Do You Let Him Clip the Nails?

by Katrina on October 24, 2013

A few years ago, I put together a survey called “Who Clips the Nails?” I wanted to find out how parents in two-parent households divide up childcare tasks.

At the time, the media was reporting that men were doing more chores and childcare, and that the “gender wars” were over. But I was skeptical. After all, not all chores are created equal. It’s one thing to take turns dropping kids at daycare. It’s another thing to do the thinking tasks, like clipping the nails, sorting the kids’ clothes that don’t fit, setting up doctors and dentist appointment—the things that require planning, that take up more of what I call the psychic burden of parenting.

More than 300 people filled out that survey. Not surprisingly, the results showed that mothers overwhelmingly did these psychic burden tasks, even in families where both parents worked. The most interesting finding, for me, was when I asked how people felt about this. Many women were really angry about the unfair division of labor; others blamed themselves saying they were too controlling, they didn’t let their husbands help.

With that in mind, I’d like to share this exclusive excerpt with you from Getting to 50/50 by Joanna Meers and Sharon Strober. In the book, the authors argue that working moms and dads can have it all, if men and women divide chores equally at home.

Excerpt from Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All, by Joanna Meers and Sharon Strober

Chapter 7: The Great Alliance: How Your Husband Solves the Work/Life Riddle

Creating an equal partnership

We want to be very clear with our women readers here. You may be the one with the stretch marks, or the one who stays with a baby in its first months at home. But the minute you start thinking about “my child” instead of “our child” you are setting yourself up to be in this alone.

Getting to 50-50The 50/50 mind-set means that you have an equal partner—and treat him as an equal. Really. No matter how many baby books you marshal to support your view, if the evidence does not sway your partner, remember he has half the votes. Let him cast them.

Joanna didn’t think she was a fussy dresser. Yet, when her daughter was born, Joanna learned she had strong opinions about fashion, at least about the baby’s wardrobe. Jason would take charge of getting their daughter ready in the morning but Joanna never liked his clothing choices. Joanna would criticize Jason for his efforts, take the baby back to the changing table, and redo Jason’s work so their daughter wore outfits Joanna chose. “I’m not doing this anymore,” said Jason after several months of this. “If you want to be the clothing director, be my guest.”

Karen came home from a business meeting and saw her husband on the floor with their eight-month-old son, playing, and both of them were eating Honey Nut Cheerios. “What are you doing giving our son honey?” she asked in alarm. “Don’t you know he can’t have honey until he’s one? I told you what to feed him. Why didn’t you do that?” He thought, I was having a great time with my son—until you got home.

When you are working with a peer at the office, do you tell her how to do her parts of a joint project? You know to keep your mouth shut even when you’d like to offer some “advice.” You won’t be a very popular colleague if you intervene on her turf. She’ll resent you (even if—particularly if—your way was “better”). And then she’ll ask for a transfer. When husbands stop helping, that’s what they’re doing.

Marriage expert Joshua Coleman, the author of The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework, told us, “When moms have rigid standards, dads walk away from the bargaining table.” In fact, research shows that women with perfectionist expectations have lower satisfaction in their marriages overall.

We know, very personally, that easing up is tough to do. Our feelings about our kids are stronger than any other emotion (and that may be both natural and good). Even 50/50 moms confess that it’s an epic struggle to cede control. “The burden disproportionately falls on the woman,” says one of our survey respondents, “maybe even by her own choosing.”

Rose has a demanding job in TV and a deeply involved husband who handles as many diapers and feedings as she does. “When we are at home together we are equal, but when we go to work, I’m the one who tends to worry. Like when it’s raining outside, I worry about how the nanny is going to get our kids around town. I make the doctors’ appointments, Mark goes. I get the preschool application, Mark helps me fill it out.

“Mark would do more, but usually I want to do it. I want to be part of everything my kids do when I can. I guess it comes from the model of a family you hold in your head,” says Rose. “I like to complain about how hard it is. But I’m not complaining about Mark. I’m just complaining about the strain on me.”

How do you build a life that looks different from the one you knew growing up, where you feel good about yourself as a mom but let your husband enjoy the freedom to be a parent in his own distinctive way? This is a challenge for many of us.

“Having the right mind-set is really important,” says Sara, who learned this when her husband, Jamie, retired from his career in sales to spend more time with their kids.

“A lot of women say, ‘Well, my husband helps.’ What do they mean ‘helps’? It means that the women still feel accountable. You really have to let go of ownership. If we tell men they have to do it our way, or correct them all the time, that’s not going to work.

“When Jamie first started staying home, I was treating him like the nanny. I’d say, ‘Here’s the plan, go follow it.’ Jamie just said, ‘Wait a minute. I have my own way I do things.’ I had to step back.”

We all need to embrace the idea—and encourage our husbands to remind us—that sometimes moms just need to get out of the picture. If 50/50 is going to work, when it’s your husband’s turn, you need to gracefully butt out. Unless you’re successful at fighting the “I’ll just do it myself” urge, you have to make a conscious effort to give your spouse some breathing room, especially if he’s as new to parenting as you are or if he’s taking over a new task. You may intervene if the baby’s diaper is slipping down to his knees, or if your husband mixes bleach and ammonia while cleaning the bathroom, but every time you correct your spouse’s “errors” or criticize his way of doing something, you’re dealing a blow to 50/50.

What do you think? Do you need to “gracefully butt out” when your partner is in charge of the kids? Have you tried?

