The Idiot Husband

Essays, Featured — By on December 3, 2012 at 6:08 am


Just last week I walked into a conversation my girlfriends were having about how incapable their husbands are of doing menial household tasks. One friend sent her husband to the grocery store because she had been working long hours and didn’t have time to make the weekly trip. She complained that he bought all the wrong stuff, too much junk food, and she ended up having to go back to the store. The other two chimed in. One suggested that she train him better; he failed on purpose so she wouldn’t send him to the store again. The other friend empathized because she had similar experiences with her spouse. I stood there, sipping my coffee, thinking about how humiliated their husbands would be if they heard the way they were talking about them.

It seems to me this phenomenon is not new. Women all over the world have long united over their idiotic husbands. They laugh behind their backs about how they can’t find the can opener when they are out of town, and how they ruin their clothes when attempting to simply dry them. My own mother famously tells a story of when she went on a retreat with a bunch of church ladies. She returned home to find me running around in only a diaper and sunglasses, and my brothers covered with sunburns. Our negligent father let us play all day outside without a slather of spf (It was the 80′s–who cared?).

When I find myself in conversations like the one last week, I honestly cannot commiserate. My husband started doing his own laundry after the first month of marriage when I ruined several of his things. He actually cleans the kitchen much better than I do, and he can fold and iron like a pro. Sure he can’t find something in the pantry to save his life, but I spent ten minutes looking for the mayo yesterday too.

I have only done surface studies of women’s history, but through observation alone, I know there is a problem in our modern, American culture. When women began to enter the mainstream workforce during World War II, a lot of these women found careers rewarding. For the first time they were able to contribute to the household income and provide more stability and better livelihoods for their families. However, when this transition happened, there was no grand paradigm shift of household responsibilities. Women still did the majority of the work in the home: the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing. Today more women are receiving an education than ever. Women are making more money than they have before, although still not as much as their male counterparts, yet women remain the primary caretakers of the home and children. Of course lots of men do housework. Lots of men take care of their children and cook. But primarily, these burdens fall to the wife. It seems to me there is a huge cultural shift that has yet to take place and this secretly makes women resentful and bitter. So we do what we do best: lash out in hilarious, passive-aggressive banter with our girlfriends.

We see this in mainstream culture as well, not just with our friends and neighbors. Deborah Verone famously and hysterically ridicules her husband for his lazy behavior. She has to beg him to take the kids to the park for thirty minutes, and when he does he forgets their coats and gloves. Ray fulfills this role of the idiotic, negligent, husband and father. He is uninterested in housework and school projects, and although I love his character–this portrayal of the American male bothers me. The truth is, if I stumbled upon a group of guys talking about their wives and laughing about how they couldn’t do simple household tasks, I would call them chauvinist pigs. I would abhor their very existence for disrespecting their wives in that way. For some reason though, it’s okay for women to talk like this about their husbands.

There are three culprits in this equation worthy of blame. First of all our society has yet to build a structure that divides household responsibilities evenly. When was the last time you saw a Swiffer commercial with a man dusting and swiffering? And when was the last time you saw a movie where a mother was building a tree house with her children? Of course gender roles are helpful. They give us preset guidelines for responsibility division, but these gender roles I’m referencing here have very little to do with ability. Men are extremely capable of dusting and likewise women are capable of building tree houses. Although we want to consider our society progressive and modern, these gender roles are still quite rigid. But unfortunately they no longer serve our society adequately. From a structural-functional perspective, the structure we have built no longer functions for us optimally. Thus, the structure must change. And this change has yet to occur.

I have no problem at all with a wife who chooses to stay home and raise her children. If she wants to do all the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing that is her preference and prerogative. However, I do have a problem with a woman who chooses to do all of this and then complains about how her husband cannot iron a shirt or make mac-n-cheese for the kids. Because the second culprit in this scenario, is (I hate to say it) women. We believe we can do everything. We believe that we have been endowed with secret super powers and we can in fact work 9 hour days, come home to cook like Rachel Ray, and mother like Mrs. Cleaver. We fail to ask for help. We fail to include our husbands in early child-rearing responsibilities, and we fail to communicate this need we have for support. Instead we do what our mothers did–we endure. We make due. We internalize. And we nag like it’s our job. Perhaps the worst part is, we feel like this is okay. We fail to see that this behavior is detrimental to our husbands, our marriages and our souls.

