate and lacking in empathy and/or comprehension, which is precisely how I saw it.

    The funny part is that in spite of all the problems these different expectations cause, look what a mess it became when I tried to adopt what I thought was a more traditionally “male” style to explain my traditionally “female” interpretation. You immediately switched registers, too.

    Oh, what a tangled web… but don’t worry, Ubertramp. I think we all have our big girl panties firmly in place. And I don’t drink beer. 😉

  26. since I lost my lovely wife to cancer over a year ago, I have gone over our entire relationship in my head over and over. I tried to do my best and kept up with my end of the bargain as far as helping around the house. Although she never complained about my work, or lack of, I’m my own worst critic and wish I had done some things differently. She would ask me to help with tasks I wasn’t thrilled with and I would do them, but make sure I did such a poor job that she’d never ask me to do them again. I did help with laundry, I did all the cooking, and I would vacuum etc, but there was much more I could have done. In our case, she did 70% of the inside work and I did 30%. I was in charge of the outside of the house, but always have used a lawn service. Around 5 years ago, I sprung for a cleaning girl 2 days a week. That was the best investment I ever made, and really pleased her. Now, with my life moving on and the fact that I’ve found a new love, I’ll try to not make the same mistakes I made with my lovely wife. I do feel quite a bit of guilt that my wife was the guinea pig, and I will try to perfect the way I treat a woman with my new love. It’s kind of sad in a way that I couldn’t perfect my treatment of my wife while she was alive and someone else will reap the benefits of my education. Don’t get me wrong, my wife was happy with the way I helped with duties, but in my own mind, there is much more I could have done.


  27. @Lauri: I don’t think you quite understood what I meant. My husband, like yours, was an active father from before the time they were born. He got up with them at night (still does), changes diapers, and does, generally speaking, all that a father ought. My beef is with the whole, why can’t he do 50% argument which seems to ignore the working and financially supporting the family as part of that 50%. Again, my husband has never once asked me why I didn’t help with his paperwork or any other part of his job. Also, I think that people (men or women) who look at marriage as a 50/50 proposition are setting themselves up for disappointment, frustration and failure. We expect 100%. From ourselves first and the other second.

    I do think that men and women don’t see the same projects and messes. I know my husband and I start in very different places when it comes to cleaning. I understand that when both people are working, figuring out the housework is difficult. I also understand that being at home, but being at work, makes this even more complicated. It may not mean that the person at home can do all of what needs to be done, but it does make sense that more of it would go to that person.