Am I Destined to Be a Domestic Drudge?

March 20th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 36 comments

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

I’ve been married for 9  years to a pretty great guy.   We have two boys and a girl, also a dog.  I have a full time job and I also take care of most of the inside-the-house chores and organize all the activities for the kids and family. 

My husband and I have had several discussions and sometimes arguments about sharing the household workload. We make new agreements about duties that my husband can take on, but within a week these agreements have fizzled out. When I ask him to take on tasks with our children, such as bedtime or supervising homework, it generally devolves into screaming matches between him and the kids.

My resentment is starting to affect my sexual desire for him. I feel less like he’s my partner and more like he’s another child.  I go all day from the time I wake up at 5:45 a.m. until I collapse into bed at 10 p.m.

Is this simply the reality of being a working mother? Do I have to abandon my  dreams of sharing the child care and household duties?

Do I accept that my husband is doing his best and perhaps is limited by his parenting and organizational skills? Do I swallow my anger, do I fight for more or do I just walk away?

Domestic Drudge

Dear D.D.,

We got lost between the, “I’ve been married for 9 years to a pretty great guy,” and the rest of your letter. If, as you say, your husband is a great guy, something is off-kilter. Exhaustion, resentment and anger are pretty awful things to drag around in a marriage so we do think this is urgent to deal with. It isn’t surprising that with so much negativity, the sexual and companionship side of your marriage is suffering.

If we told 1000 people that we received a letter that began with “I’ve been married for nine years to a pretty great guy” and concluded with “Do I swallow my anger, do I fight for more or do I just walk away?” we doubt that even one would guess the content of the intervening eleven sentences. 

There’s another sentence in your letter that is setting off our alarm bells.  You asked, “Do I have to abandon my dreams of sharing the child care and household duties?”

Here’s how we would have expected that question to read: Do I have to abandon my dreams of a tranquil and loving home in which  my husband and I work together to build a joyous family?

Instead, your wording strongly suggests that you are trying to implement a social psychology professor’s view of egalitarian marriage; one in which all duties and responsibilities are shared equally and identically between both spouses. (We hope we’re wrong – as we said, we can only work with the information and vibes we get from your letter.) 

In other words, is your concern that those things get done or that it has to be your husband doing them?

We have ten more questions to ask.  Some of them may hit home and be useful while others may be way off the mark.

  1. Is your husband limited by poor parenting and organizational skills?
  2. Do the two of you agree on the answer to question #1?

If you both agree that your husband doesn’t know how to help the children with homework or put them to bed, then there is no point in making an agreement for him to do so. There are lots of books, videos and workshops that provide practical advice for working with children. Rather than ask him to do something at which he feels incompetent, we would suggest working through a program together and deciding on techniques that you can both apply.

We think it possible, however, that your husband doesn’t deal with the children the way you think he should and that you criticize him when he does help out. Do the children know that if they make a fuss, you will step in and take over? While screaming at kids is notoriously ineffective and setting a bad example to boot, is there anything in your behavior that sets up an antagonistic relationship between your husband and the kids? Does he disapprove of some of your methods? For example, if you allow the kids to have screen time before bed and he is opposed to that, the two of you need to get on the same page before you can take turns at bedtime.

3) Are you on the same page in terms of your work? Are you bringing in income that you both agree is needed? Would your husband prefer you work fewer hours but were able to deal with the home front with less exhaustion and more patience? Would you prefer that?

4) Do your jobs contribute financially equally or does one job bring in substantially more than the other? Does your economic plan need a shake-up?

5) Have you discussed the idea of hiring household help? Is your need truly for help or, as we queried above, are you more focused on the idea that specifically your husband must help? 

6)  Is your husband working long hours or doing other things that benefit the family or is he on the couch channel surfing while you are taking care of the kids and home? The answer to this question is terribly important.

7) Why are you working from 5:45 a.m. until 10 p.m. at night? Do you and your husband agree on what it takes to run the home? Is one of you insisting on home-cooked meals and a spotless house while the other would be fine with getting a pizza once a week and using disposable dishes?

