Husbands responsibilities
June 19, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

As a husband and father of two, what are my responsibilities?

I know most of my responsibilities. But, I had lived with my parents all my life. I am 34. I got married seven years ago. Muy wife lived with me in my parents house with all my siblings. I had two boys born in the same house. My brother got married two years ago and he too lived in the same house (he had a child a year ago).

About 6 months ago, I moved out. I have been spoiled all these years. I have kinda cheated my way out of responsibilities with so many people in one house I just assumed things would get done - only to find out now that my wife did all the things without saying a word for the sanctity of the family.

So my question is, as a husband, what is expected of me? As a father? I know I am supposed to help out around the house. My wife is a full time stay at home mom. My boys are only 5 and 2. I hope this question doesn't come out as being too stupid.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
No, it's not stupid, it's great! Why don't you start by asking your wife what she would like help with. Or you could just start doing some of the regular tasks, like taking out the garbage or sweeping. You could also volunteer to take one or both of your boys out of the house on a Saturday so your wife can get some rest.
posted by yarly at 3:09 PM on June 19, 2012 [12 favorites]

Ask your wife what she wants you to do.

Talk to your parents about home upkeep and assemble any tools and things you need for you both to be the primary caretakers of a house.

Be capable of managing the kids/ house alone if needed for an extended period of time. If your wife needs to go somewhere (or wants to take up running marathons or something) she shouldn't have to tell you where the laundry detergent is and that the youngest kid is allergic to peanuts on her way out the door.
posted by fshgrl at 3:09 PM on June 19, 2012

It's not that the question is stupid, hon. It's not. It's just got very broad answers.

First, sit down with your wife and ask her what she would like you to do. This can include:
  • Taking over the kids for an hour after you get home to give her some time to relax
  • Go shopping for groceries on your way home
  • Doing the dishes
  • Occasionally taking the kids for a whole day off (weekend?) while she goes and hangs out with her girlfriends and gets some time to herself.
and much much more. This is really something you should work out with her.
posted by royalsong at 3:10 PM on June 19, 2012

The truth is your responsibility is to make sure that everything gets done. Pure and simple. It is also your wife's responsibility to make sure that everything gets done.

Luckily, you each have each other to help out. How you divy up the various jobs is something each couple needs to work out for themselves, but it doesn't change you're responsible for making sure it all gets done. If you don't know what needs to be done you have a serious problem. Your wife could get sick, be injured, or die, and the responsibilities will remain the same. Conversely, if there are things that you're doing and your wife doesn't know about, you need to let her know what they are. It could be you're the one who's injured, sick, or dead.
posted by bswinburn at 3:14 PM on June 19, 2012 [40 favorites]

Nthing that this is really something you need to discuss with your wife. In our household, we share certain tasks (cleaning, shopping, getting the kids from one place to another) and specialize in others (bookkeeping and home repair, to name a couple). That's what works for us, but every couple has to work this out between themselves and decide what's equitable and what will get things done. At the end of the day, all that really matters is that neither partner feels taken advantage of, and both feel like they are contributing to the well being of the household.

But definitely discuss this with your wife, and make it an open and honest discussion. Good luck!
posted by mosk at 3:15 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Food, shelter, love, camping trips, honesty.
posted by emhutchinson at 3:17 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

At the end of the day, all that really matters is that neither partner feels taken advantage of, and both feel like they are contributing to the well being of the household. And I meant to add, as bswinburn said, And everything that needs to get done, gets done!
posted by mosk at 3:18 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

My mom was also a stay at home mom to several young kids, and they had a pretty "traditional" division of labor. My dad did most of the outdoor chores (shoveling, mowing, painting, taking out trash) as well as all of the "fix-it" stuff that he could do without hiring someone. He cooked pretty often. In the evenings he and my mom pretty evenly dealt with us kids. He also took us out often on the weekends without my mom. If you're looking for a "traditional" baseline to start from I think that's a pretty common one. But I agree that the best thing to do would be to ask your wife how she would like to split things up.
posted by cairdeas at 3:20 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I love that you're asking this question. It is not stupid at all.

