Hi, Carolyn: I could use some perspective here. My husband and I recently had a baby. After three months of maternity leave, I went back to work full time for about a month, but had to drop down to part time because I was exhausted with the kiddo not sleeping well.
Fast-forward through a layoff, finding a new job and starting back full time … I’m happy with my new job, but still struggling to keep the household running smoothly, getting dinner ready, cleaning, etc. The problem is that when I ask for help with this stuff, I get the look: the one that says if I just quit my job I would have time to take care of all this. This has come up before, where things he says imply he considers my career a hobby, and I should quit when it gets inconvenient. What he says out loud is that I don’t have to work if I don’t want to.
It’s true, we’d be fine financially if I stayed home. But I like it; I feel fulfilled working. Problem is that I feel like I can’t ask for help around the house now because it’s admitting that I can’t hack the working-mother routine. How do I get him past the easy, “Just quit, dear” solution?
Career or Baby?
Why on this earth are you the one responsible for “keep(ing) the household running smoothly, getting dinner ready, cleaning, etc.” when you both work full time, and why it is his option to “help”? (Excuse me while I walk this off.) He eats his share of the food, soils his share of the laundry, sheds his portion of hair and dust, is just as much of a parent to this baby as you are.
You don’t need perspective; you need 2016. In a pinch, 1987 would do.
Tell him you enjoy your job so quitting is not an answer; discussing a fair division of labor is. Unless he’d like to quit his job?
And, since you’re earning money beyond what your family needs for expenses, hire help. Housekeeper, laundry service, subscription meal service. It makes zero sense for people to quit paid careers they enjoy to free up time for easily outsourced chores.
But have that conversation about relative workloads regardless. Not who contributes more salary or benefits, but who works what hours doing what, at what physical and emotional cost. Example: The parent up half the night with a cranky baby (cost: tough hours, sleep deprivation, stress) is not the same parent who gets up with the baby, feeds everyone and does a load of laundry. You backstop each other. You note each other’s exhaustion, and you note each other’s worth. Apply accordingly to everything your joint lives require.
If he refuses, then apply marriage counseling, stat — especially if your wanting to treat your happiness as equal to his represents, to him, a political act.
There are obvious practical reasons, too, not to quit a career you value just because you can: He could get laid off. He could become disabled, or watch his profession get disrupted into obsolescence.
He could also leave you.
Very few people can afford to be cavalier about steady employment or their emotional well-being — and even if he’s one of them, he doesn’t automatically confer that luxury upon you. If some divorced parents haven’t assured you of this, then you probably just haven’t asked.
There are as many ways to be good parents to a child as there are good parents, including stay-at-home parenthood, which is the right thing for a lot of families (including for a few years, my own). Traditional, gendered divisions of labor, too, are what end up working for many families.
But these are choices germane to quality of life on multiple levels for all involved, adults and kids. Therefore, couples who value each other as equals — in value, in needs, in entitlement to happiness — make these choices transparently and as one.
The most charitable reading of this situation that I have to offer is that both of you came to this marriage with fixed ideas of how things are supposed to be, and both of you think you’re now doing what the other wants and expects.
But with a reality that doesn’t fit neatly into those fixed ideas, you now have a choice: Keep your growing resentment to yourself as your marriage rots from the inside and your husband keeps unwittingly missing your point, or stand up and make your point.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.