"I just can't see it." Obliviousness and division of labor
November 23, 2019 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I don't think this particular angle has been asked before. I am wanting nature vs nurture information on male obliviousness with regard to domestic needs, and have some other related questions.

Is there a genuine scientific basis for the idea that guys "don't see" what needs to be done, or is it all nurture? Is there science to the idea that a male completing domestic tasks will not be thorough, or will leave some aspect incomplete? Is this alternatively a valid ADHD related issue? I am trying to sort out which elements of chore wars are socialization/gender stuff, vs ADHD stuff, vs normal differences in tolerance of mess/filth so I can engage the topic skillfully.

I also want to know how you, a cis het(ish) female, have gotten your cis het(ish) male partner to stop using the obliviousness argument or actually stop being oblivious. (Or how you, a cishet ish male, stopped using the obliviousness excuse.)

How to outsource tasks and then not need to manage, prompt, remind, prod, or check and be sure they are done. How to have a comanager instead of a passive employee to delegate to. And how to dialogue about this without an argument.

What strategies are effective in getting a male partner to notice more proactively? What strategies are effective in getting a male partner to hear the female partner's exasperation in situations where this is not happening rather than being dismissive or making excuses?

I would like to be able to engage this topic productively, and I am getting stuck. I am left feeling unheard, and the underlying problem doesn't change.

Bonus points if there is an executive functioning conponent to either your solution to this excuse or your research into the scientific basis of "I don't see clutter/my trails of socks/the need to look at the family calendar and existing obligations before a spur of the moment commitment to an hours-long activity/etc."

As an aside, my partner will do anything that I ask, even if I sometimes have to follow up. Regularly does kid bedtime, cooks meals, kid drop off or pick up, modifies work schedule if requested to accommodate other needs, cleans up after himself at the end of the day, takes over all parenting duties if asked so I can have some leisure time (although doesn't generally incorporate the additional domestic duties that I take on when i am parenting solo), sorts through child clothing to separate out what has been outgrown, etc. My concern is how very little of this work is proactive or on his radar already. I have to put it in front of his face, so I am the keeper of all family information which then gets delegated to an extent, and therefore I am also responsible for the emotional labor of trying to time task management discussion for moments when my partner will be receptive emotionally and mentally to the process.

I'm asking this question to help me understand how much this manager delegating stance can change, and how to discuss it without things devolving. My partner has severe ADHD-PI, diagnosed later in life, and a lot of these issues are less severe when he is actively medicated but for many reasons his medicated time does not usually occur during domestic responsibility time.
posted by crunchy potato to Human Relations (43 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Here is a relevant study re gender. Anecdotally, all of the men I have dated (I am female) have been perfectly able to handle domestic chores and, in fact, cleaner than I am.
posted by pinochiette at 10:49 AM on November 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


I realize there's a lot gendered to do with this on a broader societal scale. But you just said that your partner has severe ADHD. This is a huge part of just what executive function is, the not being able to connect "empty can sitting on the desk" with the tasks and actions that then have to be planned and executed. This is the thing you know your partner has a substantial disability related to. That doesn't mean you just have to live with it if he's not making an effort, but I'm not sure what more science you're looking for on that count. You are being his executive function right now. Executive function is the manager that is supposed to live in your head instead of in your parent/partner/roommate/boss.

I was raised and socialized as a girl and have significant problems around this. Yes, that's what it's like. It's not that I literally don't see the sock on the floor, it's that it does not trigger any of the next steps that are supposed to go with a sock on the floor. Part of the work that goes with that is developing new habits to go with that, albeit very imperfectly. Part of the work that goes with that are finding systems that help to get around it, like repeating tasks in my todo app instead of just recognizing that tasks need to be done--there's a lot you might be able to do to make his phone into part of the manager you don't want to be. This is it, this is why ADHD can be genuinely disabling? But there's also no reason to just suffer through it, on either of your parts. It warrants involvement of his doctor, a therapist, and whatever community and technological support you can find.
posted by Sequence at 11:06 AM on November 23, 2019 [44 favorites]


I'll go into what works for us at least. I'm a cis male and have spoken to some other parents who have egalitarian partnerships and the way we handle it is what one of them calls 'verticals'. each partner owns certain things from soup to nuts.

I do all the grocery shopping, cooking and most of the kitchen cleanup.
My spouse does the laundry and coordinates our twice monthly house-cleaner.
I handle most of the yard work (although we had someone mowing this summer)
She purchases all of our son's clothes.

That way you're not worrying about the other stuff, just your stuff. Having said that- you don't really get to set expectations for how well it's done if you don't own it.
posted by noloveforned at 11:08 AM on November 23, 2019 [17 favorites]


This is a sidebar but I've wanted to say this to you for a while. I don't know you at all but I have been following your questions for a long time and I just want to give you a reality check and validate your feelings:

Your marriage is really hard. 
Your marriage is MUCH harder than most marriages.

Your partner sounds very difficult to live with, and very difficult to communicate with. He does not treat you fairly and he is not interested in changing. He is resistant to every single thing you suggest that would make your life better. You do all the work and you are in constant spirals of anxiety and self-blame and trying trying trying to solve things and optimize around your problems. I don't get the impression your partner is a cheater but the dynamic described in this Ask Polly question about The House of Mirrors and the Nowhere Man can apply in other kinds of unfairness and I see it in your questions too.

In many ways, yeah, sure, this emotional labour stuff is standard in many hetero partnerships and is heavily gendered but, crunchy potato, I want you to know, your partner is worse at it than MANY other cishet men, and you tolerate and bear a lot more discomfort than MANY other cishet women.

