Occupy Main Street—and the Kitchen

Dear Mr. Dad: A few months ago you answered a question from a reader whose teenager was refusing to do chores. My situation is similar, except that it’s my husband who won’t lift a finger. We both work full time, but when I come home, I usually start making dinner and getting the kids going on their homework. When my husband comes home, he plops himself down in the living room and reads the newspaper or watches TV. Fortunately, the kids set the table and clean up after meals, because my husband disappears right after dinner and goes off to check his email while I put in a load of laundry. I’m worried that my children—one boy, one girl—are going to get the wrong idea about gender roles and what a marriage is supposed to be like. How can I curb my DH’s laziness?

A: My initial thought is that a cattle prod would be an excellent investment. But that wouldn’t clear up your children’s confusion about marriage and division of labor issues.

You didn’t say anything about whether you and your husband have talked about this, but either way, that’s a critical second step. Your first step is to put together a comprehensive list of everything you, your husband, and your kids are doing for the family and how long each task takes. If he has a longer commute, puts in more hours, and spends the weekends fixing things around the house and paying bills, you might discover that he’s not quite as big a slacker as he seems to be.

Once you have your list in hand, it’s discussion time. Even assuming that the two of you put in exactly the same amount of time (including all chores), there’s still a problem: He apparently decided on his own that whatever he’s doing is enough and that you should do everything else. That may be fair in his mind—and if you count up the hours he may technically be right—but it’s obviously not working for you. The two of you need to discuss a better way to divvy up the workload. Suggest that you switch chores for a few weeks—you write the checks and take care of the leaky toilets and he does the shopping, meal prep, and laundry. This kind of role reversal tends to make people a lot more appreciative of what others are doing.

If, however, you’re doing a lot more than your husband is, you’ll need to have a different kind of discussion. Start by telling him that you’re just not able to do everything by yourself and that you really need his help. (show him the list, but stay far away from words like “lazy” and “slothful.”) If you’re lucky, he’ll say, “I had no idea, honey. I’m ashamed and I’ll change my ways right now.” Don’t hold your breath.

Unfortunately appealing to people’s sense of fairness doesn’t always produce the desired results—or it may produce them for a while until things start backsliding. If you find yourself in this spot, you’ll want to be a bit more aggressive. One thing you can do is start preparing meals that your husband really doesn’t like. If he complains, hand him a cookbook and print out a Google map of the nearest grocery store. But the most effective approach of all is a good old-fashioned strike. A few days of having to do his own laundry and eating nothing but canned tuna, and he’ll be a new man—or at least a skinnier, dirtier one.

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