Hey Cool Mom, I work 60 to 70 hours a week at a stressful job, which allows my wife to be a stay-at-home mom and take care of our toddler full-time. I love my son, but on the weekends, I mostly need to rest. I need to veg out in front of the TV. My wife says I should take him to the park and help out around the house, but we divided up the workload already and those fall under her job description. She did the same thing when our son was a baby: asking me to change diapers at night when I need to get up early for work. Of course I did it on occasion, but it can’t be a regular thing.
It’s not like I think women should all be housewives or anything, and I understand that my wife is sacrificing her career growth right now to do this. But we already agreed that making money is my responsibility, childcare and home are hers. We talked about it at length when we became parents. I don’t ask her to help me with my reports, so why should I do laundry? I consider myself an involved dad: my involvement just means working hard so that we can afford the things we need and my wife can afford to not work. Do I have to take the kids to the park and empty the dishwasher? No, right? I’m so tired that I’m not even fun with the kids. Shouldn’t I rest so I can be successful at my job? — Shane C., via email.
Your question reminds me of Spreadsheet Guy. Remember Spreadsheet Guy? He was this dude who went viral eons ago (meaning, like, in 2014) for keeping a spreadsheet tracking the number of times his wife denied him sex, and her various excuses for doing so. For being so petty as to quantify and document the number of times his wife denied him sex, Spreadsheet Guy was severely dragged, and he became a symbol of male sexual entitlement (at least for a few minutes, until the next butthurt white guy went viral for doing a butthurt white guy thing). And while I don’t think your mathematical approach to the division of household labor is as bad as Spreadsheet Guy’s horniness-fueled Excel habit, lets just say they’re cut from the same butthurt cloth.
Are you a jam band fan? I’m gonna assume you’re a jam band fan. A good marriage is like a good jam band: everyone listens to each other, and everyone is willing to step in and fill in for the other guy if their solo has been going on for 40 minutes and falls apart, or if they need a little break. Your wife and you are in firm agreement about your respective roles in the band: she plays the role of caregiver, while you work a nine to five plus and keep the household afloat. And honestly, that is awesome: many couples spend years trying to figure out how to balance their careers and their families, and it’s great that you’ve found a situation that works for you both. But that doesn’t mean you should just leave her hanging when she’s noodling endlessly on a 45-minute keyboard solo during Mountain Jam. At a certain point, you have to be a good enough listener to know when she’s flailing, and step in and pick the tune back up. Do I listen to this type of music very often? Clearly, no. But do I think parents should step outside their circumscribed roles and help pick up the slack for their partner every now and then? Yes, I do.
Look, I understand the urge to gamify household and child rearing tasks and rack up points to invoke during arguments. First of all, being petty and screamy can be super fun, and second of all, it’s tempting to approach marriage and parenthood the same way you would an excel spreadsheet. If I had a nickel for every time I said to my husband some variation of, “Well, I changed his diaper last time so now it’s your turn to unload the dishwasher,” I’d have, well, a fuckton of nickels.
But if you approach your marriage that way, you’re going to lose out on valuable time with your son that I promise you will sincerely regret years later. And your wife is going to go, for lack of a better term, apeshit. Have you ever spent more than 10 straight hours alone with a toddler, with only a Keurig and Instagram memes to keep you company? Do you have any idea what that’s like? Seriously, tell me, because I haven’t. I cherish my son, but not quite as much as I cherish my sanity.
You seem to be a numbers-driven, planning-oriented, inbox zero, shit-while-running-product-through-your-hair-to-save-time kind of guy, so here’s my advice: Make Google calendar your friend. Block off one night per week where you give your wife a break — do the dishes, watch the kid, the whole nine yards — and block off one night per week where she gives you some time off, too. In the interim, both of you can give yourselves a break. Get takeout every once in a while, so she doesn’t have to make dinner or worry about doing the dishes; better yet, let the dishes pile up so both of you can take your kid to the park at the same time, and you can enjoy yourselves as a family. Because you’re absolutely right: you work hard, and you deserve some rest. But so does she, on both counts, because childcare is hard work too, and any partnership where one person’s labor is valued over the other is not one that has any chance of long-term success.