I was at a conference, chatting with a cancer survivor who had just given a wonderful speech. We talked about her children for a bit, her recovery, and then we discussed her husband, and how he sounds like a wonderfully supportive man.
And then she said something that really gave me pause.
She told me one of the things she learned after going through cancer treatment was how competent and capable her husband was.
Now she trusts him to do anything. As an active husband I couldn’t help but want to take a step back and think, “It really shouldn’t take cancer for someone to realize their husband can competently assist.”
I know that there are a lot of crap dads out there.
I get messages from mothers trying to figure out how to raise a child with an absent father, or a father that goes to work and then comes home and puts his feet up as if he’s done all that’s required, or dads that have video game addictions, or dads that set up families like franchises, moving on every couple years.
But at the same time, I also get a lot of messages from fathers who are active and wonderful and interested in doing more.
There are a lot of very good men out there who want to engage on all levels of parenting, from play dates, to homework, to dishes, to cooking meals, to those long horrible triple header soccer Saturdays with a birthday party in the evening.
But one message I often receive is from men who feel like their wife doesn’t trust them to do basic domestic tasks.
I sat in on a presentation recently where it was discussed how many women have their list and their process. The presenter discussed how women want help, but unless it’s done according to their process, then it will be done wrong, and it takes too long to describe their process, so they’d just end up doing it themselves.
Then they get frustrated because they have to do everything.
I’ll be honest, as a husband and father who has been married to the woman of his dreams for 15 years, this presentation blew my mind.
I suddenly understood why every time I tried to do something, I ended up doing it wrong. Not that there is a right or wrong in this sort of situation. What I did was do it differently.
But in marriage, doing something differently can be interpreted as wrong.
As a husband and father, I want to pitch in. I think a lot of men do.
I want to be involved. I hate seeing my wife stressed. I hate when she admits to me how long she’s gone without a shower. And yet, there are so many times that when I walk into the kitchen, or the laundry room, or really anywhere in our house, and feel like I’m an outsider trying to do a task that really should be simple.
I second guess myself because I’m not sure how to do it exactly the way Mel want’s it done, so I end up asking a lot of stupid questions that ultimately make me a stereotypical bumbling husband.
I am always left wondering if me pitching in caused her more stress.
Am I clueless? I don’t think so. I’m actually a pretty well educated and thoughtful man who honestly loves his wife and children.
When it comes to figuring out how best to pitch in, I’ve done it wrong enough times to know that even with all my good intentions, I might just be adding more stress to her already stressful life.
Does this stop me from pitching in all together? No. But I will admit that it keeps me in a lane. I load the dishwasher because I know I can get that one right. I fold the laundry, and I vacuum the carpet, but I don’t touch the kitchen counter or clean the fridge because I almost always get it wrong.
I stay in my lane, when I really should feel comfortable doing whatever needs to be done, regardless, because I am an equal partner parent.
And I’m not any better. I have a writing desk, and I don’t want Mel touching it. I know it’s a mess, and I know I need to clean it. But the one time Mel cleaned it to ease my stress, I freaked out because I couldn’t find anything.
I’m the same way with my car, and drawers in the bathroom, and any number of things.
This is a commentary on marriage – not a commentary on my wife or women.
The reality is, I think we as married couples need to be a little more willing to take our hands off the wheel.
I think we need to accept that our spouse will pitch in if we just allow them to, and it shouldn’t take something like living through cancer treatment for us to understand that our partner is actually a competent and capable person who will gladly pitch in.
They may not get it 100% right, but 85% right is still pretty good, almost good enough that you can feel comfortable taking with doing something as simple as taking a shower.
Take the pressure off. It’ll all be okay, and we all might be a little less stressed because of it.