Working Mom Confession: Nagging Happens in Many Marriages Because of Inequity

The Mr. and Mrs. enjoying a harmonious moment
‪"Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it."‬ -Gloria Steinem
This past weekend, my husband and I had a conversation about his consistent contributions to the management of the household. It went something like this, I am exhausted about everything I have to do. His response, “Our contributions are equal. Let’s make a list.” I responded by saying, “You have no idea what things just miraculously happen that you don’t even think about. Groceries don’t miraculously appear in the refrigerator. The kids don’t magically have clothes and shoes to wear, class supplies don't get magically purchased, and Halloween costumes don't simply appear. It takes a lot of work to make this world go 'round and you are oblivious to most of it!"

His response, “Just tell me what you want me to help with…” With that simple question, he unwittingly ignited the battle of the sexes...

Why can't wives just ask for help?

To most men and some women, his response seems very reasonable. The logic goes, “You can’t complain that he doesn’t help enough if you don’t tell him what to do.” In my opinion that entire thought process explains why most working moms are exhausted. The manager of the tasks ultimately carries all of the responsibility and gets none of the glory. In contrast, the “helper” has the luxury of being able to wait to be asked to do tasks and carries none of the responsibility of the work not being completed if they’re not asked. Indeed, the “helper” has it much easier.

Being asked to make a list and proactively consider all of the areas where I require "help" is just one more thing that I have to do. My preference would be for him to simply choose daily responsibilities that he will own from start to finish and complete as they arise so that I don't have to think about them. Actually, I think that is going to be the only thing on my Christmas list...

As kids we used to say, "Who died and made you boss?!" Well most working moms I know want to scream from the rooftops, "Who decided that managing the household was my bleeping job when I work full time too ?!

The emotional energy women spend on uncompensated tasks is draining...

The other problem with the manager/helper model is that invariably, the manager is placed in the role of requesting that the helper perform tasks and “requesting” might be construed as “nagging”. And nagging has been reported to be a real buzz kill for men. Indeed, it's been reported that "nagging" is the cause of the demise of some relationships. That concept always bugged be because it placed the blame entirely on the woman. The lesson was, "Stop nagging. Stay married." (For a link to an old post I wrote discussing the concept of nagging click here.)

It's a simple enough message, but one that overlooks the basic question, "What are women complaining about?!"

Well, about a month ago, a friend shared an article on Facebook from Harper's Bazaar that answered that question. It's entitled, Women Aren't Nags — We're Just Fed Up-(Emotional labor is the unpaid job our husbands  don't understand.) Sheryl Sandberg has described those as the "mandatory yet mundane tasks" that are required to make a household run. These tasks, unlike home improvement projects, can be soul draining. Still, they must be done. Often, women do these tasks under protest, while clenching their teeth. 

Many times, when it simply gets to be too much they cry "Uncle" or utter curse words... And their frustration is a great surprise for their spouses, especially those men who pride themselves on being "good guys". Good guys tend to feel insulted when their wives approach them in tears yelling, "I just can't take this s--t anymore!" That insult is even more pronounced when the outburst follows a simple request like, "Can you hand me the remote control."  

Check out the article. It does a really good job of describing what contributes to this conflict. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I may or may not have had the outburst referenced above... What I can say is that since writing this piece, Andre has been contributing a lot more in the mornings. He's generally been waking up much earlier and has been getting the kids up and fed. This small gesture has greatly reduced my morning load and has made everybody happier. And since we're being honest, this change came about with more than a little nagging. Don't judge me!