Your relationship is burdensome to you. It's heavy and hard and painful. It depletes your physical and mental health. It adds weight to your life that amplifies all other problems, so things that could just feel like big hassles instead feel apocalyptic. It's totally legit that many of your problems feel overwhelming, because just being within your relationship is eating like 60% of your available resources and depleting your potential for resilience. 

And you keep trying to fix it and find new strategies to plug the small leaks in the boat- duct tape! cork! bail faster! ....as though the problem is that YOU just haven't tried the right thing and there's some magic word YOU could say that would suddenly make your husband have consideration for you. There isn't. It's not you. He might be a great guy but he is a toxic partner and he is making your life hell. The actual problem is that the boat has a very heavy anchor attached to it. It might not be his fault that he is an anchor to you. It may be a mental wiring thing and/or a mental health thing. But it is also not your fault that he is an anchor, and at some point you have to stop trying to turn the anchor into a kite. 

You are not the problem in your marriage. Your communication style is not the problem in your marriage. There is no magic word you can learn that will teach this person to pull his weight. There is no "productive" way to dialogue that you haven't already tried many times.

From what I've read in your questions, your marriage problems stand out as far beyond what I personally would consider normal or fixable. You are allowed to leave your marriage. It's not giving up to leave. You have tried really fucking hard.

You sound really great: thoughtful, fair, hardworking, optimistic, generous, kind, and really, truly lovely. I really hope you come to learn that on the other side of this time in your life, there will be a much simpler and happier life. Wishing you all my best.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:10 AM on November 23, 2019 [157 favorites]


The evidence for biological differences in noticing specifically domestic tasks is slim. There is some evidence, linked earlier, on gendered differences in spotting dirt but many domestic tasks are not cleaning.

Also, we know that there are gendered social standards for this and it is difficult to imagine a biological mechanism that would leave men inattentive to domestic cleanliness while being able to spot a poorly coiled line on a boat or poorly organised workbench from 50 paces away.

That being said, ADHD will make the kind of executive function required to proactively identify and carry out domestic tasks more difficult.

I think of these tasks as being separated into three elements:
1) The person accountable: They run the system for ensuring the task is completed, they own the schedule, have all the contextual knowledge and have to devote mental real-estate to making sure standards are maintained
2) The agreed standards: What can you agree on as the standard to be achieved
3) The person[s] responsible: This is who does the actual tasks

The people who are accountable and responsible need not always be the same person. It would be weird in a relationship for one person to be accountable and the other person to be 100% responsible obviously.

For instance I own laundry in our household. That does not mean I do all of it, I do about 80% and my wife does the rest when I ask her to. But it is never her job to know when it needs to be done. The agreed standard is that neither of us runs out of clean clothes. That also means that maintaining stock of washing powder is my task. If we run out, even if she was the last person to use it, that is my fault. (In practice of course she would tell me that we had run out or add it to our shopping list but if she forgot then it's my fault because I own the laundry system).

We both have schedules with a mix of home working, office working, and travel for work so noloveforned's system would not work so well for us as it might leave critical tasks undone during travel but it does have the advantage of simplicity.

Unfortunately you are finding what many women find which is that even when men are willing to be responsible, they are rarely proactive in being accountable for domestic tasks.

You may have to move the role of identifying tasks outside of both your heads and bring in a set of checklists for tasks you want him to do. Yeah, that's not fair but if the ADHD really is so severe then it may be the best way out.
posted by atrazine at 11:28 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Yes, I have the miraculous words that enabled my husband to rewrite his nature/nurture destiny on this. Before these words, we went through a lot in 13 years (at the time) of marriage including the birth and death of a child and the birth of the next.

They were: if this doesn’t change in one year, as much as I love you, I am moving out.

From there, the solutions on a practical level have come from both of us. You can’t solve this for him, because solving it is the solution.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:33 AM on November 23, 2019 [25 favorites]


I appreciate the compassion and support behind the DTMFA perspective, but I think we have already firmly established that the majority here thinks that's my best choice. The people my partner and I were when I first came to MeFi aren't the people we are now. I thought my list of things he does regularly and without complaint would demonstrate that, but I guess I was wrong. I am wondering how people would answer if they didn't know my posting history. A lot of the things that I posted about before are irrelevant now.

Thank you Sequence, atrazine, warriorqueen, noloveforned and pinochiette for trying to engage what I'm asking about without bringing in my past history of posts.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:58 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Honestly, whether or not it's ADHD, the strategies that will help are the same — though ADHD admittedly makes it harder.
  • Make a point of stopping and checking if things need to be done, rather than assuming you'll notice or remember spontaneously. Use alarms, calendars, notes, or checklists if that's hard.
  • If something needs to be done, break it down into steps in your head. Use a finer-grained checklist if that's hard. (It is okay if step 1 on the checklist is "go google what the right cleaner to use on a bathtub is" or even "open the bathroom door." There is no prize for a short or dignified list.)
  • If there are steps you don't understand, ask someone. Write the answer down if you find yourself forgetting.
  • When stuff still falls through the cracks — as it sometimes will — ask someone for help troubleshooting, tell them your process, and see if they notice places you can improve it.
These are the steps a lab scientist or a mechanic uses to keep their gear running. These are the steps cooks and dishwashers use to keep their kitchen clean. These are the steps that people who clean their own home use to keep their home tidy. They are not gendered steps for people in any of those roles. But anyone, of any gender, with or without ADHD, can struggle with them if they were not taught them and held responsible for following them.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:59 AM on November 23, 2019 [10 favorites]


I don't have the answers to your questions, but wanted to say that I see how you are working very hard to be understanding, generous, compassionate, and to make positive changes in your life in the face of a consistent and exhausting pattern -- and you deserve to have that acknowledged.

