Friday, November 16, 2018

How to Damage Your Marriage

Normally, Carolyn Hax offers solid advice in her Washington Post column. Today is not one of those days. Upon receiving a letter from a woman who has been cursed with the task of caring for two toddlers, Hax offers to explain how she should force her husband to do more to care for the toddlers.

The letter writer and her husband have two older boys, ages 11 and 14. She does not tell us the gender of the two toddlers, aged 3 and 1. She is seriously torqued at her husband because he is going back on his word. You see, when the couple was trying to decide whether to have more children, husband agreed to get more involved with caring for the new babies.

He has not lived up to the terms of his agreement. Literally. Instead, horror of horrors he has become more active in the lives of his older boys. Apparently, the put-upon Mom took one-too-many Women’s studies classes and believes, as an article of faith, that men and women are the same, and thus, that it does not matter who plays mother to babies and toddlers.

The unfortunate part is that Hax does not know any better either. To her great discredit.

Here is the text of the letter:

So about four years ago, my husband and I decided to have another set of babies. Our older two were 9 and 7 at the time, and my husband and I were very young when we had them — 23 and 20 — so we thought we'd have another go at babydom. This was after many lengthy conversations about how my husband was going to have to be a lot more helpful this time.

When my older boys were little, I was responsible for 99.99 percent of child-related tasks, which as you know takes a huge toll. I was naive and chalked it up to the fact that he and I were both so young at the time that we didn't know what we were doing, had no friends who were in the same place in life, etc.
He said, yes, things would be different this time. He would help at bedtime, bath time, mealtime, diaper changing time.

Well. Guess who didn't rise to the occasion? Our Littles are now 1 and 3. I am back to doing 99.99 percent of the child-related tasks, but with a catch. My husband is a fantastic older-kid dad. He takes the Bigs fishing, hiking, boating and to all of their sporting events.

So I'm thinking only another two years until I'm back on Easy Street! Problem is, Easy Street is ANOTHER TWO YEARS AWAY!!!!! And I'm so tired. I stay at home and these Littles are killing me. I resent the fact that my husband isn't more help even though I probably should have seen this coming.

How do I get through the next two years?

— These Littles Are Killing Me

Hax recommends that the woman stand her ground. That she never, never back down. That she lean in, assert herself, and insist that her husband keep her word.

If the young mother or any other mother takes the advice, she will be undermining her marriage. It is bad, even dangerous advice. Ignore it.

Fair enough, Hax has a point, dull as it is. The husband did agree to help with baby care. 

Unfortunately, given the biology of the gestation process a pregnant woman’s brain rewires itself to make it more able to care for babies, infants and toddlers. The rewiring involves circuits that allow for greater empathy, thus for more aptitude at reading non-verbal cues. A father’s brain undergoes no such rewiring.

A woman who does not understand this and who resorts to constant complaining has overdosed on feminist ideology.

For reasons that escape me, Hax believes that it would be a good thing for this mother to reverse roles with her husband. While he is chasing after toddlers she will be going with her older sons to their sporting events, as well as to fishing, hiking and whatever. Do you really believe that boys in that age group want to go fishing with their mother? And do you not understand that relegating their father to diaper duty will look to them as a humiliation.

If so, there is no way the husband can accept these conditions.

Anyway, Hax counsels confrontation. She rejects discussion. She wants this women to force herself on her husband. She has not the least glimmer of awareness that this is a dangerous tactic… one that will make the father look weak and to lose face in front of his boys.

Hax writes:

There’s no magic here. You just switch. “I’ll take the Bigs to their sporting events today; you stay with the Littles.”

Not just once, but alternating. Every other time.

If your husband balks: “Remember your promise going into this, and why you made it.”

If that’s not enough: “I’m as responsible as you are for letting it get to this point. For things to be ‘different this time,’ as we agreed they’d be, I needed to be different, too, and I wasn’t. I was too quick to step in.

“But now it’s time to fix that. I’m burned out, you and the Littles need to bond, and I need to spend catch-up time with the Bigs.”

Take the issue to a marriage counselor or parenting class if you must.

