Dear Ms. Wai,
I’m happily married to a Chinese guy, we have a young daughter, and for the first few months my husbands mother lived with us to help take care of us and the baby. Unlike many horror stories you hear, I actually like my mother-in-law and we have a good relationship. But we always knew it was a temporary situation. My father-in-law stayed in the village they live in and she always knew she needed to go back to him. So after about one year she packed up and left.
Her leaving wasn’t the problem, the damage was done more while she was around. While me and my hubby used to share household duties, he got very used to his mom doing everything for us. Now not only does he rarely help with the our daughter, but he’s refusing to do simple things he used to do with no complaint, like laundry or cooking. He says he’s busy and working and his mom could do it all, so I should too!
I also work! So I’m trying to juggle a toddler, my job and normal household responsibilities and now it feels like I have another baby to take care of (my hubby). I’m exhausted all the time and yesterday he told me he ordering delivery wasn’t healthy and we need to start cooking all our meals. And by “we” he meant me. We had a big blowup about how much I am doing and how he never contributes but he just kept telling me his mom (“and all the moms he knows”) takes care of the house and the baby, so why can’t I?
It also bothers me that he wants very little to do with our daughter at this age. I expect my babies father to be hands-on and active in her life at all stages, but he’s hardly been alone with her and I feel like he doesn’t even really know her at all. What can I do?!
What can you do? You can smash the patriarchy, that’s what you need to do! Let’s face it, in almost every society in the world women are expected to do the bulk of the housework and child rearing regardless of if they have a job, or how much time they have. Even in more equal households women are expected to be the house “managers” and the husband is more like an employee, following orders of the wife (“Don’t forget the doctors appt tomorrow.” “Can you take out the trash?” “I don’t have time to go to the store, can you? Here’s the list of what we need.”)
It’s called the “mental load” and it is usually the woman’s job to keep track of all that. And as a result of this pressure, mixed with full-time working, women are burning out, which it sounds like something you relate to. And the mental load exists in western countries, where equality is more the norm, so in China it is even worse (as you are finding out).
So what to do? Well, if your hubby is acting like a spoiled kid, time to get him to grow up. You need to push him into the proverbial lake. He needs some time alone with your daughter. Make a date with a friend, or an appointment at a time you know he will be free and available to watch your daughter and leave them alone for the afternoon. You might come back to a messy house, a overtired baby and an exasperated husband, but it sounds like your hubby IS capable (based on his past) he just got lazy.
So force him to measure up. He might not get it right the first few times, and he definitely won’t do it the way you do it, but you didn’t have your own style before you had the baby either. You had to learn on the go, so give him the same opportunity (let him make the same mistakes you made) and he’ll get it eventually. Many times men avoid it because it is scary, and they are able to avoid it because the woman covers for them. I’m going to guess you were incredibly scared the day your mother-in-law left and you were all alone with the baby, but you adapted. He hasn’t had that time yet, since you’ve been there to take care of everything. He needs that time too.
And as for dinner, well, perhaps a little snark is called for. Next time you want to order delivery for dinner, order it…for one. And when it arrives and he asks where his food is? Sweetly answer, “Oh, I thought you wanted to make your own dinner so I just got a meal for me.” If he makes some remark about how he wants YOU to cook dinner for everyone just say “well, that’s your idea and you want to do it, so you can. I can’t wait to eat your home cooked meals everyday.” Sarcastic and perhaps a little immature? Yes, bit it’s not nearly as immature as he is being it’s a lesson he won’t forget quickly. Heh heh…