One gripe I hear over and over from my girlfriends is that their husbands, significant others, boyfriends, or ex-husbands are clueless. They don’t help around the house, they don’t pick up after themselves, they don’t cook, and they don’t do much of anything, except work. So, why are men not full partners?
I think that there are multiple factors at play, but a big one is that we as women do not set expectations correctly at the beginning of the relationship. True, some people are truly clueless. I know that when we had our first child, my husband had never changed a diaper before. Changing a diaper on a 3 lb infant (that’s not a typo- she was a preemie) in the NICU, is truly a bit scary. Throw in all of the wires, alarms, monitors, and more, and it is pretty hair-raising if you’ve never done anything like it before. I get that it’s a natural tendency to be careful of stepping into all of that mess. It would be far easier to let the nurses do everything. We had a fantastic nurse who informed my husband that our oldest couldn’t go home until he learned to diaper her, change her clothes, feed her, burp her, and generally take care of her. I think that my 6’4″ husband nearly passed out the first time he had to do it. He was nervous as heck. But he did it. And he survived. And he got really good at changing a diaper- even on a toddler trying to run away.
We set the expectation early on that he was going to be a full partner in parenting, and in our marriage. There are some things that obviously he couldn’t do- he couldn’t be pregnant, or nurse babies, but he could do everything else equally. I asked for help, and I encouraged him to help. I also bit my lip, and did not criticize his choice of outfits for our daughters. I didn’t say anything about mis-matched clothes, or hairstyles, or anything else he did, unless it was a safety issue.
I also expect my husband to cook, shop, and help clean. Honestly, I could drive myself nuts trying to do everything, or expecting him to do everything, so we each pitch in and do what we can do. It’s about expectations, and about communication. We communicate nearly constantly, to ensure that everything is covered.
So, set expectations correctly. Be explicit in what you need. Don’t expect him to just magically read your mind, and anticipate what you want. That’s not going to happen. If you ask him to do what you want him to do, then he likely will. And praise him for doing it. Then ask for the next thing. Treat it like training a puppy, if you must. But ask, and set the expectations that you need help early on, before you drive yourself crazy.