But do not back down. You are good at wrangling Littles and he is not, but not because he’s incapable and (by your account) not because he’s a disengaged or negligent father. Unlike you, he simply had you to default to, never got the experience you did, and so never built the confidence, either — and people who aren’t confident tend to drift into spectating hard work as the confident people take over. It’s an old story.

Would it have been preferable for him to have sought that experience and confidence on his own initiative? Obviously. But these are the personnel and circumstances you’ve got, and apparently they indicate the best way for him to step in and get this experience is for you to say, “Your turn,” and then step out of the way.

And what will Hax advise when he simply walks out, either on the chores that she thinks he must perform or on the marriage altogether?

It's genuinely awful advice, from someone who normally offers very good advice. A sad day, indeed.


Deana said...

The advice IS terrible and will lead to further problems. But if what we are told about the husband is true, he hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory.

He promised he would help with the babies but does not. A husband who truly loves his wife will see that she needs a break from time to time and will step up and help. The fact that a woman’s brain changes to better enable her to care for small children should not mean that she is the only one who can provide care for them, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for years on end.

I would never expect him to do half of the care - she does appear to be able to stay at home while he presumably is working to support the family - but a little help would go along way.

What Hax recommends will surely lead to resentment. This will just compound the resentment the husband already has helped create.

Anonymous said...

Once again, we have an example of someone who subscribes to popular culture for her thinking instead of following natural inclination. As usual, this sets up a damaging internal conflict, which is expressed in the form of "resentment" (among other ways) towards someone who is laudably following his.

Is it possible to imagine a man brave enough to be honest in today's world about his ability to make and keep such a promise? He would be pilloried.

Anonymous said...

It would be good to know the sex of the younger children. I say this because I believe , from experience, that young boys truly need their mother when they are young. She is their guide to what women in their lives are supposed to represent to them. Conversely young girls need a lot of attention from their father because he becomes their guide to what men are suppose to be. It then follows, from experience that the parents change positions as their children get to around 10 or so. Young boys are now learning how to become men and take on those responsibilities and young girls are beginning to become young women and all that entails.
The responsibility for their children growth into successful adults require both roles, but at different times. What is their responsibility to the children but to bring them into being the people that they know will be successful as adults.
It seems to me that the father is meeting the half which should have fallen to him. Unfortunately he did not have daughters to help him at a time that would have aided both their growth and his as well. That his wife falls into the trap of feeling like children are an irritation to be whined about seems to me to be a problem. The past is NOT going to change because she thought she had a deal which she probably produced with undue pressure.
Better she starts by considering something other than herself. When we get married we should know that it now changes what prior expectations. Grow up or lose.

Tilcut Hassayampa said...

Women are not meant to raise children on their own. I our past hunter/gatherer, agricultural, early industrial revolution, women always had female relatives or nieghbours in close proximity. With female empathy towards other women, a woman could see when a young mother was getting frazzled and could take over for a spell.

Nowadays it doesn't work like that. The worst thing a woman can do is to ask another woman what it takes to get what she wants from her husband. See Miss Hax! Women have no empathy towards men. They have no idea what it takes to motivate a man. Hax suggests confrontation. A man facing confrontation will either fight back or withdraw. So the husband in this case will probably withdraw and take the older boys fishing more often leaving the mother even more on her own.

Women will not ask an older man for advice. Granted asking an older man for advice is dangerous because there is a temptation to AMOG the husband. But my advice would be:

Be specific, vulnerable, and submissive. Don't say, "Help me more!". Say, "I am really frazzled. I need a break. Please, give the toddlers their bath and put them to bed. I need this little break". Hug him and lay your head against his chest. Kiss him on the cheek, and say 'please'. A man's limbic hindbrain responds to a damsel in distress.

And for God's sake do not attempt to supervise him during the bath and bedtime. If he gives the kids their bath, and puts him to bed, sex him up that night! The flood of oxycotin will fix the action/reward synapses in his psyche.

Free advice from an older man.

Deana said...

Tilcut -


Anonymous said...

"... the woman stand her ground. That she never, never back down. That she lean in, assert herself, and insist that her husband ..." Blah, blah, blah.

Nope. I walked away from my harridan. We were still young, no kids or assets yet. It wasn't worth it.

I met a true angel the next years. Twenty years on, three kid and a grandson, we've been blessed.