My Husband Does Do That – My Journey out of the Equal Parenting Closet

Seth holding the twins.

Originally Posted on, also featured on, and Offbeat Mama:

The first time it happened, I was at a Mothers of Multiples Club welcome brunch.  My fantasy was that my terror at the impending birth of my twins would dissipate as soon as I met the wise kindred spirits who would be guiding me through the transition to multiple-motherhood.  Much to my surprise, however, brunch soon descended into a husband-bashing session, replete with the kind of ominous warnings I would receive over and over during my pregnancy.

“Make sure you leave the house when they’re a few months old.  I waited three years to leave my kids alone with my husband, and now he refuses to babysit,” one mom insisted.  My initial response was confusion.  I was planning to leave the house the first week.  I had written my doctoral dissertation on equally shared parenting for frig’s sake!  Caught totally off guard, I responded, “That’s not going to be a problem for me.”  Several of the women chuckled sweetly, shooting me the pitying “you’ll see” glance I would receive time and time again.

What was this strange land I was entering?  These were smart, accomplished moms –some working, some stay-at-home– all of whom swore that when kids came into the picture, roles changed overnight.  Were the brilliant, creative, feminist women I’d known in college really now accepting such arrangements?  My twin terror was quickly compounded by the fear of losing the egalitarian marriage I so valued.

Well, fourteen months into motherhood my marriage is as egalitarian as ever.  However, the “our husbands suck and don’t do anything” motif turned out to be rampant at the mommy meet-ups and play-dates that were supposed to help maintain my sanity during the first year with infant twins.  Now don’t get me wrong, my husband can be an ass.  Then again, so can I!  But the truth is– (hushed whisper) I like my husband.  He is a fantastic husband.  No one has the perfect marriage, but it was the gendered aspects of the husband-bashing which eluded me most– husbands not “helping” around the house, never “watching the kids,” oblivious to routines and childcare tasks.

Despite my relief that my own marriage hadn’t followed this path, my own parenting experience felt utterly erased during these conversations.  I would feel like a total asshole if I sat there repeating, “My husband does do that,” and adding obnoxiously, “My husband cleans more than I do.”  So instead I just passed, keeping my identity practicing equally shared parenting hidden.  I was also a queer mom passing as straight at these gatherings, but amazingly, stating, “My husband taught me how to swaddle,” orSometimes Seth is more comfortable with our kids than I am,” felt more threatening than announcing I was queer.

When I really examined my fear, I realized it felt like I would be “coming out” as a bad mom.  Had we somehow gotten the message that fairness and equality were okay for us to enjoy in our marriages but to be good mothers, we had to be the ones drastically rearranging our lives to make room for children?  If my husband was parenting as well as me, must I not be parenting well at all?

Seth Wearing Babies

I desperately want to be accepted by my peers.  After all, this mothering thing is hard, and I am going to need them.  Then again, am I really even there if I just hide out at playgroups , nod and pass, not only as straight, but as June Cleaver?  And the truth is husband-bashing isn’t the kind of support that I need anyway.  What about adult stimulation?  What about moms who can talk politics, who are activists?  What about discussing how the hell we are going to give our kids the space to explore flexible gender identities and orientations toward love and sex while media and culture steer them onto narrow, limiting paths?  What about the massive, profound transition that is becoming a mother?  Let’s talk about the guilt, the ecstasy, the terror, trying to find balance, trying to hold on to ourselves!  Some moms I’ve met seem so burdened with the lion’s share of childcare that they’ve had to lose the rest of themselves to manage it.  Is this the culturally-accepted ideal of motherhood?  No selves allowed?

I’m still trying to work out why my husband and I never walked through that time warp back to the 1950s that all those couples who “swore it wouldn’t happen to them” walked through.  I ask myself if these women complaining about their male partners’ traditional responses to parenting were themselves willing to be flexible in their own gender roles.  As long as we have the attitude that we can do it better, men probably won’t step up, because what man enjoys feeling incompetent?

That mom who didn’t leave the children with her husband for three years obviously didn’t see him as a competent caretaker, but now seems bitter that he’s not one.  We have to believe men can care for children and manage homes, just as we believe we can run companies and nations, rather than expect them to “help” while we maintain control over the private domain.  How would we react to that kind of attitude toward our work in the public sphere?  Imagine men expecting to supervise and micromanage our works as CEOs?

So why are moms so hesitant to view their male partners as full, competent parents?  Is it just that hard to picture?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s because deep down there is a part of us that believes if we demand equal parenting, if we demand holding onto ourselves– as our husbands do when children come into the picture– then we are not good mothers.  I can understand this fear.  When I really sit and think about it, I have it, too.  When I work, when I take time to write, when I keep up with friends, go out with other adults, and spend time fantasizing about things I’m passionate about, there is always this little nagging feeling that a “good mom” would have let go of these things.

I’ve held onto my egalitarian marriage and my sense of self, but I haven’t managed to not beat myself up about it.  So my husband has all the parenting skills and responsibility I do, but I still look at him and he seems unburdened, free of the guilt and self-doubt that plagues me.  If he can be a full person and also believe he is a good parent, why can’t I be out and proud as an egalitarian mother?


