Monday, January 19, 2009

Are We Mad at Our Husbands or at All this Stuff?

In Parenting magazine's new "Early Years" edition, there's a survey of more than 1,000 moms about their marriages. Guess what? Most of them are pissed off at their husbands.

It was nice to read that I'm not the only woman out there who acknowledges that I am married to a wonderful guy who I love -- and yet I am often so, so angry at him. I read a few passages from the article to Epu, and we laughed at some parts and actually had some useful discussion about other parts. For example, many moms expressed the anger I often share about the way a husband will step right over a basket of laundry on his way to whatever's important to him. Epu, on the other hand, pointed out that since he is not home with us all day, he is not familiar with all the systems that I have set up. He has trouble remembering, for example, that a basket of sitting laundry on the stairs landing means "please carry this upstairs" while a basket by the basement door means "please take this down with you." Hmm.

In the end, I don't think it's about this specific quirk or that one. I wonder if women from past generations are as pissed off as we are. I think women of our generation are angry because of the disconnect between what we were raised to expect in our lives as women and the reality inside most homes, especially most homes with children. My husband and I both believed coming into our marriage that we would be equal partners in child raising, and yet, we're not. And it's not just time spent with the children -- to be honest, Epu spends as much time with them as he possibly can. It's mental space devloted to the family and its needs -- knowing where the everyone's things are, when kindergarten registration is and what documents are needed, reading and thinking about discipline styles, and arranging a babysitter -- even if it's for the wife's birthday date. Even mothers who work full-time while the father stays home seem to be in charge of all this. Most families take it for granted.

And why? Maybe it's truly about aptitude and interest. I honestly want to be in charge of these things. So where do the fights come from then?

I think a lot of them come from men's apparent inability or refusal to even become conversant in the systems of managing daily life. Take yesterday and this morning's two-part blowout. I suggested Epu take Nutmeg ice skating, which he willingly did. But getting ready to leave the house, he had to ask for my intervention at least five time. Where are her gloves? (She has her own basket for gloves and hats by both the front and back doors.) Where is her skating pass? (In the skating bag, like always, which is hanging on a hook by one of the doors. Here. Here it is.) Where are her ice skates? (She outgrew them weeks ago. We've been renting skates, which I discussed with you several times, such as five minutes ago when I asked you to put up a card on the bulletin board at the rink asking if anyone had size 12 kids' skates to sell.) Then there was an argument because I wanted him to bring her skating bag because I like to have all the supplies for skating stay in this one bag, precisely to avoid 15 minutes of looking for things before leaving the house. He declined to bring it because he didn't really need a whole bag to carry one little skating pass. I persisted because I didn't want him to come back, forget to put that pass back in the bag, and next time she wanted to go skating, we would have no idea where it was. He stuffed the bag into his already-overstuffed basket by the back door. I moved it to a hook, because that's the system: the skating bag will be hanging on a hook by one of the doors, so you will never have to search for it.

This morning, before leaving for work, Epu said to me, I'm leaving Nutmeg's skate pass in her basket. I said, No, please put it in her skating bag. I was on the couch reading the paper and watching the girls play, and I really didn't want to get up and show him the bag. So I said, You will find it hanging on a hook. He walked around the house several times and said, I'm just leaving it in her basket because the skating bag is gone. I sighed deeply, got up, and pointed to the skating bag hanging on a hook, just inches from where his head had been when he was telling me he couldn't find it. I put the card in the bag, we yelled at each other for awhile, and he went to work.

So you see what I mean? There is a system. It's just that he is not able or willing to comprehend the system. It's like I'm an office manager, and I post the week's schedule on the chalk board each Monday, only to spend most of my days answering employees who want to know when the staff meeting is and where the timecards are.

Do I hate the employees? Of course not. We all have beers together on Friday nights and have a great time. (OK, I don't have beers with my kids. Stay with the analogy, folks.) I guess I hate the job. I hate all the stuff I am somehow in charge of, and I hate that no matter how hard I try to organize things, the house is still drowning in clutter, and I am the only one who can find anything. When I look back, I'm amazed at how many of our conflicts are over the management of stuff. I long for the simplicity of pre-industrial life, when every family member had only items that he or she truly needed. Do you think litttle Laura Ingalls ever lost her knit red mittens?

I never wanted to be in charge of all the stuff. I'm not good at organizing stuff. I've never lived in a tidy room in my life, no matter how hard I have tried. And yet, here I am -- like it or not, in charge of the stuff. You might say that stuff doesn't matter, just forget about it and concentrate on nurturing your family. Throw it all away. This is a fantasy. Can the kid go ice skating without gloves on her hands? Can the husband go to work without his keys? (Well he can, but then you'll be running downstairs from the kid's bath to let him in at night.)

Are other moms pissed off by stuff and their unshirkable role as inventory manager? They didn't ask that in the survey. But I bet they are. After all, the one factor that came up time and again in predicting whether a woman was angry about any specific topic was number of children -- women with three or more children were way more likely to be pissed off about nearly everything.

Know why? More kids = more stuff.


Kori said...

