Incomplete Answers

IMG_4841During the question and answer time at the Femina Conference, I received a question which I very incompletely answered. The question goes something like this, “How do I get my husband to help around the house and with the kids?”

This is far and away the most-asked question for me. What I realized when I answered it quickly is that I often rush past these questions because I can tell a long way away that this is complicated and tricky and nuanced. Because how do I know that the woman asking this is a reasonable person? I don’t want to simply assume that the wife is the one being hurt and that the husband is an incompetent slacker. For this reason I often just answer it flatly from one side. It isn’t the husband asking, and I am not going to turn a women’s talk into an exposition of the ways our husbands might be doing less than they could be. So I usually reply with a simple, “When you need, give.” This is great so far as it goes, but it doesn’t always go all the way out to the people who are asking.

So I decided to write a more thorough response, which will probably still be woefully insufficient. But I’ll give it a try.

1)  Many times wives wish that their husbands could experience the work that they do. They feel like he doesn’t know or understand all of the stresses that we experience – you laugh to yourself when you think of him in your place at home. But the truth is that this often goes both ways. When was the last time you considered the kinds of stresses that your husband is experiencing? What are the things that make his work days feel impossibly long and difficult? Do you treat his cares in a way that would make you angry were you talking about yours?

The answer here is prayer. Turn your heart toward your husband in prayer. Lift up his needs, his worries, his heaviness. Think about how you can minister to him and be his helpmeet in these things. Be thankful for him and his work. For his presence in your home. For his tiredness and distractedness. Your husband needs you. Realize that your husband comes home for refuge, for rest, for you. When he comes, do not greet him with a pile of things that he hasn’t done. If he needs encouragement, don’t meet him with complaints.

If you catch yourself milling over things that you wish he would do, turn your thoughts instead towards prayer for him.

2) Communicate. Look for times when you can talk with your husband and express the things that you need. It is unfair to hold him to a standard which he does not know about. To effectively communicate is a different thing. Do not think that you won’t bother until the whole thing gets so freaked-out intense that you just unload six months of petty grievances on your husband. At this point it would be really difficult for him to tell what actually mattered to you and what was just random ugly fluff that you used in the heat of the moment to build your case. Try to talk about it at times when it can be a completely calm and friendly “state of the union” discussion.

Just as it is important to communicate the things that you need your husband to be doing – tell him what the things he is doing mean to you. Tell him how much you love it when you see him playing with your kids. Tell him what it means to you that he always comes home for dinner. Thank him for the coffee even though he always makes it.

But also realize that your heart needs to be in a good place. If you want to be able to calmly discuss things that you wish your husband would do – are you willing to hear what he wishes you would do? Do unto others in this respect. Respond to his input like you are hoping he would respond to yours.

3) Mom guilt. This is a hot topic in the world, and it really can be a big problem for women. It is not such a problem for the men folk. When was the last time you heard a dad say to another dad, “Whaaat?! You don’t bathe all of your children every single night?! Oh my word, I could never live like that.”

The reason that it is relevant here is that often times women set a standard, freak out about not achieving it, yell in panic to their husbands to help them, and then their husband says, “Let’s not do this!’” and then the wife gets angry that her husband isn’t helping her with this all-important task. Well, surprise, surprise! Your husband did not feel that making your own soap was the first step in the basic care of your children. He did not think that you ought to stay up into the night making homemade granola. He said, “Let’s get a cake from the bakery for the birthday,” and you said, “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

If you need his help with something, it is very likely that you also need his input. Maybe he would like to not have his wife feeling super guilty and crazy about the things that she is stressing out about. Take his counsel – listen to his ideas. Do not fire off like a bottle rocket of panic when he suggests that you are overdoing things. Maybe you are. Ask him what he thinks you should not worry about. This can be hugely relieving for all of you.

4) As much as you want him to be taking responsibility, let him. Often when your husband steps in to do something, we step in to say “no-can-do.” One of the funniest examples in our marriage would be my dealings with public toilets. My approach to public toilets before marriage was no approach at all. Go home, or find a decent one – Nordstrom’s is fine. Port-a -potties did not factor into my life at all. I am proficient in the use of elbows to open doors and feet to flush toilets and so forth. And then we have children. And I alert my husband to “Time to go! Right now! To the car! Someone has to go!” And he just says, “No- I’ll take her to the port-a potty.” All I can say is that God gives grace. My husband told me clearly that he was not interested in having children who were crippled by a fear of public bathrooms. So I had to get on board with that. It is true that they are not exactly the near-death experiences I had once felt.

I could have taken this as a reason that my husband didn’t care about our children, or how he was not responsible. But the truth is that he cares about our children – and to him it matters that they be flexible people with hand washing skills. I needed to follow his lead here and let him lead the family. That is right. I just gave a testimony about my husband leading our family to public bathrooms.

