Jancee Dunn's new book, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, could be a serious bummer were it not incredibly hilarious and relatable. The New York Times bestselling author wrote the book after she had a baby and found herself filled with rage when her husband didn't live up to her expectations of helping with housework and childcare. Her situation is hardly uncommon, as her heavily researched book proves. Below is an excerpt tackling the taboo topic of fights.
It's the dirty little secret of parenting: many of us will fight after we have children. And it will sometimes get ugly.
But I didn't know that when I had the baby. My husband and I rarely did before we had our daughter. And I had read the encouraging news that modern men, unlike the distant breadwinners of previous generations, are more invested in their children than ever before. A Pew Research Center study shows that today's working dads are as likely as working moms to say they would prefer to be home with their kids. We live in an era in which fathers-to-be throw all-male "man showers" for their babies (according to one party-gear designer, a popular theme is "barbecue, babies, and beer"). Websites aimed solely at dads are on the rise, such as the popular Fatherly.com, which features, alongside more standard content (an illustrated guide to high fives, tips from a Navy SEAL on how to dominate hide-and-seek), numerous articles on how to raise strong daughters — a response, say the site's founders, to reader demand. Fathers' attitudes about housework are changing, too. The same Pew study found that since 1965, the time that fathers spend doing household chores has more than doubled — from about four hours a week to roughly ten.
Since Tom and I had already established fairly clear roles in our household, assumed we would simply fashion new ones. But after our baby was born, we soon slid backward into the traditional roles we'd grown up seeing, which were clearly more ingrained that I'd thought (we're just a grandma and grandpa away from the old model, after all). It wasn't by any grand design; it just sort of happened. I was making food for the baby, so I started doing all the family cooking and food shopping. I did the baby's laundry, so I began to throw in our clothes, too. When she was small, I stayed at home with her during the day and, out of habit, my caregiver duties gradually extended into the evening.
I'm constantly taking a silent feminist stand to see if he'll step up and lend a hand.
Our scenario is not uncommon: an Ohio State study of working couples who became first-time parents found that men did a fairly equal share of housework — until, that is, they became dads. By the time their baby had reached nine months, the women had picked up an average of thirty-seven hours of childcare and housework per week, while the men did twenty-four hours — even as both parents clocked in the same number of hours at work. When it came to childcare, moreover, dads did more of the fun stuff like reading stories, rather than decidedly less festive tasks such as diaper duty (not to mention that they did five fewer hours of housework per week after the baby arrived).
I wish Tom's 10 percent effort was enough, but it isn't. I feel like he's a guest at the hotel I'm running. I'm constantly taking a silent feminist stand to see if he'll step up and lend a hand. The scorekeeping never ends. Adding to my resentment is that on weekends, Tom somehow manages to float around in a happy single-guy bubble. A typical Saturday for him starts with a game of soccer with his friends or a five-hour bike ride (he seemed to take up endurance sports right around the time our baby's umbilical cord was cut, like the sound of the snip was a starter's pistol to get the hell out of Dodge).
This is followed by a leisurely twenty-minute shower, a late breakfast, a long nap, and then a meandering perusal through a variety of periodicals. Meanwhile, I am ferrying our daughter to birthday parties and playdates. On weekend evenings, Tom doesn't check with me before he meets friends for drinks; he just breezes out the door with the assumption that I'll handle bath time and bed. Yet whose fault is that? In my deranged quest to Do It All, I have allowed this to happen — so is it fair of me to get angry when he ducks (or, as I view it, "skulks") into the bedroom for a nap?
And so I fume, and then unleash the beast at the slightest provocation. A typical scenario: I am in the kitchen, simultaneously cooking dinner, checking our daughter's homework, and emptying both her school lunch bag and the dishwasher. Tom heads into the kitchen and I brighten — Oh, good, some help! — but no, he is only wending through the typhoon in order to reach the refrigerator to pour himself a glass of wine.
Tom (opening fridge, frowning): There's no wine left?
Me (distracted): I guess not.
Tom (with slightly more urgency): You didn't get wine today?
Me: Oh, so now I manage the storerooms? My apologies, Lord Grantham! I'll alert the staff!
Tom: No, I just meant that you were at the store earlier, and . . .
Me (now enraged): I know what you meant, D*ckwad!
As this scene is unfolding, our daughter runs over, stands protectively in front of Tom, and tells me not to yell at Daddy. "We're just working something out, honey," I say quickly. In one of the many parenting books I keep piled on my bedside table, I read that if you squabble in front of children, you should make an elaborate point of making up, so that they can witness your "healthy conflict resolution." "Here," I tell her. "I'll hug Daddy. We fight sometimes, but we always make up, because we love each other! You see?"
I move in for a hug. My back is toward her, so she doesn't see that as I embrace my husband, I scowlingly give him the finger and mouth, F*ck you!
Of course, I overreacted. And Tom could have gone down to the store without an Edwardian harrumph and purchased a new bottle of wine. But when I explode — making a conscious choice to vent, rather than consider my daughter's anxiety — is my "victory" worth it? My concern for her wellbeing turns out to be unsettlingly selective. While I carefully apply sunscreen to the back of her neck and shield her from the harms of too much sugar by scrutinizing the label of her Nature's Path EnviroKidz Organic Lightly Frosted Amazon Flakes, I apparently feel free to trash her sense of peace by yelling horrible names at her father.
I knew we had to get a marriage counselor when I realized we save our best selves for our children.