Something that might help others looking for help on this topic: in my household, we leaned in to our division of labour. I have the super power of noticing things and being thoughtful, and my partner has the power of doing the thing. He is grateful for my power, and I am grateful for his -- and that's the trick, the gratefulness part, which short circuits feelings of nagging or guilt for us.
posted by Pwoink at 12:01 PM on November 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


Here's a sideways thought, crunchy potato -- you personally have the Management Skill for housekeeping, and the two of you agree that housekeeping should be done by both parties, yes? So how about you become Management the way the work world does it, and the more Managing labor you're doing, the less of the *rest* of the labor you have to do?

This feels a little wrong because one partner in a relationship should not be the boss of the other partner, but one partner also should not be the servant of the other partner, and it looks like you've got a choice of the two options. Can you-two isolate regular chunks of time in which you notice and partner does?
posted by clew at 12:18 PM on November 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


If men were genetically incapable of keeping things clean, late 19th and early 20th century militaries could not have functioned. Soldiers were literally inspected to make sure their persons, clothing, equipment and quarters were spick and span. Current and former sailors were valued roommates and live-in family members because they were very clean, handy about the house, and would do all domestic tasks. This system was created, enforced, and perpetuated entirely by men.
posted by Hypatia at 12:24 PM on November 23, 2019 [52 favorites]


I'm the oblivious one (cis female). My male partner gets to many chores before I notice they need done, because my "that looks dirty" or "it's time to do that" alarm is set at a higher tolerance or later than his. Just to partially address the gender aspect of this question. (Not to say that there's no gender aspect, but it's via socialization, IMO.)

Honestly, it's taken me observing his habits to start to work toward equality. He empties the dishwasher practically before he opens his eyes for the morning, so if I wait until I make coffee, he's beaten me to it. As I notice his habits, I try to take over that activity, but it's still a work in progress. You could do it that way with your partner -- passing off one habit at a time.

I also know a couple whose division is, I plan it (f) you do it (m). She makes the grocery list, he shops. She makes the weekly chore schedule, he carries it out.
posted by slidell at 12:33 PM on November 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


A of all, if he's leaving his socks on the floor, the answer is not to get him to "see" the socks, but to get him to take his socks off in the appropriate place (by the hamper or by the washing machine) in the first place. He doesn't have to learn to see his trail of dirt & detritus & discards if he stops leaving them around the house to begin with. tackle the source.

B of all, you have completely assumed the mantle of Manager and it doesn't sound as if you are going to be taking it off in his lifetime. Being his total Life Manager is a burden that more than balances the various burdens of all the other household tasks there are. So since you have no adequate rewards and punishments at hand to train him into an equal with, the solution is to continue Managing everything. But that's all.

"that's all," meaning that if you must be the Manager, he must do everything else. All of it. Managing is an unendurable burden for many wives because it's not just management, it's management-plus-labor. But in your case, he is going to do all the labor because that is the role he has demanded through his refusal to share the other one. Give it to him. This will also relieve you of the extra duty of dividing labor into yours and his, on top of micromanaging his. It's actually all his.

his medicated time does not usually occur during domestic responsibility time.

This is a very interesting statement. I take it that both of you work for an outside income, but it seems that for you, as for most people with a safe and cared-for family, domestic responsibility time is all of the time.

as for gender, men in the military learn to make their beds the right way every time and keep everything clean that needs to be clean and to look out for each other. They have historically done this under the training and command of other men, who make the standards. if they don't, they get punished, and eventually, if they don't, they die. (I mean they die if they don't look out for each other. not if they don't make their beds. not necessarily.) From your description of him, I imagine he would not last long in basic training. but I also imagine he would have his current set of oblivion-excuses removed from him with a speed that would amaze you.

Have you thought of writing him a field manual for running a household? in some seriousness I ask this.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:36 PM on November 23, 2019 [30 favorites]


Another option is that there are some apps that gamify it. I know it sounds entitled to need that to learn to take care of one's own living space, but honestly, something like that would really help me. I think they come with points for particular items, so he could aim to get X points per week, or you two can both play so that he can see how many more points you're getting and try to keep up.
posted by slidell at 12:36 PM on November 23, 2019


This is only a tiny piece of it, but taking photos can help. It's a technique recommended by Unfuck Your Habitat.

The photo helps because it gives him a little distance from the problem. He can tackle the things that stand out in the photo. He may start to see how quick tasks like making a bed and putting away a few cluttery items can make a big visual difference.

Putting the before and after photos next to each other helps him see that he accomplished something, instead of focusing on the sisyphean nature of chores that will always need doing.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 12:52 PM on November 23, 2019 [10 favorites]


Have you thought of writing him a field manual for running a household? in some seriousness I ask this.

Have you thought of asking him to write his own goddamn field manual, and in doing so, having to actually think (or research others' thinking) about household management?

Honest to god, you cannot be his mommy and his manager and also have an equitable partnership with someone you respect as a friend and lover. If he's not able to notice things, he needs to take responsibility for learning how to notice things. If that means making a detailed list for housekeeping -- a thing I, someone who also struggles with executive function and yet who keeps a mostly-clean house, also do -- so be it.

Start with, say, cleaning the kitchen in the morning while coffee's brewing:
- Fill coffee maker, etc.
- Are there dishes in the sink from last night? Hand-wash or load dishwasher.
- Clear kitchen table & wipe with the sponge used for counters.
- Does the floor need to be swept? (If so, sweep it.)
- Does the trash need to be taken out? The recycling?
- Etc.

