Here's Why I'm Not "Lucky" To Have A "Helpful Husband"
If you've had any real, open conversations with moms married to men, you're probably aware of these women's frustrations with domestic and child care inequity with their husbands.
Of the hundreds of women I've spoken to over the past three years since becoming a mother myself, the theme of the frustration centers around the feeling (and often reality) that their personal and professional freedom became significantly reduced after having a child, yet their male partner's freedom remained the same. More importantly, these new moms expected their personal and professional freedom to shift or change, whereas their male partners were often surprised that this would or should ever be expected of them.
This imbalance in personal and professional freedom—be that working late at the office last minute, socializing with friends, or going to the gym as much as in the pre-baby days—is often the case regardless of whether the mother is working full time as well. Even when both partners work full time, women are still often doing more household management, chores, and child care, and when the kid gets sick and can't go to day care, the responsibility always seems to fall to her to rearrange her life or to find alternative child care.
So what about women who do have husbands that are involved and engaged in domestic labor?
We're often told how "lucky" we are to have a "helpful husband." Truth be told, these comments are part of what's holding us all back.
Women like myself who do have more equitable partnerships feel like we aren’t allowed to voice any other complaints because we’ll be told we are already ‘lucky.’
To cast it off as "lucky" gives other men a pass—the implication being that most men shouldn't be expected to be involved in housework and child care. Sometimes we may even downplay our husband's involvement with comments like "at least he does help." A husband doesn't "help" his wife with child care—child care is his responsibility, just as much as it is hers.
But to make matters even worse, often women like myself who do have more equitable partnerships feel like we aren't allowed to voice any other complaints because we'll be told we are already "lucky." Our frustrations are often disregarded if our partners and husbands do "better than most dads."
Recently, when talking with a few new mom friends at the local park, one mom shared frustrations about how her husband's life was back to normal just a couple of weeks after the birth, yet her life had stopped due to her new responsibilities. She shared, "He was back to work happy hours several nights a week, going to the gym daily, and traveling on work trips for days at a time. Meanwhile, I wasn't able to leave the house unless I hired a babysitter or could arrange for my mom to help out. Now, I'm back to work full time too, but still the extra responsibilities fall on my shoulders."
Before I could commiserate with her or validate her feelings, another mom quickly responded, "Well, at least when you ask him to help out, he does it. You've got a good one—just remember that!"
As Darcy Lockman says in her book All The Rage, "Given that there is always a nameless, faceless partner in the background whose laziness or inattentiveness is worse than your husband's, women who appreciate their lives and their relationships feel reluctant to acknowledge their displeasure [with any part of it]."
The truth is that it can be hurtful to tell a mom that she is "lucky to have a helpful husband" when he's simply doing his fair share—or simply doing more than other dads do. It implies she should be grateful for him doing the bare minimum, if that.
Telling a mom that she is "lucky" also implies that it didn't take a lot of work to create this equitable dynamic. Sure, there may be a bit of "luck" involved in anything good that comes to us in life, but usually these types of dynamics are carefully curated between partners and take a lot of work, trial, and error.
Take it from me. It has taken a lot of effort—including years of talking through things as well as couples therapy—to create a fairly balanced and equitable situation with my husband. It is possible to have equity (notice I'm saying equity, as true equality may not be possible and is not necessarily the goal) with your partner. It just takes work.
After all is said and done, I do often consider myself "lucky" to have met a partner who sees child-rearing as his job just as much as it is mine (and this includes getting up late nights, feeding, diapering, potty training, planning events and entertainment, rescheduling his life to accommodate our child's schedule, etc.), just as I feel "lucky" to have met several good friends who are willing to work to keep our friendship alive (and man, that takes work as we get older!).
Yet, there is a lot more than luck involved to make a marriage, household, and family work. At the end of the day, my husband and I have learned that we have to ask ourselves: What does my spouse need to be happy?
This isn't about luck. This is about commitment.
So stop telling women they're "lucky" to have "helpful husbands." Instead, hold men up to a higher standard and respect the couples working hard to create equity in their homes.
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