Now that you’re a full-time stay-at-home mom, weekends tend to look a lot like weekdays, with one notable exception: on weekends, you might have a handy sidekick to help with the children and the house. In theory. In reality, you have a surly, “Is it really my turn/it’s not fair” kind of overgrown au pair who completes domestic and childrearing jobs as a favour to you instead of accepting these tasks as the obligations that they truly are. Yes, we’re talking about the great sperm donor himself: Dad.
This is the same fellow whose ears technically work as well as yours. His, however, seem to have a nifty motion-activated control that only kicks in when you finally raise your tired butt off the couch to respond to the two-year-old who’s been screaming for the last 10 minutes. You were hoping (against all odds, it must be noted), that for once Daddy would jump up at the first whimper and say, “I’ll get it. You stay put.” Instead, even the best intentioned of the breed can only get up once you’re up. He’ll mutter, “Oh, I was going to go,” and then either plop himself back down on the comfortable end of the couch, or worse yet, follow you out of the room and even partway up the stairs. At this point, it becomes necessary to say something like, “It doesn’t take two of us, you moron. I’m already up and you can get the next one!” They never do.
On the nights when Dad isn’t home, you don’t have to play out this charade. You do all the work and you don’t have a pesky shadow following along behind. You also have the added benefit of making up stories (or exaggerating, at any rate) about how impossible the children are. When these guys are around, they expect (and react best) to being ordered about like unpaid servants. If you don’t ask them to help the children on with their coats, they won’t. They will slip on their own jackets and wait anxiously at the door, waving their keys around and announcing the time every two minutes. They might even go out to the van and gun the engine a few times. Go on, honk the horn, I dare you. Arrrrgh.
If you expect them to prepare a family meal on the weekends, you must tell them precisely what you would like them to do. If you say, “Get some vegetables going,” you’ll be lucky to have a half-opened bag of ready-to-eat carrots tossed on the table. You have to say, “Take the green and red peppers out of the fridge, wash them, cut them, take out all the seeds…” You get the picture. If you ask them to set the table, you’ll be lucky if everyone gets a knife and a fork. If you want other accessories — glasses, napkins, and occasional dessert spoon — you must issue these instructions explicitly.
When the stench of a diaper is so strong that dogs are crossing the street to poop on your neighbour’s lawn, they will not engage their olfactory sensors until you have told them to. “Can you smell that? I think it’s Daddy’s turn” is a very good start. Usually, though, it’s best to go with, “Holy crap, are you waiting for it to ferment? Change your baby before we need a blowtorch to get the crust off his ass.” Or something to that effect.
If housecleaning is on the agenda, again you need to be specific. Simply uttering the words “I think we’ll have a tidy up today” will do nothing except ensure that he will spend 45 minutes going through the tiny drawer in the office desk and announcing that he has “finally sorted that out.” Meanwhile, you need a snow shovel to get from your front door to the stairs, which are littered with the detritus of a week’s living. Try instructions like, “Start with the front hall and don’t come up for air until you get to the top of the landing. Be ruthless.” This can work.
It’s worth noting that men are wonderful at grand proclamations regarding the state of the house. After announcing, for example, that they will be “cleaning up this mess,” they then proceed to stand in the front hallway, assigning each “piece” of the offending mess to a passing family member. “Take this to your room.” “Do we really need this?” “Can you sort through these toys for me? I don’t know which pieces go with what.” “Who had all the CDs out?” This is really quite annoying and it is perfectly acceptable to revert to temperamental teenage behaviour when faced with this dictatorial style.
If you have a husband who travels a great deal for business, he will likely need some serious guerilla training on weekends before he will be of any help. Start with a formal introduction of the children and their various quirks.
“This is David. He’s eleven and needs to wear a sign that reads, ‘I am a bad example,’ particularly when teaching his two-year-old brother the fine art of pestering his two sisters.
“This is Julia. She’s thirteen going on twenty-two. She needs to be approached with care in order to determine whether it’s a ‘Good Julia’ day or a ‘Bad Julia’ day. This can be determined by the frequency of door slams, shrieks, and stomps coming from her bedroom.
“This is Leanne. She’s five and is trying to grow a boy’s penis. You might want to watch for her bathroom breaks as she is determined to master the standing-up position.
“This is Adam. He’s two. Wear protection.”
This will give Daddy Dearest a fair start. Of course, the real trick in all of this is trying to maintain the myth. You know, the one that says he’s still man of the house and boss of all of us? Good managers know how to make their subordinates feel valued.
The Dishwasher Fairy and you
Clearly, Dad isn’t going to be much help. Welcome to your new life, the one in which you own most of the jobs involved with homemaking. In the days when you worked outside of the house all day long, you could say to your husband with some indignation, “There isn’t a Dishwasher Fairy who moves your dirty glass from the counter into the machine, you know.” With any luck, the love of your life would sheepishly move toward righting this wrong. These days, you are the Dishwasher Fairy. Truly. Not only are you responsible for taking all glasses off the counter between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., you will also feel guilty if the dishwasher is not loaded and unloaded at least once during the day. Pathetically, you begin to point out the frequency with which you perform this task to your no doubt enthralled husband. (Yes, your daily conversations will come to this — but more about that later.)
And it’s not just the dishwasher — it’s the laundry, the meal preparation, the grocery shopping, the linen changing. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself longing for the opportunity to trade these dreary items for just one presentation on the “Dynamics of Change.”
