Dealing with spousal resentment/jealousy
May 4, 2017 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I recently (< 1 yr ago) joined a tech company with very good perks, notably free meals, snacks, coffee, a gym, game rooms, etc. My spouse is a stay-at-home-mom. She expresses jealousy and resentment frequently and it's making me feel awful.

There are two specific areas that I've noticed are really frustrating to her:
  • Food: She has a lot of issues around food. She has been trying unsuccessfully to lose weight for years, and she also hates cooking. Knowing that I can just grab a healthy meal or snack any time I want and not have to cook or wash a dish makes her blood boil.
  • Money: Even though she isn't working now, she has a masters degree in a health-related field that, if she went back to it, wouldn't pay half of what I make. She frequently brings up how unfair it is that my field pays so much more than other fields that do more to help people.
As a result I try not to talk about my job with her because it feels like a minefield. I feel like I've somehow done something wrong. This sucks because the job itself is very new and different from anything I've done before, and now I feel like I can't even talk about it without bringing up these feelings. And I don't know how to talk about this issue without feeling like I'm now telling her she can't talk to ME about what's bothering her, which also feels wrong.

How do I start unraveling this?
posted by StockingMarionette to Human Relations (84 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Food: Do you cook? Can you help with meal preparation on the weekend? Can you afford to take some cooking classes together?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:00 AM on May 4, 2017 [19 favorites]

Is she willing to go to a communication coach? To a therapist of her own for help controlling her own narrative and managing this resentment?

If no, this is a timebomb that will likely end your marriage if something doesn't happen that causes a course-correction.

If yes, help her make that happen (childcare arrangements so she can go to appointments etc).

It may be to your advantage to get your own therapist, to get some strategies for dealing with this on your end.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:03 AM on May 4, 2017 [40 favorites]

Is one of your company's perks "sessions with an accredited counselor for family members and/or couples"? If so, use it. If not, find one anyway. This isn't about you and your job, and it might not even be about her, but it's definitely about how she's handling you and your job, and therefore your relationship.
posted by Etrigan at 10:03 AM on May 4, 2017 [54 favorites]

A "typical" dynamic in this case would be the SAH spouse being thrilled for the other person, grateful the job is so good that being able to stay home is even an option. Along with that, grateful that spouse gets so many nice perks that make him love his job, making him more pleasant to be around, etc.

That her reaction is so atypical, and charged with so much negativity and resentment, is an indicator of deeper issues, IMO. Agreeing with others who recommend therapy, or at least, some deep heart-to-hearts between the two of you, to find out what is behind her reaction. No one has the right to cause such eggshell-walking in a relationship.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:09 AM on May 4, 2017 [97 favorites]

Since you're saving so much money account of free meals, maybe you can point out that it's reasonable she spends a little extra money on perks for herself? If your wife is a pennypincher by habit, she may need a little encouragement to indulge.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:13 AM on May 4, 2017 [56 favorites]

Does she not want to be a stay-at-home mom anymore? If not....the situation IS kind of unfair and I can see where her jealousy comes from. Not your fault and not something she should punish you for, but maybe she needs to be heard and validated on that. And maybe she needs your help to come up with a plan so that her life is more fulfilling.
posted by kapers at 10:14 AM on May 4, 2017 [101 favorites]

Don't tell her about the food? Not saying you're guilty of it, but in many cases people who work at such jobs just cannot stop talking about the amazing perks. We're happy for you, we don't need to hear it incessantly. Maybe that might help.

Money: that's a sad reality of the world we live in. The professions that "deserve" it get paid less.

Neither of these is your issue, so agree with the above therapy suggestions. She needs to find a way to be OK with your family's reality if she wants to remain a part of it.
posted by TravellingCari at 10:17 AM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Aw man this is a bummer. My heart goes out to you both! This makes me feel like she doesn't see you two as on the same team.

She could be happy for you that you have access to healthy food that makes you feel good. And the income is both of yours - and benefitting you both.

When a person can't feel this type of gratitude, I immediately think - depression or anxiety disorder.

Because that's how I am when I'm in full blown anxiety - isolated and feeling like every glass is not only half empty but totally shattered.

I can't celebrate anyone else's success - or even see that I'm sharing their success! All I can think is how their advantage highlights and contrasts with my own frustrations.

I do think therapy would help both of you so much.

When she says these things, I would say something like, "I'm sorry you're frustrated, I can see how upsetting it is. From my perspective, I'm grateful that we're able to have this income for the family. And I know, it sucks that the world doesn't pay [healthcare workers] better."

And then in a separate conversation bring up therapy. At least go yourself NOW to have someone who is totally on your team and who can help your emotional responses to this.

Step one - don't feel like you need to feel guilty! See if there are other feelings going on - are you angry at her? Do you feel almost betrayed? That's ok! But you gotta be able to talk these things out with someone - if not her, someone in your court. Good luck to you both!
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 10:19 AM on May 4, 2017 [16 favorites]

You start unravelling this by going to a couples counselor. I can understand your wife's feelings, for sure, but the level of anger she is feeling and expressing are pretty strong, and I think you guys have a lot you need to talk about.

How old are your kids, how long has she been a SAHM, and what were the reasons for her not going back to work after the kids were born? Is she possibly suffering from post-partum depression?
posted by radioamy at 10:19 AM on May 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

I don't think it's atypical to be a bit jealous of the perks of someone else's job, especially your spouse's. The money thing seems strange to me though because presumably she is benefiting from this as well—but perhaps she feels pushed into being the stay-at-home parents because her income would pale in comparison to yours? Also, the food thing is totally reasonable to feel a bit jealous of but unless you are repeatedly bringing it up (in which case, please stop, she doesn't need to know how awesome your free lunch was), if she is harping on it that might be another sign that she isn't feeling so great about her own situation and counseling is an excellent idea.
posted by pie_seven at 10:19 AM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

Talking about work is one thing, but talking about the perks is another: it'd probably be safe to mention what you are doing at work (what the job itself entails), but talking about the free meals/snacks/game room/etc. probably sounds like bragging.

And yeah, maybe she would like to re-enter the job market; try to encourage that.
posted by easily confused at 10:20 AM on May 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

How did the two of you come to the decision that she should be a SAHM?

It's possible that she's not really jealous of the perks of your job, but the job itself. SAHM is an emotionally taxing, many times thankless job and could exacerbate post-natal depression, if that is a concern at all. Through couples counseling, try to see if the decision that she should be a SAHM is causing her resentment, and if going back to work would alleviate some of her stress. If that's not a feasible option, perhaps offer to bring her back a couple healthy meals a week, and perhaps buy her a monthly self-indulgent treat (massage, manicure) that would show her you care about her emotional well-being.

OTOH, how she is making you feel isn't acceptable, so it looks like the two of you need to take a few steps forward in understanding each other's thought process. Ask me how I know, as the mother of a toddler.
posted by Everydayville at 10:22 AM on May 4, 2017 [30 favorites]

The food and money issues attack her feelings of self-worth or self-esteem or self-something.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:22 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

My husband travels a lot for work. I'm a SAHM. My life is (mostly!) wonderful.

I'm thrilled his job is so amazing. However, when he calls me to tell me he ate another $200 meal out (per plate!) with a customer, I'm a little resentful if I've just split grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup with the kids for dinner.

Seriously - don't talk about the perks so much. :D
posted by heathrowga at 10:23 AM on May 4, 2017 [58 favorites]

Absolutely, I think a lot of the resentment might come from her thinking that you're out there living your life, bolstering your career, and getting to do your own thing while she's at home making mac & cheese and schlepping the kids to appointments.

She needs to reclaim herself a little here -- so many SAH parents sacrifice their own drives and interests to support their families, and it's easy to lose yourself a little in all of that. What are her personal interests? What motivates her? How can you align resources and time to help her in pursuing those interests, and how can you show her that you're completely supportive and encouraging of her needs? You actually need to ask her this.

(And the perks thing... A colleague discovered that her stay-at-home husband was deeply resentful of her work trips because he assumed she was spending the whole time in fancy hotels eating fancy meals with exciting jetsetters instead of what she was really doing -- 12-hour worksessions in windowless rooms and enduring awkward client dinners while grinning like she'd had a lobotomy. So, yeah, I'd minimize the perks. Or even bring her to work one day so she can see it's real work and not all snacking and fun.)
posted by mochapickle at 10:31 AM on May 4, 2017 [27 favorites]

I am a person who has a decent-paying technical job in a good company, which I enjoy. My partner is a self-employed artist, and net income on that business is pretty reliably zero. He is in some major ways jealous of my job; some of them are things that have nothing to do with me personally, but it's important to talk about, and some of them are fairly minor things that I can control to some extent, but only if we talk it out. So my first advice is to talk a lot.
As some examples: He's jealous of the fact that when I do the job/tasks I want to do (tech), someone pays me a lot of money for it, while he has to choose between doing something he enjoys (art) or making money (not art). There's nothing I can do about this, and it's not something he needs me to apologize for, but we have conversations where we talk about what we personally value and how it's lucky for the two of us that I have an income but it doesn't have to make my efforts more emotionally valuable than his efforts. And his shame that he expected he would be able to support a family, and my shame that I sometimes feel possessive about my paycheck. But this is something we talk about a lot, and we have to keep talking about it, because shockingly there keeps being something new to say.

It's not good for the household dynamic when I'm getting fed heavily/regularly at work. Part of what he and I do together is cook and eat, and when I'm getting provided a heavy lunch and I come home not so interested in dinner, or when I'm working late and eat dinner at work, this means we don't get good couple time. He's jealous of my taking something that's his (socializing as we eat together) and throwing that away in return for food favors from my employer.
Another example of things that my employer provides that are great for me but make his life worse is the fact that I have a gym at work. He would like to exercise more, but because I'm a member of a gym he can't go to, that means we won't be working out together, and kind of rules out any "let's get healthy" push as a couple, unless I kind of ignore my work gym and do exercise things based from home or the local gym instead.
Your awesome job perks aren't making her life any easier, and are in fact making it harder in some ways, because she has to fend for herself on some things that you maybe used to do together.