8)  Is having a dog really what a tense family and a troubled marriage needs, or is it the straw that breaks the camel’s back?  (And I really like dogs—RDL)

9) Have you taken a moment to think of any things that you automatically expect your husband to do. This might include bill paying, lawn work, taking out the garbage, picking up the dry cleaning, driving the kids to sports or lots of other items. Is it at all possible that that you take for granted some of that which he reliably does do?

10) Are you possibly being influenced by friends’ posting on social media, by harmful articles in magazines or by other input that leads you to count your grievances rather than your blessings?  Perhaps it is time to review the social contacts that shape each of your lives as individuals as well as a couple.

It sounds to us like the two of you skipped a stage of sitting down and sharing a vision of what your home should look like. What worked in the early years of marriage and certainly before children doesn’t keep working as life happens. Before tackling the nitty-gritty of how and what each of you should be doing, we feel that you would benefit immensely from a rejuvenating weekend away at a marriage seminar which will facilitate communication between you. It will also provide enjoyable time together that you seem to badly need. It’s possible that one or both of  your views of marriage have substantially changed during the past decade.  If things you agreed upon when you got married are no longer part of your marriage road map, considerable conversation is necessary.

Something is broken in your relationship and you are not only suffering yourself but you are also harming your children. They deserve a mother who doesn’t carry herself like a martyr and a responsible and loving father. They need to see affection and respect between the two of you rather than the resentment they now see you beaming at their father.  We know you are far too smart not to know that they are seeing this. We’re not seeing your facial expressions or body language but feel resentment oozing from you just from the label ‘domestic drudge.”

We’d throw out all three of your suggested choices—swallowing anger, fighting for more or walking away.  None of them sounds like someone who appreciates the great guy she’s been married to for nine years. 

Swallowing anger doesn’t work. Fighting for more? Fighting? Really?  This is a marriage not an adversarial corporate merger. Fighting will only intensify the antagonism.  And finally, your “Do I just walk away?”  From whom? That great guy you’ve been married to for nine years?  In order to get the extra time and tranquility that divorced single moms are so envied for?   

We would recommend reminding yourself of your husband’s great qualities, analyzing your own strengths and weaknesses and finding a way to remind both of you that you are on the same team. Make the effort to improve what you have with this pretty great guy and see it as your priority.

Finally, you ask if you must accept your husband’s limitations.  We don’t doubt that like all human beings he has his limitations.  But we advise you, in the quiet of nighttime solitude, to look deeply into your own limitations and the efforts you might make to transcend them. You and your husband can certainly both grow and learn to function better as a team. But thinking of  changing anyone is usually unproductive. You’d be amazed, though, at how changing yourself will lead others to change themselves too.

Establishing a loving marriage and providing a loving home for children is a battle worth fighting.  We look forward to hearing that soon you both feel enormous gratitude for the gift of your spouse. 

Each with our own loving limitations,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Sandy Elliot says:

Good advice to plumb tuckered out DomesticDrudge, Susan. We had very similar symptoms. I discovered “Flora/Dora/Cora Housekeepers” who became “Marriage Savers”. Also, started
eator God!

Susan Lapin says:

Sandy, it is as much my husband’s advice as mine. We do the ‘Ask the Rabbi’ questions together. It’s always fascinating to see what he add to each other’s ideas.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Sandy–
There was a tone to the letter that strongly hinted to us that she specifically wanted her husband to be doing domestic chores regardless of how hard he worked to support the family. We don’t know details and maybe Domestic Drudge will respond to our questions. But for now, we did raise the idea of outside help as you do. Makes a lot of sense

Barbara Tahir says:

So the domestic diva is doing far more than her husband — then DON’T. Stop carrying so much about so many things. The prime things are to feed the children, get them a bath and get into bed and have clothes ready for for them in the morning. Learn to swallow your pride when a neighbor comes over and your house is not immaculate. If there is no laundry clean, grab the hubby and any child over six and EVERYONE does laundry. Everyone who can walk can put paper dishes into the garbage. Anyone over six can take trash out. Anyone who does not do their own homework goes to school without it but their poor grades are their responsibility and they reap the punishment. Mine were 2 years old when they picked up towels, made their own beds, and put clothes in the hamper. It is really easy when the children go all together from room to room cleaning each room (10 minute timer for each room). Are child done chores done well? NO, of course not, but they are done with pride and should be done with praise. Does your husband and do your children want a woman in the house who is exhausted and crabby all the time? No so Mommy, learn to be less fussy and just forget about it!