Of course, this is something you need to work out with your wife. But as a guide, you can start by thinking about daily tasks, weekly tasks, monthly, yearly. What things that are done daily would she like you to be doing? (Dishes after she cooks? Dinner sometimes? Guiding kids through evening cleanup?) Then weekly: yard stuff? Bills? Then monthly: house maintenance things - air filters on the HVAC or whatever? Yearly: things like making sure your insurance is all up to date? Savings plans? etc.

You can decide whether some thing make sense for you to always do, and some things to be trading off. Like in my family, my husband does all of the stuff related to setting up our computers, network etc., because I don't know how; and bills, because I hate them. But I do all the inventorying and shopping and travel plans. Etc. Whatever works for you as a family. But do check in with your wife a lot, since it sounds like she's not used to speaking up for herself.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:22 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think all couples divide up their tasks a little differently depending on people's preferences and availability. Responsibilities as a husband and father isn't like a single list, like the staples you keep in your pantry.

Basically your responsibility and your wife's primary responsibility is the same: make sure everyone's physical needs are met; divide labor according to needs, tolerances and abilities; and make sure that you have fun time both individually and as a couple.

But I think your first responsibility is to sit with your wife and inventory all your household needs.

Also, hanging out with kids all day is exhausting -- don't make the mistake of thinking she's got leisure time because she doesn't work. She might, and she might have at least more than you, and maybe for her it's a cake walk, but it's not necessarily true and she could be totally run ragged by the end of the day. I am a working mom, and I can tell you with certainty that I don't think there's a whole lot of difference at the end of the day in terms of being frazzled and twitchy than I likely would experience if I stayed at home with ONE kid all day. Two year olds in particular are relentless.

I think you might be in for sort of a shock, actually, because me and Mr. Llama both work full time and have one kid and some pets and we work our asses off from like five AM until eight, nine at night on a good day. There are breaks here and there but wow, the amount of work.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:30 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Someone much older and wiser than me once told me that regardless of what kind of partnership you're talking about, it's the responsibility of each partner to do about 75% - cause your initial estimates on the total amount of work are going to err too low, anyway.

As a general rule, I've found that if I see something where my initial response is "why isn't someone taking care of that" - I go take care of it. Make sure you have a ballpark consensus on prioritization: just because you think endless days researching a car or school choice is really important to you - that doesn't mean your partner agrees with you.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:32 PM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

All good answers, so far. This is absolutely not a stupid question.

My wife and I share a lot of the chores. We both do laundry, we both take care of our kids, including dressing them, feeding them, entertaining them, taking them back and forth on errands and to/from school, we both cook meals. But I work much longer hours than she does, so there's more of a burden on her during the week. On the weekend, I pitch in more.

Ask her about what chores she hates doing and why. Ask her which chores she loves to do. Talk about your strengths. If you're good at fixing things or folding laundry, you can always volunteer. Think about whether you are willing to take on some of the things she hates. I bet she'll love you for it. :)

Plan out a loose schedule, where you will do some things and she will do others. Stick to it as much as you can, and be kind to each other if either of you miss doing a chore. Support each other by pitching in on each other's chores unexpectedly. A breakdown of chores between you both doesn't have to be set in stone. And if you don't think of certain chores as exclusively yours or hers, you won't resent each other if they don't get done and you have to pitch in unexpectedly.

Above all, listen to each other and communicate your needs. If it were me, I'd be reassuring her that she does not have to do everything silently and alone any more.

I also have two kids, and one of the things we do frequently on the weekends is separate them. My son goes with his Mommy on an errand, while my daughter gets Daddy time at home. And vice versa. We talk to them about how special it is that they're going to get alone time with each of us. The one-on-one interaction is important to them, and it eases the burden of having to deal with two at once. My kids are both four, and I know from experience that five and two are wildly different ages in terms of energy and ability to communicate and fend for themselves. Taking both off her hands for an afternoon or evening, so she can go out and relax is great. But taking just one can be relaxing too. You could take the five year old to the movies, perhaps.
posted by zarq at 3:34 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

That is a great question! My mom used to say when I was growing up, "if you see something that needs to be done, do it!" I had a big question mark over my head with that one. As I got older, I understood.

