How Not to Hate Your Husband

In my ongoing study of the science of staying married for a long long time, I picked up a book at the library called How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, by Jancee Dunn. The book is aimed at new parents, or new-ish parents. I’m 25 pages into it and it has a hold placed on it at the library, so I probably won’t finish it. And since our youngest daughter is 34, it’s an academic read anyway. But there is enough good stuff in the first 25 pages to, as it were, fill a book.
Baked into the book are two major differences from when Nancy and I were raising our girls. The first, and most important, is the presumption that both spouses hold full-time jobs. The second is that fathers are presumed to be actively invested in childcare and domestic chores. Back in the day, Nancy quit her job and was a full-time mother for 14(?) years. My responsibilities at home were limited to the easy stuff–an occasional diaper change, a rare laundry folding, taking out the trash, cutting the grass, pushing the vacuum cleaner around every now and again. And I thought I was doing great!
I wasn’t doing great. And if I tried to get away with doing so little today, in the 21st century, I’d end up sleeping in the garage. The book offers a TRE (target-rich environment) for wives who rightfully feel that their husbands don’t carry enough of the domestic load, backed up by plenty of research and interviews with folks like my boy John Gottman. In the interest of brevity, I’d like to list the main takeaways from the first 10% of the book:
  • Since 1965, men have more than doubled, from four to 10, the average number of hours spent weekly doing household chores. But we tend to cherrypick from the Big Five: cooking, meal clean-up, grocery shopping, housework and laundry. We generally choose cooking, cleanup and shopping.
  • Throw in childcare and the number goes up from 10 to 24, which sounds good until compared with wives, whose average number is 37, with both spouses logging the same number of hours at work. Researchers also discovered that men did fewer hours of housework per week after the baby arrived.
  • Men also tend to cherrypick their childcare activities, choosing the fun stuff–trips to the park and reading bedtime stories–over the grittier chores of diaper duty, getting them dressed (often a horror show in our day), etc. Adding insult to injury, when the kids return from the park, they are wont to say things like, “Wow, we had such fun with Dad at the park–he’s awesome!” Meanwhile, while they were away, mom (the un-fun parent) did the breakfast dishes, made the beds, did the laundry and made lunch.
A couple of insightful quotes culled from all-women gatherings when these subjects arise:
“My husband works all week, so on weekends, he tells me he doesn’t want to ‘deal with’ our sons. I’m amazed that he doesn’t notice that I’m basically radiating hatred all the time.”
“I’m running on 5 hrs sleep and irrational anger at Adam while cortisol pumps itself into my breast milk.”
“I’d divorce Jason, but he drops the kids off at school in the mornings.”  😂
    • Per Gottman, 67 percent of couples see their marital satisfaction plummet after having a baby.
    • Working mothers are now the top earners in 40% of families with kids, yet they are still doing three and a half times as much housework as married fathers.
    • When men do help around the house, we tend to choose chores with a “leisure component.” Yard work, driving to the store to pick up something, “re-ordering the Netflix queue.”
    • This next one is key: On top of working full time and practically quadrupling the time spent on household chores, women generally do the “invisible tasks,” stuff that wouldn’t show up on any kind of time use study. “Kin work,” for example–giving emotional support to relatives, buying presents and sending cards, handling holiday celebrations, and so on. (Under this heading lies perhaps my own greatest failing as a husband.) “Emotion work”–keeping everyone’s emotional gyroscopes spinning, even the dog. Then there’s “consumption labor”– buying the kids underwear and school supplies, researching the car seat and the high chair. Husbands, by way of comparison, get into this arena only when it involves fun stuff like big TVs, cars and major appliances. Schlepping (school, sports, doctor appts) is another major task in this collection. But the granddaddy of them all is
    • Household manager, the position most eagerly ceded by husbands. Being the person that remembers everything–dentist appointments, kids’ food preferences, arranging for babysitters. Constructing shopping lists. Giving direction to everyone. For most wives, if they don’t mention it, it doesn’t happen, and that includes pretty much everything. Sure, dad might take junior to his swimming lesson on Saturday morning. But guess who packs his bag, empties his bag when they get home, dries his wet clothes, and gives him a snack and a bath while dad sacks out on the sofa? One of the author’s friends spoke about her own dad, saying, “He did car stuff, and stuff with the dog. Oh, and he liked to put up wallpaper.”
    • Finally, another major point. Wives are forced to become absolute time management mavens. “Give a mother a sleeping child for an hour, and she can achieve ten times more than a childless person,” and about 20 times as much as her husband.
​The book’s title suggests Ms. Dunn has found, and shares, ways of getting her husband, and most husbands, to pick up the pace and get in the game. And while the book is clearly written for women, I can’t think of a single husband–well, more than one–who wouldn’t benefit from reading this book.
Guys, never forget that if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Show your wives we’re not a bunch of halfwits stumbling around the house with our flies down, blind to the obvious needs staring us in the face. Do your job. Put as much mental energy into your home life as you do your work life, and everyone will be better off.​
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