This is a pretty basic list, but lucky for him, there are a million good lists on Pinterest or wherever that lay out every single step of the process, and which he can edit and re-order in whatever hierarchy makes sense for y'all's household.
posted by tapir-whorf at 12:57 PM on November 23, 2019 [31 favorites]


The nature/nurture question is interesting, but is a distraction here: both of you know how your husband currently is, and the “why” of it (or maybe, the “whose fault is it” of it) is immaterial. Something being “nature” doesn’t mean it’s unalterable. It doesn’t even mean it takes more effort to overcome than something that’s “nurture.” I have a natural tendency of rigidity—ever since I was a child, if someone interrupts me in the middle of doing something and tries to change the plan, I want to scream “NO” like a two-year old. But because I am an adult, I’ve learned how to manage this inclination. Had I picked that up from my parents’ behavior, or a peer, or society, I still would have learned that I needed to manage this tendency by the time I was grown, because it causes problems for me and makes me seem disagreeable. Nature, nurture, or some combination has lead to a tendency in your husband and both you and your husband want to overcome that tendency, right? All that takes is him putting effort into realizing his habits and sticking with the discomfort of paying attention to things he isn’t used to seeing and learning behavior he isn’t used to doing. All the men I know are able to make strong efforts to do inconvenient things when it will result in something they want. That means they have the capability. If they refuse to exercise that capability...
posted by sallybrown at 12:57 PM on November 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


Sit down as a team, divide the chores into his and hers so that his job is always x from now on and your is always y. Get agreeance.

Then get an app where you can create a chore list with a timer where you get alerts to do tasks and the ability to tick them off. Timer goes off that it’s time to wipe down the bathroom sink or grocery shop today. Do chore, tick it off. Alert keeps coming until it’s done. Now neither one of you can claim to have forgotten that something needed doing. I’m sure there’s an app that exists like this. And by you, he can do this. This is his issue. Make him figure out the chore list and load the app.

If your husband is a decent genuine contributing member of your family and simply struggling with executive function, hopefully this should help make inroads and lighten the load around the house. If he chooses to ignore all of technical assistance and everything is still falling to you, it’ll be clear adhd isn’t the issue here and you have a different problem. Best of luck.
posted by Jubey at 1:00 PM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


Chiming in to agree with those recommending technical assistance in some form, whether it’s an app or a manual or just a checklist, because it’s a strategy that works for me.

I am generally an “oblivious” person, insofar as I live mostly in my head, am sometimes forgetful, and can often walk by obvious problems without actively noticing them. But my home is not a disaster, because I have a bunch of checklists for keeping the home in good shape, and alarms several times a day to run through them. My partner still finds it amusing that I consistently clean the kitchen at the same time every evening, but it gets the job done.

This is the same strategy I use for getting things done at work, and that got me through college, despite not being naturally inclined to manage any of those things well.

Succeeding at this does require recognizing the problem, and being willing to exert considerable effort to make the fix. If your husband doesn’t actually want to work at this, no app in the world will make it happen. But it’s a workable strategy to make sure things get done, if one actually puts in the work.
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 1:32 PM on November 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


I haven't read the replies, so forgive me if this is redundant, but I thought I'd give me perspective as a woman with mainly inattentive ADHD.

I just.... don't see things sometimes. I'll leave dirty tissues on the table or wrappers out or empty boxes of crackers on the table even though the recycling is two feet away because I just don't see it. My head is somewhere else.

Other people seem to do things automatically. I do not. I have never developed strong automatic behaviors. When I get dressed in the morning I frequently do things in a different order, even though I have the same few basic tasks to accomplish every morning. Because I'm prone to changing up my routines without meaning to, I forget little tasks a lot, especially deodorant, of all things. I forget it so often I carry extra deodorant in my bag with me.

It's the same for cleaning. I just can't get into that automatic state where I *always* throw things out right away or sort things or put them back in the same order or whatever. My brain doesn't work that way. It feels like my brain is somewhere else and my body is just acting sometimes.

If he's willing to do it when asked, that's a strong start. My best guess would be that he just literally does not see or think of it because of the ADHD.

The difference between a man and I is that I know that one of my social mores is to keep a relatively clean living space. Obviously some women are slobs and some men are very neat, but I also know that I will be judged more harshly than a man would if my apartment gets very messy. So, as I'm going about my day, I'll suddenly realize jesus-fucking-christ-amy-you-have-put-nothing-in-the-right-place-today and I'll do a kind of QUICK FRANTIC RUN THROUGH where I gather all my tissues and wrappers and throw them out and put the books where they belong instead of on the floor etc etc. The end result is that, overall, my apartment actually comes across as fairly neat. Not perfect, kind of sloppy, but fairly neat overall. Nobody would say that I'm a hoarder or that I don't take care of my living space. I find a way to do it and I do it well--it's just a more unusual approach than that of people who are more neurotypical.

My best guess is that your husband does not see it and does not have that same kind of pressure to keep a neat living space. This is probably partly because of the societal expectations of men vs. women and partly because he doesn't need to remember. I live alone so I NEED to remember on my own. He does not. I can tell you it doesn't mean that we're not trying or that we don't care. Our brains are just somewhere else.

Or, I mean, he really doesn't care. But this is my generous interpretation.

Point is, if I were you, I would approach this as more an ADHD issue than a man issue. ADHD can be treated and well-managed. You're unfortunately not going to change the societal expectations of married men overnight. There are various strategies he can use for his ADHD. He needs to keep trying things for your sake. The hardest part of having a mental illness is taking responsibility for it. It is also the most necessary.

Good luck.
posted by Amy93 at 2:35 PM on November 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


To follow up just a bit on my above post, you're getting a lot of good answers but ultimately the solution to this problem will be one that decreases not only your physical labor, but your emotional labor too.

Just swapping "doing X task because it's easier than telling Mr. Potato to do it" with "telling, reminding, then explaining the steps to Mr. Potato, then checking up on the quality of the task once it's completed" isn't actually going to make your life easier. It probably makes your life harder, because then you're the boss and enforcer, making the request and evaluating its completion. That doesn't get you closer to equity in your relationship, it doesn't model equity or feminist ideals for your child, and it doesn't require Mr. Potato to have agency in your partnership.

