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How I Finally Realized I Don’t Deserve Praise For Helping My Wife With Housework

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About five years into my marriage (I’m coming up on 13 now), my wife and I were living in a small townhouse in rural Minnesota. We had two children. I was attending graduate school and working, while she was a stay-at-home mom.

My wife being home all day was a new development for us. One evening, around 9 p.m., after the kids were in bed, I dragged myself off the sofa with a groan, and announced that I was going to do the dishes.

I said it into the air, “Suppose I’ll do the dishes,” as if it was some wonderful gesture of good will to my wife. And, at the time, I felt that way. I felt that she wasn’t working, and so all that household and kid stuff was her gig. Anything I did to help out was a favor to her.

I truly don’t know where I learned that idea. My father wasn’t around when I was kid, so I didn’t learn it from him. My mother went to work, paid the bills, cared for the kids and the home — she was a one-woman band.

Perhaps I picked it up from TV, or from books, or from watching other couples in my neighborhood. I don’t really know where I got it from, but what I do know is that the second my wife stopped working and become a stay at home mother, something flipped in me.

I suddenly became weighted with these 1950s notions that because I bring in the bacon, anything I did around the house deserved praise. And sadly, this idea lingered with me for the next several years.

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This isn’t to say that I didn’t pitch in around the house during this time. I surely did. I got up in the night with our children. I managed bath time several nights a week. I cooked and I cleaned. The problem wasn’t my contribution. The problem was how I viewed my own contributions. I felt like my wife owed me praise for doing anything domestic.

My wife was in the kitchen when I made my announcement that I was going to do the dishes, crouched down, wiping up the sticky mess our then-baby daughter had made on one of our chairs. She was in jeans and a T-shirt, her short brown hair falling into her face as she examined the chair to make sure she got it all.

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