I agree with other posters that say she's got issues to work through that are not your fault, but I want to point out that you are in a situation that is challenging for a couple, and it's important for you to acknowledge that. It's not your fault she's getting upset, but it's not unreasonable of her to be feeling what she's feeling. It's hard to talk to her because it feels like a minefield, and that's probably the first thing you should talk about - how to have more conversations about real things without anyone getting upset, and what's upsetting her, and why that upsets you.
posted by aimedwander at 10:40 AM on May 4, 2017 [54 favorites]

Knowing that I can just grab a healthy meal or snack any time I want and not have to cook or wash a dish makes her blood boil.

There are ways she can have this too, it's just expensive. And if it's a thing she wants, you can both work towards it. Misplacing her anger at YOU however, is a bad sign that she's not maybe properly allocating her weird/bad feelings about the situation?

She frequently brings up how unfair it is that my field pays so much more than other fields that do more to help people.

How do these conversations go? Do you agree with her, empathize with this, or do you dig in and get defensive about your profession? To me, your "value" as a breadwinner should equal a value to the family. And, again, unless there's something really limiting her she could retrain in your field if that were the most important thing.

So I guess I'm left wondering "What is this all about?" It seems like she feels okay letting out her frustrations on you and maybe you're either not doing a good job of putting up boundaries around that, or not having a conversation with her about how this sort of thing needs to be redirected. I agree with others that having a frank talk about SAHM-ism might be useful. And seeing what you could be doing differently at least somewhat to have conversations that go the right way. Because it sounds like this isn't a very TEAM US situation and if that's where you want it to go, maybe starting with a goal you can both share that isn't "I want to talk about work and she ruins it" or "I want healthy meals and spouse gets them and I don't"
posted by jessamyn at 10:41 AM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm not even a SAHM, but I did work at home full-time for a while and it was crappy and isolating in a way that I don't think anyone who works in an office (or anyone who works at home, but is more introverted than me) can fully understand. When my boyfriend came home and told me normal things about his workday, it just sucked - I really, really missed casual conversation and meetings and structure and work-life separation and everything else that comes with office work. And while I did complain about it a little, I felt bad for complaining (after all it wasn't his decision that I was home) and it was hard to articulate (or even to realize at the time) just how hard staying at home was.

Resentment about the perks and about her more-restricted job/work/earnings opportunities sounds like she may share some of the frustrations I have - being home is hard, and it's not for everyone. If you're in a position to support her in exploring her options, work-wise and day-wise and activity-wise, that'd be a tremendous way to contribute to your partnership.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:42 AM on May 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

That sounds really hard and I recommend therapy for all.

But I wonder how she got into the SAHM position and whether she wants to be there. I wonder whether you have discussed the impact to her career, health, autonomy and life if she is at home. I wonder if she wants to be at home. I also wonder if she has been guilted (not necessarily by you, but by society, upbringing, perfectionism, etc) into what she sees a SAHM's life entailing. It would seem to me that she should also have the opportunity for meal delivery, the gym, social times, etc. If she wants to be at home, all those things could still be built in. Maybe you need to spend some time prepping the coffee maker, breakfast, and lunches for both of you. Maybe you need a parent's helper some days who does this and looks after little ones while she is at the gym or having coffee with friends. Maybe she would like to return to school for further training. Maybe she'd like to take part in a mentor program or career coaching. Maybe she'd like to go away for a conference for a weekend and go to the washroom by herself! All these things CAN be part of being a SAHM or maybe she wants to work at home, outside the home, go to school, etc.

When I hear that she is upset that there is coffee for you, it makes me wonder what you are doing at home. (Maybe you are doing a ton.) I see a lot of situations where one person seems to think that having a SAHP means they no longer have to do all the things they would have to do if that spouse was working or didn't exist at all. But could you put together breakfast in a crockpot before you go to bed, prep some snacks and set up the timer on the coffee maker? What might that feel like for her, if you were doing stuff like that? Could you pack her and the kid(s) lunch a couple of times a week? Set up standard grocery delivery that includes pre-made burritos on Thursdays? Take the kids two nights a week so that she can go to the gym or do whatever she wants? Pre-order all the birthday gifts for the next year?

And I don't mean you are to blame here. But I was a SAHP and I have friends who are moms and dads who were at home and I saw many cases where there seemed to be an expectation that the SAHP had to do everything and should be so thankful to be at home. And sometimes that expectation was the SAHP's own creation, so I don't want to suggest that it is always or only the working spouse. Our society puts a lot of expectations around roles.
posted by shockpoppet at 10:43 AM on May 4, 2017 [41 favorites]

This question reads to me like it could just be that she is really frustrated with the Patriarchy (that traditionally feminine professions are underpaid, that she can work really hard and still never get the perks you get, etc.), and she's venting about it to you because you are getting something of a windfall benefit that many deserving people do not have access to. I think this is a really reasonable feeling for her to have, and one that a lot of people share. If you talk to her about it and there's nothing that she wants you to do differently, it could just be that she wants you to agree, listen, and sympathize. If you make an extra effort to do that, maybe it would stop you from feeling bad, and make her feel more like her goals, ambitions, etc. are being validated at least by her partner, if not by society.
posted by likeatoaster at 10:44 AM on May 4, 2017 [41 favorites]

Did you end up moving across the country to be closer to her family? Or is she a SAHM in a city that is far from family and was supposed to be temporary? Is your income truly a shared/family income or does she feel dependent on you financially? In other words, can she hire a sitter/join a gym/pick up healthy prepared meals at Whole Foods whenever she wants?
posted by headnsouth at 10:53 AM on May 4, 2017 [19 favorites]

Regarding the money--my partner works for a tech company, I work in academia. I have an advanced degree and have been in my field ten years. He has been in his field for one year, and makes more than me. I don't resent that, although it chafes, sometimes, but it's my own resentment towards my field and how notoriously underpaid we are. Some of that might leach out, however, if we had to start making decisions about our lives together based on how much we make--something I see a lot is that once a couple has children, it becomes economically unfeasible for both parents to work, because of childcare costs--and guess who's job pays less, 99% of the time?

I often get preemptively angry at the structural and institutional challenges that I would face as a mom interested in continuing my career, and the ways that gender pay gap, inequal policies and practices for paternal leave, and lack of institutional support for child care would practically limit the options I felt were available to me. These issues don't affect men/fathers in the same way they affect women/mothers.

This isn't meant as a critique of how you both came to the decision that she be a SAHM, but that it might be time to reevaluate and keep some of the above issues in mind when listening to how she articulates her goals. Maybe she doesn't *want* to be a SAHM, but thinks it's best for the family, and/or is the most financially practical option? That is different than having a burning desire to put your career on hold to stay at home with your kids, and I can see how it would create some feelings. As is, the situation isn't fair to either of you; I agree with the above comments suggesting communication coaching or couples counseling (or even private counseling for each of you) to help you see the situation from the other person's perspective and rebuild your team.
posted by stellaluna at 10:53 AM on May 4, 2017 [23 favorites]

In addition to my original therapy recommendation, you might just try acknowledging to yourself and to her how much this situation sucks that so many women, when they sit down and do the calculus between a paycheck versus the cost of childcare and then the relative rewards of work versus the risks of not supervising your child at all times, are effectively forced to not work.

Being a stay at home parent is not a joyride, it's not "free time", not all parents want to or have the emotional resources to parent full time at that intensity (do you?). It's a job, lots of people pay a shitload of money to someone else to do it, but it probably wasn't the career she intended to have. Most people don't get a graduate degree just so they have something to think about while they micromanage the intake and output of a small uneducated human.

There are perks, sure: generally you've only got a couple of people shitting on you all day instead of an entire management team, the dress code is more comfortable, you control the thermostat. But it's also like trying to deploy an army unit just to go to the store, and every month that passes is increased dependency on someone else - a fragile human with many vulnerabilities, not to mention free goddamn snacks on tap - and a surrendering of the ability to take care of herself if necessary. That hurts, and it is terrifying. Especially right now.

So, she's got reason to be frustrated. It's just that it'll kill her if she can't manage those feelings, and sometimes - because of that shitty, shitty calculus - you don't really have a choice but to take the hit.

It might go a very, very long way if you returned the favor some faceless probably-underpaid person is doing for you: stock some damn healthy snacks in your wife's breakroom. Just show that you understand that she is making sacrifices and they are hard. Take advantage of your ability to go to the store alone at least twice a day and reduce her worry overhead a little tiny bit.

But also therapy because seriously, this kills people. It ends marriages and it kills people.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:55 AM on May 4, 2017 [85 favorites]

It sounds like she feels like her needs aren't getting met while yours are - which probably seems unfair to her when you are a team and doing equally important jobs (do you both see her job as equally important? - it might be something for both of you to discuss).

My husband is in a perk-heavy industry that pays well, and it can be grating to hear about his weekly subsidized massages, nice lunches out, the new office equipment he got, all from him chatting freely on his company-sponsored phone. The fact that my husband would then say we didn't have enough money for me to enjoy these nice things too, even though I was also working (both at home and out of it) really added to my frustration. For instance, 'Isn't it a waste of money for you to go out for lunch?' or 'You don't need to pay for a professional massage! It's really too much money! I'll give you one when I get home!'

So, what helped me was to give myself a 'perks' fund, which I spend on nice lunches (sometimes!), buying extra phone credit, and the occasional massage. I really don't spend that much each month on these luxuries and it certainly is not nearly as much as his company 'gives' him in free stuff, but it makes me feel nice to have these little nicesnesses in my life (just like it does for him and for you, I'm presuming?). Could you set up a similar fund for her?

