On Psychology

Jewish World Review Aug. 12, 1999 /29 Av, 5759

Dr. Wade Horn

Male Nurturing Deficit a Major Gripe For Wives

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

Q: We're a group of gals from Michigan who are fans of your column. But as much as we agree with your assertions that fathers matter, we do have some legitimate gripes about the fathers of our children. Okay, only one, but it is a biggie. Here it is.

"Nurturing" isn't just about playtime. There is a lot of scut work involved. Frankly, there isn't any one of us who can't change our own tires once in a blue moon. It is the 24/7/365 schedule that wears us out and makes us resentful. The fact that we've had to bludgeon some degree of cooperation out of our husbands and kids does not make us feel particularly successful. Leaving "the mess" for Mom does get old!

As more and more of us women have moved into the role of breadwinner, it is not unreasonable to expect some reciprocation on the home front. 50-50? Of course not. We admit that Dads do other, less "scheduled" but equally necessary tasks. But the fact remains: nurturing is about more than roughhousing.

Econophone When Dad makes the lunches or tosses a load in the dryer, he's not doing Mom a "favor." It is simply work that needs to get done. Unfortunately, there is often some heavy-duty, passive-resistance going on in a lot of households on the part of the fathers.

And puh-leeze spare us the stereotype of Mom pushing Dad out of the domestic scut realm. We can guarantee you that we do not walk in from work and get upset because Dad has taken three minutes to empty the dishwasher!

A: There is good and bad news here for us guys. Let's start with the good news

There is a great deal of evidence that fathers today are spending more time doing household chores and providing child care than fathers did two or three generations ago. In 1960, for every hour a father spent doing household chores and providing child care, moms put in four. By 1981, for every hour dads put in, moms put in two. And by the early 1990s, for every hour he put in, moms put in one and a half. Way to go dads!

Well, not so fast. (Here's the bad news.) It's also clear that moms still do more household chores and direct child care than do dads. This is particular true when it comes to the "scut" work, described by this letter writer; things like changing the diapers, getting the kids dressed, and cleaning the house. So there is still a mom-dad gap when it comes to household chores and direct child care.

To be fair, this mom-dad gap is a bit deceiving. There are lots of household chores where us guys do the lion share of the "scut" work, like mowing the lawn, maintaining the car, and paying the bills.

Leiters Sukkah And at least in part, this mom-dad gap is explained by the fact that even in cases where both the mom and the dad work full-time outside the home, dads, on average, work longer hours. For example, one survey found that whereas moms spend more time on household chores than dads (3.7 hours per day versus 3 hours per day), dads work longer hours for pay than do moms (48.5 hours per week versus 42 hours per week). Since moms work less hours for pay, they naturally have more time to spend on household chores.

But these "gals from Michigan" have a legitimate grip. Dads do do less of the scut work than do the moms. So why do we guys generally feel we deserve a medal for all we do?

It all has to do with one's frame of reference. For moms the frame of reference is themselves. They look at the total universe of diapering or vacuuming, and say to themselves, "Gee, I'm doing a lot more of this stuff than he is!" By this comparison, us dads aren't measuring up very well.

But the frame of reference for us guys is not what the mom is doing, but what our own fathers did when we were growing up. Consequently, when we change one diaper a day, we say, "Boy are we terrific! My dad never changed a diaper in his whole life, and here I am changing one diaper each and every day!" Gone unnoticed, of course, is the fact that mom has changed six diapers that very same day.

The same goes for vacuuming and other household chores. Dads today are doing more than their dads did, but still not as much as their wives (although here, I say with great modesty, I personally do deserve a medal because I do all our family's laundry -- of course, I haven't dragged a vacuum around in about ten years, but I digress).

So what's a stressed out mom to do? Understand that when it comes to household chores and child care, moms and dads have different frames of reference. If you want your hubby to do more of both, a frontal assault is likely to only result in a mystified look and resentment that you don't appreciate how truly liberated your guy is.

Instead, let him know that you recognize that he is doing much more around the house than his (and your) dad did, and then tell him that changing a few more diapers or vacuuming a little more would be a great help to you. Believe it or not, we guys do like to be helpful -- but we also like to feel appreciated. A little sugar makes the medicine go down.

If all else fails, tell him this: Women find a man vacuuming the floors irresistibly sexy. That ought to get his attention.

JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR


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03/22/99: Fatherhood hype
03/15/99:Contributions of Dads Cover Many Fronts
03/04/99:Little Girl's Cry for Love of Dad Should be Heard
02/18/99: Divorcing with a 'tude
02/11/99: Basics Remain the Same for Single, Custodial Dads
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9/29/98: Dads, moms both get job done with babies
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9/03/98: How much should we tell the kids about The Bill-n-Monica Show?
8/25/98: Having class-clown son is no joking matter
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6/29/98: Do bad 'authority-figures' make good parents?
6/24/98: When to tell the truth
6/17/98: An ode to a dad who stuck around
6/11/98: No-fault divorce and the partner who "wants to make things work"
5/28/98: The oys and JOYS of fatherhood

5/21/98: When child-support becomes a 'catch-22'
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5/6/98: Collision with a pathetic reality
4/26/98: It's time parents learned to 'Just Say No!'

© 1998, Dr. Wade F. Horn