“Hmm … nice bed-making skills.”
“I made the bed. I could just not make it and leave it for you to do.”
“No, don’t do that. Feel free to keep making it.”
I like my bed sheets tucked snugly, particularly at the bottom of the bed. Then I get to mess them up again when I hop into bed at night. Rumpled sheets at the onset is one of my pet hates. We all have them.
He never does it right. Wait — I’m going to reframe that statement — he never does it like me. His bed-making tactics involve a hasty heist of blanket and sheets over the bed and maybe a little adjustment here and there. He never tucks. He’ll get in bed and make disgruntled noises as he pushes my tight tucks out with his feet.
What can I say? He’s a free spirit.
Even has those words tattooed on his arm.
He’ll make a joke about my iron-fisted tucks just as I give him lip for his free-form style, but he never complains about it and I have learned to not complain about his messy version of a bed-make.
The fact that he’s making the bed is enough.
“I’ll just do it.”
How many times do women utter those words to her man because he doesn’t do something the way she likes it done?
It begins early when a relationship is getting all domesticated-like. Women get in the home and want everything just so. It’s like some kind of inbuilt “Sadie Queen Nurturer Syndrome” (SQNS) or something, and it has been drummed into us since birth.
SQNS seems to encompass just about everything — the laundry; the way the dishwasher is stacked; dressing the kids; cooking and general cleaning; lining the garbage bin; remembering birthdays and important stuff like events and appointments … and for crying out loud — that is totally not how you brush the kid’s hair.
Women can be control freaks like that.
Our way or the highway, baby.
It gets worse when kids burst on the scene, especially during those first years and I’ll tell you why — it is mothering instinct overdrive. Otherwise known as maternal gatekeeping.
Gemma Hartley from Quartz.com:
“Maternal gatekeeping is the act of standing between men and their ability to become full and equal partners by micromanaging or bulldozing their efforts … Women, some men believe, just won’t give up control who have exacting standards they think the men in their lives can’t follow.”
For some women, it kicks in like an unstoppable superpower after the birth of a baby. It can make the difference between sink or swim for us. Life is suddenly very different. Smooth routine, systems and efficiency is what saves our sanity. That, and maybe a glass of wine every now and then.
More from Hartley:
“From childhood, women are bombarded with cultural messaging that tells us we are the only ones qualified for this work. We’re told in ways both overt and subtle that emotional labor is our birthright. We’re “naturally” more in tune with our emotional side. We’re “naturally” more organized. We’re “naturally” better at keeping a household running, planning holidays, arranging childcare, noticing the details.”
Hmm … there is a lot of “natural-a-lees” going on up there, but is it really true?
We do naturally get it in our heads that we are “nurturers” and less than a woman if we are not. Then we begin to reinforce our cultural “facts” and practice them by taking on the heavy mental and emotional load in the domestic sphere needed to keep a household running smoothly — we become the emotional labor hub of the family and take everything on ourselves by doing things like:
Initiating delicate or important conversations, managing schedules and routines, remembering to send birthday and holiday cards to relatives, and asking for help (sometimes repeatedly) emptying the dishwasher or getting a start on dinner — e.g. Emotional Labor.
He usually doesn’t do it the right way, or … um … our way. Then we speak that fated phrase:
“I’ll just do it.”
You know what happens next?
A man will actually stop trying to help. He will figure there’s no point if he can’t do it right. He will also use a woman’s “I’ll just do it” resistance as an excuse to not even try. Which in turn gives rise to nagging and eventually, the shady road toward resentment and good old discord.
I’ve seen it happen time and time again and witnessed the consequences: Unbalance. Estrangement. Indifference. Resentment.
Doesn’t have to be this way.
I learned early on in my life to quit being so precious about how things run in the household. It was a matter of shifting my perspective to let go of the need to control everything. I would ask myself the same questions that still run through my mind when I feel that itch bristle beneath the surface: Does it really matter how he does it? And: Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?
Of course, I want to be happy. Duh.
I found that a large part of finding happiness was to relinquish control to the universal truth — our men are capable of taking on more emotional labor than we give them credit for and moreover, they want to do it.
If he loves you, he wants to be of service. That’s love.
So what if he doesn’t do it like you? At least he’s doing it.
When our children were small, my husband had his own way of doing things when he was on “baby watch”. He didn’t always stick to the routine I had worked so hard to achieve and he would choose unusual out-of-season outfits to dress the kids in before taking them out. More than once, I’d show up, take one look at sour-milk-reeking baby smothered in dried up bits of the last meal and cringe on the inside.
I would wonder why on earth the kid still had her eyes open, was sucking on something foreign and stunk like mac and cheese. Then, I’d immediately go for a diaper-check-feel.
Mother-mode instincts. Overdrive.
Though, never once did I chide him for doing things a different way to me. I was just grateful that he was there to help out and realized that it didn’t matter how he chose to do things so long as the baby was cared for and happy.
Baby always was and so was dad.
I also didn’t want to take away the inner-goodness that I knew he was feeling for demonstrating his capabilities as a father and a husband. It made him feel competent, equal and purposeful that he was able to embrace his fatherly and husbandly roles without being subjected to disapproval from me — mother hen.
Besides, by no means did I want him to stop helping out. No. Way. You got to weigh that up. It’s human nature to not offer assistance when your efforts are repeatedly cut-down by your spouse.
Men need to feel useful and helpful to their women because when a good man knows he is easing a load off from his woman, he feels validated and worthy as her mate and this plays a large part in how he shows her that he cares.
The fact that I have been on the flip side to this situation has probably made a significant impact in the way I see household balancing roles between men and women. My first husband was the control freak. It was he that wanted everything “just so” and me that could do no right.
I know how it feels to be ridiculed for the little things — hell, according to my ex-husband, I couldn’t even hang a bathroom towel correctly.
He was the maternal gatekeeper — the domestic bulldozer who saw fit to organize my organizing; and you know what else I know about it?
It is much less about wanting to control, use or delegate emotional labor as an excuse to nit-pick and nag as much as a symptom of an already imbalanced relationship.
I think we tend to use emotional labor as a scapegoat; a passive-aggressive means to claim some kind of control over our feelings, express dissatisfaction in the relationship and our lives when we ought to be striving to create more collaborative connections about what’s important in our shared existence.
This means practicing self-awareness, empathy and open communication about how both partners are going to show up and develop a set of shared living standards that works for them. Which will invoke compromise and the desire to tune into the emotional labor it takes to do what’s required in a way that keeps everyone’s best interest in mind.
You’ve got to ease up on things in life. No one will die because the dishwasher was stacked a little … moronically.
Is that even a word?
My husband never makes our bed how I prefer it to be made, but he never complains when he catches me creep in after him to tuck in the sheets the way I like them to be tucked — at least on my side of the bed.
He can keep his free-spirited untuck on his side and that works for the both of us because we have been able to meet in a place that makes sense to us.
Balance doesn’t always need to be about a 50/50 split; it just means that both people need to show up for 100% of the emotional labor to achieve smooth collaboration on the domestic front. Then, we can get on with the important stuff — like messing up that bed again.