Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press

One reason your partner isn’t helping out

Around the house, some women want things done a certain way. You know who you are. Ahem: We know who we are. And when things aren’t done a certain way, we get critical.

My husband puts the dishes in the dishwasher (“a mountain of dishes,” he suggests editing that to say), and all I see is the unwiped counter. “I cleaned the kitchen,” he’ll announce, and I’ll glance around with a look that says, “You did?” A friend of mine did all the laundry in the house one day, and his wife’s first response upon coming home was, “Did you vacuum?” It’s not that we’re trying to be jerks. It’s more that, well, hadn’t we made our wishes clear? We like things done our way, not your way.

When baby arrives, we leap into action. We take charge over where baby’s clothes and gear will go, what baby shall and shall not eat, and what absolutely must be done in this particular moment. Mmm, not those shoes. Isn’t it too warm for fleece PJs? I’m sorry, but watching baseball just doesn’t seem like a great way for you to spend time with baby. You fed our child what?!?

My fellow perfectionists, I would like to make a delicate suggestion: Zip it.

Criticizing, controlling, and constantly telling our partners what to do is the quickest way to make sure we’re left without much help at all.

Yes, I know: Our way is better. Stay with me.

With a new baby, every single decision seems so weighty. I swear to you, having the beauty of hindsight, it’s not. Will it really matter a few years from now if baby eats Chef Boyardee once a week instead of freshly pureed organic broccoli? What will actually happen if baby is a touch cold after coming home from a walk? Will you or baby cease to thrive if your partner takes care of baby for an evening while you go out with girlfriends? (If he seriously has no clue how, or if he doesn’t feel confident watching baby alone, could it be because you’ve taken on too much of the daily parenting … or you stand over him, directing, during his time with baby instead of giving him space to learn?)

I’m not talking about ignoring the big stuff, like issues of safety or dearly held values. If you could use encouragement to ask for the help we all absolutely need, you’ll find some in my book, Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science. But not every issue deserves the high priority we give it.

And, let’s be honest, while we’re raising a disapproving eyebrow about the trip to the ice cream shop, we’re giving ourselves a pass for letting baby try those potato chips.

Why is criticizing every little thing so harmful? Because the message we’re sending is: You’re not good enough. That must feel pretty horrible, day after day, coming from the person you married, the person who’s supposed to be on your side. It weakens your relationship.

Yes, I know: If we don’t speak up, things won’t be done the right way. Yes, I know: Why don’t they just do what we say?

Quick question: How is this attitude different from that of a boss toward an employee? Our partners are not our employees.

The men we’re married to have their own parenting priorities, and those priorities are just as valid to them. (My husband’s suggested headline for this post: “Cut the Perfectionist Crap. Treat Your Husband Like a Man.”) The dad dishing up the Chef Boyardee? He wants his kid to experience the food that he loved as a kid. The dad who doesn’t always put a coat on his daughter? She doesn’t want to wear one, and, well, the dire consequence seems to be that she gets to snuggle with mom under a blanket afterward to warm up. The dad who watches baseball with his baby? He’s pointing out how the game works, sharing something he cares about. Or maybe he’s not engaging, because he’s willing to allow himself a little break from family time — something we probably need to do more often ourselves, too.

It seems very important that things are done our way. It’s far more important to share — and make it easy to share — the very big responsibility of raising a baby.

To do that, we have to let go. We’re still going to notice the mistakes; that’s who we are. We are excellent mistake-spotters, a useful skill in plenty of arenas (just maybe not relationships). And we don’t have to give voice to our thoughts, through our words or our facial expressions.

Here’s one way I try to think of it. It’s no big deal for my husband and me to share each task. I used to be supremely irritated that he would get out a new roll of toilet paper but leave the empty tube on the counter. Now I think: All right, it’s his job to get out the new roll, and it’s my job to toss the tube. When he puts the dishes in the dishwasher, my (much easier) job is to wipe the counter. When he packs the diaper bag for a walk, it’s my job to casually toss in the snacks. Go team.

Other things, I’m learning to just let go. That’s easier when I remind myself of my own imperfections.

Or when I think of a study on household chores that I cite in my book: both partners were satisfied with their own contribution, both were dissatisfied with the other’s contribution — and both felt underappreciated.

Or when I remind myself that it’s my choice to focus on the positive over the negative in any situation. This attitude (whether about chores or baby or ourselves) makes life easier on both of us, every day.

So here’s a great gift for any beleaguered significant other — a gift you can give throughout the year:

Don’t appraise the job he or she just did. Just say, “Thank you. I really appreciate that.”

P.S. If you’re certain you’re not making it difficult for your partner to help, but your partner is just kind of clueless about all it takes to run a household, try putting some eye-opening data to it. Make a list of the tasks and mark which ones you’re each responsible for. Or use the chore checklist in my book.

Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (PDF)Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (PDF)BuyZero to Five (audiobook)Zero to Five (audiobook)BuyThe Gifts of ImperfectionThe Gifts of Imperfection

Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

One thought on “One reason your partner isn’t helping out

  1. 3 Parenting Tips
    • 1 Prioritize regular time w/ ur kids – turn the TV off
    • 2 When u say/do something wrong-say ur sorry
    • 3 Passionately love God

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