Susan Lapin says:

Barbara, I have to confess that our children did not always get a bath every night. Like yours, they did start doing their own laundry at quite a young age. We didn’t mention children and chores because D.D. did not say how old her children were.

Grant says:

And as the ball sails over the scoreboard the crowd goes wild. That was freaking fantastic. All of it.

Navgating the gulf between unagreed to expectations and an impossible false reality suggested by culture is crucial in creating a marrige that will not get crushed by the disappointment of an unrealistic/unrealized performance standard you unilaterally impose on your spouse. Add in gratefulness for what they do well and you might have the start of a successful union.

Susan Lapin says:

We humbly appreciate your words, Grant.

Frank D. says:

I am really starting to resent the fact that you and Susan are always on target. How do you two expect me to be my condescending critical self?
Ignore the tongue in my cheek.

Susan Lapin says:

Frank, we can’t even see the bulge.

If I had 3 children and a dog, I would not work outside the home. Best to try and make due with one salary.
If that is not feasible, you definitely need a housekeeper at least twice a week and a tutor for your children that takes the responsibility for making sure the children’s homework is done – this can be a retired school teacher who could come in the evenings.
Something my husband taught me was “throw money at the problem”. We never had a disagreement about housekeeping (had a housekeeper) or really anything of real importance because we’d pay people to do things we either didn’t have time for or didn’t want to do. If you have 3 children, this is a good time to teach them how to do dishes, sweep, take garbage out, do yard work, etc. If the children aren’t old enough, then the wife needs to stay home until the children can help.

Susan Lapin says:

Annette, D.D. didn’t say that she was working because they are struggling to put food on the table, but our impression was that that was not the case. It astounds me how few young couples today even contemplate the mother staying home even when most of her salary is going to pay for things they would not need if she was home more.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Annette-
Any problem that can be solved with money, is not a problem. It’s an expense. Of course best to make do with husband’s salary if possible. That’s the rub. For many it isn’t possible, is it? Taxes have gone up so much over the years that it is almost impossible for both spouses not to work–just as government prefers. Two taxpayers rather than only one. Sometimes, the wife wants to work out of the home not because the family needs the money but because she has been conditioned to believe that only such a job affirms her self-worth. A huge societal problem today. Your husband was quite right provided he earned enough for that expense.

Lisa Beausay says:

Your advice is wonderful because I don’t believe that the “real” problem here is what mom thinks it is. It seems to me that what’s bothering her are merely symptoms of a bigger problem. In order for couples to find harmony and become the united front needed to raise children these days often requires great communication, mutual respect and common goals. If she follows your advice I predict she’ll have the home life that they are all looking for.

Susan Lapin says:

Lisa, it struck us that she seemed to get more upset as the letter went on. Once resentment creeps in, it is very difficult -and essential- to get it out.

Jim B says:

When my wife and I decided to have a child we made the decision that one of us would quit the day job and be a full-time, always there, parent. For various reasons, my wife quite her job as a legal administrator for a large law firm in order to be the “stay-at-home-mom”. When our first child was born we were down to one car, no debt (except for the mortgage) and living comfortably on my earnings. We could even go out to eat occasionally. As our friends, with their children in day-care and both “parents” working, complained about their kids, finances, office politics, piano lessons, etc., we were very happy that we made the choices we made. I didn’t “get out of” home chores and evening and week-end parenting but enjoyed it so much we (and our 6 yr old son) went to China and adopted our daughter/sister. We have been married for 43 years now and our children are grown. Having home-schooled them we are all very close. Our son graduated from U. of W. at age 20, with honors. Our daughter, at absolutely no urging or oversight from us, is upholding what she feels to be Asian honor by carrying a 4.0 GPA after 3 years in college (we sometimes tease her about not being able to carry over the extra points she always gets in her classes that bring her scores to > 100). If we had had your insights to help us along, as well as many of the other resources that are now available, I don’t know how we could have done better (except for the learning-by-experience part, ouch!). This is not really complicated but, it can be hard. Just do it and things tend to smooth out over time. Being so fortunate it is sometimes puzzling to see others with the problems faced by DD and her family. You two are a gift and I sincerely hope DD can accept that.