5) Be friends. If your husband is not engaging in your home life, it is quite possible that it is not fun or friendly to engage in. Try to laugh, try to establish contact with him in the midst of the craziness. Not a clingy, desperate contact, but a joyful, laughing one. He is the person you fell in love with. Treat him like that even when there are lots of children between you. Make eye contact. Smile. Kiss your husband when he gets home. Don’t hold back all affection until he earns it like he is a dog looking for a treat. He is coming to you – welcome him. You know, we all know, what it is like to shrug off your husband’s affection because, “Everything is really crazy right now, how can you not hear the children yelling, do you not see the baby’s messy face, did you not hear the child hollering for toilet paper, I have a headache, don’t you see I am peeling a carrot WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

Your husband may not be jumping into all the busyness with you because that busyness is the barrier that you have put up between you. Do not put yourself on one side of your life, and him on the other side, where you can only meet if everything in between has been done. And then you will be too tired to be fun anyway. You are companions. Be next to him, even in craziness. The tasks to be done should never be between you. The children should not be between you emotionally, although their physical presence is often between you. Fellowship together in the middle of things, because the middle of things is what you have.

6) If there are enough bad patterns, real sin, distance, and hard times between you to be causing a problem on a regular basis, then you need to seek specific counsel. Go to your pastor. Get help. The truth is that no good pastor ever was bummed out to have people come to him and have it turn out to not be a huge problem. Deal with things that are being difficult as they come up. Don’t muddle along in bad patterns making things worse. Deal with it as soon as possible.

 

 

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31 Responses to “Incomplete Answers”


  • Oh man. I needed to hear exactly this…today. Thank you for speaking the truth kindly but frankly. Going to write my man a note of appreciation right now. He has more than earned it.

  • whew – my husband has been working crazy hours the last couple of months, and i have been a whiny ingrate of a wife. what’s worse, i know it. thanks for this – thanks for not saying, ‘stop this, don’t do that,’ but rather, ‘here, try this, do this, pray for this.’

  • Such an excellent post, Rachel – thank you!

  • You are so wise. Thank you for sharing what my heart knows but can’t articulate!

  • “The truth is that no pastor ever was bummed out to have people come to him and have it turn out to not be a huge problem.”

    Sadly, this isn’t the truth. Certainly no good pastor ever was bummed out by such a thing, but there are, alas, some poor or weak or lazy or just plain mean shepherds out there who are, to paraphrase Lewis, “of that orthodox school who regard sheep as a nuisance.”

  • Valerie – true, true. Maybe what I meant was that he would not be more excited to have it be a huge problem. Then again, I have a long history with good pastors, and can definitely lean towards the optimistic :)

  • This is so well written and wise. I thank God for a helpful, cheerful husband who sees through my faults and shortcomings and loves me anyway. He shows me and imprints echoes of the grace of God in our marriage daily. This article encourages me to return that grace and let it flow to my entire family as we endure the craziness together. Thank you for your words. They are a gift.

  • “Do not put yourself on one side of your life, and him on the other side, where you can only meet if everything in between has been done. And then you will be too tired to be fun anyways.”

    Um, yes. This i timely. Late last night I had one of those “my responsibilities are killing me I can’t handle the pressure” kind of ugly-cry moment and my husband kept telling me “Just go to bed.” And I DIDN’T LISTEN until I was in freak-out mode. Because I’m foolish.

    But he did let me sleep in this morning just a little. (So did the kids!) I am so grateful for his wisdom.

    This is a good reminder for me to listen more often, and to laugh with him. I love the advice to “Be next to him, even in craziness.” Thank you!

  • Excellent advice!!! I need step by step instructions and how tos on these things.
    Thanks!

  • Yes and amen! So good to hear another woman approach this subject in this way. The incredible thing about God is that when we start to obey in this area and first serve He blesses it a thousand fold and we find our needs have already been met in Him. Such a gracious God! I think I just realized that it’s another example of why it’s so important for us to praise Him in difficulties and obey all the time because in our obedience we find we are believing Him more and joyful because of it. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Yes! Also, I find that I often have to confess discontentment because I am comparing my husband to some other woman’s Facebook status. Look at the husband God has given and be thankful.

  • I am so blessed to have met Kathleen R from MD who introduced me to your books and blog. I pray that the Lord strengthens you with solid wisdom that others will then employ, all for His glory. Thank you for allowing His words to flow through you to hurting moms/wives everywhere. Have you considered hosting a webinar/virtual mini-conference to share your musings under a relevant theme of some kind? As a public relations professional, I’d be happy to help if you do. God bless you.

  • And the blessings keep coming…

    Thank you.

  • Heather, you can find books by Nancy and Rachel and conference audio by all of the Femina Girls at Canon Press. Lots of good stuff!

  • Hey! This was really magnificent and a sorely needed read! I was wondering if I could have permission to translate the text to portuguese and make it available on my blog that I and a friend have begun for newly weds, linking to your page, of course, with all credits given. I think it would help out a lot of women who read the blog! Thank you tons!