It's posts like these that make me deeply, deeply grateful for the partner I have, and not the partners I could have had (some of whom were absolutely delightful, warm and generous, totally woke and savvy to the systems of structural oppression, etc, but just could not take care of themselves as adults and all the theoretical wokeness and gentle reminders in the world couldn't solve that problem).
posted by tapir-whorf at 2:37 PM on November 23, 2019 [10 favorites]


I think you and husband should both read She Divorced Me Because I left dishes by the sink and at least some of his follow up volumes of An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands. Not to say that all your issues are from shittiness, but this guy amply demonstrates his journey from getting divorced to learning all of the ways he could have, should have, and will now work harder to cultivate true partnership. He does it in a good way that accesses some of the pop psychology that "men just don't care about dishes", etc.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:56 PM on November 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


I would add that it is also difficult to “notice” what need to be done if it’s not your regular responsibility. You don’t realize what is missing/where to look because you don’t know what normal. I’m living in a different city than my boyfriend while in grad school. I bought a 4th box of cereal when I was back one weekend because I simply didn’t know the “right” place to look. I realize how many systems I had in place that were obvious to me (and frustrating that he didn’t notice!). Do division of labor and stop “picking up the slack.” Make it all his job, he’ll have to start to notice.
posted by raccoon409 at 3:36 PM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Amy93’s post is making me think about ways I’ve found to reroute around my ADD: I clean on a room by room basis. I know I will need to make multiple sweeps to notice everything I need to do because I won’t notice everything on the first try, and that if I cleaned by task instead (say, doing all vacuuming throughout the house, then doing all dusting, then all Clorox wiping, etc) I would get distracted within the rooms and lose the plot. I keep separate sets of cleaning supplies in the kitchen and the bathroom for this reason. Maybe you could divvy up the house by rooms and split the assignments—maybe one person has the kitchen and the other has the bathrooms and whereever the laundry is to make the tasks equal. The person in charge of the room is master of cleaning in that room. If there are household items in one room that don’t belong, the cleaner is allowed to dump them into the right room without sorting them. I also tend to do all my cleaning at once per week because it’s easier for me to put a podcast on for three hours and do all cleaning than do it in little chunks (I have to work up to it). The common assignment style cleaning wheel does not work for me, it would be grim to deal with having to focus myself to clean every single day.
posted by sallybrown at 3:58 PM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


I would approach this as more an ADHD issue than a man issue.

I don't know, I'd agree with you on the relative importance of the two traits if he were trying and trying and two frustrations away from tears most of the time from the sheer force of his trying, and always cleaning, always having new ideas for how to organize his reminders, always picking up SOMETHING, always vacuuming SOMEWHERE, but somehow never finished or making very much progress. frantic, as you say, but still failing.

this is not exactly the portrait the asker paints. on the contrary, the desperation seems to all be on the other foot. the word "passive" in the question seems important to me.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:47 PM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


I teach many people diagnosed with ADHD, and I spend all my time doing all of my work, and then doing everything for them so they never learn how to work with this teaching them how to live with ADHD.

I'm not being sarcastic but am genuinely asking: is he brain damaged or otherwise living with a neurological deficit that he literally doesn't remember from one day to the next that his child needs to eat? Because that seems like Parent 101.

Would he really not remember to feed his child? Or pick them up? Doesn't that strike you as a little ridiculous; that he literally cannot independently remember on a daily basis to be part of the team?

Does he work, or is he equally forgetful at work where he just sits there until people remind him on a daily basis what to do?

ADHD isn't an excuse to do all the fun things and then suddenly you need endless nagging to be part of the family. He has no incentive to change. Why should he? And I would honestly consider: why are YOU asking how to best accommodate him? Why isn't he asking how to be a member of the family who pulls his own weight?

how much this manager delegating stance can change, and how to discuss it without things devolving

It can't. It won't.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:35 PM on November 23, 2019 [14 favorites]


Answering a question that was asked by yes I said yes I will Yes:

Would he really not remember to feed his child? Or pick them up? Doesn't that strike you as a little ridiculous; that he literally cannot independently remember on a daily basis to be part of the team?

Does he work, or is he equally forgetful at work where he just sits there until people remind him on a daily basis what to do?


He remembers to feed the kid, but often because the kid says the kid is hungry not because he's already remembering. He regularly forgets to feed himself and then gets moody because he's gone too long without eating, as do many with ADHD. At other times, he feeds himself and doesn't think about whether anyone else could be hungry. I have gotten upset in the past when he's supposed to parent alone for the night and comes home and immediately eats because I rely on his own hunger to cue him that perhaps it is time to prepare a meal for the child. He has forgotten his own child's birthday, forgotten to cash refund checks before they expire, and has forgotten many other things that matter to him, as well as things that presumably don't. He hasn't forgotten to get the child altogether but is often late doing pick ups and we have been charged a fee for this before.

He is not passive at work, but makes a lot of mistakes sometimes due to information processing issues, working memory issues, or inability to multitask effectively. He is also medicated at work, but if he has work on a particular day is not able to also be medicated at home. The ADHD is severe.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:30 PM on November 23, 2019


This is going to be the most unpopular AskMe answer ever, but since you’ve asked for examples of what has worked for people and you seem at the end of your rope, so possibly willing to try anything, you might want to read the article What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage, here.
posted by FencingGal at 6:31 PM on November 23, 2019 [6 favorites]


It seems important to you that we're sympathetic to his actions and provide you with an answer that will give you some magic combination of words to fix him.

