Which brings me to resentment. Which brings me to Jancee Dunn’s new book How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, which she wrote after a crisis in her own marriage involving division of labor, anger, vicious fights, and finally, the realization that if things didn’t change, divorce was inevitable. Her meticulously researched book pulls together the social science behind domestic labor and gender roles (news to me: Men are more likely to be awakened by “strong wind” than a crying baby, whereas women will levitate awake and sprint into a child’s room—running through the air à la Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon—at the merest infant sniff) with first-person interviews and her own marital experiments in couples counseling. She even sought help from an FBI crisis negotiator.
A note: Her how-to is primarily for heterosexual couples—there is a larger body of research on heterosexual couples than there is for same-sex couples, and hetero couples have all the aforementioned gender-role programming to deal with—but the book is pretty helpful for anyone at all who’s ever resented their partner after having a baby.
I spoke with Dunn to get her top five tips for not hating your partner after kids.
1. Let him screw up.
A friend of mine recently said, about her husband and new baby girl, “He would take a bullet for this kid, but he might forget to put a hat on her.” Remember that social pipeline of information? He doesn’t have it, and if you don’t let him learn, you’re engaging in “maternal gatekeeping,” or keeping him from participating in the nitty-gritty of childcare.
He has to bond with his kids too, and you have to let him make mistakes. That means not hovering and not signaling, overtly or subtly, that you know better. Total immersion is the only way, says Dunn. “Leave the house. Get a coffee, or go away for the weekend. His way is not the wrong way.” (I have recently learned that it doesn’t actually help my sweating husband, when he’s struggling to get the kids out the door, to raise my eyebrows and say “classic mistake—always put your own coat on last.”) If you don’t have both partners fully taking ownership, then you’ll stay stuck in the employer/sullen teenage employee dynamic.
But what, you ask, if your husband doesn’t want to do any domestic labor? What if he’s content to let you be the maker of the grocery lists and the keeper of the pediatrician appointments, summer camps, play dates and special laundry instructions? Then, Dunn, says, you are going to have to learn to …
2. Stay on your own side.
You need to advocate for what you need, or stay on your own side. Now, this advocating can mean losing your temper and screaming that he needs to get off his ass and fold a load of laundry, or no it’s not okay to take a long nap after a long hot shower after taking a long solo run all morning, or you can have a civil conversation and divide up the chores. And keep having that civil conversation, weekly or monthly, as new responsibilities crop up and others fade away. (Goodbye diapers, hello baseball camp.)
Dunn suggests dividing housework based on who likes or loathes what chores—her own husband hates the grocery store (“the crowds, the florescent lighting, whereas I like seeing the new products and thinking about what I’m going to cook”) so food shopping has become her responsibility. He’s compulsively punctual, so he’s in charge of all things time-sensitive, like bill-paying and taking his daughter to her classes.