  • Thank you for this! So lovely and helpful in applying proverbs 31, the part about ‘doing him good all the days of her life.’ When my husband and I were engaged I had a total freak out about marrying him. In a sweet and gracious way he told me to go take a nap (I can’t imagine telling that to someone who was having a crisis of that sort!;-) I knew then (well, when I woke up) that he was a keeper for sure! After a few years and some kiddos it’s easy to attribute motives and fuss about it instead of just taking his wise advice and being sweet about it. I So thanks! Looking forward to him coming home so I put some of this into practice:-)

  • What a great read, Rachel! So true and thought-provoking. Thank you.

  • Well said :)

    Funny, I watched the movie “Marty” awhile back (for the 10th time, great movie) and the part that stood out this time was that Marty’s brother goes on a rant about how tough being married is, even getting in a jab about his wife’s cooking, or lack thereof, right in front of his wife and… SURPRISE! She says, “Alright, alright, alright!” and next shot you see her take his arm as they walk in to Mass together. I guess it just stood out because it was refreshing to see a couple “fighting fair” and then moving on together, without all the touchy, injustice collecting you see and hear of (and yes, personally repent of ;) of these days.

    Thanks.

  • Thank you so much for this post, Rachel!

    Also wanted to tell you how much my husband and I were blessed through your interview with Family Life Today last week – it was good to finally put a “voice” with your name, and more than that, we were both so encouraged. You handled some very challenging/personal questions with grace and humor, and also helped us both with some issues we’ve been working through for a long time. Thank you for letting God work through you to minister not only to your own people but to so many others as well!

  • This was so timely! I am 34 weeks pregnant with my fourth child. I am homeschooling a 1st grader with a preschooler and toddler underfoot. Needless to say, there is a lot on my plate right now. My husband has so graciously offered to do all the Christmas shopping, as we will have a newborn right around the holidays. I first thought was, NO WAY!! I have to do all the shopping myself! Afterall, he won’t know about all the Pinterest-inspired ideas I just have to implement in my gift giving. After reading this post, I’m just going to try and let go of having to overdo it for Christmas. My husband is wise to take this off my plate and see I have the tendency to go crazy. I will let him lead in gift buying as you let your husband lead in public potty usage :) Thanks for this great post!

  • Busyness as a barrier! Slapping hand to forehead- of course. I’d never considered it – but, of course, it is. Thank you for (another) tremendous post.

  • Would love a link to your interview with family life today!

  • what a blessing to read this post! It was the convicting challenge I needed!
    To confess, I often shrug off my husband’s affectionate kisses because they always seem to come at the busiest moments and ask him to kiss later. I’m so foolish. I want to be a fun wife. He is more important than the craziness happening at that given moment. I am so humbled and grateful for giving me the wisdom to bless my husband as he so deserves.

  • Oh boy this is what I needed; just yesterday I asked for hubby’s help then objected to his method of solving the problem :-/ And of course he pointed out my lack of logic…so this is a good reminder for me to not completely stress out over the little stuff today!

  • “…don’t you see I am peeling a carrot WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
    AH-hahahaha! This is hilarious, and more so because I’ve done it. Ah, this whole post is a good reminder for me. Thank you.

  • Might I add one more thing? I often think of the fact that in the Day of the Lord children will turn back to their fathers and fathers will turn back toward their children. So the next question is, where does mom fit in? I find it a healthy and stretching challenge to ask myself regularly, “How am I turning my children toward their dad? How am I turning their dad toward his children?” This can happen a thousand ways, and during these “little years” it is often the simple act of my creating time for them to spend together. An easy supper so they can play football on Friday afternoons. Buying a good book for them to read together at bedtime. Learning to like biking because that’s what dad wants to do as a family (and the kids love biking with dad). Taking the children out Saturday morning so Dad can catch up on work and then be free all afternoon and evening for family time. Talk about dad and retell his funny stories when he’s away on business. Don’t be jealous if, one month, each of the kids gets a Daddy-date-night…and I don’t. My husband always says we have to “put a price tag on our time.” For me, time is a gift to give away, and it’s a priceless gift for him to receive.

    My husband spends almost all his free time pouring into our children; but he would say he would never be able to do this if I didn’t make it a priority to anticipate what he and they need (namely, one another) and take joy in being the mastermind behind the ample time they share. Dads are central – and we moms can do a whole lot to facilitate their closeness to their children.

  • Very good advice! Thank you!!! I needed this wise counsel, need to meditate on it (as it is scripturally solid), and hope to follow in the craziness of our days or evenings.

  • A really great post, Rachel-love the humor! I always feel a lot better when I remember to (affectionately) laugh at myself, because, after all, in spite of all the present messiness, we Christians ARE the Happy-Ending People! You always get that across in your writing.

  • I really needed to hear this. Great wisdom here! thank you!

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