We can't do that. ADHD is like any other disability in the sense that it's up to the person who has it to do something about it because they're the one living with it. ADHD isn't a pass to be selfish and thoughtless. It's not on you to fix him. He's a grownup and needs to get his house in order--without you nagging at him. How is your kid supposed to feel that dad forgot their birthday? How is it okay to be financially irresponsible? How many free passes is your husband going to get?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:17 PM on November 23, 2019 [25 favorites]


Essentially, what you are asking is “how do I change my husband?” The answer is you can’t. You need to accept this is who he is. You *can* change yourself and your contributions to be dynamic.

As mentioned above, the new dynamic would probably be you being the “brains”, and him being the brawn. So, you schedule both your lives, including when he is supposes to pickup the kid/feed the kid/empty the dishwasher etc. You don’t do any of that anymore. You delegate everything to him, come home from work to a meal prepared by him, (in accordance with the directions you have given him with a shopping list and recipies), and after the family finishes the meal he cleans up and runs the bath while you go play with the kid. Then he bathes the kid and tucks them into bed while you prepare next week’s instructions, leaving you enough time to read a book to the child while he takes five minutes to sit down. After the child is asleep you get some more relaxation time (very important when you are carrying the mental load for two) while he tackles the chores you have already posted, such as getting everyone’s clothes ready for the morning. If the child wakes in the night he calms the child as you need your sleep more than he does. In the morning he prepares everyone’s breakfast, you have quality face time with your child while he cleans up, and you both leave for work.

When you are not physically together he will have to check in with you every thirty minutes to report what he has done and to receive his next set of instructions - with txting it is pretty fast and he can send photos (kid is eating! Sink is empty! Etc). This division should also be financial as well with you taking control of all finances. You can give him an allowance, but if he is late picking up the kid the fee comes from his allowance (because you reminded him 30 mins before that he was to pick up the kid).

I think the regimental living and communicating clear expectations with the 100% division of roles into a “manager” and a “doer” are the only realistic way you can live with the way he is. You will probably kill any romantic/sexual interest in your relationship (few hetero relationships survive when the woman has to be the “mommy”) but you will still be married, which is something you value.

I’m concerned that you gloss over that he is incapable of the functions of daily life. If he is incapable of feeding his child without external prompting he actually is not a safe parent who can be left with your child without supervision (hence the check ins every 30 mins). This is going to parentify your child so you should take extra steps to preserve your child’s childhood as much as you can and avoid any conflict in the home.

I’m sorry if you are somewhere without public social supports, but it sounds like you should also be hiring a PSW to support your husband. From your description, in my jurisdiction he would be getting a monthly disability cheque and several hours a day of a PSW and a weekly social worker who would engage him with coping strategies. I hope you can find the support.
posted by saucysault at 8:30 PM on November 23, 2019 [15 favorites]


With ADHD, there are parts of it that respond well to medication. (And maybe your husband should be talking to his doctor about trying something different there, not sure.) But there are other parts you can only figure out how to navigate by knowing yourself and accepting the fact that you have to put more work into “normal” things than other people. Usually this point comes after years of not putting in that work (because hey! it’s not fair!) and seeing how you let down the people around you and yourself. You can float through life for a while and let some things fall through the cracks, and slowly people stop depending on you, or think of you as scattered at work. But eventually there’s something important enough in your life where you decide to stop floating and come back to earth. If that means every night you sit down and make a list of the basic things you need to do the next day, and then every morning you get up and look at the list, and keep it with you and check it periodically, you do it, because you’re tired of being the person no one can depend on. If that means you set up alerts at work every day at a certain time to show you another list of things you have to do, and every time you get a new assignment you force yourself to right away add it to the list, you do it, because you know otherwise you’re going to forget that assignment even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

ADHD doesn’t make it impossible to do things, it makes it harder. But by the time you’re an adult you figure out how to work with yourself. Unless you’re willing to let everyone else do that for you.

There is nothing stopping your husband from sitting with you one time and saying: “can we list out the things we need to do to clean the house and how often we need to do them? Okay, I’m going to take all kitchen tasks. I’m going to set a calendar alert right now for 8 pm every night to check the dishwasher. I’m going to set a calendar alert for 2 pm every Saturday to wipe the kitchen counter.” Etc. This is where it’s a failure of effort, not some ADHD problem.
posted by sallybrown at 8:37 PM on November 23, 2019 [17 favorites]


I have gotten upset in the past when he's supposed to parent alone for the night and comes home and immediately eats because I rely on his own hunger to cue him that perhaps it is time to prepare a meal for the child. He has forgotten his own child's birthday...He hasn't forgotten to get the child altogether but is often late doing pick ups and we have been charged a fee for this before.

I'm sure you're legitimately upset about this. Have you ever considered how deeply and profoundly damaging it is to your child to feel that he can't even rely on his father to feed him regularly, while the father nonetheless manages to feed himself? Among other things?

Have you ever asked yourself what kind of human being discovers he has fed himself but not his child and doesn't immediately resolve to do everything possible to address whatever conditions have given rise to such a horrible event?

It seems to me you have two choices here: (a) get divorced or (b) take over and micro-manage every task, because otherwise your child is going to conclude--correctly--that meeting his basic needs was just not that high a priority for either of his parents, a conclusion from which, I assure you, nothing good ever comes. If failing to feed your own child while managing somehow to get yourself fed doesn't bear in on you that the way you're handling your life tasks just isn't working, no amount of words from the child's mother is going to do a damn thing.
posted by praemunire at 9:52 PM on November 23, 2019 [28 favorites]


Why is he medicated at work but not at home? If he’s on an IR medication, switch. If it’s long-release, staggered doses (top up dose at noon, for example) should help. How was it decided between him and his doctor that this low state of functionality is ‘medicated enough’? Did that metric take into account parenting responsibilities?
posted by delezzo at 10:37 PM on November 23, 2019 [18 favorites]


Nth delezzo. If anything I need to be medicated more at home than at work. I'm interested in my work, in control of it, and dealing with other adults. The vagaries and boredom of housework and constant interruption and randomness of small children require more of me. Being medicated at home makes a bigger difference than being medicated at work.

