We’ve Got ‘Lazy’ Husbands All Wrong
A fellow mom and friend of mine posted this in a private group the other day:
My husband told me that he ‘can’t keep going’ on five hours of sleep a night. Doesn’t he realize that I’m getting even less sleep with nursing the baby at night? Plus I’m getting the kids ready for school in the morning? And packing all the lunches? And scheduling all the playdates? I’m about to snap here.
This was followed by a lot of sympathetic comments about how this husband needs to stop complaining and carry his weight, and I get it. My friend is clearly overworked, and she needs help. The amount of pressure she’s under is totally unsustainable.
But, does this mean that her husband is wrong? I don’t think so. Getting five hours of sleep every night is also unsustainable. He’s right to point that out.
I think the difference between them is just that he feels comfortable recognizing his limits regarding family duties. It isn’t surprising that he feels empowered to do this; men are socially expected to do less housework and childcare than women—even as children boys have fewer chores and yet get paid more for them—so saying things like “I‘m too tired to do the dishes” seems reasonable to them.
Women, however, are socialized to prize an orderly home over their own well-being. Not only do men not get judged for messiness the way that women do, but also women are disproportionately blamed for any harm that comes to their children. So women feel they have to pick up the slack in home care and childrearing.
But what if we didn’t?
It’s not always that men need to do more. It’s that women should do less.
In an effort to justify our own penchant for self-sacrifice, we deride men for self-care in our mommy circles. We complain about men leaving us with the kids to go for a run or play a video game (my husband prefers Skyrim, which I find absurd but endearing). But what we’re really saying is that we’re jealous of the time they take for themselves.
Don’t be jealous. Your partner is doing the smart, responsible thing. Instead, copy them! It’s not as impossible as it seems—here’s a few steps that work for me:
Figure out what you can reasonably do.
Make a list with your partner of all the tasks that get done on a daily, weekly, and ad hoc basis. Take ownership of what you can reasonably do while still getting enough self-care time to feel like a human. Then, ask your partner to look at the list and do the same.
Probably not everything on the list will get taken. But that’s okay.
Outsource what you can.
Once you know what you need to outsource, you can sort out how to do that. If you can afford it: get your partner to figure out a cleaning service and/or lawn service, hire a babysitter for a regular gig, or order takeout.
If not, barter for everything you can. Ask your sister-in-law to babysit once a week in exchange for dinner. Carpool to school with the neighbor’s kids. Do a kid swap with friends. Give the neighbor access to your wifi if they mow your lawn. People are way more excited for these sorts of deals than you think they will be. In fact, striking deals like this is how I’ve made a lot of my best friends.
Give up on the rest.
This is the advice that almost no one gives, but it’s the key tenet of the chore system that makes my marriage work: if you can’t comfortably do it, and you can’t find a way to outsource it, just accept that it will not get done. And that’s actually fine for almost everything.
For example, here are things that we just don’t do, because we don’t care enough and there isn’t time:
- I don’t do my daughter’s hair. Yeah, she looks like a Yeti in a hurricane most days, but whatever. That’s her problem.
- I don’t do school-related “bring in _____ for the _____ day!” stuff. I’m not going to handcraft 15 valentines this Saturday—I’m a grownup now and I should not have to deal with glitter glue. We’ll buy a big box of cookies or something.
- I don’t do birthday cards/birthday presents/special occasions of any kind, really, for anybody. I tell people that I love them, I am kind and generous to them. They get it. (If they don’t get it, they’re probably not the right sort of friend for me in this time of my life.)
- I don’t fold laundry. One day, I’ll pick up this chore again, but for now clothing is mostly found in a “clean” pile and a “dirty” pile. This system works surprisingly fine if you don’t care about your clothes looking wrinklier than Clint Eastwood. (Which I don’t, thanks to remote work.)
This is just a small sample of the things that other women feel pressured to do that I just…don’t. And it’s been working great for me. What are the things that you’ll let go of?