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Check out my new book! MAXED OUT: American Moms on the Brink (Sept. 2013)

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Christa

Well, my issue is that the mister has never ever made an appointment that wasn’t an emergency visit. He has never offered to do it. Doesn’t know when they are. Also, would need to take a whole day off to do it. Working from home, I’m the appointment taker, which means I have to be the appointment maker.

I’ve asked him repeatedly to take over some of the meal planning. He hasn’t done it :(

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Katrina

Yes, it’s extra tricky when one parent works from home (especially when the mom works from home, since that stuff tends to fall on us anyway).

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Monica

Yes! I work hard on ceeding control in parenting so that my husband and I take equal responsibility. However, it doesn’t go perfectly. For example, he often is the one to get up in the night to feed and change the baby (I’m not the bio mom so I don’t brestfeed) while I sleep. When he complains that the baby not going back to sleep I suggest he turn off the TV and change his diaper and use white noise so that it is a good sleeping environment for the baby. Inevitably he finds it easier to just let the baby sleep with him. But, I get my suggestions in there. Today we are going on a joint drs appt so that we both get the instructions from the doctor on treatment. I was the one to make the appointment . . . but I’m sure going to share in the recovery care. I think giving him the space to make decisions and then offering suggestions when HE decides his way isn’t going well is my approach. It means I have to tollerate the kids being slightly less comfortable/well fed/clean etc but the relief to me for my time and the benefit to our marriage is well worth it. He feels respected and needed. We check in with each other often and try and express our gratitude to each other for what we are each doing. It is funny because every other day one of us complains that we feel like we’re doing it all by ourselves, and we have to refocus on being thankful for what the other is doing. It takes a team effort and it isn’t easy. I know that it helps my husband to see that there are other men getting involved with the school engagement. Peer pressure is strong on men. His employer (tool and die machine shop) is not friendly to the idea of him taking time off to do childcare errands. But I offer suggestions for what he tells his employer too because in the end, it isn’t fair that my employer is the only one to be flexible.

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Katrina

Wow. Sounds like you guys are really figuring it out. Well done. I wonder whether or not the not breastfeeding was a factor–meaning, I think sometimes breastfeeding can be a natural barrier to men getting involved with their infants, because the mom does all the feeding, and then she ends up doing all the other stuff…and that wasn’t an issue for you guys.

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Nancy Davis Kho

Great post, Katrina. I know full well that I created a lot of the situations in which I am resentful that I’m doing more of the work. And now that my kids are older I’m going through it a second time, in that I expect them to help more around the house, but tend to think “my way or the highway” so am frequently tempted to say, “Never mind, just let me do the laundry” because I don’t like how they’re doing it. I know it’s stupid and self-defeating so I try to keep it in check…but it’s hard!

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Leslie

My husband does ALOT! he does basic daily stuff like getting our daighter up and dressed and to school. He does more of her bathing and he makes lunches and cooks dinner. But there is absolutely no planning for him. It drives me crazy. I do the shopping and meal planning, appts, clothes/toys discard and shopping, camps, vacations, nights out, sitters, etc. Oh and he doesn’t clip nails! I am fine with giving up control. I mostly trust his decisions and respect his atonomy. But the planning EVERYTHING is overwhelming and puts me on overload…

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Stephanie Raphel

I’m ok with relinquishing control, but not when it hurts the kids, like when my husband was driving them to school in the mornings and they were late over 50 times in one year! (Private school, I don’t think public school would tolerate that.) Or when I have av evening meeting and he forgets to feed them dinner. Now when I’m not around my 11 year old takes over and cooks dinner to make sure she and her siblings eat, but I’m not wild about that. This excerpt just feels like blaming the moms. If my husband did the kind of stuff at his job he does with his kids, he would be fired!

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Maria B.

I always joke that the greatest blessing to our family was my husband getting laid off shortly after I returned to work. For the first couple weeks I would lay out my daughter’s outfit, make sure he had enough milk, offer suggestions of things to do for the day. But after coming home a few times to her in a different, and not having finished the milk I left, I realized he is a parent too and I was able to step back. And now he clips the nails…. religiously. I still make appointments and manage play dates, but he will go to appointments without me and fill me in later. It is VERY difficult getting information 2nd hand from someone that doesn’t pay as close attention to detail as me, but my choice was to be a working mom, which unfortunately means I can’t go to every sick visit and I’m not the one that takes my daughter to the zoo on weekdays. But I have learned the importance of letting my husband parent. I now suggest to all of my male co-workers to take thier parental leave AFTER thier wife returns to work and if possible some vacation time as well. I feel that a lot of the burden is on working moms because we are afforded time off after the baby is born to learn how to be mothers – to be at home alone with our babies without anyone’s help. Most dads aren’t afforded that opportunity, so when they finally have time alone with the baby it feels more like “helping” or “babysitting”. Probably because we’ve already figured it out and give them the information we’ve learned, which sounds a lot like controlling direction and rules.

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Foxy

While I think its great that we can divide MORE of the labor than our mothers, the reality is that mothers and fathers are different, and the way we interact with our children is different. My husband and I both work part time, both have parenting responsibilities, and both very much want to be involved and share the load. The reality is that I am mom, and therefore I am the primary caregiver. I am the one who manages the daily schedule, I am the one who my son calls for when he is upset, I am the default parent unless I designate my husband the primary for a specified period of time. and when that designated time is up, it defaults back to me as the one in charge.

I hear this same thing from ALL of my friends. The wisest friend I have told me early on – its not fair, the division of labor will never be equal, the sooner you accept that fact and the easier it will be to see it play out unequally every day. For better or worse, I think she is right.

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