A good friend asked me recently how to encourage her husband to participate more in caring for their home. We had a good discussion, and I promised her I would think a little more about it. Here are my “further thoughts.”
My first response was this: the amount that a husband participates in housework depends most on how he was trained growing up, instead of on what his wife’s expectations are. (Granted, we ought to work those expectations together.) So her husband, who received no home training as a child, neither knows what to do, nor sees the lack of it around him.
I am blessed by a husband whose mother taught him to put things away, how to clean bathrooms, how to vacuum, and how to do the laundry without turning anything pink. (And more.) Bless her. So when my husband was the primary parent at home caring for our (then) two sons and I was working full-time outside the home, he did the bulk of the housework and cooking. When my parents both worked full-time, my father did all the week-day cooking and the grocery shopping, while my mother did the laundry and ironing. (What were us kids doing, I ask myself? Which reminds me, shouldn’t my kids be doing their chores right now?)
My second thought was that if my expectations for a household job are that it will be done perfectly (by that I mean my way, and to my standards) then it is unlikely that I will be satisfied, no matter how much housework someone does for me. This is certainly true for my children, who are game to do all the housework I assign them, until I criticize how they do it. Instead, if I show them first how to do it, then I do it with them, and then appreciate how they do it, they continue to do the job and improve at it. (Turns out, this is true for practicing piano or washing the floors.) And I think it’s true for my husband as well.
If you are in a life-stage where you need to delegate some of the household work that currently falls to you, then consider starting not by looking at the ideal—whatever that is for you. Instead, think about what jobs could tolerate being done in a totally different fashion than how you do them. For example, if your husband always turns the whites pink and shrinks your clothes, then don’t give him the laundry. But if you really don’t care how the dishes get done as long as they’re done the end of the day, then delegate that job. To the extreme, start by giving him a job you could do without—and then when he does it, you will truly appreciate what he did, since it otherwise wouldn’t have been done at all. Cooking is another good place to start: who isn’t grateful for someone else to make dinner, even if it’s “just” spaghetti? I think of all the people who brought us meals when our children were born, and picked up a few things for me at the store… it wasn’t my recipe they used, and they may not have picked the brand of wipes I usually buy… but wow, was I grateful.
The more I appreciate the help I receive with the house (from my children, from my husband, or even from my neighbors who occasionally shovel the sidewalk for us), the happier I am. Not because my gratitude makes them want to do it again (though it does that, too), but because it changes how I see their work, and mine.