When you leave your husband home alone with the kids, do you come home to a disaster zone? Can your husband juggle the care of the home and the kids, or does he drive away from the mess and head to McDonald's? Are you baffled as to why this otherwise competent man who manages to slay the dragon and bring home the bacon every day can't seem to keep the house clean and the kids fed when you're not around?
More importantly, how do you respond when this phenomenon occurs and how does it affect the mother-father relationship when your husband's less than stellar performance (in your opinion) takes center stage thanks to that spotlight you're aiming at him?
If you have an otherwise willing and helpful husband like mine, it may be helpful to consider the following five thoughts before saying anything after one of those days when your home has been the recipient of a lot of living under your husband's care. (How's that for a positive spin?)
#1 He may not be in his element. If you are the primary caretaker of home and family and he is the primary breadwinner, it's important to remember that this man is not in his element! As much as dads today are becoming increasingly more active in the home compared to their predecessors, not all of them were "trained" in the art of childcare and homemaking. (How often do you hire a young man to babysit?) You've probably spent hundreds of hours talking to other moms and absorbing various resources full of tips and tricks that you've had the luxury of practicing over several years, so you should know more than anyone how difficult it is to manage a home and family. Give the poor guy a break! Could you do his job at the drop of a hat without the necessary training?
#2 He needs to know your expectations. I would compare telling your husband to "take care of everything" while you're gone to telling your young child to "clean their room" without giving them any specific instructions. Unless you're okay with him doing things his own way and you will take the results come what may, you probably want to give him some really specific instructions (preferably in writing) on the ins and outs of keeping home and family running smoothly.
#3 His way of doing things isn't wrong, it's just different. Because my husband isn't as tied to every last detail of the inner workings of our home, he's often much better at detaching himself and knowing when to say when-especially when I'm not there. We mothers can get so used to the home being our territory that we fall too far into "mom mode" and want to control things even when we aren't there, but that's not necessarily the best thing. Let your husband do some things his way while he's in charge. It may not be how you would do it, and some things may even slip through the cracks (or so it seems to you), but part of showing love and respect to your husband is appreciating and acknowledging the value in his way of doing things.
#4 He needs a break too. Even though my husband enjoys his job, it demands a lot from him both physically as well as emotionally. (Sounds like motherhood, right?) So why should I expect him to always be "on" when he's home alone with the kids? (Especially if I'm away on a girls weekend or taking the afternoon off to do some personal shopping). Don't you let a few things slide when your husband's not around? Not to mention the kids never mind a break from the usual routine. Having a loose day with dad every once in awhile isn't necessarily a bad thing.
#5 Don't undermine the importance of your work. Whether mothers realize it or not, there is an ulterior motive behind the impatient (sarcastic, mocking) tone we take when asking our husbands why on earth they couldn't keep the kids busy and happy, get the laundry done, pay the bills, and have a decent dinner on the table while we were away. We are looking for them to validate that what we accomplish every day-while seemingly simple-really does require a high degree of self-motivation, organization, and ability to multitask. The irony of us suggesting that they should be able to replace us without a second thought is that it undermines how truly complex and demanding our work really is. By insisting that the work is simple, not only do we insult our husbands (who were probably trying their best, doggone it!), but we also negate the very validation we are seeking.
So the next time you leave for a few days (or even a few hours) and come home to find the kids sitting on a blanket of popcorn watching Sponge Bob in their underwear-stop, take a deep breath, smile, and tell your husband that you understand. You've been there. We've all been there. And it's not an easy job.