Home to Havoc


What can you do when your husband's good intentions leave you with extra household work? Author Shaunti Feldhahn gives advice to a frustrated stay-at-home mom.

Dear Shaunti,

My husband seems to miss the point of giving me “down time.”  When I get out of the house for a few hours, and he is with our five-year-old twins, I always come home to a mess!  It is not like the house is trashed, but he and the kids are having such a great time together they completely ignore that I’M going to have to be the one to clean the dishes piled in the sink, and pick up the sweaty clothes dropped on the floor after their bike ride.  It puts me so far behind to come home, that I end up not wanting to go out!  I try to tell him this, and he gets defensive.  How can I get him to see how frustrating this is for me?

Frustrated stay-at-home mom

Dear Frustrated,

Sister, you need something much more important than a clean home: something called perspective! Your husband just gave you a few precious hours of solitude and not only was “with” the kids, but was actually engaging with them, and building a great relationship!  What’s more important?!

Now, don’t get me wrong, if an orderly home is a big thing for you, then he and the kids should care about that – and do something about it.  And I’ll get back to that in a second.   But I think the real problem here is bigger than a heap of peanut-butter-encrusted plates that haven’t been put in the dishwasher: In expecting and focusing on something that your husband isn’t doing, you’re missing (and thus not appreciating) what he is doing that is far more important.

I’ve done a bunch of research on what makes happy vs. unhappy marriages. Across the board, one of the main reasons for unhappiness is having an expectation that is not met. You thought you would get a few hours of blissful solitude, that your hubby would spend quality time engaged in “Dadland,” and that while he was living his “Dadland” adventures, he would also be sure to clean up along the way so you wouldn’t have to.

But you did have to.  Result: unhappiness.

But now be honest and ask yourself: are you fully giving credit to your husband for the ways he met or exceeded your expectations?  After all, he didn’t just passively “babysit” – he’s been off on an adventure with them!  He’s pouring life into them.  And he gave you some precious hours away while doing it.

Is it truly not worth the hours away, and the knowledge that your kids are getting precious Dad time, to have to pick up after them when you get home?

I will tell you that one of the key habits of the happiest spouses is recognizing when their expectations might be unrealistic, and choosing to instead focus on and appreciate what their spouse can and does do for them.

Now let’s get back to that issue of him and the kids caring that an orderly house is important to you.  It is very legitimate to want your husband to care about that.  It is not unrealistic to hope that your “down time” doesn’t have to include extra “work time.”  The question is whether it is worth being unhappy when it does.  And whether there is way to gently move toward a better solution over time rather than ditching the whole effort to get you regular time away, because the process of getting there is – um — messy.

Your husband likely wants to make you happy—that is one of the reasons he wants to do this in the first place!  So if you have mentioned this problem several times, and it doesn’t change, my guess is that he is one of those people who is naturally “messy” instead of neat.  I must confess I am in the same category, and to me the big, vague things (“clean the house before I get back”) seem unattainable and confusing but I (and maybe your husband) am more than willing to do a few specific things if asked. (“Could you put all the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and have the twins put all the dirty clothes in the laundry hamper?”)  Then once the “few” are mastered, adding others over time seems do-able.

Praise him and the kids for what they get right (including the Dadland adventures!), and refuse to be offended by what they get wrong, and, over time, you’ll almost certainly find that both your appreciation and their household help will grow.

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