For me, having the unfairness acknowledged and the means to reduce some of my frustrations (aching back, sad lunches, running out of credit) was key to my happiness.
posted by brambory at 10:55 AM on May 4, 2017 [36 favorites]

If you think as I do that it would go a long way with her to acknowledge some real injustice here (though not your doing), it might also help to acknowledge the sexism inherent in the injustice.

Women are generally expected to cook for their families whether they enjoy it or not. That's not fair.

Women are paid less, so if one partner has to stay home, it's usually her. That's not fair.

Traditionally female occupations (like carer positions) generally involve extraordinarily taxing work for far less pay than less grueling, higher-paying traditionally male occupations (like those in tech.) It truly is not fair.

Women are judged harshly, relentlessly on their weight-- way more so than men-- and that's so unfair I feel it deeply literally every day.

To me, her resentment (though coming out in inappropriate ways) points to several possibilities. Maybe she doesn't want to be a full-time SAHM anymore but feels trapped because she couldn't ask you to leave big money great perks job. Maybe she doesn't feel very attractive and can't accept her weight in a world that punishes women for it. Maybe she feels stuck with budget and kid-friendly mac and cheese while being judged for her weight, while you're eating free sashimi. Maybe she doesn't feel she has money, time, or stimulation of her own.

You can acknowledge the unfairness without taking responsibility for it or tolerating poor treatment. But I think sympathy for how much this sucks for her will unstick some of how much this sucks for you. Make her the priority right now, in other words.
posted by kapers at 11:02 AM on May 4, 2017 [49 favorites]

It's very possible she's just got real issues here she needs to work out with a therapist.

But it also sounds like she needs more freedom and support. Can all your fancy new money contribute to a Blue Apron or Weight Watchers style meal plan that will make it easy (and fun) for her to change her eating habits? Can you help her cook batch meals on the weekends? Can you get a nanny or daycare so she can either work out of the home or pursue something she wants to?

When I got my first whoa-tech-is-crazy-rn job it felt like a boon to me and my boyfriend because he was essentially financially free to do whatever he wanted. He could take the job that didn't pay quite enough but gave him the experience he wanted. He could go back to grad school. He could do whatever. It gave us both wiggle room. Does she have that?

And the free food perks are like, nice, but the food isn't THAT amazing. So if it's just the healthy food-on-demand then I think a creative solution to make her and the kids' diet easier might help.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:09 AM on May 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

I would suggest taking a pause before we make assumptions about her resentment here. As a professional and a new mother who takes pride in my career, I would have a really hard time as a SAHP. I would also resent the potentially gendered pay scale difference between teachers and therapists and the like, versus tech and other historically more male populated roles because patriarchy.

So I suggest not assuming that your wife is not a team player but rather maybe try to get some daycare going so she can use her education and feel like a grown up professional person not "just a mom." Being a SAHP when you have ambition as a career person has to be really hard. You have to be really careful to maintain an identity outside of motherhood. You need outputs beyond the outputs from the diapers.

Therapy is needed here but revisiting the childcare arrangements, signing up for Blue Apron or similar, and regular signs of valuing her own work inside the home Is what I would recommend. Show that you respect it in every possible way because if she is a feminist she might be making all of this into a patriarchy issue.

Maybe even eventually "perks" for her too, although I can't think of a way to do that without it being patriarchal. Spa days, help cooking on weekends etc., show her that you can get your hands dirty alongside her. I am not assuming you don't but just sharing what works in my home as an ambitious mommy.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:16 AM on May 4, 2017 [18 favorites]

My husband travels a lot. His job brings him great joy and a good income for our family. Logically, I am so happy that he found something he loves to do, that he is successful at it, that traveling is fulfilling and brings him joy. Emotionally, when I'm at home with the two kids and at my wits end because they are squabbling and I've eaten only cracker crumbs, it's really really hard not be be completely (irrationally) irritated with him.
Honestly, I think taking the initiative to fill the fridge with easy to grab healthy food will go a super long way. Perhaps you can take over dinner and bedtime once or twice a week, so she can go out with friends, or eat at a restaurant or go to a movie.
The key is that you need to push this and take the initiative.
Obviously therapy is a good plan, and it's probably time for some discussions as to whether she wants to be a SAHM anymore, but in terms of what you can do in the fridge and a plan to take over dinner and bedtime a few nights a week (long term).
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

um, if I was home all day taking care of small children - which is excruciatingly hard work - and my spouse came home talking about how well paid he was to play games, eat fancy free food that he didn't have cook or clean up, how he went to the gym on work time....I'd be pretty fucking resentful too. And it IS horrifyingly unfair that her profession, which presumably helps people, pays less than yours, which basically exists to make rich people richer. So it's pretty disingenuous to act like the problem is all on her.

I'd actually say she has a perfectly good reason to be angry and resentful. I'd suggest taking a long, hard look at yourself and how you are contributing to the problem, and I'd suggest you start doing a lot more work at home so your wife can go to the gym, see her friends, play games, etc.
posted by john_snow at 11:27 AM on May 4, 2017 [53 favorites]

OP could *also* be a woman, guys. I mean statistically it's less likely but OP doesn't say anything about their gender.

I'm a woman and I have a high-paying tech job with free lunches every day. I used to be a woman in a traditionally woman-dominated field (librarianship) where I got paid a lot less and free lunches were rare and treasured, even though they were usually bad pizza (once: chicken fingers!). It is TOTALLY unfair. Sometimes when I think about the way I was treated in my former career the Internationale starts playing quietly in the background of my mind.

I think, though, that any discussion about the role of the patriarchy/misogyny/the unfairness of it all has to come with a heaping helping of "OK, so what are WE going to do about it in OUR FAMILY?" What does your wife want? (Ideally don't say this in a "I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU WANT ANYMORE" kind of voice.)

Because if this is really about food and money, you can fix that! You (both of you, as a family) have money, and you can use money to buy food: easy, healthy snacks/meals that your wife doesn't need to cook.

If it's about her wanting to go back to work, I bet you guys could make that work as well, with daycare and/or creative scheduling (which is also often a benefit of fancypants tech jobs).

If it's about her frustration with the non-ideal situation (whether on a macro "THE PATRIARCHY" or micro "OUR FAMILY" scale or both), I think *you* need to set some boundaries about how much you will listen to her venting (like, "I know this bothers you, wife, but I feel like we just have the same conversation over and over, let's table it for now"), and she probably needs someone else to vent to, probably a therapist, and couples therapy would be a good idea as well.
posted by mskyle at 11:27 AM on May 4, 2017 [19 favorites]

This sounds really frustrating. But I'm having trouble with the logic behind the flashpoints.

Struggling to lose weight is a real thing, but free hot and cold running snacks (healthy or not) are not conducive to doing so. It should be fairly easy to replicate the snack situation at home (only buy snacks that she feels are healthy and low-impact, get ready-made meals from Trader Joe's so she doesn't have to cook), and if dish-doing is that big of a deal, then make a rule that while you're at work, all meals can be served on disposables / (or compostables / decomposables, if that's an issue). So there's not an unfair burden on her while you're away with regard to food. But that won't change her attitude toward her weight or her food issues - that's something she needs to work out for herself.

The second issue is just a part of growing up. Pro basketball players will always make more than teachers, it makes no sense but that's how capitalism works in the US. Your having a job that pays well gives her the luxury to take an incredibly valuable job that doesn't pay at all. That's a fantastic trade-off for a lot of parents. I assume when she chose her field and got her Master's, she knew that she wasn't going to be making a CEO's salary, either because it's not a field that compensates that well, or because there are relatively few people who can turn it into a goldmine. But she chose that field anyway. As a SAHM, she's actually in a unique position - once the kids are in school full time, she can go back to her field and work towards earning the maximum she could be capable of doing it, knowing that she is "doing more to help people" (which pays in fulfillment rather than money). Or she can take coding classes or other professional development that can get her into a new job that might pay better. The gap on her resume is going to hurt her regardless (yay patriarchy), but the flip side to that is it's easier to reinvent yourself. Or she could use her free time now to look at the ways that some charismatic people in similar fields (without knowing her field it's tricky to know if it translates, but I can think of a few yoga teachers and nutritionists and such) who managed to market themselves online in ways that led to a lucrative spinoff career of the thing they already love, through blogging or YouTube videos or creating a product. Right now it sounds like she is trying to make you feel bad for making money for doing something she feels is inherently worth less than what she can do. And that's not fair - you wouldn't be paid as much as you are if what you're doing isn't valuable to your company, and therefore to the country. There are lots of ways to help people, and unless your job is selling cigarettes to children or something similarly abhorrent, chances are what you do is part of what makes somebody's quality of life better. That's not being Mother Teresa, but it's also not nothing. Maybe it would help her to come to terms with the idea that half your salary is going toward her current career of raising the next generation of good people, subsidized by EvilPerkCo.

Assuming she chose to be a SAHM and it wasn't something you or someone else (family, culture) expected her to do, I do agree with people saying it sounds more like she's actually frustrated with not working outside the home, or feeling like she's stagnating while you're in a 'dream job'. Is her career something that she could do part time, or on weekends? Does she get a day or a few nights a week to get out of the house and do things by herself or with her friends? Does she at least realize that blaming you for her dissatisfaction with her own issues isn't helpful to her, either, and is attacking you for doing the thing that lets her have the job she wanted of being home for the kids full time? If you had her prior career instead of her, could she still afford to be a SAHM? Coming to terms with that might be helpful, but I don't know if you can be the one to help with it. This might be one of those times when therapy isn't a bad idea.

