Getting More Help From Your Partner

Getting More Help From Your Partner

I did all the organizing for our son’s second birthday, hoping that Bob would help out during the party itself. But no, he spent the whole time talking with his buddies while I raced around doing everything, except for when he cut the cake and then looked at me like he deserved some kind of reward! I want someone who doesn’t need me to stamp my feet to get some help, who takes initiative with the kids and the house, whose mind is not elsewhere all the time. Somebody who does things because he wants to do his share, not just to get me off his back. I need to really feel like I have another half.

Some couples are equal partners in the work of making a family. But that’s the exception, since many studies have found that the average mother is on-task, working away at one thing or another, about twenty hours a week MORE than her partner is, whether or not she is drawing a paycheck. And if she has no partner, in most cases just about all of the work of raising children falls to her alone.
If you are one the many parents who would like more help from your partner, we suggest you do two things:

  • Establish the facts of who is doing what – One good way is to keep a fair record several days or a week of how each of you spends your time (keep it simple, and don’t take more than five minutes a day to track your time); facts are facts!
  • Communicate your principles as to why it’s fair and good for the children, you – and your partner – for the total workload that comes with children to be shared more equally.

Here are examples of principled responses to various objections we’ve heard partners make to carrying more of the total load; please adapt them to your own needs and voice:

  • They say: “I’m not as good at it as you are. Plus the kids go to you anyway.”
    You say: “Like anything, you just need to practice a little. The kids will get used to you doing certain things, and I’ll direct them to you more. Plus you could initiate and not wait for the kids to come to me. Additionally, even if I’m the one who always washes their hair, you could still help more by reading to them or cleaning up the kitchen.”
  • They say: “You always interfere, and I’ve quit trying.”
    You say: “I don’t always interfere, but I do sometimes. I’m trying to help, anyway, not interfere, but I can understand that you feel crowded, so I’ll promise to back off.”
  • They say: “You just want someone to do things for you.”
    You say: “Nope, I want you to do things with me. It’s not just about getting stuff done. When you do your part, it makes me feel connected to you, like I’m not alone and we’re in this together. I have a baby with you and I would love for us to share that experience in a happy way together.”
  • They say: “I do more than my parent did.”
    You say: “That’s great, and I appreciate it. But there is still more to do if we’re going to be fair about it.”
  • He says: “That’s woman’s work.”
    You say: “There is no law that says so. You did dishes before you met me, and it wasn’t women’s work then. I don’t think you take it easy while I wash clothes or give the kids a bath out of high moral principle, but simply because that’s your personal preference. You’re just as capable as I am of putting a child to sleep or feeding a toddler.”
  • They say: “My job is so stressful that I need to rest at home.”
    You say: “Remember how you nearly fainted with relief when I finally got home after you were alone with the kids that one time for a few hours? Now imagine doing that for many hours instead of a few, and for a thousand days instead of one. If we’re talking about getting a break based on the stress level of our typical day, in fairness I deserve rest at least as much as you.”
  • They say: “Making a living counts for more than raising children.”
    You say: “I believe that it’s the other way around. Child rearing counts for more since it so directly impacts our precious children. And it’s usually harder, day after day. I am not setting child rearing above making a living. But it is at least equal.”
  • They say: “I make all the money, so you should handle the housework and kids.”
    You say: “I do handle the housework and kids while you are making money. I’m talking about what you do when you’re not commuting or at work. You wanted children and now we’ve got them. You can see that it’s best for them when we are both involved in the morning, at night, or over the weekend. Speaking personally, it does not feel fair for me to keep on going while you watch TV or go out with your friends. How would you feel about someone at work who did that sort of thing while you kept getting things done? Would you feel resentful? Would you be eager for them to do their share?”
  • They say: “I make more money than you.”
    You say: “I appreciate all the money you bring into our family. But that does not change what is good for our children and our relationship when we are both at home in the mornings, evenings, and weekends.” (And follow with the points just above.)
  • They say: “It’s because you’re working that the kids need so much and there’s so much housework.”
    You say: “I think that’s hitting below the belt. If I didn’t work, our kids would still need you to help out in the evenings and weekends. We need my salary, and even if we didn’t, I have as much right to work as you. Besides, we could just as well turn the point against you: The kids wouldn’t need so much if you stayed home. In fairness, the hard choices between career and time with children should fall just as much on both of us. We both work, we both need to parent, and we both need to do housework.”
  • They say: “Quit telling me what to do.”
    You say: “I don’t want to tell you what to do. Usually I try not to. And if I ever do, it’s because you won’t make a reasonable agreement with me about who does what-or you make one but don’t stick with it. I’m the messenger of what our kids or home needs, so please don’t be angry at me for just bringing the message. If you saw what needed doing in the first place, I wouldn’t have to bring a message at all. Besides, why is it fair for you to tell me what to do about the car or computer or mutual fund or whatever but I can’t tell you anything about what to put in a lunchbox?”
  • They say: “Get off my back, or else.”
    You say: “I’d be glad to talk about this when you’re calmer. But I’m going to ask: What’s the “or else”? Are you really going to hit me or walk out on your kids because I’m tired of picking your socks off the floor? Because I’d appreciate it if you’d get home sooner? Your kids need you to be more involved, I need it, and our marriage does, too.”

This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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