Ben Claassen III (For Express)

Q. My wife stays home with our preschooler and is a great mom to her. Other than some part-time volunteer work, she has no professional responsibilities although she was an attorney like me before. Now she wants to get a cleaning person. My salary can afford it but I come from a family that does not outsource things, and I also feel that since she is home, this is something she could do during the day and we should not be paying someone else to maintain the home. I know this is a loaded topic so I have just said we shouldn’t spend the money. —Not Enthused

Here’s the rub: There is no black-and-white delineation of what “maintaining the home” means; in fact, it arguably never ends. Lawn care? Car maintenance? Installing and repairing appliances? Some people outsource everything, some people nothing — and the only right answer is one that’s jointly agreed upon. If your family didn’t outsource at all, then are you willing to help with these tasks, or just outsource them to your wife? Listen to what’s going on for her now compared to before, and exactly what she’s hoping for. A monthly scrub-down? A weekly hand with laundry? A more professional-looking “clean”?

Child care can be a full job in its own right, and you say she’s great at it and also doing part-time work (volunteer or not). It doesn’t make her a slacker that she can’t push your daughter on a swing set, answer an email and mop the floor simultaneously. Bottom line: Your spouse is asking for a reassessment of the delineation of household duties, and she knows them best. That’s always worth listening to.

I’m not the one to lean on here

Q. My sister and her husband are in the midst of a nasty separation: infidelity on both sides, my sister’s compulsive shopping driving them into debt, and their son has serious behavior issues. I have always liked my brother-in-law more than my sister. I also think their marriage not working is mostly her fault. She wants to complain constantly and turn him into the bad guy. She expects that, as her sister, I will support her “woe is me” attitude and bash him. How do I handle this? Want to Be Supportive, But …

Since they have a child, especially one who’s struggling, it’s critical for her to develop a functional relationship with her husband, and you can piggy-back on this. Be honest that although you understand her need to vent about him, she’ll have to look elsewhere for that, because your focus is on your nephew and how his mother and father will co-parent as partners. Validate her feelings (“I can imagine this is really hard for you; I’m sure it’s beyond sad to go through, and you feel let down by him”) without pointing fingers (“The best thing for little Sammy is that you can find a way forward for him. How can I help you do that?”).

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