Relationship strategist Sue Nador says that when the dishes pile up so do the resentments, and she offers some ideas for avoiding that trap.
Here’s an interesting factoid about stay at home dads (SAHDs). They are five times more likely to have affairs than other men. One hypothesis is, feeling emasculated by not being the primary breadwinner, they sleep around to prove they are still macho. Interesting theory but I have my doubts, and here’s why.
According to research from the Pew Center SAHDs do 15 hours fewer combined hours of childcare and housework a week than their stay at home mom counterparts. More significantly, they work about 25 fewer hours per week than their working spouse, performing only four more hours of housework and two additional hours of childcare. Their leisure time is almost double.
Have you connected the dots yet?
It is possible that SAHDs are really uber-efficient and get through their workday quick as bunnies. With all the extra time on their hands, why wouldn’t they enjoy a bit of extracurricular hanky panky before the kids need to be picked up from daycare and their spouse walks in the door? Plus, perhaps the sexual sparks aren’t flying at home so they now have both the need and the opportunity to fulfill their carnal desires off the ranch.
What interests me—and what should interest every couple—is why there might not be sexual sparks at home.
It is a proven fact that resentment is a libido killer. And it is no secret that there is often resentment between the stay at home parent and their working spouse irrespective of whether it is the mom or the dad that stays home. Resentment happens between partners who don’t meet each others’ expectations. And perceptions about not pulling enough weight vis-à-vis housework or childcare whether the partner is doing paid work outside the home or unpaid work inside it is a deal breaker.
It is easy to think one’s partner has the sweeter deal. It is human nature to believe the grass is greener on the other side.
The working partner may resent their stay at home spouse for not contributing financially and not having to endure the stress of work. They may feel jealous their partner gets to hang out with other parents at Gymboree. They feel they are carrying more than enough weight and shouldn’t be expected to start a second shift at the end of their working day. They may wonder, “What the heck did my partner do all day? The place is a mess, the kids are running around like savages, and dinner is nowhere in sight.”
The stay at home parent may see things differently. They may resent their working partner for getting to spend all day with adults who don’t throw fistfuls of macaroni at the wall, and who get to enjoy a latte in peace. They believe they are making a sacrifice to support their partner’s professional success and that they didn’t sign up to be a house elf. They may ask themselves, “Why is my partner taking me for granted thinking the stay at home job is a 24/7 deal. If I don’t get a break I will go insane.”
Who is right? Both sides make valid points so it is easy to see how problems can seep into the relationship. No one likes to feel they are being used or that their efforts are not being appreciated. What’s the solution then?
Here’s my idea. Couples should craft a job description for the stay at home parent together. The job description could list key accountabilities, as well as hours of work. If couples took the time to do this or at least talk about it, their respective expectations could be made more transparent, disconnects resolved, and a reasonable deal stuck before differences of opinion lead to resentment later.
Here are a few considerations in thinking through the relationship deal between a stay-at-home parent and their working spouse:
- What are the priority accountabilities of the stay at home parent? Is the focus on “childcare” such as playing and educating the child, or is it on “housework” such as cooking, cleaning, family finances, while taking care of the kids?
- How do the stay at home parent’s responsibilities shift when their spouse walks in the door at the end of the day? Is the working parent expected to “take over” (a change is as good as a rest) or have they earned the right to do only the “fun” stuff like play with the kids?
- Does the role of the stay at home parent have a termination date? Is the plan to stay home until the kids are in college, or does it end once the kids start school? What responsibilities does the stay at home parent have to maintain their technical knowledge and professional connections to make their transition back to work possible?
There are many ways to do the job of a stay at home parent. The role should be defined collaboratively in the context of the couple’s unique priorities and values. “That’s not in my job description” is not something we want to say to the person we love.