Seriously, though. It just goes on and on. Pick a household chore and you’ll immediately see what I mean. When you and your husband were both working, you ostensibly shared responsibility for the replacement of toilet paper rolls (even though you were always the lead on this particular project). Now, not only do you have to purchase the “convenient” 24 roll pack (with a screaming 18-month-old in tow), cart it home, and disperse it among the various bathrooms, apparently you are also expected to constantly monitor the outflow (so to speak) and be there at the ready with the replacement rolls. Seems like a small thing, until you’re the one caught with your pants down and a single sheet listlessly wafting on the cardboard roll.
Likely, your husband can’t find the washing machine in your house, let alone use it. If you are ever able to convince him to perform laundry duties, the result will probably be something akin to the Brady Bunch episodes where Bobby attempts to clean his best clothes. Soap bubbles down the hallway, if you’ll recall. On the other hand, if you do let Hubby Dearest loose on this particular task (for a treat!), you might be able to swing a whole new wardrobe. You’ll need something to replace all of those pinky-hued whites and washed-out colours.
And don’t even get me started on the whole issue of cleaning up. Too late. When you were a practicing Supermom, you did the same thing that most Supermoms do on their first day back at work: you hired an excellent cleaning lady. At the outset, one visit every two weeks seemed to do the trick. Then you found that once a week was even better; the odds were good you could have a fairly clean house for any weekend event.
Now that you’re at home, you’ll bask in comments like, “I don’t know how you keep your house so clean with children,” at least until some smart alec pipes up, “Well, you still have your cleaning lady, don’t you?” Damn right. Just think about it. Now, not only are your children at home, you are too! You will simply not be able to keep up with the unbelievable array of crap you, your children and your husband can produce in a 24 hour period. And, by the way, while you might still have the cleaning lady, there are many things that (not surprisingly) she is not available or willing to do. Clean, after all, isn’t tidy. There’s a big difference.
A cleaning lady is never around (in fact, you can just catch sight of her leg swishing out the front door), for example, when a full container of chocolate milk is spilled onto the newly polished kitchen floor. A cleaning lady never has to deal with your two-year-old’s first attempt to change his own poopy diaper. In the living room. On the white area rug. Then there’s the construction paper and macaroni glued to the oak dining table during a mad arts-and-crafts moment, the bits of styrofoam packing around the new stereo that your husband absentmindedly passed to a gleeful gang of preschoolers, the mound of crusty tissues found under the leather sofa, or the rank thermos full of month-old macaroni mould.
Even with a cleaning lady polishing, scrubbing, vacuuming, and sweeping once a week, a major initiative still needs to be mounted whenever you or your husband insanely invite outsiders into your home for some social event or another. In fact, if you think about it, he’s usually the one doing the inviting. Is this some thinly veiled attempt to force you to sort through the 14 pairs of shoes in the front hall, the used batteries on the dining room sideboard, and the precious school projects littered through your home office?
Complicating the whole mess (pun fully intended) is the fact that your children don’t seem to have the same sense of purpose and efficiency as your former office workers. Everything takes longer when you have children; particularly the things you don’t want to be doing in the first place. Consider the following:
1. Stacking/emptying the dishwasher: This has to be one of the most repetitive and boring jobs on the home front. Add a curious toddler determined to skewer his pudgy little hand on the sharp steak knives sticking up from the cutlery tray while simultaneously attempting to grasp your best crystal wine glasses, and you’ll find yourself slamming the dishwasher door in haste. And the frustrating thing is that dishwasher doors don’t even slam in a satisfying way — they kind of whoosh and click. If you are hand-washing dishes it’s even worse. Children who are old enough to pitch in won’t want to; the ones under five will think it’s a game and push their way to the sink with their little stools to play in the dirty water. It will end up all over you and them — and the dishes will still be filthy. Watch out for the garburator.
2. Phone calls: There is some sort of magnetic pull between a child and an active phone line. Children of all ages know when you’re on the phone, regardless of whether you’ve dialed our or received the call. They will scream, fight, pull at your leg, and soil their pants the minute they see the receiver in your hand. Forget trying to make a social phone call; even the ones to the dentist, plumber, school, and the neighbour you hate will always be interrupted by your children. The worst is trying to leave a message on a voice-activated-response call. The background noise at your end is so great that it takes a good 10 minutes for the system to proceed to the next question. (And now, there’s recorded evidence of your domestic disharmony. Fabulous.)
3. Folding laundry: Folded laundry only stays folded if the children are not allowed near it. There is nothing more irritating than a child who jumps onto your bed and picks up the 16 closest items — previously neatly folded — to show you what article of clothing belongs to whom. Aren’t they smart? You don’t care. You will yell at them. Then, you’ll shove the whole messy pile into their drawers. Folding is overrated anyways.
4. Answering e-mails, working on a computer: Never make the mistake of showing your young children that computers can be used for fun things — games, interactive websites, music, etc. — or you will be doomed to sit with them on your lab for hours at a time, “playing” games intended for simpletons (a.k.a., children) that they can’t quite manage yet. This is really boring, and it will keep you from doing what you intended to do when you sat down at the computer in the first place. What was that again?
This article first appeared in Canadian Living Online and can be found at this link: http://www.canadianliving.com/moms/family_life/ why_doesnt_dad_help_out_cleaning_diaper_changing_and_other_chores_dads_avoid.php