We four women are well into our second drink at the bar when the war on men begins.
“ … So he walks in ten minutes before the guests are supposed to arrive, still in his gym clothes, and asks if there’s anything he can do,” says my friend, a Long Island stay-at-home mother of three. “The table’s already set, the kids are already in bed, so I just tell him to get ready. And where do I find him five minutes later? Munching on the apps!”
“Oh my God, at least he asked to help,” sniffs another mom. “My husband wouldn’t notice we’d moved unless I told him.”
I chime in: “I know! I’m sure the baby will still be up when I get home. ‘She was playing,’” I say sarcastically, as if imitating my husband.
The joke — that my husband is a wuss and an imbecile who can’t be counted on to put our daughter to bed — kills just like I know it will. Never mind that it’s based on a largely false picture of my marriage, a picture I regularly dine out on among my friends in what is admittedly a betrayal (however innocent) of my husband. If it is, in fact, sometimes true that my 10-month-old daughter is up late when I get home, it’s not because my husband is an idiot but because he favors a gentle approach to bedtime (playing guitar to lull her to sleep). Whereas I, usually tired and impatient at the end of the day, often allow her to cry it out. Expedient? Yes. But I’m no shoo-in for Parent of the Year.
And yet I still throw my partner under the bus. To my friends. To mothers in day care. In secret mom groups on social media, which are ostensibly devoted to parenting tips but often devolve into complaint sessions about Dear Hubby (or DH, one of the various, sometimes snarky, acronyms peppering parenting boards, which also include DS, DD, and, occasionally, DW).
Here’s a representative example from a fellow mom:
“DH decided to take the baby for a walk this morning and I came home to find my one-month-old slumped over in her carriage. Poor kid probably hit her head on every bump. Then I discover he’s got her wearing two different socks….”
An especially poetic entry:
* promises to do dishes*
* watches TV*
*gets up to pee*
*tells me not to remind him because he knows*
“I’m just really dizzy, I feel like I should go to bed…”
Me—“Oh totally fine. You can do the dishes tomorrow.”
[picture of tony but messy kitchen, sink filled with detritus]
The specifics of the complaints may differ, but the discontent is the same: My (pick one) lazy/inept/thoughtless husband is a real idiot/jerk/asshole who doesn’t have a clue about taking care of our kids/house/life, while I, the martyred wife and mother, have to do everything.
Husband-bashing is such an integral part of the mommy boards that the posts require no introduction, much less grammar or spelling:
“When your kitchen is a complete mess because your hubby cooked your bday dinner. I just want flowers. [sneering emoticon]”
“When you’re almost 41 weeks and your SO still asks you what’s for dinner every night. And I just finished baking cookies for his mom for her birthday then cleaned the kitchen. But he needs to lie down because he threw his back out. And when I say leftovers he’s like [sardonic face emoticon].
“My husband has never cleaned the bathroom(s) the entire time we have been together. I’ve asked and he said he would then I’ve caught him trying to clean the toilet with toiletpaper –yea that ended quickly.”
It goes on and on. I won’t mention the names of the bulletin boards lest I find myself banned. But for fans of the genre, there’s also a nifty a Facebook page.
It’s true that on average women still do more housework than men, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, a situation that has remained more or less unchanged for the last 15 years.
But even women who are lucky enough to be in equitable partnerships sometimes find themselves trashing our partners.
“I try not to do this,” said Katherine Stanley Obando, a mother of a 3-year-old who lives in Costa Rica. But when she realized en route to school that her husband forgot to pack the diapers in the preschool bag, she slipped. “When I dropped her off, a whole group of moms was chatting right at the entrance with the teacher in charge. I announced to her — and therefore the group — that I had no diapers with me for the day, and it was because my husband had packed the bag. This was true, but I instantly thought, If we are a team, was that really necessary? Why did I have to say that? Of course, all the moms clucked understandingly.”
When Jeannine Walls’s two kids were little, she thought she’d automatically have a million mom friends. But she found it difficult to bond with her peers, she recalls, because she actually thought her husband was okay. “Going to the playgrounds around the neighborhood, I’d always run into other moms who would sit around the sandbox and complain about their spouse,” she says. “I remember the circle coming around to me, and I kind of started and said, ‘No real complaints here!’ and the other moms looked at me like I was a freak of nature.”