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19 thoughts on “My Husband Does Do That – My Journey out of the Equal Parenting Closet

  1. Wow! I think you’ve really begun a very important conversation here! As I read through this post I was nodding my head, yes, yes I experienced that too! And I was even told directly at one point that I was a bad mom for trying to share parenting equally.

    Being a little ahead in the parenting game than you are I will just make this comment: watch out when they go to elementary school! The school’s expectations of the mother and the subtle forces toward traditional parenting are tough to handle if you aren’t ready for it.

    • Kathy, thanks so much for your comment. It’s nice to know there are others out there who feel this way. I think moms who share parenting feel they are outside the norm, but I’ve never heard any discussion of the subtle implication that this means one is not a good mother. I will be writing more on this for sure. Thanks for the warning about elementary school! I will pass it along to my husband, he will be fired up and want to prove them wrong by showing up at the school and proving himself :) Was there anything you were able to do to combat it? I will be very interested to see how this is handled in our community, because in addition to very diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, we have quite a number of gay and lesbian parents.

  2. Did these mothers whom you refer to previously work in fairly high powered jobs? There is a theory that these women who give up their jobs to stay at home often need to assume full control of their domestic situations to give them a sense of worth. Having useless husbands may actually suit this persona.

    • That is certainly true in some of the cases. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

  3. thank you so very much for this post! it really spoke to my situation. for all outside, and shallow, appearances, my wife and i lead a ‘normal’, hetero-normative life with our 5 yr old child. we attend church, we both have very good, upstanding jobs in our community, and for all appearances to the family, are raising our child w/’traditional values’.

    that’s at least what you’d get if you weren’t paying close attention. our ‘best friend who spends the weekends w/us b/c she’s single, and why not’ is actually our partner in our equilateral triad…in which all three of us are bisexual, w/significant elements of kink! my wife and i have part-time jobs purposely, in order to facilitate our equally-shared parenting. i am a proud christian, who’s a pacifist/vegetarian/feminist/and out about being queer BECAUSE i believe that’s what jesus is all about, and not DESPITE what some people claim jesus was about.

    we all feel as if we have to hide our christian lives from our poly/queer community, our poly/queer lives from our christian community, and catch grief from all communities b/c of our defiant equally-shared parenting. no matter where we go, we’re pissing off somebody. it’s tough, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

    i’ve read a few of the other posts on your blog, and i’d simply like to say, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart, for having the willingness, and courage, to finally express that ambivalence that so many of us straddling so many worlds feel. keep up the good work!!

    • Wow, you certainly are straddling several identities that most in our culture would assume don’t “go together.” It’s amazing how oblivious people can be when they are not “looking” for anything other than heteronormative, vanilla behavior. I would imagine being Christian makes you even more invisible as queer/poly/kink folk because people assume those identities are not part of the Christian community (which is obviously not true). I am going to keep writing about these issues, because I think it’s so important to make ourselves more visible as queer folk and people who are choosing different kinds of family structures. I think you will find my next post interesting – I’m waiting for it to go up on, then I’ll be posting it here. It’s about people defaulting into traditional marriages without considering other types of family structures. I must admit, I’m a big envious of your set-up! I always think it’s nuts to try to the adults’ needs met sexually and emotionally and care for children and provide for a family with only TWO adults. WHAT? Good for you for finding the right setup for you! It’s really rewarding to hear that others appreciate what I’m trying to do. Thank YOU!

  4. Both partners working part time and sharing parenting!!! Terrific! I tried to get my husband to do that but he wouldn’t even consider it. So I ended up going part time and doing most of the parenting. My observation is that its really hard on children when both parents work full time. And, of course, full time these days usually means more than 40 hours per week. Doesn’t matter if you are a carpenter or a professor or a lawyer, teacher, etc., most jobs in this country seem to require more than 40 hours per week. It stinks.

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  6. What a great post. I too found myself nodding through much of it. I have a half written post somewhere on my iPhone about the fear that I’m actually really not ‘good enough’ – more about being a wife/woman than a mother really, but it’s the same issue basically – is it bad that I can’t manage to keep my house clean and that in fact my husband probably does more housework (though not more parenting work just at the moment) than I do?

    We’ve both worked part time most of the time since we had children, but I’ve just had two years ‘off work’ after my third child, and am now back – for the moment – just one day. But for the past twelve months I’ve been working from home most days (while my elder two are at school, they are 5 and 10) (writing, not doing my government job) so getting housework done was not a priority during the day!

    Anyway, I’m writing on my iPhone, and can’t read back over what I’ve written, so sorry if this is rambley. The main thing is I completely relate to sitting at new parents’ and mothers’ groups listening to everyone else bitch about how their husbands don’t ‘help’ and buying my tongue.

    Before my first child was born I read some advice from William Sears about making sure that both parents learned stuff St the beginning equally. What ge really probably said was something like ‘moms, don’t micromanage – if you always tell the dad when to change the nappy or what to dress the baby in, he won’t learn to figure it out on his own.’. And since we came home from the birth centre the day my son was born and neither one of us was quite sure how to put on a nappy, AND since my husband then took 6 weeks off work, we did learn it all together, which I think set us up well.