Susan Lapin says:

Jim, how lovely that you are getting such joy from your family. Raising children properly is not something that happens in one’s spare time and you and your wife understood that.

Carolyn says:

A lot of marriage “problems” would not exist, if we had taken the time to get to know the person’s upbringing before marriage. I know, after almost 57 years of marriage, I am “joyful” paying for that
lapse in judgment!

Susan Lapin says:

Carolyn, we are big fans of pre-marital counseling and workshops. There are always going to be tons of unknowns that adding unnecessary ones is risky.

Jean says:

The one detail that I found absent in Domestic Drudge’s note is what she believes constitutes “a pretty great guy.” Why did she marry this man in the first place? Funny how people forget the characteristics that drew them to their partner – especially when some of those characteristics play out exactly as described in her note. All too often, women are drawn to the free spirited guy who always has time for fun, but after they get married, she complains because his priorities are fun first, work and responsibilities second. I wonder if she is more angry at herself for ignoring a few of those red flags during the dating period, and is now taking out her anger on her husband. Barring major physical trauma, drug use or psychiatric issues, people really don’t change – they just become more entrenched.

Jerry Roberts says:

The kids will be grown and gone on their own so fast it will make your head spin. So knowing these circumstances are not here forever helps to deal with them. I recommend being like a sponge and soaking it all up to memory , because the day your house is empty , you may miss all of this. Being an “empty nester” I know I miss the all the soccer games and kids running everywhere all the time.

Travis P says:

Bravo! God bless you for your ministry RDL & SL! Your teachings have saved my marriage and increased my income 30% in a span of two years. Sincerest thanks to you both!

mom3 says:

I really don’t want to put up any kind of argument against good Godly advice. I would like to add a different perspective. All of this advice is under the assumption that her husband will cooperate. If a spouse has exhausted all options but the husband refuses to cooperate in marriage (seemingly due to laziness) then what? From reading this letter, I felt her angst. I was there once myself which ended in divorce (his repeated affairs were the straw that broke the camels back) and I’m watching my sister with this struggle at the moment with her husband. My thoughts are that you can’t force another human to do something and sometimes no matter what you do to encourage them to participate, they just WON’T. Not throwing good sound advice out the window if the spouse is willing to work on compromise, but that’s not always the case. I feel deeply sorrowful when i hear women struggle with this issue and to this lady, my heart goes out to you!

Susan Lapin says:

Mom, I’m sure D.D. appreciates your empathy. Our response mostly came from her saying her husband was a great guy yet she was even considering walking out of the marriage. There is no hint of his having affairs or in any other way betraying her. That, obviously, would be a very different case.I’m sorry that it is the case that you faced.

MrsA says:

Dear Rabbi and Susan ,
I am going to print and save this one for my two adult children, who grew up in a home with a lot of screaming and discord because we did not have this wonderful , succinct advice to counsel us (despite visiting 3 different marriage counselors over 10 yrs). Did those sessions help us stay married? Absolutely. And I would recommend them to any couple who are heading down separate paths BEFORE one is ready to throw in the towel and “just leave”, as DD mentions. Our youngest child is a decade younger and has grown up in a significantly more peaceful home. I’m not sure if that is because we are older , or because I’ve been reading your advice for the past decade…but it is probably a combination!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Mrs A
I do hope your older two haven’t perpetuated the pattern by building themselves homes of turbulence. Do you also get to view our TV show, Ancient Jewish wisdom?

Susan Lapin says:

Mrs. A., it sounds like you and your husband have worked hard on improving both your marriage and parenting skills. Not only is that a gift to your youngest, but even to the older children. Having you admit your mistakes and encouraging them to work on not repeating those mistakes is a huge gift.

