Don’t worry, this isn’t that kind of Dear John letter. We’ve been married seven years. We’ve had our ups and downs but overall it’s been good. We have three beautiful children. I look forward to many good years ahead of us.
You are a good man, father, lover, and friend. But I need more of a partner. I often hear that it is important to ask for what we need, whether it is the dishes to be done or to put the boys to bed so I can have a little time to myself. We agreed early on that mind-reading was not required nor expected. So I do my best to ask and not to expect or assume. We both know that I’m the planner, the “nerd” of our relationship. My to-do lists have to-do lists. I try to clearly verbalize things I need or expect you to do. I try to be reasonable in my lists and expectations. And I try to let it go when things are not done exactly as I would have done or liked.
But I’m tired. I’m tired of being the master planner. I’m tired of being the one who worries whether the boys eat enough vegetables, makes the meal plan and shopping list, makes sure the house is clean, makes the childcare schedule, and thinks about the years ahead. I’m tired of feeling like I’m constantly choosing between the household responsibilities, my career, and just spending time with our children.
I know that one answer is that I need to learn to let go. Our children are fed, happy, and growing. Our home isn’t falling apart or a health hazard. Does it really matter if the dishes weren’t done last night or there isn’t a green vegetable with dinner?
But I still wish you were more of a partner and could share more in the mental duties of managing our family life. I wish I were able to devote less of my mental and physical time to making the schedules, the lists, and running the house. I need you to take initiative. I need you to look at the kitchen and think, “the dishes need to be done.” I need you to consider the potential impact on our family life before you take a new job or undergo a schedule change at work. And I need you to be an active contributor in the planning, and not just going along with my plan.
Why does there seem to be the unspoken assumption that I am the authority on all matters household-and-children-related? We both decided to get married and start a family with the knowledge that I would be working in a demanding field with long hours. We’re both adults, both working full time, equal participants in creating three children.
So why do I seem to carry a higher burden of the household and family matters? Is it simply a personality difference, a burden I put on myself? You don’t seem to look at piles of laundry or dishes with the same level of concern or stress as I do. So maybe I just need to learn to relax and ignore the pile of dishes in the sink.
Is it a difference in how we were raised? I certainly wasn’t raised with the expectation of running a household. I was raised with the expectation that I would go to college and have a career. I was already in medical school when we were married; you were well aware of my career goals. To your credit, you have never once stated any expectation of my keeping up with the “women’s work” of the house. You never ask when I’m going to do laundry. You cook dinner as often as I do.
It appears that we’re fairly average as a dual working-parent family. According to the Bureau of Labor 2016 statistics, both spouses work in 61% of married couples with children. My frustrations do not seem to be unique. According to a 2015 Women in the Workplace survey conducted by Lean In, 41% of women report doing more of the childcare while 30% report doing more of the housework. And it is not just the physical labor. In her 2016 Mother’s Day blog post, Ellen Seidman detailed the mental labor that keeps the household running and is often not consciously noticed by the other members of the home. While surveys do show that men are taking on more of the household labor, they aren’t necessarily taking on more of the mental labor. The task of thinking and delegation still falls on the woman.
I appreciate that you are always willing to do what I ask; but I wish that I didn’t always need to do so.