Yesterday was a completely normal day. I got up, showered, got ready, and went to get the kids. My husband got up, showered, got ready, and went to walk the dogs. We loaded the kids in the car. Dropped them off at school (okay, day care). We worked all day. We picked the kids up. We went home.
My husband took the toddler down to see the puppies (because immediately upon arriving home he began singing us the song of his people: “Puppy! Puppy! Puppy!”). I took the baby’s jacket off, took mine off, and hung our jackets up in the closet. I put my shoes in the closet (I promise, this is relevant). I took the baby with me to change my clothes. We came back, and I began to clear the papers and other nonsense from the kitchen table. I finished, and the baby and I went to play in the living room.
That’s when it began. My husband and toddler came back up from the basement, and my husband took off the toddler’s jacket and sneakers and set them on the kitchen table. Then he set the toddler in the living room and went to the cupboard to get himself a snack (yes, you read that correctly. He was getting himself, not the toddler, a snack). That’s when I said it. I said, “Can you help me out and put Haden’s jacket and shoes in the closet at least?”
Can you help me out, help me out. All at once, I saw my life with my husband flash before my eyes. Can you help me out and…
…put away the kid’s jacket?
…get the baby a bottle?
…rinse your plate?
…put your shoes in the closet?
…take out the garbage?
…fold your laundry?
It was suddenly so clear. These were the wrong words. He’s not helping me out. He’s being an adult, my partner. I said it, right then, out loud: “Actually, can you just do it? It’s not helping me out. It’s just putting your kid’s shit away.” He didn’t respond, but he put it away.
I decided then that I would never ask my husband to help me out again — unless he’s really doing me a favor, like killing a ginormous bug that was obviously sent straight from hell to assassinate me. Here’s why:
1. It diminishes his value.
My husband is an adult. He is a fully functioning human. He should not be viewed as my helper or assistant or someone who needs to take direction from me to be useful. He is useful all on his own. If there is something I need him to do that he’s not noticing, I can say it. But it’s not for me. It’s because it’s what needs to be done in a busy household. When he asks me to get the baby a bottle, he never mentions it being for him because it’s not. I’m not his assistant, and he is not mine.
2. It puts undue responsibility on me.
I don’t own the responsibility of keeping our house organized and our kids fed/clean/clothed. It’s not solely my job. By framing our dynamic in that way, using words like “help me out” instead of simply asking him to do something, I’m taking on that ownership. There are lots of things I’d like to own in this life: a fancy boat, an expensive car, a machine that folds laundry for me. But 100 percent responsibility for our household and our children is not one of those things. I only want 50 percent of that.
3. It sets an example for our kids that I don’t mean to set.
I don’t want my boys growing up thinking that if they put the toilet seat down they’re doing their partner some sort of favor. I don’t want them thinking that they should receive accolades for taking out the garbage or hanging their jacket. I want them to take personal pride in being a real partner. Working their fair share and, in turn, gleaning their fair share of pride and enjoyment.
4. It diminishes our partnership.
My husband is my partner. He is my equal. We might not always do things the same way, because we are not the same person. What’s important is that we work together to accomplish the main goal, which is a happy, healthy family (and a house that isn’t covered in pureed green beans, chicken nugget casualties, and mandarin orange syrup). I don’t want to boss my husband around. I certainly don’t want him to think that his purpose is to help me out, because it’s not. His purpose is to be a father and my partner. And kill bugs.
So next time my husband leaves his clean, dry laundry in the dryer for six days, instead of asking him to “help me out” and fold it so that I can wash the kids’ clothes, I’ll just tell him to get his shit out of my way.
© 2015 Bethany Liston, as first published on Scary Mommy.