The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Wife becomes at-home mom, husband quits all ‘house and kid stuff’

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I became a stay-at-home mother a year ago. My husband and I have three elementary-age kids. I knew I would be responsible for more housework, but my husband has recused himself from housework to the point that the trash can be overflowing and two kids asking me for homework help while I make dinner and my husband is … watching silly YouTube videos. He’ll reluctantly do something specific if I ask him, but that’s it.

I have tried to talk to him, and he basically said, “That’s what stay-at-home mothers do, all the house and kid stuff.” Is that accurate?

— SAHM

SAHM: I am sorry your husband chose this moment of three children and zero sources of outside income to show his true self.

Of course what he's saying isn't accurate. Nothing that self-serving can be.

If the domestic workload happened to fit into the rough equivalent of the hours your partner spends at paid work, then I suppose it would make a kind of obtuse, bean-counting sense that you do “all” house and kid stuff.

But parents and children bond through the work of caregiving, and his opting out of the work entirely means his kids have an absentee father.

Meanwhile, the idea that kids and chores would somehow fit into a standard workweek is a howler. Small children especially require attention beyond any kind of boundaries. The idea that the at-home parent has to work seven days a week and be on call 24-7 — while the paid worker of the household sits in the same room playing on his phone, enjoying evenings and weekends off — is just not something a decent person even entertains, much less expects and feels justified saying out loud.

The show your husband is putting on is textbook passive aggression.

I don't know why he's so angry, but that's the call I'm making here. He's angry and checked out, and unconstrained by any sense of duty to you or your kids to push past his resistance to showing up.

It's almost axiomatic that the angry/checked out cohort responds to a request to attend therapy with, “I'm not the one with the problem, you are,” but try anyway. If he refuses, then go solo. The division of labor is just the outer layer of this onion.

Re: SAHM: Damn straight this isn’t okay. My father was a stay-at-home parent, and my husband has not worked while I have been a full-time breadwinner. Neither my mom nor I showed up at home expecting to do absolutely zero for kids or house. I understand the need for counseling, but I also think this needs to be called out for what it is: sexism. If he were home, I guarantee he would not think it acceptable to be the only on-call parent when you were home from work (or off working hours).

The fact that Carolyn seems to get a question a week on this exact topic shows how far we as a society need to go.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Thanks for calling this out.

I think in our glorious times, we're seeing the last wave of generations of sexist entitlement, and a new wave of sexist panic triggered by social change.

It’s a theory.

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