I think the best thing to do is ask your wife what would make her life easier. If you get home at X time, would she like to go out for a walk while you do the dishes, give the boys a bath, read to them, make sandwiches for the next day, etc.

I work full time and I also run a business. I have a four year old who goes to pre-school. I pick up my daughter, I get home, I make my daughter dinner while I help her with her homework, feed her, do the dishes and I give her a bath and I get her in bed.

I think full time stay at home mom has a lot more than that to do. I doubt she sits much, so anything you can do to help would be a relief. It would be a lot easier if you ask what makes her life less taxing because there may be things she actually enjoys doing or has a particular way of doing. Make a list of items and soon it will be like a well-oiled machine in that house of yours!
posted by Yellow at 3:43 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is not a question for the internet. Others' notions of what an equitable and functional marriage look like may not work for you at all, and the hive is no authority to be appealing to.

You really really need to ask her what she thinks a fair division of labor in your marriage would be and what being a good parent means to her. You also may need to actively seek to take on a more active role as a father, if you're not used to that. She may be used to wrangling your sons and may be better at it with all that practice, so she just does it, but they need both their parents and she has to delegate some of the parenting. You should be doing bedtime, or breakfast, or some routine in the day with them, for the sake of your relationship with them.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:50 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a basis of task allotment, consider that plenty of families hire someone (a nanny) to care for children as their sole task. It is a full time 40 hour a week job, on it's own. (There is a statistic somewhere showing that housewives basically work 70-hour weeks.) So if between 8 am and 6 pm, going to the office is your job and looking after the kids is her job, you can sit down with your wife and make a list of all the other stuff that needs to happen: kid bathing, grocery shopping, bill paying, laundry, dry cleaning runs, home repairs, lawn mowing, house cleaning (broken down and split by task), meals, dish washing/loading, car maintenance, child minding, etc. I would also make sure that each week each of you has time alone.

Also, if you are doing a task, you may need to learn to do it to completion. Like, if you are getting the groceries, don't just dump them in the kitchen - put them away. If you're making dinner, load the dishwasher as you cook, etc.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:51 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is a great question to ask, and I'll heartily encourage you, as those above have, to sit down with your wife and hash out specifics.

I think it's important to note that the idea of normal "his" chores and "her" chores is so much less important than identifying what needs to be done, who prefers to do what work, and that you both feel that the division of labor is fair. My husband's a better cook than I am, so he does more than half of dinner-making (which also accounts for meals of leftovers) and the bulk of the shopping. But he hates to clean, so I'm in charge of almost all aspects of dishes, laundry, vacuuming, etc. We both do farm chores. There's a lot of work. We touch base with each other several times a day about how to triage it.

I was helped immensely by Cheryl Mendelson's "Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House" because it gave me concrete information about how to look after things.

As your wife is at home, she will probably benefit from being out of your home, to help with her sanity. Please encourage her to go *out* and not spend all of her precious "free" time playing catch-up. And take the boys out; I have to declare the kitchen closed in order to clean it up properly, and that is *so much easier* when Mr. MonkeyToes takes the kids out of the house.

It *all* has to get done, and the posters above who are talking about taking responsibility are right. Watch your own behavior for a few days: Are you considerate in small things, like making sure your socks make it to the laundry? Making the morning coffee? Filling the car with gas? Are you doing things that lift responsibilities from your wife, however small those acts may be? I'm sure that others here can recommend great past threads on organization and cleaning up after oneself, but the first step is to be mindful of work you cause vs. work that you prevent.

You don't have to be perfect. Congratulations on having enough understanding to ask these questions. Wishing you and your family happiness, and you success in this project.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:56 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

nthing what bswinburn and yellow say - you all need to work together to ensure what has to be done get's done. If there is something that obviously needs doing around the house, ensure it is done.

And that can be anything from seeing that the dishwasher is full and needs to go on, or the beds are unmade, or the kids need to be dressed and cleaned up, or the curtains open when they should be closed, to larger things like house and garden maintenance.