I wouldn't talk about the perks at your workplace anymore, as others have said. And it would probably help for you to take some time to show her the ways you envy her choice as well: she gets more time with the kids, for example, and as a result they will probably always turn to her first. She gets to get outside and go to museums and watch cartoons or just goof off at the park or maybe even stay in PJs all day if she wants - that's a perk of her job that you don't have. Make sure she feels like her choices are not just valid, but enviable. Plenty of parents would kill for the chance to stay home for those precious years - maybe yourself included. She's really lucky. She just needs to find a way to realize that again -- or to decide that she really doesn't find it fulfilling enough to give up the other benefits of working out of the home and make choices accordingly.

And it probably goes without saying, but if she is a SAHM because of external pressure from you or anyone else, that shit needs to stop. If it's never fun for her, imposed martyrdom isn't good for her or the kids, either. Especially when she has other options.
posted by Mchelly at 11:38 AM on May 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

Her reaction is disproportionate, and a sign that therapy might be good for her... but she's not wrong, know what I mean?

I mean, it is unfair that some jobs pay a ton and offer unlimited free food and yoga classes and all sorts of other stuff, while others pay $20 an hour with minimal benefits, and the difference often has nothing to do with the difficulty of the work or the required experience or the job's benefit to society at large. It's not your fault. It's not healthy for her to stew over. It's ultimately working in her favor, if indirectly. But it is unfair.

And I would bet that there are some imbalances in your current household that could be adjusted to give her a break. How many hours do you work? How much of the housework/cooking/after-hours childcare do you do? How much free time - truly free - does she have? You might be thinking "but all that is her job," but you can leave your job at the office and she can't.

How about finances? It can be really demoralizing to be an adult and completely dependent on someone else's income, even if it's by choice. Does your income provide for a comfortable lifestyle? If so, how much of that comfort does she see? Can you afford services that will make both your lives easier: babysitters, cleaners, laundry service, takeout, Blue Apron-type stuff? Does she have her own money to spend however she sees fit, on clothes and fancy shampoo and craft beer? Or is this a "I make the money, I decide how to spend it" household? I don't know how to work out that kind of situation without it seeming patronizing, but you get the idea of the sort of possible imbalance a one-income family can create.

And do you love her? Do you show it? Are you paying attention to her, spending one-on-one time with her, etc.? It's really easy to come home from work and just kinda space out and decompress. If you work at home (whether you're a SAHP or an employee) and your partner comes home and immediately flops down in front of the TV, it can feel a bit like they're ignoring you. It's not intentional, that's just how it comes across.

Even if she's got things that are best untangled in therapy, it is extremely likely that some elements of the current situation are exacerbating this. Childcare is hard. Meal planning is hard. Staying at home all day is hard. Feeling like you don't have much control over your life is hard.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:40 AM on May 4, 2017 [20 favorites]

Honestly my first thought was that her resentment probably isn't really about free snacks, it's about how you never do any dishes at home or she looks forward to eating dinner with you but you're always working late and don't tell her "nah I don't need dinner" until you get home or something like that . But it's hard for us to know if that's really the case because we don't know all the details. Y'all need to talk and maybe it would be helpful to do that with a marriage counselor, or maybe it needs to happen on a weekend when someone else is watching the kids.

As Metroid Baby says "And I would bet that there are some imbalances in your current household that could be adjusted to give her a break. How many hours do you work? How much of the housework/cooking/after-hours childcare do you do? How much free time - truly free - does she have? You might be thinking "but all that is her job," but you can leave your job at the office and she can't."
posted by purple_bird at 11:45 AM on May 4, 2017 [17 favorites]

These kinds of awesome job perks are generally intended to keep employees working long hours because everything they need - food, gym, entertainment - is already at work. Is this awesome new job also coming with longer hour expectations that are eating into your family time and couple time?
posted by muddgirl at 11:49 AM on May 4, 2017 [59 favorites]

It does sound over the top if she is lashing out at you for being well-paid and pampered at work. Still, if you have never stayed home full time with your kids, I really encourage you to solo parent for the whole Memorial Day weekend, while she goes off and has a mini-break alone or with a friend or sister or something. Or don't wait that long and do it for Mother's Day, but the three day weekend is better because it is longer. I'm not trying to punish you, I'm trying to give you a profound empathy experience. :-)
posted by puddledork at 12:01 PM on May 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

Agreed that usually these perks mean employees work longer or hang out longer. Does your company host family or social events, or allow family to visit? My partner works at a similar-ish tech company and we share perks together when we can. For example, when I'm tired and don't feel like cooking I will go visit and we would have dinner together at his office. I'm also then able to see how insane it can be with their projects, and no amount of free almond butter can make me want to work there. :)
posted by inevitability at 12:07 PM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Did you end up moving across the country to be closer to her family? Or is she a SAHM in a city that is far from family and was supposed to be temporary?

If it's the latter, a big part of her resentment is likely that now you have this amazing dream job that you love and you will never agree to move (not necessarily true, but I'm sure that would be my fear).

It also sticks out to me that you say your company offers free meals. Free lunch would be one thing, but meals implies dinner and possibly breakfast. Also:
Knowing that I can just grab a healthy meal or snack any time I want and not have to cook or wash a dish makes her blood boil.
makes me ask, are you doing any of the cooking and cleaning at home? If not, why not? SAHM does not mean that 100% of the cooking and cleaning are on her.
posted by Kriesa at 12:19 PM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

Any attempt on my part to be a stay-at-home mom would end up with the house in flames (and not because of a cooking accident). I've had the stupid-perks-and-pay job, and I've had the utterly unlivable-wage job, and now I have the job that doesn't require daily ramen but does impose very careful money management and means I will probably never be able to afford to buy an apartment with an interior wall in my city of choice. Sometimes I get irritated when I think of the first-years earning double my salary who don't even have any skills yet and are mostly working on cases that will make the world worse, while I track my dollars and do my modest best to make vulnerable people's lives better.

But, you know, I picked the current job. Similarly, your wife chose to be a SAHM (yes, patriarchy, but in a family with significant income, there are usually not zero other options). It sounds very much like she does not want to be one anymore, but she chose that job. It's not fair for her to take out her frustrations on you. You can, and should, take a look at the division of labor in the house. Maybe you haven't really thought through what your relatively new salary can and should make possible in the home. So perhaps your hours don't allow you to cook on weekdays, but, e.g., pay for a damn cleaning person once a week, get the deep-cleaning off her shoulders. Make sure that she gets money to do/enjoy nice things, too; it's not just a privilege, it's her due as part of the household team. All of these may help ease the pressure. But, in the end, you cannot solve what I think is the problem: like so so so very many women, she has chosen to take a job that is, for some people, a grim, boring, and degrading experience much of the time, and she is unable to acknowledge it to herself. (NYC is boiling with women like this, and they poison every atmosphere they enter.) That she can only deal with herself, in therapy. Not by localizing the world's injustices on you.

Pay for the therapy, support her changes, accept that you are probably going to have to end up reconfiguring your household to make it possible for her to work outside it. But you don't have to let her be perpetually resentful at you.
posted by praemunire at 12:20 PM on May 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Similarly, your wife chose to be a SAHM (yes, patriarchy, but in a family with significant income, there are usually not zero other options)

Yes, but sometimes this decision is made before one actually understands what being a SAHM is like in real life. She may have had a different understanding of what she was signing up for. I know that I didn't fully comprehend it until I was knee-deep in it. Some empathy towards this can go a long way.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 12:25 PM on May 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

You may want to look at whether it "made no sense" for your wife to work. If you are costing out daycare, commute and these other things, they should be applied against both incomes, not one. I see many families apply them to one partner's income (often that of the wife, when there is a wife, who may be in a lower income field, have had time out of workforce, shifted into a lower income track to accommodate anticipated future family) and then they decide it makes no sense for her to work. But it should be used in comparison to both incomes. To do otherwise suggests that that the expectation is that her career/working is some sort of disposable option and lacks validity unless it comes with an ROI, whereas there have already been assumptions that the other partner deserves to work and delivers ROI.
posted by shockpoppet at 12:29 PM on May 4, 2017 [16 favorites]

I've been a SAHM spouse while my husband was out having fancy lunches at the tech company. It sucks, ok? It's awful. I will bet you anything you want that the folks upthread excoriating your wife and recommending she get her head examined (!) have NOT been in this position and have no idea what it's like.

Here's the deal with the food. It's a perk worth up to, what, $3k? Figure it out, and with this information you should be able to agree that she also should be able to go out to $x of nice lunches or hire a chef or whatever. Build it into your budget. This is fair.

I remember trying to save money while never going out, while my husband ate fancy food every goddamn day. I wanted to choke him. I'd never do it again.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:33 PM on May 4, 2017 [67 favorites]

Lots of great detail above, but I'm wondering: does she know it's ok for her to spend the money you're making? Not to go crazy, but if she's always thinking that she doesn't have the money that your great job is paying, that's an easy path to resentment.
posted by rhizome at 12:35 PM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

Is she happy being a SAHM? Because I love my kids but I would go batshit crazy if I had to be a SAHM. Some people are happy, even ecstatic, to be SAHP and some people, like me, would find it punishing and maddening. Especially if my spouse worked outside the home with awesome perks while I wiped snot and tried to entertain children all the goddamn day while doing chores and grocery shopping and where did my life go?

She might not resent you, or your job, but what you and your job currently represent: freedom, fulfillment, and potential. In which case the conversation you need to have is not about YOUR job, but about HER job, and whether she'd like to move back into the workforce.
posted by lydhre at 12:45 PM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm wondering: does she know it's ok for her to spend the money you're making?

This is a really good point, especially if it "made no sense" for her to work (that's an unfortunate phrase) in a financial sense, so that now the burden is on her to do a job for free to "save money". People internalize those messages, especially women who are culturally held to a very high standard and a ton of baggage around staying home and "cheating" by having some kind of assistance. Even if your family actually cannot afford fulltime care, can it not afford some paid help? Can money be thrown at some subset of the problem?