He needs to talk to his doctor about meds and get an adhd coach.

Adhd or not (and I have it too), this is untenable.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:32 AM on November 24, 2019 [13 favorites]


Many of the doctors that even I've dealt with, until my most recent, take the view that ADHD medication is primarily a thing that people are supposed to take for work or school and will even sometimes advise that adults or children not take medication on weekends, much less help with things for evening coverage. It might be something your partner hasn't asked about, but if the doctor isn't supportive of his being able to be a better parent/partner than this, that's a great time to look for a new doctor.

Honestly, you want to communicate honestly with your kids about this stuff and the reasons behind it and what's going on. While it is his responsibility to do a lot of stuff, at some level, having a parent with a disabling mental health condition is hard. It's going to be hard whether he does better or not. There is a lot of wild ableism in this thread. But... you don't at this stage get to choose for your kids not to have a parent with a disability; you both get to choose how you talk to your kids about what's going on and how you respond to these things when they happen. A lot of these problems run in families; the more you talk about it, the better you'll all be able to deal if/when the kid has similar problems.

Because yeah, you can ask who doesn't notice that the kid didn't eat, but I leave the stove on at least once every six months even now that I'm very well-managed in every other respect, and who regularly nearly burns their house down? That's what establishes that this isn't a choice. He ought to be doing more, but if you spend every day in a world where people talk about you and people with your condition like this, it can take some time to re-internalize that you're capable of managing better than you are now. If he's still trying--and it sounds like he is?--then if what you want is to stick around for that, I don't actually doubt that there's a bunch of room for improvement.
posted by Sequence at 5:40 AM on November 24, 2019 [14 favorites]


It sounds like he isn’t letting the kid starve, just feeding them only when directly prompted. He could instead set alarms for having dinner at a specific set time for the kid, or have a bunch of extra snacks and food pre-available, like granola or peanut butter, frozen burritos, or leftovers from a big batch of cooking so the kid doesn’t have to rely on him cooking from scratch 7 days a week. A little extra effort up front so he doesn’t need to rely on working memory which he doesn’t have.
You can put an extra duplicate hamper at the spot where you already naturally take off your socks.
posted by cricketcello at 6:31 AM on November 24, 2019 [5 favorites]


Many of the doctors that even I've dealt with, until my most recent, take the view that ADHD medication is primarily a thing that people are supposed to take for work or school

yes, but everything he's choosing not to do is work. work of so much more importance than his paid employment that if he can only medicate himself when in the office or in the house, but not both, it must be in the house.

I understand he may wish not to take stimulants too late in the afternoon or evening out of a desire not to destroy his sleep and put additional unpleasant physical stress on himself. he has chosen, instead, to put both physical and emotional stress on his partner and on his defenseless young child. I suppose it would be interesting to hear him try to defend that choice.

I will add that if the child is a toddler, they probably don't know exactly when they're supposed to be picked up and as long as the daycare facility is professional, they won't know there's any cause to panic. Once they are old enough to read clocks for themself, however, they will become intimately familiar with the sinking sensation of having been forgotten, and of not knowing whether it will be worse to make the shame public and tell someone Help, Dad forgot me, or keep quiet and pray he shows up in an hour, or two hours, or before midnight, or what if he just doesn't ever come at all. It's no good.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:38 AM on November 24, 2019 [12 favorites]


Honestly, whether or not it's ADHD, the strategies that will help are the same — though ADHD admittedly makes it harder.

Yeah I mean... your husband has a disability. He has medication for that disability which helps somewhat at work and he doesn't take this medication at home if I am reading this correctly. And maybe it's for good reasons, but I do feel a little bit like it's pretty clear what your husband's issue is. I think it's less clear that you have a family issue. You have a partnership where he can't, without prompting by you, hold up his end of the parenting and other stuff as things currently are. So, that sucks and is hard. And you're frustrated but you also think maybe you can just GET HIM TO DO the things that you do. You can't. Take him as he is.

I have my own ADHD partner but we don't live together. We do, however, have a lot of strategies that we have come up with to help make the time we spend together not all me driving the train and him bopping along companionably.

- Alarms and schedules - our life is a lot more routine than others might be because it's easier for me to say "Hey send me an email before 2 pm every day" than it is to day "Send me an email when you wake up" he later is flexible and a little ambiguous, the former is clear. He can set alarms on his phone and make this happen, and does. Maybe you need to set an alarm for feeding the kid and get more on a schedule? (not saying "Do this" but saying "This might help")
- My partner, like yours is agreeable to what I say a lot of the time so it's worth putting more things on his plate that he CAN manage within his abilities. Maybe you do less of the other work because delegation is part of your domestic jobs? Maybe you do more jobs together and you take the lead by he does the work. It's emotional labor, yes but it's less physical labor. Maybe that would be okay?
- on obliviousness, we do the "I know it's not your fault but it's your responsibility" talk often. My partner can't help some of the stuff he does, but he can take steps to try to work towards a happy medium with me. My moving towards the middle is being more flexible, overlooking socks and crap that doesn't matter. His moving is setting alarms, sticking to the plan, not turning the story I am telling him into some other story about what came into his head. If he has a therapist you can tell him "You should find some strategies for that with your therapist, I am not your therapist"
- We touch base a LOT. In the morning we go over a list of stuff, as the day goes we check in, everyone fed, comfy, happy, etc. We still on the plan? End of day check-in: Did that go well, how could it have gone better, were we communicating well

At the end of the day, however, I have to presume that my partner is, most of the time, doing the best he can. However he grew up with people telling him he was lazy, clumsy and non-capable and to some extent he's internalized these things (which are not true). So undoing that is important. My fail modes aren't much better, they're irritability, being snappish, adherence to the plan over harmony in our relationship, and it's important for me to own that as well. If you've decided to stay in this relationship that seems to have been bothering you non=stop for years, you both have to re-center the relationship around the two of you and not some sort of "I have two babies" situation which seems like you're stuck in now.
posted by jessamyn at 10:17 AM on November 24, 2019 [13 favorites]


Because yeah, you can ask who doesn't notice that the kid didn't eat, but I leave the stove on at least once every six months even now that I'm very well-managed in every other respect, and who regularly nearly burns their house down?