    Okay, again sorry fir the rambling. I’ll stop now, and maybe go dig that other post out!

    • Hi Kirsten, welcome, so glad you found the blog!! Glad to hear you have a more equitable situation with your husband. I find it hard not to feel guilty about other things too… like housework… he does way more than I! That’s GREAT that he took 6 weeks off from work, I think that makes such a difference, as well as the fact that you can both work part-time. I feel like if more flexible work arrangements were more available, shared parenting would go way up! Would love to see your half-written (or finished) post sometime. What kind of writing do you do?

  7. Actually, I realised I said that slightly wrong – it’s not about not being ‘good enough’ it’s about not being ‘as good as’ – on the one hand I am proud to be part of such an egalitarian relationship (even ten years into the parenting journey), but on the other, how come all those other women can do virutally all the housework (maybe with a little ‘babysitting help’ from their partners on the weekend), and the lion’s share of the parenting, and keep their houses moreorless clean, and not go completely bonkers? Is there something wrong with me, that I can’t (and god help me won’t!) do that?

    • YES, I ask myself that all the time. Am I selfish for not throwing myself on the sword and doing ALL the housework, ALL the parenting, and then I think YES I AM – I want more than that for myself, and that’s OK. Then I continue to beat myself up about it repeatedly :) That’s the part I’m still working through. Your post helps though :)

  8. Yes! I also keep very quiet during such discussions… particularly about bottle washing. My husband LOVES the bottle washing, so he does it all.
    Also, a friend’s husband is giving up work for 1 year to look after their 1 year old. We’re all going around saying how wonderful he is. Yes, it totally is, but we are *not* saying that about our female home-mum friends and I feel really bad about that awful double standard. Anyway, great post, thanks!

    • YES Rachel, that is such an important point. My husband actually said the other night that it’s really invalidating of me, when he gets so much praise for ordinary parenting tasks. I really, really appreciated that. Thanks for visiting!

  9. There is a reason to talk about your husband “doing that” when they start up. We need to normalize daddies doing this, so women need to be brought up short for letting them get away with less and then whinging about it and doing nothing.

    Bringing up the points that you do in your next post might make for an interesting talk. Many women are probably scared that they aren’t good mommies if they don’t do all the housework and kid stuff, and there is this huge stupid social expectation that we have to be better than the daddy.

    The thing that I see women do that does them the most damage in this is hovering around telling the dad how to do everything. If someone told me, “No, like this…don’t do that…you have to…” I’d hand them the kid or the chore and go read a book. It gets worse, sometimes they then do something like say, “Oh I’ll do it!” because the guy isn’t doing it the way they want. Do that enough times no one is going to try again.

    My husband and I have always had huge issues around how to run things efficiently and divide up chores but there has never been the expectation that I would do more. We are both good at the parenting part which we think is much more important and we have always both done lots of that. I do more overall simply because I am a SAHM but when he is home is does a great deal more because that way he gets time with the kids.

    I am thrilled to see a post on this. My oldest is 22 and this has been bother me since he was a baby. The thing that I have hated the most for 22 years is people calling a man taking care of his own children babysitting.

  10. I think being so different, is great as so long as your not fiingthg over who’s right. I personally think since I am the mom and I get the kids all day, that when dad comes home, I should let him be dad. He plays rough at times, and will do some things that make me bit my lip, but I know the kids are enjoying his company, and I think it’s best to just let him have his time with them. Same goes with discipline and punishment. I don’t think I’ve ever stepped in when he’s made a decision to punish (unless I feel he is misunderstanding, or I know something that may change his mind). In general we talk about everything openly. If I didn’t like something he did, I’ll say it, and vice versa. Just not in front of the children. I don’t like to let them see us fight. Especially when it comes to discipline. Naturally the kids will side with the parent who is asking for leniency (memories from my childhood, lol)Talking and compromise is the key to a happy marriage, and journey through parenthood.

  11. You bring up an excellent double standard:
    – if a dad “fails” at child-rearing, that is expected; if a mom “fails” at child care they are actually failures.
    – conversely, if a dad “succeeds” (or does one little thing) he gets all the praise; if a mom “succeeds” well they are just doing their job.

    I recently read an article about a high-powered politician who was glad her temporary position was over and she could focus on the kids. Overall, one particular thing stood out:

    In a job, when a person (usually a woman) is a dedicated parent, this is not acknowledged at all (especially if it’s a woman). However, when a person say, runs a marathon, they are praised infinitely for their effort, dedication, resilience, and time they put into it. They are applauded for waking up at 5am for no other reason than to run 20 miles. But nobody praises parents for waking up at 5am to make the kids’ lunches, or to stay up late working because they had to take care of their sick child, or had to help them with homework. Quite the contrary – it is seen as neglectful that you can’t keep your life straight and have to miss meetings to go to that PTA conference. Coincidentally, that week I got an email thread from work celebrating a co-worker who was running a marathon, and I silently thought about all the parents who will never get that.

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