Excerpt: 'Lazy Husband'
Feb. 18, 2005-- -- In the new book "The Lazy Husband: How to Get Your Men to Do More Parenting and Housework," Joshua Coleman explores ways to get your lazy man out of his cave and into doing some house chores. It's for every woman who wants to get beyond her partner's defensive behavior, so he can become more of a loving man and a team player. Read an excerpt from the book below.
The Perfect Mother
Most of the adults of my generation were raised in some version of a "children should be seen and not heard" era. Boy, have times have changed. Contemporary children are growing up in an environment where children should be seen, talked to, validated, encouraged, supported, and developed. They have gone from being quietly kept in the background to being loudly and proudly paraded into the foreground. In many households, it's the parents who are seen and not heard, and children are the axis upon which the household turns.
My wife and I were as guilty of this as any contemporary parent. When our children were young, our living room looked like a display center for a Toys-R-Us outlet. Lego sets and Lincoln Log constructions dotted the floor like an architectural layout for a dilapidated shopping center. Our refrigerator was transformed into a display case for finger paintings and doily cutouts. Spellings and misspellings of words from multicolored magnetic plastic alphabets competed with macaroni-and-paste compositions of turkeys, flowers, and semideranged faces. And that was just the front. The side was, and remains, a freestanding magnet-reinforced album of their three lives starting from birth to the present, gradually occupying more and more space until every time we put a new picture up, an avalanche of history risks cascading to the floor.
The New Era of the Child
Our culture's shift toward children's well-being has dramatically affected our identity as men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. At the same time, changes in the economy, marriage, and divorce have created confusion and turmoil about who's supposed to do what with the house and the kids. This chapter will examine the many ways in which the burden of these changes has fallen onto women's shoulders, and what may need to change in your household for your partner to do more, and for you to do less. We are today cursed and blessed by an unprecedented amount of information that any parent can now get at any time to answer any question they could ever have about any of their children. Internet Web sites, newspaper articles, and whole sections of bookstores are dedicated to serving this eager and anxious population.
Magazines with titles such as Child, Parenting, Pregnancy, Pregnancy and Baby, Babytalk, Twins, Mommy Too, and Working Mother, to name a few, testify to this insatiable parenting market. On the one hand, this increase in information and awareness has relieved suffering for millions of families. For example, the relatively recent ability to pinpoint such problems as learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, Asperger's syndrome, and countless other psychological and educational disabilities have positively changed the lives of millions of adults and their children. In addition, easy-to-access information has made the sometimes heartbreaking and confusing journey of parenting a far less brambled path. However, with education comes guilt and fear of doing the dreaded "wrong thing." As parents, we're terrified of blowing it. A distraught mother recently said to me, "Last night I lost my patience with my two-year-old and bawled him out for the first time. I don't usually do that, but I'm worried that I scarred him for life." Worry that some small parental loss of control will result in long-term damage is a common concern that I hear on a daily basis in my psychotherapy practice.
Homework and After-School Activities
Residents of the United States currently hold first place for working more hours than any other nation, and we now appear to be moving our children in the same direction. As job security and long-term financial security seem less and less assured, schoolwork and grade performance are more important than ever. As a result, many parents are exhausted not only from jobs, housework, and parenting but from their children's homework and the hundreds of activities in which many children are involved. Parents whose children are in public schools have to work increasingly hard to make sure that their children get an adequate education, while also worrying about their physical safety.
Wealthier parents are moving their children to private schools as the public schools worsen every year from a lack of funding for teachers and educational supplies. This increased emphasis on a hands-on education means more and more work for overwhelmed parents as they try to lessen the load for their overwhelmed children. Playing has been replaced with play dates, free time has been replaced with structured time, hanging out in the neighborhood until dark has been replaced by hanging out in the neighborhood under the watchful eyes of kidnap-wary adults. Our view of parenthood has also been changed by the fact that many parents of today have gone through their own psychotherapy and gained a thorough understanding of the ways that their parents harmed, neglected, or mistreated them. As a result, they know firsthand the damage that can be done through parental errors, and feel terrified that they'll hurt their children in the same way that they felt hurt by their parents. Knowing the mistakes of their parents may cause them to be fiercely committed to be the kind of parent that they never had. Unfortunately, many pursue this entirely noble task at the costs to their own health and the health of their marriages.
While men are hardly immune to these worries, women are bearing the major brunt of this child emphasis. This is because this increased consciousness occurs at a time when, among other things, mothers are less likely than ever to have the time, resources, and energy to do what they would like to be good mothers. While women now have unprecedented opportunities to enter the workforce and to establish meaningful and rewarding careers, many feel torn by the division of loyalties they feel between their children's needs and their needs to support their families or to maintain outside interests. Paradoxically, this new cultural emphasis on children occurs at a time when our society's commitment to parents is lower than it's been in decades. More and more employers are demanding workloads and schedules that create chaos for families, and introduce even greater obstacles to maintaining healthy and intact marriages. Studies show that parents who have to work night shifts or rotating shifts have a greater likelihood of divorcing than those with more stable schedules. Because at least half of today's marriages will end in divorce, women and men feel an increased sense of worry and insecurity about whether their particular family will still be together in the next month, year, or decade. Many become preoccupied with their children because it's the one stable relationship that they can expect to have in the future.
As our view of childhood has changed, so has our view of parenting changed in recent decades. From the 1920s to the 1970s, Americans steadily shifted their child rearing emphasis from valuing conformity, church loyalty, and obedience to focusing on children's autonomy, tolerance, and the ability to think for themselves. This change was accompanied by a transformation in the family climate from an authoritarian to a more democratic and permissive one. As a result of these developments, the boundaries between adulthood and childhood began to blur. For example, when I was growing up, I couldn't stand my parents' music, clothing, and a few of their friends. I would no sooner have put on a Bing Crosby record than they would have worn a tie-dyed T-shirt, smoked a bong, or waxed poetic about the intensity of a Jimi Hendrix solo.
They were the adults -- foreign, unfathomable, living in a world I scarcely deigned to penetrate except to get the keys to the car. However, when my daughter became a teenager, I knew precisely which pile of clothes and books to dig through if I couldn't find something from my CD collection. Her choice of clothing in adolescence was not too different from what I might have worn as a teen; thrift-store chic. In addition, I relied on her to tell me who was new and interesting to listen to [since most of my friends think that anything written after 1972 is an abomination before the rock gods of our generation]. As with parental education, this blurring of generational boundaries has had many benefits. My daughter, now a young adult, discusses her life with me in a way that I wouldn't have dreamed of doing with my parents.
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