Just, make sure you don't go throwing "your" money at it by making unilateral decisions about what form of help she is "allowed/deserves". Sit down and talk about the amount of money one might spend on various forms of help and which ones will not just make her life harder (like not everyone wants a stranger coming to the house to cook, but maybe a drop-off situation would be fantastic).
posted by Lyn Never at 12:46 PM on May 4, 2017 [15 favorites]

This is exactly my life. I'm making six figures as a developer and she's a stay at home mom with a social work degree.

Some general advice:
One: Get her more involved with your work: invite her to the office to hang out and eat lunch with you in the cafeteria. Make sure she gets invited to company functions like happy hours. See if she can go with you to a conference if you travel. Not every time, but at least once.

Two: make sure she has access to money and is free to spend it on what she wants. Encourage her to eat out with her friends and buy things for herself. If she's interested, let her manage the budget and paying bills. Don't buy anything expensive without talking about it first.

Sign up for a dependent care account if your work offers it, and encourage her to use the money for babysitters so she can work part time or go to school or whatever she wants to do.
posted by empath at 1:01 PM on May 4, 2017 [14 favorites]

Can she get a part-time job and break even on daycare for those days?

She sounds depressed and miserable, having a sense of purpose and someone to talk to over the age of 6 would do wonders for that resentment.
posted by stockpuppet at 1:29 PM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

So so many good points in this thread. I will simply add this: make sure that there is a reasonable amount of money (like an allowance, but for god's sake don't call it that) that she can spend as she sees fit every month without ever having to justify to you where any of it went. It's hers alone, and you forget that it ever existed.

If it helps, think of your family as a business: there is income and there are expenses. Some expenses are fixed, and some are variable. Consider the amount that is hers as a fixed expense every month. Just like a utility. No getting around it, it's a necessity, so just accept it and forget about it.

And no, her fund should not be where babysitting, or snack foods, or shampoo are paid from. Those are family expenses.
posted by vignettist at 1:34 PM on May 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I know several couples that combine one person with a profitable tech career and one person in a (underpaid) social-good career. The unconflicted ones talk like they're meeting two shared goals: enough money not to be terrified of privatized old age (yay!) and using energy and skill to make the worst-off better-off (hurrah!) although they specialize separately. But I think generally they put all their money and time in one pot and count both payoffs as mutual.
posted by clew at 1:34 PM on May 4, 2017 [16 favorites]

The more I think of your question, the more I wonder where you are at reading the Emotional Labor thread on MeFi. You might be a big part of the problem here, and have no idea. Of course your wife does not want to give you emotional support as you adjust to your new job with fancy perks. She might be up to her shoulders in poop or vomit all day. If you have never been the solo caregiver for an extended time, you may not realize how hard it is to take care of kids and do... well... anything else, including poop by yourself. Being a SAHP is validating for some people but not all, and it does not sound like your wife is feeling validated.

Have you asked her how can you make her own job easier? What would she like? Have you thanked her once a day (at the least) for some very specific behavior you can identify that she did to make the family life go smoother?

I cannot even imagine being a SAHP. There is enough chore wars and second shift stuff to manage without adding that to the mix. I do not intend to suggest you have any willful contribution to any perceived imbalance, but such imbalances can happen quite easily and often one partner is oblivious to it.

Part of a partnership is showing up to create equity. Maybe you feel like you are doing that already. It might be a good idea for you and the wife to have a conversation about equity and needs and see what, if anything, needs to be adjusted. If she perks up and expands and lights up, that might possibly be a clue that more focus in her direction is necessary for the health of your marriage. SAHP can be a place to wither away without some light coming in from somewhere.

If I am on the right track here (and I may not be), then I would suspect that focusing in her direction will lead to a natural increase in her ability to support you as you wrestle with this very new role. It is hard to take care of needy children all day and manage anyone else's neediness. I suggest focusing in her direction because it is very possible that you have not been doing so for quite some time, and maybe she does not want to beg.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:47 PM on May 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

What would she like? Have you thanked her once a day (at the least) for some very specific behavior you can identify that she did to make the family life go smoother?

The rest of your idea sounds good, but I read this as super condescending and patronizing
posted by TravellingCari at 2:07 PM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Being jealous that a spouse gets to go out and do non-kid related activity when you're a SAHP is 100% normal. Like a 1000% actually. Being a SAHP is hard.

Ideally you would be treating the time she's home while you're at work as if she is an "employee" and the expectations are only that she look after the kids and do whatever you'd expect of a nanny. Then everything should be split 50/50 during "non-work" time. So cooking dinner, cleaning up, doing laundry, getting up with the baby in the middle of the night, grocery shopping, getting the oil changed in the car, etc.

When I was home, bringing in help as much as possible is what kept me sane as well as my partner insisting that everything they earned belonged to us both equally. I freelanced part-time to cover part-time care (though my partner always objected when I framed it that way) and to give me something to think about other than the kids.

I'm assuming your job has great benefits as well as free lunches- a bit of counseling now and again really helps me get clear on what's going on in my life and helps me refocus.

I encourage you to reframe so that's not your wife's "problem" that she needs to get over but something you can work on together so you can figure out what's best for your family.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 2:07 PM on May 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

I know that I didn't fully comprehend it until I was knee-deep in it. Some empathy towards this can go a long way.

I would lose my mind if I had to do that particular job. I can disentangle empathy for her situation from tolerance for being nasty to her partner who is not to blame for the situation. If she doesn't want to stay a SAHM, OP should absolutely support her in making that change (as I said). But if she chooses to remain a SAHM, she's going to have to learn some better ways of dealing with the fact that we live in an unjust world. We've all made decisions we've ended up regretting when we discovered how unexpectedly unpleasant the consequences were to live with, and it's very painful, but it doesn't entitle us to dump our dissatisfaction on innocent third parties, much less the people we're supposed to making a life with. Even if there are problems with equitable distribution of household labor, which I suspect there may well be, she needs to figure out how to communicate those specific problems to her partner, rather than harping on issues of pay equality, which OP could not change if he dedicated his entire life to it.
posted by praemunire at 2:12 PM on May 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

Are you wanting to talk to her about your job, or rave to her about how awesome the game room is? Are you sharing the new skills you're learning, or talking about how great it was to use the gym without leaving the workplace?

I don't think anyone here needs individual therapy, though couple's counseling could be useful. I think you need to identify, like you started doing above, what the real buttons are that are being pushed and address them thoughtfully as a couple. You have access to healthy food all the time?
Subscribe to Blue Apron and trade off cooking/washing dishes. You get to spend so much time interacting with adults? Encourage her to join some meet-ups or just plan some outings with groups of friends, while you watch the kids.

This situation is inherently unfair, and your wife is taking the brunt of it. You taking some steps to continue to identify the issues (which means, yes, stepping in a minefield, but a minefield where, you know, you're open and listening and validating) and meet in the middle.
posted by violetish at 2:20 PM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

TravellingCari, I'm not sure whether you mean being thanked is patronizing or I'm being patronizing to suggest it. My goal was to present the importance of acknowledging the work the spouse is doing, and being specific is a good way to do that. "Thanks for taking care of the kids" does not land as deeply as "I do not know how you managed to wrangle 2 people under ten and also get any laundry done without someone getting hurt." It is a way to show you are paying attention to the efforts of the other person and can help with resentment. But there is a genuine or disingenuous way to sound in doing this, I have to agree. If you don't actually appreciate and recognize the value of that work your tone will probably be off.

Appreciation and acknowledgement go a long way. Whatever way you can find to get there that isn't patronizing is what I would recommend.
posted by crunchy potato at 2:21 PM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

TravellingCari, I'm not sure whether you mean being thanked is patronizing or I'm being patronizing to suggest it. My goal was to present the importance of acknowledging the work the spouse is doing, and being specific is a good way to do that. "Thanks for taking care of the kids" does not land as deeply as "I do not know how you managed to wrangle 2 people under ten and also get any laundry done without someone getting hurt."

I think it's a nice thing to say, but if you say it daily or whatever it starts to lose it's genuinity (? genuineness?). It feels like something someone is saying because they feel like they should, not because they mean it. Do you want to be thanked daily for doing your job? Maybe just me, but it feels fake.
posted by TravellingCari at 2:35 PM on May 4, 2017

Oh it absolutely can be fake but when someone is not in the habit of looking at your contributions as such, it can be really helpful to get them to see better to have a rote daily thing like this. And then over time more organic appreciation occurs. Speaking as someone with an egalitarian spouse who still struggles with empathy for domestic affairs, this particular practice has been helpful. But I see where you're coming from too.
posted by crunchy potato at 2:41 PM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

So I was a SAHP for about a year on mat leave, twice (the first time I wasn't actually returning to full-time work right away) and I felt that resentful feeling the first time.

Because I was new at the disparity between non-parenting life, and parenting life. My solution was to go back to work (agreed that daycare should be split between both jobs not treated like "your job doesn't pay enough with daycare...those are only a few years and it may well be worth staying on the salary/experience/networking grid).

Once I got back to work, and my baby brain had adjusted a bit, I remembered how much I hate, hate, hate meetings and surprise priorities and work stupidity. At home I was at the mercy of small children and it was hard but at least it wasn't VPs acting like small children, and if I wanted to go to the museum, then I went.

But it also turned out that I was remembering pre-child work life, when I wasn't rushing madly out the door and when I could go to the gym at lunch because I didn't have to make daycare drop-off or make up for the day I took off to get my son immunized. I confused 'working' with 'life before children.'

Once I got that sorted out, then my sympathy for my husband returned, and the next mat leave I was just happy for the short time home. suggestion is mostly that she needs to realize that you are both team you, and you getting a free sandwich (WTF) does not mean she is wronged. I am not sure you can do this for her, you can just ask her what would help.

