Tell Me About It: Stay-at-home dad wants son to do the work

Posted: January 25, 2013

Adapted from an online discussion.

Question: My stay-at-home-dad husband has decided that our 16-year-old son should be doing more at home. I agree. The problem is that my husband does very little around the house. I am not exaggerating; he regularly takes our daughter to and from school and the two cars in for maintenance. Anything else is irregular, and done only when he feels like it or there is no alternative, like when I'm away for work. If I'm being generous, I'd say he does 20 percent of what needs doing.

This is its own issue, but I know that as soon as Dad asks Son to do X and Y, when X and Y are more than Dad does in a couple of weeks, Son is going to rebel. Son can legitimately claim he also has school and homework on top of X and Y while Dad does not.

I have suggested to my husband that Son will be far more cooperative if Son sees that Dad is also contributing. Dad huffed that I don't appreciate what he does (I wish I had more to appreciate!) and that Son should just do what he is told to do, end of story. I do not see a good way to handle this and I'm dreading the fights.

Answer: "OK, I wasn't being fair about what you do around the house. But kids notice this stuff, so before we give Son more responsibilities, let's at least be clear about ours." Then, as an exercise in child-rearing, you and your husband list what needs to be done, figure out who currently does what, putting in black-and-white your main concern here, about how little your husband actually does, and reallocate those chores as needed to you, your husband, your son, and your daughter. Also give the kids a choice of choosing the way they contribute or having it assigned. Deal?

And if/when your son notices his workload is harder than his dad's, then suggest he take it up with his father directly. It's not your job to mediate their differences.

Your husband isn't alone in the "Son should just do what he is told" camp, but I don't advise going that way, and you should urge your husband not to. At best, the authoritarian model creates grudging followers versus willing contributors.

Comment: The bigger problem here is the letter-writer's barely concealed (and perhaps justified) contempt for her husband. The kids are watching all of this play out, not just the parts you want them to be watching. I remember myself at 16, and my parents' highly dysfunctional marriage and their inability to do anything about it played a large part in my disregard for anything they had to say about anything.

Answer: Right. If the conversation doesn't result in an epiphany about what each parent contributes to the household, then the path to equitable chores might run through the office of a skilled marriage counselor. Thanks.


E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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