How to deal with unequal workload at home
It's not unusual for emotions to flare over parenting and housework. Here's how some experts suggest handling the situation. Plus, 10 tips for a better home life.
The Associated Press
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It used to drive Shannon Johnson nuts when her husband would put their children in the car without packing snacks and diapers.
For Kristen Chase, it was her husband's choice to stop at the gym after putting in long hours at work.
Looking back they seem like small things — but the women still remember how the acts made their blood boil. And it's become clear they're not the only moms harboring a touch of rage at their husbands.
"The truth is if you prick any one of us with a little pin, anger comes out," said Lisa Bain, executive editor of Parenting magazine, which recently published an article titled "Mad at Dad" on parenting.com, which described the site's readers' irritations with their husbands.
The article quickly became the site's most popular and provoked an avalanche of comments by moms venting their frustrations with men who don't do enough around the house, can't multitask and don't do their share of parenting duties.
"It resonated with people," Bain said. "I'm not saying everyone agreed, but it resonated with people in some way."
Studies confirm there's ample reason for frustration: American men still don't pull their weight when it comes to housework and child care, according to a report last year from the Council on Contemporary Families summarizing several studies on family dynamics.
Men aren't quite the slackers they used to be — one report found that men's contribution to housework had doubled over the past four decades; another found they tripled the time spent on child care over that span.
Of course, some did come to dads' defense, saying they couldn't do what they do without the support of their husbands. "After reading that article, I had no idea what whiners women could be," wrote one stay-at-home dad. "I feel blessed to have this role in my children's lives, and I'm doubly lucky to be married to a woman who can pay the bills."
It's not uncommon for emotions to flare over parenting and housework, and the emotions can become extreme, said psychologist Willard F. Harley of White Bear Lake, Minn.
"The thing that infuriates most women isn't what he doesn't do, it's what he does do," said Harley, whose written books on relationships. "Women see their husbands at home at night drinking a beer or resting comfortably — seeing him there resting makes her really frustrated."
Chase remembers getting upset over the amount of time her husband was out of the house. "Everything seemed unfair," the Atlanta resident said. "It was breeding a lot of resentment."
Johnson said she can "identify with the rage" in the article, but attributes a lot of the issues to the different communication styles of men and women.
She initially tried to solve their problems by yelling. When her husband asked her to stop, she told him: "I have to yell because I have to get your attention."
Eventually, she realized telling him what was bothering her yielded better results.
"I don't expect my husband to be perfect," she said. "I expect him to try harder."
It's a role Tom Johnson, 33, is comfortable with. He likes when they sit down and come up with ways to address their concerns. "The whole solution thing is great," he said.
That's really what many men want, added Thomas Haller, a couples therapist and author in Bay City, Mich.
"Women want to talk around and around an issue," said Haller. "Men just want to know what the problem is and what to do about it."
10 tips for a better home life
Frustrated by the division of labor at home? Don't get mad, get talking.
Anger can be lessened when couples communicate their expectations and offer ideas on how they can accomplish them, said marriage counselor Thomas Haller.
Drop the yelling and arguing, said psychologist Willard Harley. Leave the room, think happy thoughts, pray or find some other way to release anger before starting a discussion.
"Get the adrenaline out of your system," he said. "When you deal with (an issue) without adrenaline in your system, you're more likely to solve the problem."
Haller, Harley and Cari L. Sans, director of Counseling Corner for Marriage and Family Therapy in New York, offered the following tips:
• Choose the timing of discussions carefully. Make sure the children won't be interrupting and that both partners are able to focus on the conversation.
• Consider the other's feelings. Commit to considering your partner's feelings before making decisions.
• Identify what's at issue. For instance, what happened before the coffee pot broke and you lost your cool? Perhaps there were a couple of events leading up to the "straw that broke the camel's back."
• Manage your expectations. Think about what you want to achieve in the upcoming confrontation and be realistic about how it may be received from your partner. Also, consider outcomes that may be acceptable to you.
• Use "I" statements to express your feelings and your needs. This approach allows you to take responsibility for your feelings. Say things like: "I noticed that you've been on the golf course four times this week." "I feel like I'm alone in this process." "I expect you to get off the couch and help me."
• Don't assign blame. Blaming your partner will put him or her on the defensive.
• Choose to be a listener. If you decide to air your grievances be prepared to hear your partner's opinions and feelings. Acknowledge your partner's message by saying something like, "I hear that you feel — — — — ," or "I heard you say — — — — — — — ."
• Validate one another's points of views. Remember that validating is not agreeing. Each partner's points of view are valid even if you don't agree.
• Create a compromise about the issue. Both partners have to be willing to give up something so that the relationship wins. You can do this by making a fair request to your partner, inviting him or her to make other suggestions and working until you both feel satisfied.
• Check in with one another about the solutions. Is it working? If not, then discuss further and create another compromise.
• If you are feeling overwhelmed in the relationship, it may be helpful to try couples counseling.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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