But I also think the following could go a long way:

- bring home really great takeout a couple of times a week, if you can afford it
- tell you you'll do the dishes every night, and do them
- make sure she gets days off on weekends, like time in the adult world with adult friends
- have a frank conversation about her whether she would prefer to work, and if she would, move heaven and earth to make that space for her. Ignore the idea that having a parent at home is the ideal, because an unhappy parent at home is awful. (See also: My mother's mistakes.)
posted by warriorqueen at 3:06 PM on May 4, 2017 [22 favorites]

Lots of good points above about how being a SAHP can and does suck, especially if said parent dosent get a lot of adult time or freedom from the household.

Googling the value of a SAHM gives a value of $100,000 +. I liked this article where a SAHM muses on that, and her complicated feelings of not actually bringing in income.
posted by Jacen at 3:17 PM on May 4, 2017

A "typical" dynamic in this case would be the SAH spouse being thrilled for the other person, grateful the job is so good that being able to stay home is even an option. Along with that, grateful that spouse gets so many nice perks that make him love his job, making him more pleasant to be around, etc.


When I was a SAHM for four months after baby Llama was born I wanted to strangle Mr. Llama when he cheerfully walked through the door at the end of the day at his Cool Job.

It wasn't his fault: I just fucking hated my life and his was so goddamn interesting and I had literally nothing to talk about. I just had to listen--I didn't really exist. What was I going to to talk about? His job? Every day, every hour, every meal?

Anyway, in my case, it was that I hated being a stay at home mom and was completely unable to do it and the day I went back to work was one of the best of my life. I was just so fucking thrilled to be putting together an Excel formula and wearing a bra. If we hadn't actually needed my income it would have been a hellscape of 'but why don't you stay home?' but we agreed (or at least I agreed!) that if anyone ever were staying home by our choice, that person would be Mr. Llama.

She sounds like she's not having a great time. I had post-partum, too, and Zoloft worked a treat. But the truth is still the truth: I hated it.

In any case: openness, power through the best you can, get her some help, and accept the idea that this circumstance will someday be one you can reflect on as a couple, ten years later, as we do now. We are not always perfect, any of us.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:36 PM on May 4, 2017 [35 favorites]

Have you asked her why she's so angry about the perks of the new gig, and the money?
posted by lyssabee at 4:11 PM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can she go back to work soon? I was the stay at home parent for three years and I really didn't like it. Our daughter had medical issues and someone had to stay home with her - and even though I have a masters degree and my husband doesn't, his field pays better so we couldn't afford for me to work and him to stay home. I was filled with resentment and struggled a lot with relating to him in a way that felt fair.

A little over a year ago I went back to work and it has been so good for our relationship. We both worked for a while and it was busy and the nanny was expensive but it was better. And then I managed to get a job that does pay enough for him to stay home, and wow are we all much happier for it. Having a parent at home is great if that parent likes being home. Sounds like maybe she doesn't.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:28 PM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Things to think about:

- It's nice that you have perqs and a great salary. Lay off talking about those things for awhile. When the kids are both in school full time? Great. Talk about it, and then encourage her to go back to work. Maybe sooner than that, if she's going mad without being able to put herself into something other than her kids.

- Stay at home parents don't make any money for doing an incredibly important job. Recognize that. We make NO. MONEY. Worth in our culture is really wrapped up in how much a person makes. This is the person who made your kids and ensures they don't die and that they're developing, all day, everyday. That matters. It shouldn't be necessary for her to give up her wants and desires as an individual AND be viewed as valuable because you both made kids.

- Our societal attitudes about motherhood are really fucked up. Inasmuch as mothers are supposedly put on some kind of pedestal, we are knocked off of it constantly by people liberally instructing us on how we can do the job of raising our children better, how if we only did X, our kids would listen and not break shit and not throw tantrums and be perfect little dolls. If we ask for more patience or better treatment, say, in a restaurant because we're having a difficult time eating in public with children, we often get talked to like we're animals or asked to leave or basically just given the stink eye. We should breastfeed but not so that anybody can be offended by the sight of our breasts. We should know everything but not act like know-it-alls. It's kinda fucked up. Someone will comment on this comment, I guarantee it, even though this is my subjective experience and I know how i feel about it.

- My father once started snickering when I told him that stay at home parenting is hard. His attitude was, well, you're just sitting around doing nothing, right? If you don't recognize that it is the repetitiveness and comparative dullness of having only children to interact with most of the day that grinds down a stay at home parent, then your wife is going to resent you, and rightfully so. Kid stuff can be hella boring to adults. Children are magical, sure. IN DOSES. One does not experience magic all day, every day, with their own children and definitely not other people's.

Things you can do to help the situation, that you need not do ALL OF but should endeavor to at least do SOME of regularly:

- Without being asked, when you come home from work, make dinner a couple of nights a week. Don't require her to tell you what to make or how to make it.

- If you can't cook - again, without being asked - bring home something decadent/delicious/special every now and again.

- Do the grocery shopping once a week.

- Ask about the kid/s next doctor and dental appointment. Make them and put them on everybody's calendar.

- Plan a date without making her find the sitter, plan the outing, pick the restaurant.

- Tell her to go out for a massage. Then make up the bed with fresh linens while she's out.

- Get out of bed before her on the weekends. Take the kid/s out to breakfast and then to play at the playground or somewhere else for at least an hour and a half.

- Plan a family vacation.

- Make everybody's breakfast.

- Pack the lunches and snacks.

- Place the Amazon order or pick up the dipes/wipes every week.

- Ask her about the kids. What did you do today? Was that stressful, when Katie wouldn't listen and started throwing a tantrum? How did you handle it? Is there anything you need from me, any way I can help? You seem upset about how things went with Joe's teacher? Why, what happened?

- Give her the kind of affection she needs. Rub her back. Tell her she's sexy af. Tell her you love her body.

All this said, I know you love your family. People need treats. You get treats all. the. time. at work, in addition to your salary. Where are her treats? You get respect for your level of expertise. Where is her respect? You get to be just yourself in your own body in your own space most of the day. Where is her space for this? You are doing your best and you have a right to be proud of your accomplishments. Notice and celebrate your wife and her accomplishments.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 5:00 PM on May 4, 2017 [38 favorites]

Is it possible your wife would rather go back to work? I think you guys need to sit down and talk about the fact that you're delighted with the current work set-up, but your wife is clearly miserable -- so what needs to change. Maybe that's doing worse than break-even on daycare for a couple of years until your child hits school age (some friends of mine have done this because both partners love their careers and taking several years off would really set them back). Maybe you could find child care for a couple of days a week and she could work part time. Or even if she does want to do full-time SAHM, how can she get more adult interaction in her life? A mom's group, mom-baby yoga class, a weekly class during the evening while you cover childcare, etc. etc.

Also, I think you need to step up and start doing more around the house. Just because your job earns a salary and hers doesn't does not mean your wife's childcare work is not incredible difficult and valuable. Evenings and weekends you guys should be splitting things evenly, and your wife absolutely should be getting healthy meals that she doesn't have to clean up after -- the ones YOU are cooking and cleaning up after.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:10 PM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Sometimes we are so quick to jump to “depression / counseling” that we forget that sometimes a situation really does suck for one of the parties involved. Your wife may be depressed and you both might benefit from counseling, but a quicker and cheaper thing to start with is to acknowledge that maybe her situation / environment really is bringing her down.

It's hard to know what exactly is upsetting her, but you can start trying to help with the things she complains about and listening closely. Maybe she doesn't want you to cook healthy food, maybe she wants you to take care of the kids solo for an hour so she can have some space and cook her favorites. Or maybe she needs you to do some other solo parenting time like she does all day. My wife and I both work, but I solo parent for an hour every weekday and I take the kid to a class 1 evening per week, and she's going to do similarly soon. Or maybe she would just be happier if she were working, and then you should support that. Being a SAHP is hard and many people don't enjoy it. That seems like a likely culprit but listen to her with an open mind and give her space to figure it out - in the end it might be something different than any of us expect.

Your wife also might not know exactly what she wants, which is why listening and not injecting your ideas is important. She may need some time to figure out what in her environment would make her happier, and a chance to try a few things out.

If you give her space and support to make her environment better, and she doesn't feel any better, then it's time for counseling. That might be what she needs, but I think we often overlook material improvements that really can help us feel better.
posted by Tehhund at 5:43 PM on May 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Current SAHM here. I winced reading your post because I totally related to your wife's perspective, while I also recognize how her resentment is so upsetting and unfair for you.
Rhizome's point "does she know she can spend money" is really important. Part of being a SAHP can be an overwhelming, constant fear of not bringing in income. You're not just getting "snacks," you're getting "free snacks." She needs to feel justified to spend the money it takes so she can have the healthy treats she wants. Or as others have said, you buy them for her. I know I would never feel okay with buying pre-cut produce or convenience foods because I'm home/I can prep veggies. That's right in the category of things a SAHM is expected to do. Housekeeping is another one. If you can afford hiring housekeeping help, that could also free up her time. (Notice I didn't say tell her to hire a housekeeper).
Lastly, I'm also wincing reading all the comments "She should go back to work." I know that's well-intentioned and sure, stopping being a SAHM and getting a fun-perks career would help her resentment. But! Do you think that hasn't occurred to your wife? Obviously it has and the family calculus now determines she's at home. Maybe it's time to recalibrate that situation, but please please please be so careful with how you broach this with her. It is very hard to get hired after being out of the work force, it's hard to even job search while taking care of kids, and it would be infuriating to hear "why don't you just go back to work" as if that's an easy or even possible solution.
posted by areaperson at 6:45 PM on May 4, 2017 [12 favorites]

Yeah, I think there can be a crummy dynamic if you get to have meals you don't have to cook, that are free so you never have to justify the expense, and every time she wants a healthy meal she has to cook it herself. Would you be open to letting her have a decent amount of money so she could buy pre cooked food as well? Or do you fall into the trap of thinking that since she is home she can easily cook for herself even though you know she hates it?
posted by corb at 7:26 PM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

The way you deal with this is by arranging for your wife to visit a GP or shrink to commence treatment for her depression.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:53 PM on May 4, 2017

The woman is not crazy to think that her life sucks compared to yours, ok? It does, in fact. She does not need treatment. She needs some help making her life not suck compared to her husband's.