Its not so much all the big things and big jobs that cause "issues" either. It is often the 6-8 little jobs that need to be done in succession that can be a grind (and can, sometimes, cause arguments)

Just have the attitude of being on the lookout for things to do or that need to be done. Just being able to chip in and do the little things for a start is great. Have knowledge of what you need to do with the kids each morning to get them ready, and help do it.

Beyond that, sit down with your wife and work out what she wants, would like or needs help with.

And importantly, work out also what sort of maintenance needs to be done around the house and what tools, appliances and expertise you might need to do it.

Personally speaking, I moved out of home 10 years ago and sometimes still have my dad (who luckily lives nearby) come around and help me do things around the house - usually larger jobs that I might not have done before, but he has (and therefore has some knowledge).

But what I've done over time is learn. Now, the stuff that I couldn't do, or didn't know how to do, I can have a go at because I've picked up the techniques to use, as well as now having the equipment or tools to do it.

This is important - you can learn expertise from many places - even via YouTube - but you have to ensure you have the tools to help you do these things well.

Good luck.
posted by chris88 at 4:01 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just thought of something that describes our division of labor at our house: "Everybody works until all the work is done" which means nobody's resting until everybody's resting.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:04 PM on June 19, 2012 [12 favorites]

As regards the kids: you should be capable of taking both children for at least one continuous 24-hour period. In practice, this means having lots of exposure to them singly and in combination, where you are the "parent on point."

What this means in practice, for example, is that when I had a long evening commitment (roughly 6 PM to 11:30 PM) and my year-old son very suddenly spiked a 103-degree fever, my husband was comfortable handling that situation on his own. (He needed to text me to ask what the dose of Children's advil was for someone his weight because he couldn't find the Infant advil, but he didn't ask me to come home or anything.) When our son was very young and still nursing, my husband would frequently get up early on Saturday morning with him and our 4-year-old and let me sleep in for a couple hours, giving him a bottle and getting me a break.

It can also be good for you to pick one daily chore or a whole bunch of less-common chores and just take TOTAL responsibility for them, so that of all the things your wife has to worry about, dishes/vacuuming/laundry/mowing the lawn+taking out the garbage+cleaning the gutters isn't one of them.

Be willing to take your kids to the grocery store, or to the doctor's office. Know what size clothes they wear and what their favorite foods are. Know who their friends are, and what limits they have at home. Maybe be the one to put them to bed; my husband does bedtime with our kids every day save one.

Basically, don't let your wife be responsible for 3 people + the house while you're only responsible for yourself.
posted by KathrynT at 4:50 PM on June 19, 2012 [4 favorites] is my favorite resource for learning basic life skills - dorky-looking homemaker site, but soo useful.

She emphasizes building routines into your life so you get what needs to be done done on autopilot. At the most basic level, what she says needs to be done is:

"Shine your sink" - that is, make sure your kitchen sink is always clean and free of dirty dishes.
Do a load of laundry every day
Do a basic before-bed routine - lay out your clothes so you are ready to roll
Have a plan for dinner every day
Spend 15 minutes decluttering every day

Once you have mastered the basics, you move on to the next stage:
Do a "home blessing" every week - this is a basic vacuum/mop/sweep/take out the trash/wipe down stuff/dust hour that keeps your house from devolving into filth -n- chaos.
Make a basic weekly plan - for example: Monday, housebless. Tuesday, pay bills. Wednesday, "antiprocrastination day" (do what you were putting off). Thursday, errands. Friday, date night. Saturday, family fun day. Sunday, renew your spirit day.

Also, she divides the house into 5 zones, and each month you spend a little time in each zone. At first you might just spend your 15 minutes per day in the zone (living room, family room, bedroom, etc) decluttering. As you progress you make up a detail cleaning plan for each room. For example, vacuuming out the scuddy places between the couch cushions could happen once a month in the family room.

Basically her site is a great home-maintenence for dummies resource. She also gets into things you need to do over the course of the year, often one thing per month, like checking batteries in smoke detectors, yard maintenance, changing furnace filters, etc.