No doubt there are some awful husbands out there. But there’s also a lot of exaggeration. The question is why.
“When moms get together and complain, it’s almost like group therapy,” says Lisa Barr, author and editor of the popular suburban parenting blog Girlilla Warfare.
“It’s part of the sisterhood. A woman feels angry and alone and shares her pain because she needs to,” says Shelley, a U.K.-born journalist living in Tel Aviv. “… So you try to make her feel that she isn’t married to the only schmuck in town — and most times you’d prefer to share how your guy is a million times better than hers, but where will she go with that?”
Where, indeed? Imagine if, when I was at the bar with my girlfriends, I’d said, “Oh, my husband’s at home with the baby— ” be careful to never, ever apply the sexist term “babysitting” to dad, since no one ever says it about mom “ —and he’ll probably clean the house and cook me dinner, too!”
That’s the truth, but expressing it would have stopped the conversation dead in its tracks, not to mention gotten me barred from the next gathering, where the conversation would presumably turn to me and what a condescending showoff I am.
To be honest, I’m just insecure about my own failings. Thanks to his army training, my husband can clean the house and organize it far better than I can, even though I’m the primary caregiver. (We are both freelancers, but since his marketing career is more lucrative than my writing, I’m with the baby most of the day.)
I’m not the only one cloaking my lack of confidence by slagging my partner. “In the beginning of our marriage, he was a better, more skilled cook and had patience to calm children in the middle of the night,” my friend Amy Wolfe, a mother of four from Brooklyn, admits of her husband. “Once we were staying at friends’ for the weekend, and the wife commented how amazing it was that my kids called for my husband before me. I immediately searched for some domestic fault he had and pointed it out.”
Still, we appear to be in the minority. Most moms are quite certain they do a far better job than their hapless husbands — guys who are competent in their careers but are useless around the house purportedly unable to fulfill a simple “honey-do.”
“Women tell their husbands, ‘I’d like you to do this, this, and this,’” Barr says, noting that they often treat their husbands like the babysitter or nanny, but they’re pissed when he doesn’t follow the exact instructions — bath, book, bed.
Are men actually idiots? Are these guys who manage to run their own businesses or show up to someone else’s workplace and competently carry their careers suddenly unable to slap a PB&J sandwich together just because they got married and had kids? Or are we just taking our cues from pop culture?
“In recent years, the image of the manly man hero, breadwinner and outdoorsman have been displaced by images of men as bumbling husbands and dumb dads,” Thomas Bivins writes in a chapter titled “Stereotypes in Advertising” in the book Persuasion Ethics Today (Routledge 2015). “The usually humorous portrayals of men, particularly in home settings, show them as confused and incompetent and in need of rescue by a calm and reasonable mom.”
Yes, they’re all Ray Romanos, Al Bundys, and Homer Simpsons, and we’re the frustrated wives, rolling our eyes at their ineptitude, excoriating them behind their backs.
“Dear Husband: You’re Not Dying, You Have a Cold,” read a recent article on yourtango.com, just one in a series of “Dear Husband” pieces deploying the stinging sarcasm that is typical of the husband-bashing genre.
On one board, a woman whose spouse was sick for a week texts his wife to let her know he finally slept through the night. As she writes:
“Wow that’s awesome, I haven’t slept though the night in over 2 years!!!!! So yea, tell me one more time that you slept through the night and how amazing it was [[angry emoticon]]”
Here’s the problem. I “liked” that post. And I related to it. Sometimes I too want to kill my husband because he can sleep through the night rather than having to wake up to nurse. But I shouldn’t complain. If what everyone else says and writes about their husbands is true, mine is a prince.
And yet: He doesn’t actually know what food to pack in the baby’s bag. He puts her diaper on so loosely, she poops all over the crib. He leaves the precious breast-milk bottle out to spoil after putting her to bed. Etc. And so I complain. Because I’m tired. And while I love being a mom, and I know my husband’s a terrific partner, parenting can be hard. I need to take all this frustration out on someone. And it cannot be the kid.
Then again, I can’t take it out on my husband either. Not to his face. Not if I want to stay married. So I go out for a drink and lambaste him to my mommy cohort — never mind that he could probably say far worse about me.
Then again, what are DWs for?