Kevin says:

You both are awesome! Your B.S. detectors are incredibly strong! Haha. I really appreciate the advice about expressing gratitude and not letting resentment creep in. I was at a retreat once that encouraged participants to make a daily list of things they are grateful for, for a year. It is so easy to find fault in others and complain about what’s wrong in the world. Gratitude as a discipline initially becomes an authentic way of viewing life and it really make you happy.

Susan Lapin says:

Kevin, I wouldn’t be too hard on D.D. As you say, once you get into a resentful rather than a gratitude mode, it just drags you spiraling down. We do hope the couple can reset the odometer back and build their relationship again.

Kirsten Van Ooyen says:

Dear Rabbi and Susan,
What sage advice. I found myself cheering you two on with each passing tip and question. Something struck me in one of Rabbi’s response that you Susan, sometimes want to work outside the home and for societal reasons. I wish you two would address this topic in a podcast. This is a big issue today and having been raised by a ‘Super Mom’ of the ’80s I know that I have really struggled with being a stay at home mom and a homeschooling mom. I have wanted to seek your advice on this topic and with this great ‘Ask the Rabbi’ response, I thought that this was the most auspicious time to inquire.

Thanks for all that you share to make the world a better place.

Susan Lapin says:

Kirsten, I have talked about this topic somewhat in Susan’s Musings columns. I think we put men, women and families in very difficult positions today. I had to make a huge paradigm shift to leave the work world when I got married. Maybe it is time to write more about that.

Alessandro Mecle says:

Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin, your response for the issue was unexpected and quite precise. Starting from a generic situation you cover so much offering many points worthy noticing . The text overcome the initial questions and holds an inestimate wisdom. Once again, thank you!

Susan Lapin says:

Alessandro, we’re curious at what you expected us to say. We are always working from such a dearth of information that we try as best we can to cover many bases. We appreciate your writing in!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thanks for writing Alessandro,
From careful reading of DD’s letter, so much more was hinted at than merely the facts. Part of ancient Jewish wisdom is seeing beyond the superficial in all circumstances. It’s a part of our teachings that people seem to find most useful. You take care.

AM says:

As I read the comments of Rabbi and Susan, I feel like I’m suffocating. I am a woman who works outside the home. My day begins at 4:30 and ends at 11pm. My husband does not have a job and looks after my toddler. My spouse has lofty ideas for income, but not one has come to bear fruit. When I get home from work, I still have to prepare dinner and attend to homework of my older children. i have less time to communicate with the Lord and I feel like I am missing the mark with being a mentor and example to my children. I desperately want to stay at home and create a serene place for my family, but if I do not work there is no income. If i stay at home, my home will sparkle and i will have more time and energy for more meaningful things. I thank Rabbi and Susan for the advice, but I do not know how to get to there from here.


Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear AM–
It is with trepidation that I respond to your implied question because imparting marital guidance without full knowledge of the entire dynamic is perilous. Nonetheless, I suggest you seriously consider disengaging from the role of primary provider. I don’t know how long your husband has dreamed instead of delivering but I am guessing it wasn’t this way when you married him or why would you have done so? At some point he slid into this mode. Perhaps it was almost in response to your competence. Well, think about backing off. Tell him the children need you and that you are handing back the responsibility of paying the bills to him. Expect a rough period followed by the emergence of a man you barely remember.
At least consider this…

Teena says:

Dear Rabbi and Susan;

She sounds a lot like my daughter who’s mother worked outside of the home because my husband wanted a two income household. I became unbalanced in needing ‘everything in its place.’ My daughter, even more so. I apologize to her often. Her husband whom she adores was raised by a single mother who rarely did domestic anything. I get the hint that he does not respect his mother. He loaves Kool-aid (refusing it in their home) and Hamburger Helper because that’s what his mother raised her 5 boys and 1 girl on. My son-in-law refuses to help because that’s not what he enjoys doing. Or he’s possibly holding my daughter to a standard he set for his mother.

My heart aches for women who are so resourceful they feel like they have “to do it all” or most of it.

This seems like the very thing Eve should have ignored while enjoying and sharing the upkeep of the garden with her husband.

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