The Unexpected Way Going Back to Work Improved My Marriage
"What pan do I use to make the soup?" he called from the kitchen — and I lost it. First of all, the soup was already made, so it needed to be heated, not "made." Semantics aside, the question was ridiculous. What pan? The one that fits the soup, obviously.
My husband, the one who's been using the same pans I have for the last 20 years, needed my help to heat soup.
It wasn't always this way: Early in our relationship, my husband did most of the cooking. We ate late, decadent dinners — grilled lamb chops and mashed red potatoes with plenty of butter and cream, roasted green beans and lightly dressed salad, and dessert, because he couldn't resist. (He still can't, thank goodness, because dessert is delicious.) The first time I went to his place for dinner, he made paella. I had never had paella and I was in love.
When we had children who needed earlier, regular meals, I took over the cooking. I worked (very) part-time at home, while he worked all day in an office, so it made sense for me to make most of our meals. He started "helping" instead of doing.
Then things changed again. After 17 years of doing the cooking, I took a full-time job in an office. Since my husband's work is more flexible now, I assumed he'd step up in the kitchen. What I didn't realize was that he'd forgotten how.
How did we get to this point? Why couldn't he heat soup without help? The answer, as with so many things, is that I am also to blame. We let it happen together.
I was born in the 1970s and my parents had a traditional (for the era) relationship. They were married with four children, and my mother stayed home while my father ran a real estate business with his brothers.
But there was something very unusual about them, which I didn't realize until much, much later. They shared the work. No matter how many hours he worked, my dad did a fair amount of cooking, always cleaned up after himself, and knew his way around the kitchen.
We never talked about it — it just was. Naturally, I assumed my much younger future husband would be the same way.
A recent article on Slate, "Searching for an Equal Co-Parent: Six Factors That Influence Whether Dad Pulls His Weight at Home," helped me understand. Men who have a higher level of education and support gender equality are more likely to help out, while men who are the primary breadwinners are less likely to pack lunches or do household chores. No real surprises there.
When mom and dad both work, he's more likely to pitch in, especially if schedules are mismatched (i.e., he's home alone with the kids) or he works in a female-dominated field, like nursing or HR. Although, the article points out, "Women's gains in income largely decrease the amount of housework they perform rather than significantly increasing men's levels of housework." The solution? More often than not is to outsource the labor — or just live in a slightly dirtier house.
For us, my going back to work was our tipping point. When I started working more and had less flexibility, it was his turn, but we weren't ready. Well, he wasn't ready — but he's learning.
Over the last few weeks, we've laughed about his stupid question. (Yes, there are stupid questions.) I introduced him to Google, which is where I've learned a lot of what I know about cooking. Plus, if you're a 49-year-old man and start Googling, "How do you heat soup?" you'll quickly realize what a stupid question that is.
With Google as his sous-chef, he made a creamy pesto sauce the other night without asking me any questions, even though I was just a room away.
As for our sons, I have high hopes. Our middle son walked into the kitchen on that fateful evening and called out, "Is this soup for our supper? Looks great!" He pulled a pan out of the drawer, put the soup on the stove, and asked if I could keep an eye on it while he went to take a quick shower before dinner. Then we had dinner together.
I hope if our boys have children of their own, they'll remember the basics and continue doing them as often as their partners. And if they don't know how to do something? They can call me or their father — or just Google it, like an adult.