The general idea of dividing things into zones, and dividing jobs into small 15 minute increments is the genius of the system. Good luck! This isn't as uncommon a problem as you might think -- a lot of us have to learn as grownups how to do the most basic stuff!
posted by selfmedicating at 5:35 PM on June 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Since your wife has been doing EVERYTHING all this time, perhaps in repayment for that you could not only learn what you should be doing, but learn how to do it the way she likes it done?

Ask her to teach you -- step by step -- how to do laundry, and if there's something you don't understand (like, "Gee, why waste time dividing clothes into categories instead of throwing them all in one load?") don't assume she's missed something obvious. Do it the way she teaches you, and if you've got a brilliant idea, ask her -- I assure you she'll prefer that to being "surprised" by your endeavors. :-) Then, if you don't already know how, learn how to wash the dishes, set the table properly, cook a smattering of meals, clean a bathroom (because, really, if you've never done it, there's a procedure to keeping things hygienic), etc. Think of it like cross-training.

And please, don't ever once refer to taking care of your own children as "babysitting."
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 5:51 PM on June 19, 2012 [14 favorites]

One good rule: if one person cooks the meal, the other does the dishes.
posted by yclipse at 7:36 PM on June 19, 2012

This might be helpful.
posted by bunderful at 8:10 PM on June 19, 2012

In addition to all the people suggesting that you ASK your wife what she wants help with, I am going to suggest that you also OBSERVE her for a while and see if there are little things that you can do to make her day easier or make her feel better throughout the day. These don't have to be chores, but little things like bringing her coffee while she's reading the paper or coaching the kids to give her a special thank her for a delicious meal, or picking a flower from the back yard and putting it in a vase on her breakfast placemat. With a kiss and a quick work of appreciation for everything she does.

Also, I remember having these chore discussions with my husband and the worst part for me was that it always seemed like I WAS IN CHARGE of everything, and my family was HELPING ME to keep the house clean, so if I would just tell them what I needed them to do they would be happy to do it. I hated that - it's not just MY house, it's OUR house. I tried really hard to get others in the house to ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY for a room or a chore or a category of chores. I shouldn't have to ask, or remind, or set a timer for you or check that you've done it. I don't want to be the manager of everything. So for me, it wasn't just the DOING of the chores it was the ATTITUDE in which they were done. I finally gave up, and now we all do whatever chores we want and nobody cares until the house just gets really messy and then someone decides we all need to pitch in and clean it up.
posted by CathyG at 9:01 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd like to second CathyG - especially since she's spent the last 7 years not making a peep, it's unlikely that your wife will suddenly come up with an equal share of the chores for you to be in charge of. You need to look at what your wife, as well as what your father and mother have done.

I also like the idea of completely taking over several domains - for example, you are 100% in charge of anything outdoors, washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, and putting the kids to bed, as well as a 50% share of everything else. Think about what tasks your wife gets some pleasure out of, and avoid taking over those areas while completely taking responsibility for the stuff she doesn't care for.

Since you're used to doing nothing, it will feel like you are doing everything, but eventually you will realize that is not true.
posted by fermezporte at 4:15 AM on June 20, 2012

Along with observing and discussing with your wife, I also recommend you visit the sites that many people recommended above and take note of what your wife already does and what you are taking on and then see if there is anything missing. Some chores go by the wayside especially when its your first time living out of your parents house.

I also recommend making it a family event and including the kids as much as possible.
posted by xicana63 at 6:38 AM on June 20, 2012

Your duty is to spend lots of time being the primary kid-watcher, such that she can turn her back on them and you during certain times without causing hard feelings. If you can do that (and give her half-decent sex, of course), that's almost all you ever need to do. If you spend enough time with the kids, she'll have time to do everything she wants and needs to do. (And your kids won't be fucked up.)

But I'm talking serious time. Pretending you're essentially a single father Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from the minute you get home to the minute they fall asleep (plus any middle-of-the-night adventures) would be a good start. Let her go where she needs to go, or take the kids out so she can do things at home with no interruptions, but don't end up sharing duties with her when you're supposed to be the one. And on Saturdays and Sundays, you could split things or do things together or go to the grandparents for a little support.

And for housework, you gamble.
posted by pracowity at 2:40 PM on June 20, 2012

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