The issue isn't whether the guy has a disability, the issue is whether, recognizing that his disability is interfering with his capacity to manage vitally important responsibilities that he voluntarily assumed, he is out there doing his best to adopt strategies to compensate for that. Instead we have his wife here trying to figure out how she can fix the problem. I bet it didn't take many instances of your leaving the stove on before you were making checklists/posting "look at the stove!!!" notes by the door/etc. Because you grasp that it's important not to burn the house down, and you understand that it's your job not to do so, to the best of your ability. No one meets their responsibilities perfectly. Children who don't have diagnoses and aren't aware that there are tools to manage them tend not to do well at this. Grown adults with diagnoses, treatment, and access to various strategies can do a lot better--if they regard it as important to do so. So far, this guy's behavior has shown the sphere of life where he considers it important to do so, and where he considers it optional.

Regardless, the child needs to be fed and not to be left places. It's one thing for an adult to choose the degree to which they want to accommodate a family member's failure to attend to their responsibilities. The kid has no choice. Which means, one way or another, the parent needs to stop relying on the other parent to perform these tasks. It doesn't take too long for a child who recognizes that they can't even rely on their parents to make sure they get fed to start developing maladaptive coping strategies of their own.
posted by praemunire at 11:54 AM on November 24, 2019 [13 favorites]


I didn't think I had anything to contribute to this post, but nebulawindphone's comment prompted me second those great points, and add my own anecdata:

I am a female-identifying person, and I am pretty widely regarded as being able to get lots and lots of things done efficiently. I work for myself, so I have to keep on top of all my tasks myself.

I am capable of remembering to do things, even without lists; I'm even pretty good at it - but I use lists and reminders extensively because they just make everything so much easier. I tend to buy the same 20 things at the grocery store every week, but I ALWAYS make a list, and I ALWAYS make time before the trip to look over my master list to check for anything I've forgotten to put on this week's list, because it just makes stuff easier.

I have little habitual things I do every day: writing in my journal. Duolingo. 30 pushups. I do them every day, and it's incredibly unlikely that I would forget. But I do, actually, have them on my daily to do list, because it just makes it easier. When you have a lot going on, lists make things so much easier. Reminders make things so much easier.

To your partner, I would say: you're finding this hard. It's hard for everyone to some degree or another. Make it easier on yourself. Try lists and reminders, and keep refining your lists and reminders to make them work better and better for you.
posted by kristi at 6:27 PM on November 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


A lot of people have covered strategy here, but I think that you can't really get to the stuff until you and her partner know you're on the same page. You need to get the point where he understands the extra work you're putting in to compensate for his lack of executive function, and how expecting you to tell him what needs to be done (and manage when to best tell him) and exhausting and unsustainable for you. I feel like Emma's graphic novelette You Should Have Asked describe the issues well, though it's a little blunt about it.

Once you can both agree on what the problem is, and why it's not fair to you, then your partner may be more motivated to implement some of the strategies given above.
posted by serathen at 6:54 AM on November 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


I recently got a book suggested on AskMeFi that is helping me. It might help you both too: Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD.

It provides a really interesting and sometimes funny perspective on how the ADHD brain works within the household and suggests ways to work with those quirks. So if your husband is always leaving his socks on the floor in the living room, she suggests having a basket for socks in the living room. Once a week it gets carried into the laundry hamper. Basically the way she suggests organizing things makes it possible for an ADHD person to actually use the organizing system. I'd recommend you both read it. And it's very digestible--she sets up a scenario and provides a solution in two pages, with illustrations. No need to read it in order or from cover to cover (with the exception of the introduction, read that first).

This is just one facet of your question but I had to share because it is helping me so much. Good luck.
posted by purple_bird at 9:01 AM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


Mental characteristics, as a rule, have far more variation between people as a whole than between men and women. In other words, even if there is some slight difference on average between a "typical" man and a "typical" woman, there are much greater differences between the total population of all people. Based on "Men Are From Mars", "boy moms", etc. you might think that there are major innate differences between men and women but there are not. There are significant differences in behavior, especially with sex-linked stuff like manner of dress, profession, etc., but these are not due, in the main, to differences in the brain. This is a long-winded way of noting that it would be surprising if there were a strong male/female difference in noticing things.

I have beat this drum before, but our relationship labor division relies heavily on the "vertical" integration mentioned above. As the more extroverted partner I manage almost all external stuff: playdates, appointments, cleaner, etc., while she does bank and tax. I cook, she washes. Having clear responsibility helps a lot, especially if the tasks themselves are ambiguous. Having responsibility that's suited to your strengths is also helpful. It's not necessary that each item be large. For instance, we each do our own laundry. Our least successful tasks are ones where there is shared responsibility. E.g., the litter box is mostly my wife but I do it some of the time. And so yesterday no one did. The shared responsibilities that work tend to be the ones where there is an obvious physical signal, such as a child's laundry basket placed in the hall (by that child).
posted by wnissen at 11:28 AM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


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