Among other reactions, this may raise unresolved anxieties from childhood about needing help and not having it be forthcoming. Many couples begin to experience problems for the first time when a child comes on the scene because both have to newly navigate this shift in roles and responsibilities. This may explain why a majority of couples experience a big decrease in marital satisfaction after the arrival of children. While a woman may experience an increase in stress and a decrease in power, a man may feel burdened by the increase in financial obligations, especially if his wife doesn't go back to work. In addition, men who enjoyed their wive's independence and activity level prior to children may feel burdened by her expressions of dependence or anxiety after a child arrives. Gerry: Before our kids were born, Shauna and I did everything together. We went hiking, bike riding, river rafting. It was a really adventurous, romantic life. I had never met a woman like her who was so independent and strong. That all changed when she became a mother.
Now it seems like she worries about everything and whatever activities we did together have pretty much ground to a halt. It drives me crazy! Shauna: We had a blast before kids, but I feel like Gerry hasn't made the shift into being a dad. It's like he still wants to spend as much time doing all of the things we used to do and ignore the fact that we have to cut back on our expenses and other things. Besides, since I've become a mother, I don't feel as big a need to always be out doing things. I'm happy to hang out with the kids. It feels like he wants to pretend we don't even have children.
Compared to What?
Studies on families reveal something surprising: when women are trying to determine what's fair to expect from their husbands, they don't compare themselves with what their husbands are doing; they compare themselves to what other women are doing. This causes both men and women to accept a standard of participation from the husband that is problematic for the wife. Both men and women are also hampered by the lack of role models to navigate this new domestic order. When women look to their own mothers for examples, a majority find someone who did the majority, if not the entirety of the parenting and housework. Recalling what their fathers contributed doesn't provide much guidance because, in all likelihood, he had his feet propped up before and after dinner, and was out with his friends on the weekends. This lack of models is one reason why women continue to carry the second shift despite its unfairness.
What are the Husbands Thinking?
While many men recognize that their wives are doing more, and may even feel guilty about it, they also look at other men's behavior to help them figure out what's fair. In addition, they look at their own fathers and come up looking good in comparison. Jack: I don't recall my father doing anything around the house growing up. I mean, he'd work in the yard and fix things, but I think my brothers and I were pretty much my mother's responsibility. And I definitely never saw him do laundry, mop a floor, or cook a meal with the exception of the occasional Sunday barbeque. Compared to my father, I work my butt off and my wife still complains about me!" What men don't factor in is that their wives are also doing a lot more than their mothers ever did, and usually with bigger financial and social demands.