I recently finished the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Shulte and was so challenged by the research Brigid shared. The book questioned many of the norms of work and home – particularly the concepts of the “ideal worker” and the “ideal mother”. An ideal worker is the person who stays late, does more, answers emails after hours, and is invested in her job at the expense of all other priorities. The ideal mother is the woman many of us attempt to be because we think we should – spinning plates of work, home, parenthood and marriage all at once, by ourselves. Quite often, the ideal worker and ideal mother are combined into one completely overwhelming individual we measure ourselves against every day.
But Brigid shared an interesting reality. Many families outside of America don’t abide by these ideals. Other cultures don’t have an “ideal mother” who manages absolutely everything pertinent to home and children – regardless of whether or not she works. These women have the help of extended family, their community, and even their husbands. Because of this support, many testify to being less overwhelmed and having strong family ties.
As I read this research, it brought to mind a recurring issue I’ve seen in questions I receive about my own home management. Ever since Josh and I were married, one or both of us was traveling for work. Now that I stay at home, I’m still working in addition to managing the house and our baby. Yet I am able to complete my to-do list and still have time for the things I love.
Part of this is due to my daily routine. But it’s also because I ask for help.
When we were first married, I believed in the “ideal worker”. I also believed in an “ideal wife”. I don’t know where I formed these ideas, but I had a preconceived notion that I needed to do everything in the home in addition to working my full time job, even though we both traveled. I spent my evenings cooking dinner, doing the dishes, starting laundry, and cleaning the house before I finally sat down for the hour I had left with Josh.
One day as I was washing the dishes and glaring through the pass through at my all-too-relaxed husband, he glanced my way.
“Nothing.” Cue the clang of pots and pans.
He walked over. “What’s the matter?”
“I just feel like I have to do everything around here. I can’t ever just sit down after work, I go from work to more work. And it’s making me resent you.”
He looked utterly bewildered. “I had no idea you felt that way!” He exclaimed. “All you had to do was ask me.”
It’s not a new concept. Beth Moore mentioned the exact same scenario in one of her Bible studies. But quite often, we want our husbands to come to the conclusion that we need help – all on their own. And that’s simply not fair.
This isn’t an excuse for them to check out and be insensitive, but it’s not an excuse for us to withhold from the courtesy of asking. This little habit has transformed our marriage, improved our communication, and enabled me to “do it all” – without going crazy.
At first, I felt guilty for asking him to help after he’d worked all day. But then I realized that my resentful attitude was far more offensive to him than doing the dishes. My husband would rather have a happy, relaxed wife who has time for him than a stressed-out woman and dishes he didn’t scrub.
Here’s why I ask him for help:
- It gives him a glimpse of my daily life.
- When Josh helps with the dishes, takes out the garbage, or gives the baby a bottle, he experiences some of my “job”. He sees the things that stress and irritate me, and he is in tune to what the home might need. He can also offer advice and input on how the processes could be improved. This helps him appreciate what I do and gives us a greater sense of unity.
- It encourages communication and honesty.
- When I ask him for help, I have to be honest with myself: I can’t do it all. I need support. Bringing him into the equation makes him feel needed, but it also improves communication. I don’t get to sit and simmer angrily as I bang pots around the kitchen. I have to make the effort of asking for help and communicating my needs and desires. Josh isn’t a mind reader – no man is
- It makes our home a peaceful place.
- By asking Josh for help, my to-do list gets accomplished AND we have time for each other in the evening. Since I prepare breakfast, lunch, and coffee the night before, and do all the dishes before bed, having help makes this process go faster. “Many hands make light work” after all! We go to bed with a clean house, happy marriage, and peaceful home.
What This Doesn’t Mean:
This is not an excuse to berate, nag, or otherwise belittle your husband into helping. It means asking with kindness and openness to his own schedule and priorities. If he is not willing, sit down and communicate to him why you need his help for a few minutes in the evening. Tell him the benefits I’ve listed above. Rather than getting angry about it, express to each other how it will benefit you both in the long run.
As Christians, I think we take on the “ideal wife” model because the Bible does encourage women to prioritize their homes. But there is a huge difference between being a bad steward of your home and asking for help within it. When the Bible says women are to be “keepers at home” (Titus 2:5) it is not simultaneously forbidding work of any other kind – including work outside the home, or working from the home, which the Proverbs 31 woman herself accomplished. This reference to women “keeping the home” is embedded in a passage with multiple virtuous requirements for women, including the call to love our children, love our husbands, and be “pure and sensible”. Paul’s call to keep the home means we are not to be idle in the home, but taking good care of it for the glory of God.
So while I am the primary caretaker and manager of the home, I ask my husband for help. It’s not an affront to his masculinity. It’s a genuine request for his assistance in this partnership we call marriage.
How do you split the work at home? Share below!