Amen. As Mike once said, "As a girl you were socialized to run the free world, not take care of a house." That disconnect causes frustration, to be sure. If I was running the free world in this kind of scenario, I wouldn't be able to find the "red button" for at least 15 minutes in an emergency, and even then, it would probably be sticky from fruit-covered hands playing with it, and would need battery replacement (which would start a whole new search pattern).

Just last night, I was awoken 10 times? 12 times? I can't say how many, but EJ has a bad cough, and my mom senses woke me at every noise. Mike slept through them all, even when I got up, went to her room with water, talked to her, sang to her, etc., all over the baby monitor. Is it fair to be mad at him for not waking? No. Am I really tired, though? YES! Would I like some friggin' help with the laundry in return for this biological alarm clock I'm carrying? You betcha!

Kori said...

Oh, one last thing, about all the "stuff." I think you are right---managing all the physical stuff, coupled with managing all the schedules/deadlines/budgets/etc.---is the thing that makes this job such a major drag. I agree with your point there wholeheartedly, and didn't really state that in my 1st comment. I'm tired, you see, FROM ALL THAT WAKING, and I forgot my main point.

Sara said...

OMG...preach on sista!

Aaron and I actually have had SEVERAL discussions about this. One thing that irks the hell out of me is his REFUSAL to put dishes in the dishwasher. He puts all of his dirty dishes in the sink even tho sometimes the dishwasher is CLOSER than the sink is, and who is stuck moving those dirty dishes to the dishwasher? ME!!! And then we also have the laundry basket issue...a laundry basket full of clean clothes in the living room means that it needs to be transported upstairs, and NOT by the wife who is almost 8 months pregnant.

I hear ya. Sometimes I don't think those men realize how much it really does take to run and manage a household and manage to parent at the same time.

Don't even get me started on all of the "stuff". The stuff keeps me up at night.

Lora said...

Holy moly, this is so right on. I am a minimalist surrounded by packrats. And somehow I'm in charge of their stuff. If a toy is missing, keys are lost, specific pants aren't in the drawer--guess who finds them. Gah!

Sara said...

I am thinking more and more about this and getting more and more pissed off. I read the "Mad at Dad" article and I kept finding myself wanting to jump up and down and yell, "Yes!! I'm not a complete bitch for feeling the way I do sometimes!!" I'm pissed that I have to be the one who has to be pregnant and get cankles and gain 30 pounds and give up wine and watch my career suffer. I'm pissed that we can't hire a cleaning lady to come every other week but there's a brand new Guitar Hero World Tour game sitting on my living room floor. I'm pissed that I have to be in charge of our social calendar.

Do I love my husband? fact, love doesn't come close to describing how I feel for him. Given the choice, would I trade being pregnant for the alternative? No way. Do I mind house cleaning? Not entirely. I don't even know that I am necessarily mad at my husband for all of these things. I'm just mad because that's the way it is, and no one bothered to ask me if that was ok with me.

Anonymous said...

I would say that what you are describing is more common then not. I know that at least 80% of my girlfriends consistently bitch about their husbands involvement in the household and with their kids. It ALWAYS comes down to one thing--they have married overgrown boys. Women LOVE boys because they are cuddly and fun and spontaneous but they make crappy house partners. If you marry a man you may not get all of the kisses and cuddles but you will get someone who does dishes and changes diapers without being asked. I guess you just have to figure out what is more important. Hopefully before you have kids.

Abby said...

So true, Carrie, so true. I, too, have become the manager of "stuff" and am called upon when said "stuff" is misplaced - except I always know where it is and must direct B to its location. Of course, he can never find it until I point it out. Sighhhhhh...

True Mama said...

I feel you. I once made a list of EVERY.SINGLE.THING. I do around the house so my husband could see it in one place. This was before I had a kid, so now I do most of things half-assed but take care of our kid most of the time. The list is here, if you're interested:

Artist4life925 said...

I completely understand, well maybe not because of the kids stuff, but the husband stuff. We've only been married for 6 months and we've had many fights over organization and who job is it to do what. Sometimes I'll go visit my family for a weekend and I've come home to see him sitting on the couch playing video games, while the house is a mess. After many fights, I've finally got him trained to at least clean up after himself and maybe start a load of laundry.
Maybe I can get him completely trained before we have kids? :)

Anonymous said...

LOL at Anonymous. I think what separates the boys from the men is communication, amongst other things. I know moms who are absolutely delighted to do all of the housework and be in charge of where everything is. But like others have said, it's not the housework per se. It's the feeling that no one told you it would be like this. Not that anyone told him either. The way out of that feeling is communication.

Of course, I'm just the divorcee. ;)

Jeevita said...

Thanks for posting this! It's been very interesting reading your post and the comments. If nothing else, at least it tells me I am not alone in thinking/feeling all this. I recently read a book by Faulkner Fox that goes into this in some detail. Her battle with her husband over equal division of childcare and domestic labor is pretty intense and seems petty at times. But it's a battle she wins and that's pretty inspiring.
I don't foresee myself ever going that route though since the sheer energy expended in fighting would be too much and I don't have that much to spare. Still it's nice to know someone did it. Someone is enjoying some measure of equality in all this..
However I am beginning to doubt that I will ever have more than the one kid I have, because as you put it, more kid = more stuff
Not just physical clutter stuff but mental clutter stuff as well..