And this leads me to the third variable and problem in my equation, the husband. It’s far too easy for men to perpetuate this cycle. They follow the pattern laid out by their fathers whose fathers came back from World War II with depression and PTSD. If I could tell the men of America one simple truth it would be this: You can do it. You can be an engaged, doting father. You can learn how to iron a table cloth and maintain your manhood. You can parent and nurture just as good as your wife. Baking a birthday cake will not wound your masculinity. Just because your dad didn’t do these things, doesn’t mean you can’t.

Taking into account all three facets of the problem, it boils down to the simple truth that husbands and wives all too easily fall into a trap perfectly set by our culture. We are like dumb little deer walking into a clearing–ignorant and vulnerable. And progressive Christianity has provided no real solution to this problem. In most Christian circles, men are belittled if they choose to stay home and women are snubbed out of the stay-at-home circle if they choose to work. The truth is for any marriage to work and thrive there has to be a sense of shared responsibility, coupled with a deep understanding and respect for the other partner and what they are contributing to the unit. As I sit here and write this, 8 weeks from my son’s due date, I honestly don’t think I would have ever confronted these issues if I had not been forced to. For years my husband has been pointing out that men are constantly painted as idiotic husbands in pop culture, while women get away with being nagging and disrespectful. It was only after his urging that he be involved with every aspect of our son’s infancy that I realized how flawed our modern system is.

Simply put, I believe there is a better way. And it starts with couples abandoning everything they know about gender roles and household responsibilities, taking a thoughtful look at what works best for them, and then respecting and defending that structure. In turn, I believe this honors God. It strengthens the family unit when both partners feel validated in their roles. It provides stability for children and an understanding that yes, mommies can build tree houses and daddies can bake birthday cakes. Furthermore, it eliminates hidden resentment that can come from both spouses about inequality of labor division. I believe that when parents engage in a co-parenting style that foremost glorifies God and meets the needs of their family, they are accomplishing something that most people only dream of–a peaceful, happy home.

Deidra Romero is a twenty-something blogger living in Nashville, TN with her handsome husband, adorable son, and two feral terriers. She loves good coffee, good books, and good company. At her bravest moments with her brightest ideas she blogs here:

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  • Dianne says:

    Well said. I too think there is a better way, that starts with laying aside our cultural stereotypes and seeking to serve one another.

  • Rachael Washburn says:

    My husband and I regularly have conversations about this obscure dynamic. Maybe we are more aware of this issue because I do have a husband that is so involved in the daily tasks of caring for my son, my home, and me! There are some things I am very good at, but maintaining the home is just not one of them. Compromise is a part of every healthy marriage, and thankfully, my husband picked up the slack in the day to day upkeep of the house. My husband is so proud to be a father that potty trained our sweet little three year old. And we would honestly eat charred meals regularly if I was the cook instead of him. I was blessed with a few things I AM good at and my husband graciously let’s me count those things towards maintaining our family and overlooks the cliché “wife does all the housework” ideas. I often overhear women bashing their husbands in “light conversation.” I often feel like it would be so rude of me to brag about my hubby and how gereat he is, so I end up saying nothing at all.
    My husband is actually disgusted by mainstream television shows that make husbands out to be lazy, beer drinking, football watching, children ignoring men. How disappointing! Shows that do not portray fathers that way are sadly far and few between.
    I am relieved and glad to know that there is another grateful wife for her awesome husband!

    • John Dunham says:

      Speak up! This whole thing is a narrative waiting to be rewritten in many social circles, and you can be the (gentle at first) voice to speak life into yours. I wager that about half the women in your group secretly have good enough husbands, but everyone is simply mimicking what they hear on TV and what has been modeled in the circle—they’re just trying to fit in. I fear you may be ostracized a little, but I guarantee one or two women will come up to you later and thank you for your bravery, since they’ve been aching to turn the stories around. They will respect you and you will have a tighter bond.

      I’ve become so much more aware of how words matter. The common tirade speaks death and division into shells of lives, but those who are gracious and refuse to take offense live robustly.

      One other thing . . . I’m recovering from an addiction to ranting. Seriously. As I used to cleverly deconstruct a target with my seemingly appreciative friends, I felt all the rush an addict feels when they get a fix. As the rant wound down, the rush tapered off, and I would try to inject more rant from another angle just to feel good. It was utter futility. I wonder how many of these husband rants are exactly the same thing. Being a woman/mother/wife is hard work. The smallest boost of endorphins is a welcome respite from an otherwise chaotic existence. If we all (husbands included) get in closer touch with the Source of life (I have no formula for this, and it’s not necessarily easy), the need for addictive fixes will wane. We can live more purely and, as I said, robustly.