Let me be clear: I have done both work like yours and like your wife's. And I can tell you with emphatic certainty that my high-pressure job at a place that rhymes with shmoogle was a glorious world of treats and rainbows and unicorns compared to being a SAHM to a toddler.

And - yes! When I got that job, having tasty, healthy, beautiful food cooked for me every day at work was a HUGE LIFT to the spirit. Every day! And conversely, when I was a SAHP, knowing that no matter how tired I am, if I want a hot meal I need to cook it my damn self -- including planning it, shopping for it, making it, cleaning it up -- was really crappy. And yes, the inequity of my husband eating fancy restaurant food every damn day while I never! ever! did -- was very bad for my feelings about our marriage and my life. It was a logistical issue, a budget planning issue, a communication issue -- NOT a mental health issue.

What my husband should have done to be helpful and kind, and what I urge you to do, is to look at what her daily life is actually like compared to yours, and figure out ways you can budget money and planning energy to make it nicer.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:14 PM on May 4, 2017 [48 favorites]

A few points. What struck me about your question was that the two big flashpoints are both situations that involve emotional labor: in the first, emotional labor is being performed for you; in the second, the devaluing of labor in general is the issue. To me, this indicates that perhaps she feels a paucity of emotional labor being done for her. Feeling like being a stay at home parent is a thankless job is not rare. Emotional labor is a way we provide thanks and appreciation for others. Lots of good suggestions about that above, from buying her prepared veggie plates to expressing thanks when you notice emotional labor being performed.

Second, the therapy suggestion is not a bad one, but framing it should be done carefully if at all, because it could seem to medicalize the problem and could be potentially hurtful. Not because something is wrong with her, but because (1) therapists provide emotional labor, and she could probably benefit from having some of that directed toward her at the moment and (2) she is so angry about it - which is normal. When I have had an awakening of this nature (I've had several), I get Very Seriously Angry about it, sometimes for awhile. Therapy has helped me process that very normal anger and to learn ways to not let it interfere with my life.

I am not saying she "needs treatment." I don't think she is "depressed." I think that honestly you should not suggest therapy for her even though it could be helpful for the reasons I described above. Instead, I would focus on talking with her, and on doing more emotional labor directed at her.
posted by sockermom at 8:28 PM on May 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

SAHD of 8 years here. It gets a lot easier once your youngest is in preschool. It is really, really hard early on and there's all sorts of stuff (in your own life and in the world in general) to justifiably get out of shape about and think needs to change to make your own life better. Getting more breathers from the kid(s), even knowing its coming down the road, helps take things down a notch.

Some amount of built-in childcare also builds in the possibility of lunch dates a few times a year. That's been nice and frankly could go a long way for you two.

If your job's so awesome I'd nth the recommendations above to throw some good change your wife's way to spend however the heck she wants to. And, no kidding, make sure you chip in enough w/ housework, either w/ actual labor or w/ money (landscaper/cleaning person/whateverthehellshewants).

You absolutely should be able to talk about your job, upsides and downsides, with your wife. It's part of the deal of being together. If she's expressing envy about this or that, it's totally reasonable but make sure she has her own stuff to brag about that you didn't get to do. I play table tennis pretty often and go ride some roller coasters once in a while while people like you are at work. :-p I try hard to get my non-kid stuff done around the house during the school year and will be paying my dues when summer break hits in a few weeks and I'm back to being a full-time child caregiver. Best wishes to both of you and congratulations on your child.
posted by eelgrassman at 9:36 PM on May 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

I dunno. As a woman and having been SAHP for some years I support women reminding everyone that raising toddlersis hard.

But I grew up in a home where the mum resented the dad and us kids and it was awful. It damaged everyone including my dad. I hope if your wife is that unhappy that you can Work to find a situation that works for both of you. My mother did way more damage than a good or even decent daycare situation, and my kids have had a really good Montessori experience.

It's not that a job is necessarily the solution but if someone is that miserable, please work to change it whether it's picking up more chores and takeout or a job or preschool or a break, whatever.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:43 PM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Thank you all for the responses. I doubt I'll get many more but in case anyone is following up I'll add a few details.
- I arrange my schedule so I have breakfast and lunch at work, then come home in time to cook dinner. My wife does the meal planning; in an ideal world I'd do that as well but frankly I just suck at it. I also generally do the dishes at night, assemble the kids' lunches, and usually take care of all three meals on weekends.
- SAHM thing was her choice that I supported. I do believe she's burned out by it (and expressed this to her on several occasions). She had too much mommy guilt to hand over control to others, but the kids are getting to the point where she's thinking about getting back to work.
- We didn't move. That's a different story but the upshot is that when I've tried to help make it happen, she's gotten cold feet. After that prior question I spoke to a recruiter in my spouse's family's town and even did some phone interviews, and then she said she just wasn't ready for us to go. (Burned bridges with that recruiter I think.) One reason I took this job is because there is an office over there and the possibility of transfer if she decides that is really what she wants. I like it here, but there would be OK too.
- and yeah I have learned not to talk about the perks!

There's a lot of food for thought above and much rings true so thank you all for taking the time to respond.
posted by StockingMarionette at 11:38 PM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

Others have said it already, but it bears repeating: The things she's resentful of--the structural things like patriarchy, wage gaps, capitalism, kyriarchy--are real and valid and if I were you I'd make damn sure she knows that I feel them too. That said, it's not right to take that resentment out on you; it's one thing that the world is shitty and unfair but it's another thing to resent someone you love for being a part of it and making a living doing so. We have to live in this godforsaken world, after all.

Counseling/therapy, for sure. But on your end, make sure she understands that you, too, recognize the unfairness of it all--even though you're benefiting from it, you can still be critical and aware of how farkakte it all is.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:54 PM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

So staying home was her choice, and now she resents what you receive as part of your job. That's not fair to you.

I also disagree with the notion that they're free snacks. That's like free salary - nope. It's part of the benefits they provide to woo folks the job needs/ wants. You earn those like she earns whatever activity she does with the children that you don't get to because you're at work.
posted by TravellingCari at 8:51 AM on May 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have breakfast and lunch at work, then come home in time to cook dinner. My wife does the meal planning; in an ideal world I'd do that as well but frankly I just suck at it. I also generally do the dishes at night, assemble the kids' lunches, and usually take care of all three meals on weekends

I don't know about your household, but if that was all my spouse did, I would be pretty furious. There's sweeping the floor, wiping table and counters and chairs, organizing fridge, defrosting fridge, planning evening activities for the kids, sourcing supplies for those activities, grocery shopping, planning for celebrations, arranging playdates, taking children to playdates, planning and booking children's recreational/sports activities, taking inventory of the fridge, checking that we have enough tape and paper and cards for upcoming birthday parties, shopping for those and any gifts, organzing kids' closets, doing laundry, culling outgrown clothes, carting away outgrown clothes/toys....

Or is it that all those have fallen now to her, because she "chose" to be at home? If she went back to work, someone would still have to do these. Maybe you both need to collectively decide what being at home entails and how you are planning for her physical, emotional and social health, as well as career development.
posted by shockpoppet at 9:16 AM on May 5, 2017 [10 favorites]

She had too much mommy guilt to hand over control to others, but the kids are getting to the point where she's thinking about getting back to work.

This may or may not be true of your wife or your social circles, but as with many things Parenting, there are social and cultural expectations at play that are ENORMOUS and often unspoken and subconscious. I've made it a point to tell anyone who will listen how much I hated being at home with an infant, because I think there is pressure to remain silent about it and if no one ever says 'well, I hated that' women feel like freaks if they did, in fact, hate it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:34 AM on May 5, 2017 [7 favorites]

I don't know about your household, but if that was all my spouse did, I would be pretty furious. ...

Well, yes. Just as he has a job description, so should she even if informal. What do you see her job as a SAHM entailing if none of that? If a person is home and notices they need to be done, it's done. JUst as you (seem to) resent the implication that it should be hers, I would resent the implication that it has to be his since he has more time outside the home. Whether or not those all need to be done is another story:

-sweeping the floor, wiping table and counters and chairs, organizing fridge, defrosting fridge, - hire a housekeeper.
-grocery shopping, doing laundry - it can be delivered. This is how many young professionals handle it. Especially single, why is it automatically not the wife's job? Ditto the above re: cleaning.
-planning evening activities for the kids, sourcing supplies for those activities, planning for celebrations, arranging playdates, taking children to playdates, planning and booking children's recreational/sports activities, checking that we have enough tape and paper and cards for upcoming birthday parties, shopping for those and any gifts, - those all sound like wants. If she wants them done, she can do them or wait for him. If he wants them done and she hasn't, he can do them. Maybe you don't need to do any of that. We as a society seem to have functioned fine without them
-organzing kids' closets, doing laundry, culling outgrown clothes, carting away outgrown clothes/toys.... - maybe her when kids napping. Maybe him on the weekend.

I don't think it's "chose", he explicitly said she chose and he supported. If you make that choice, there are things that come with it. Sounds like it's time to reevaluate that choice.
posted by TravellingCari at 11:02 AM on May 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

In our household, my husband and I have an agreement. The agreement is this - all the things are everybody's responsibility. So. If the floor is dirty? Sweep. If the dishes are dirty? Wash the dishes. If the laundry needs folding? Fold it. Hungry? Make a meal. Child hungry? Feed child. And so on and so on and so on. It is everybody's job to keep us afloat in every area, including the more ephemeral categories like "happiness", "feelings of fulfillment", etc. And in this way we are circumventing this notion that the person who makes the money only has the responsibility of making the money, which is really just another way of saying making the money is more important than all the other things.

