Ask A Woman: A familiar struggle…
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My wife and I have two kids, 6 and 8 years old. We both work. Her job is closer to where we live, while I commute an hour both ways, and thus, get home later than her each night.
She’s been getting increasingly stressed, and has become angry with me for not doing as much as she does around the house. This is true of course, since I’m on the road two hours a day. But as soon as I hit the door I’m helping and don’t stop until the kids are in bed. I do the dishes every night, read to the kids before bed, and in the morning I’m the one that gets them up and out the door before work.
I feel like I’m doing everything I can do to help, but it’s never enough. How can I make her happy?
I’m guessing there are a lot of guys out there who are reading about your situation and thinking, yep, sounds like my life. Besides money, division of household responsibilities is the most common area of disagreement for couples. It’s also been my observation that women who hold jobs outside the home are extra wary of being saddled with the lion’s share of housework and child rearing. The majority of women now work full-time, and some of us live in fear of also being expected to do all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, as those responsibilities used to fall solely to women. Basically, we don’t want to be transported back to 1955.
But from what you’re describing, your wife has no reason to take issue with your contributions. While not an ideal situation for either of you, your two hours of commuting “counts” as a contribution. You’re not making dinner during those two hours, or helping your kids with their homework, but making that two hour trek is what is required of you in order to help provide for your family.
I think part of the issue here (and with arguments other couples have along similar lines) is the emphasis on equality. Relationships aren’t equal down to the decimal point. Having that mindset puts an emphasis on two individuals. You get into a cycle of keeping score–I did the dishes and walked the dog and gave the kids a bath today and the only thing he did was pick up the dry cleaning. What is much more constructive–and realistic–is to think of yourselves as a team. In a team, everyone contributes what they can in order to better the group. You can’t magically find more hours in the day to make up for the two hours you commute, which means you aren’t contributing an equal amount of labor towards the home or the child rearing. But so what? Those hours are part of your contribution to the team, and they should count the same as whatever your wife does during that time.
It sounds like you’re doing everything you can, and if I were in your position, I’d be confused, too, as to what my partner wanted. The first step in resolving this conflict, not surprisingly, is to have an honest conversation with your wife. Point out, gently, respectfully, calmly, that every hour of your day is accounted for, and you’re not sure how to do more. Ask what she needs to make her life easier. Would it help to have a cleaning service come twice a month? Would it help to hire a babysitter for a few hours every week to occupy the kids so she can have some time to recharge? Does she want you to look for a job closer to home? Or does she simply want to vent her frustration to you on a regular basis?
Finally, a marriage with young children and active careers needs a lot of nurturing so that it remains a loving and supportive haven for both of you. Tell her often that you appreciate her, and ask her to do the same for you.
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