      Grace and peace on your journey!

  • Nathan Bubna says:

    Laying aside cultural stereotypes or abandoning what you know about gendered household responsibilities is hard. Go for it, but don’t expect it to be easy and don’t expect it to last without maintenance. Culture presses in on us like a flood and it is not enough to push it back once and claim victory. Go in with the expectations of challenge, forgetfulness, and old habits; combine this with a commitment to love sacrificially when (not if) your partner is bowed by the pressure of culture.

    This kind of change can, does, and will take generations too. Teach your kids a broad spectrum of household skills if you can. It is an investment in their future, one that is probably even more important than their schooling, as they will spend more of their life doing these things than history or long division and certainly have more relational opportunities to serve and bless people with cooking/fixing/cleaning/etc than they will with algebra. It will prepare them to be either single or to partner with a spouse whose skills and expectations are totally unknown. If you are sending any kid of yours out into the world without preparing them to run a house well on their own, you are doing them a great disservice.

  • Nathan Bubna says:

    Oh, and thank you, thank you, thank you for calling out the damage and disrespect our culture continually foists upon husbands. Even the Leave It To Beaver model (with all of its flawed idealism) was a healthier role model than Everybody Loves Raymond or a thousand other “idiotic husbands” out there. The “idiotic husband/nagging wife” stereotypes are both directly damaging the young men of today (lowered expectations == bad) and sabotaging marriages. I cringe everytime i see it portrayed (except perhaps in satire like the Simpsons).

  • EmilyTimbol says:

    I’m still a newlywed, almost eight months into marriage, but I still appreciated this article. I make it a conscious decision to buy products whose commercials show men cleaning/helping with housework, since those ads are so rare. I’m also someone who’s ruined more than one bridal shower with my less-than-subtle remarks to women who acted as if a spice rack and crock pot is all the bride needed to be a “good” wife.

    This was something my husband and I talked about extensively in the years we dated, before we married – that I was not down for archaic gender roles. We cook all our meals together, which has become one of our favorite activities, and while I do most of the housework (since I am much more into cleanliness/tidiness than him) anytime I ask for his help he’s more than willing to grab a duster or vacuum. Him having this attitude makes me feel not just loved, but respected, and I know that my not mocking him for buying the wrong cheese on a store trip, makes him feel the same.

    I think we all can agree there needs to be more mutual respect in today’s marriages.

    • There really should, be, I agree. I would point out, however, that such mutual respect goes both ways. Those who lean on the gender equality/feminist side have a long history of belittling those who choose more traditional gender roles in their families, and such ridicule surely is, by any definition, disrespectful.

    • For the record, I have 2 boys and a girl, and all 5 of us clean the kitchen after each meal, and all of us clean house. Interestingly, only the boys do yardwork :)

  • Anonymous says:

    We don’t believe we can do everything as much as we were taught we have to do everything.

  • David Hartshorn says:

    What a blessing. Had I only known, the difficulties, the rages, and the hurts could have been circumvented. Household peace is a reflection of righteousness. Great counsel.

  • John Dunham says:

    Thanks, Deidra. I’ve long felt discomfort about this, and you’ve expressed the problem and solution so well. My wife and I have essentially done this, and it’s working well. We’re entering another season where our methods will be tested further, but by God’s grace we’ll continue to be a household of life.

  • Janel Walker says:

    this is great Deidre……

  • I really enjoyed the historical approach to this article, as I’ve been studying how WWII changed American culture.

  • My wife and I learned an extremely valuable thing in pre-marital counseling:

    Never talk badly about your spouse to others.

    We still maintain this through eight years of marriage. We know we have each other’s back.

  • Deidra! What a welcome voice on this issue :) I remember being a newlywed completely in love wondering why all the neighbor women were complaining about their husbands. 3 years, 3 moves and 2 boys 19 months apart and I found myself having the same thoughts in my head. One day I voiced them to a counselor. I told her I really wish that he would bathe one while i took care of the other (i forget the exact thing that was going on). She asked me, “did you tell him?”. Hm. No. She gave me a gold nugget that day. She told me that most husbands are happy to help but we expect them to intuitively know what to do. She quickly gave me examples of areas I was probably not intuitive about needs… and I understood. I tried it out and gently told him the next time how he could help me. He was thrilled to help and that was all it took. Now my husband does a lot around the house… we are truly a team. WIth 4 even though he is the breadwinner I do need help more than I would love to admit (insert supermom issue), but he is so quick to do that. Thanks for writing this. I think you should write a book :)

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