This also applies in the opposite direction - if you're tired? Take a nap, I'll watch our kid. If you want to go out for a walk? Okay, that sounds cool, I'll either take the boy, or would you mind taking the boy with you? You say what you want and try to get what you want, understanding full well that what you give will be what you receive soon in return.

We had to come to this particular Jesus in our marriage because I am not going to be a secondary presence in my own home simply because I stayed home with our son for the first 3 years of his life, and I must therefore do all the work involved in maintaining a family and maintaining a household. That's just bogus, especially since my husband is not busting rocks in the hot sun for a job. No. Both people are responsible for all the things. It is the assumption that one can simply ignore anything because it is the "other's job" that causes a lot of friction in relationships where there are kids. It doesn't have to be that way and it shouldn't be that way.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:57 AM on May 5, 2017 [13 favorites]

I do agree it's probably worth sitting down and talking about whether she's cool with the distribution of labor/emotional labor at home.

But maybe she should go to therapy to get over the guilt that prevents her from working outside the home. I mean if she would in fact, be happier with an outside job but feels trapped because she feels she has to choose between that and being a good mother. Overcoming unnecessary guilt is one of the things therapy is specifically designed for. And while I do feel a great deal of that guilt is due to totally unfair societal expectations of women, that doesnt mean it cant be overcome, or at least reduced to the point where it's not trapping her in a life that makes her unhappy. Plus the guilt may be exacerbated by the specific expectations she was raised with -- it did in my case.

Also I havent seen a lot of sympathy for you here, but I do sympathize. As another person who has a good-paying tech job at a place with a cafeteria, I subsidize a lifestyle my boyfriend enjoys and would never be able to have based on his decision to go into a low-paying field.

For most of my career I worked in a low-paying field that I had chosen, and it is the purest fluke that I was able to pivot into a high-paying field. I basically won the lottery. And it wouldnt be unreasonable of my boyfriend to sometimes envy me a little for winning the lottery. But my lottery windfall benefits him as much as it does me. So if anything even related to that windfall pissed him off, I would think it was a little weird, honestly.

It also sounds (and you've specifically said) that you're not crowing about the perks (perk?). She just knows that exists, and when you want to talk about your job (presumably it's new, the responsibilites are new, the colleagues are new, plus it's the majority of what you do every day) she cant help but fixate on her resentment of the fact that 5 days a week you're getting 2 meals you dont have to prepare. That isn't fair to you. It's completely valid to have a problem with a marriage in which you are not allowed to talk about something that is extremely important to you and affects you significantly.

But of course the solution to that is to do what you can to make her less unhappy about the situation -- whether it's therapy, or hiring help for her, or doing more around the house or whatever. And you also should consider therapy to help you work through the way her feelings negatively affect your emotional wellbeing.
posted by mrmurbles at 12:38 PM on May 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

TLDR to my previous comment:

if her problem is the perfectly natural anger/guilt/resentment that patriarchy imposes on women, or the perfectly natural anger/guilt/resentment that capitalism imposes the non-rich, then your responsibility is to talk with her about ending any ways you're perpetuating those systems within the context of your home life, and you should work to be as empathetic about her burdens as possible.

But you personally cannot change systemic oppression, so if she's taking her feelings about it out on you then she needs to find a way to stop.

And let's not forget that patriarchy hurts men too. You may be feeling a lot of pressure from cultural expectations to be the sole familial financial provider which you then should also work to address.
posted by mrmurbles at 1:13 PM on May 5, 2017

I don't think it sounds like this issue is really your fault, at least not like you're doing anything consciously to force her into a role she doesn't want. It sounds like she's just deeply unhappy and it hurts to watch you be wildly successful while she feels like she's spinning her wheels. (You can usually tell an unhappy person by how out of sync their ideas about what they want are with what they're actually prepared to do, i.e., wants to move but can't commit to it, chooses to miserably stay at home but can't accept help, etc.) If I were you I'd try to communicate some variation of "I get it, we're living two very different lives right now. Let's work on giving you the time and opportunities to feel like you're living the life you want." Going back to work sounds like a good idea, if only so she feels less morally obligated to do 100% of the mommy-ing. I'd imagine this kind of situation is much harder when you have kids, but it sounds like she really really wants and needs a source of happiness outside of the home.

When I got my first Big Tech Job it was actually quite emotionally complicated; I was very excited and expected my partner to be equally excited (we were going to have more money and move to California, woo! What's not to like?) But it really triggered a lot of achievement anxiety for him and kind of drove us apart for awhile. He never really took it out on me, but I did feel hurt that he wasn't perceiving my success as his success (because I'm a dope) until I really took some time to empathize and walk in his shoes where in his case, it is very hard to make a living doing what he loves and therefore difficult to feel he has any direction. Generally people want to feel like they're moving forward, but some paths in life make that quite difficult, including SAHM and job areas where the pay is bad and there's little advancement.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:53 PM on May 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

Just as he has a job description, so should she even if informal. What do you see her job as a SAHM entailing if none of that?

The problem, and this strikes back to the deeper problem, is that it IS important to define the role of a SAHM. Is it looking after the children? That's a full time job. If you hired a nanny, they would be working that whole time taking care of the children, not also doing maid service.

Often if you don't explicitly define the job of a SAHM, it becomes many, many jobs. Chauffeur, nanny, maid, personal assistant, cook, etc - all of which could be serious full time or part time jobs. And also - if you don't define the job, you don't define the work hours. Is she /still/ responsible for cleaning and taking care of the kids on the weekend? Are you the only one who gets days off? That's a huge path to resentment.
posted by corb at 2:13 PM on May 5, 2017 [15 favorites]

Very much agreed; there is a perception that "raising children" actually means "keeping the house in order" when in reality they have nothing to do with each other, and we have historically just pretended that they do to get the most free work out of women as possible (frankly at the expense of both women and children), and also that since being a SAHM is so easy, a SAHM should be on the clock 24/7 with no sick time or vacation. Those are good ways to drive a person insane. How crazy would it be to work all day and never get to "go home" and decompress? Yeah, crazy. I try not to say things like "I need a vacation" around my SAHM friends because it's generally always the case that they do more than me, and the reality is that I'll get one and they usually won't.

It's why those memes that are like "raise your hand if you played in a mud puddle all day while your mom did the dishes and laundry and didn't care where you were!!" are kind of annoying; sure, how else did you expect moms to do literally alllll the homemaking like it's her day job without kicking the kids out of the house?

My sister is a SAHM and recently started babysitting another kid and my other sister's kids while she works. They both pay her, not the full amount that a caregiver should make but the amount that we have all decided is socially acceptable to pay one. It's really interesting to see how her days have changed. She was always a great mom and spent personal time with her kids during the day, but the pressure was on her from her husband to actually be the stay-at-home-maid who also occasionally checked to make sure that the kids hadn't stuck their fingers in the electrical sockets. (He's not a bad guy but he's the kind of guy who thinks that because he "works" he's entitled to play video games most of the evening.) Now that she's watching someone else's kids too, she gets a lot more leeway to spend her time during the day doing educational and stimulating activities with all the kids instead of stressfully trying to do that and also be a domestic goddess. It's interesting how the fact that she gets paid even a nominal amount suddenly changes the expectations of what she should be doing from "literally everything" to "a reasonable, if stressful amount." If we consider it a Job (even an undercompensated one), the amount of work that is acceptable to pile on goes way down.

That sister also has a degree in elementary education and is eminently qualified to teach and nurture children, but of course being a working teacher "wasn't worth it" from a financial perspective, so here we are. She's happy as a SAHM, but I don't know many people who would want to work as a maid and also not go home at the end of the day and continue to be a maid all night and immediately the next morning, every day.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:32 PM on May 5, 2017 [17 favorites]

This thread and question are fascinating, thank you OP for asking about this. FWIW I took your chores list as focusing on food and prep and dishes because your wife was complaining about that, not as a comprehensive list of your responsibilities.

I have been thinking about this a lot, unpaid labour, expectations for women and for me it still comes down to...when I was home, and resentful, I did mind doing chores and being The Woman and having to be The Good Mom.

But when I was home and I was not resentful, I really, really didn't. My second mat leave was objectively harder (sick baby, super sick father, older child, first year of public school) but so. much. easier. because our Team Us was intact.

This really struck me: do believe she's burned out by it (and expressed this to her on several occasions). She had too much mommy guilt to hand over control to others, but the kids are getting to the point where she's thinking about getting back to work.

Guilt is not a good long-term motivator. I have had every bad thought about my choice to work (and actually, to be home when I was) in the book I think.

But when I am calm and centred I truly do believe the rhetoric lacks so much nuance it's useless. I am definitely "raising my own children," I just have professional support...and I'm lucky because I found really awesome daycare that has given us so much expertise and community that it is really amazing and has helped me be a much better parent. (If your wife wants my story please MeMail me!)

I also recognize that families where a parent stays home have perks my family doesn't have, like the other day my son had a hugely embarrassing thing happen at school and he needed A Parent and All The Parents were over an hour away in meetings and that hour+ was really hard and I really did feel, deeply, the difference between that and me being able to pop over in ten minutes.

But all of those things don't say what the best balance is for a family in general or a family in particular.

The more I read everyone's perspective the more I think what every family needs is to be united in doing what actually works for them (and support in being able to do that because so many families don't have the choice at all.) Because society is going to push this way and that way. You are each other's buffers for that. And it sounds to me like this is your family's red flag moment that it is not working for your wife. And it's also not working for you because coming home feeling like you're going to be hit with resentment for your lunch is not okay in my book.

So I hope you find your way. I kind of suggest maybe a bit of preschool or whatever is appropriate and affordable, to start getting your wife's toe in the water with it and a little bit of breathing room for her, and maybe some for you. I hope you guys find Team Us again really soon.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:28 PM on May 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

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