I always recommend that parents get babysitters, and this post isn't contradicting that. I firmly believe that if you have zero breaks from your kids, you are likely a worse parent for it, unless you are some kind of amazingly patient Mother Teresa-like person. However, many women I see in couples counseling reject their husband's suggestion of hiring a babysitter, and this post is meant to explain their perspective to their confused (and often, openly dismissive and angry) husbands. Also, I explain why wives often do not want to hire housecleaners, even that twice a month cheap one that your friend's wife loves, or a handyman to install the lighting fixture that you haven't gotten around to, or someone to mow the lawn.
Note: I am aware that many people cannot afford even $10/hr babysitting or a $60/month yard service. However, since the majority of the clients I see can afford these things, I am addressing this post only to the couples whose primary conflict about this issue is not centered around money, but around the wife not WANTING to hire these people who the husband insists would "make their lives easier."
- Anxiety. Women do not feel like a babysitter would be able to attend to their kids in the way that they "should," and sometimes even feel like a babysitter would make some sort of dangerous mistake, particularly with a small baby, a child with medical issues, or a child who has behavior issues. Similarly, they may feel like a housecleaner would use toxic products, not leave the home very clean, or steal. I discuss anxiety first because I believe it is a very common deterrent, and it is also the one that I believe that women need to explore in therapy and via exposure. So this is a case in which I say a person may want to step outside her comfort zone and get a sitter, cleaner, whatever, if it makes sense for your family and the MAIN reason you're not availing yourself of this help is that you are afraid. However, keep in mind that there is a low likelihood that an anxious wife will step outside her comfort zone in any regard if her husband doesn't understand why she is so anxious and minimizes and invalidates her feelings. For husbands who have trouble understanding why our society makes moms so anxious, I recommend reading Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, as well as starting couples counseling, as a counselor can often explain what it feels like to be anxious when you're the laid back partner who just doesn't get it.
- The desire to be a team. Many women aspire to a "team" approach to child rearing and housework. They want to divide up the household and childcare responsibilities with their husband, and this makes them feel close. People are wired to bond to others and work alongside other people on tasks, and when you outsource childcare or housework, this leaves fewer things that a couple can do together, productively, as a team. Guys often feel fine about bonding over leisure activities, hanging out, or sex. Women like those things also, but more frequently in my practice, I see that the woman feels closest when she feels like her husband is on the "same team" as her, working on the home, parenting the kids, and so forth. So many men say, look, I have to work late multiple times a week, so just hire a sitter to help with bedtime and bathtime if you want, so that I don't disappoint you when I am home late. Sounds rational right? Except that then, the woman feels like she is on a team with the babysitter, not with her husband, and she feels increasingly disconnected from him.
- It is attractive to see your husband doing something. As I discuss here, women hate to see guys just sitting around, doing nothing. Maybe it's evolutionary. Guys don't particularly love to see women just sitting around either, but they seem to be more okay with it as long as the woman also acts nice and affectionate. Maybe because on some level males associate women relaxing with sex, since women need to be relaxed to be turned on. (This doesn't work in reverse, since guys, with their generally higher sex drives, can have sex when stressed out pretty easily.) Although a woman may think it's nice that her husband's outside the home work contributes enough toward their household income that they can then pay someone to mow the lawn, she still doesn't get to see him actively getting up and doing something. She usually doesn't see him doing stuff at work either. So basically, she must conclude that he is doing something somewhere that makes enough money to then hire a lawn service or a handyman or what have you, but she never actually gets the excitement that comes from seeing him up and doing productive stuff and feathering their nest.
- The desire to fully embrace this stage of her life, including the sacrifices. Parenting, managing a household, chores, all of that is very time consuming. But it is the stage of life that people with kids are in. It often leads to a lot of dissatisfaction when one partner has embraced being in "family mode" and the other is still in "fun" mode. Not to say that family can't be fun, but if you outsource too much of your drudge work, then it kind of takes away from the full experience of family life. Also, most humans equate some level of sacrifice with meaning and commitment. If you don't sacrifice some of yourself for parenting, are you really a parent? This doesn't have to edge into an unhealthy martyr complex, and if it does, that is different. But on some level, most women want to look back at their lives with kids and say, "My husband and I did it ourselves, there were tough times but we pulled through." They don't want to say, "Parenting the kids was tough so I hired full time help and went out with my girlfriends 5 nights a week for happy hour. I hated bathtime so I never gave a bath on my own in 10 years of parenting!"
To give you some actionable take home points, when your wife says, "Oh my God, the kids are always so tough between 4 and 6pm," she may subconsciously be thinking any of the following:
A. "Dealing with the kids is so rough, but I am kind of proud of myself that I get through this every day and parent the kids pretty well."
B. "I am so tired and I wish my husband would recognize all that I do."
C. "I wish he would help me sometimes."
And here are some possible ways to respond without outsourcing:
A. "I know. Thank you for dealing with them every day."
B. "That's the worst time! It sucks."
C. "I'm sorry. If it gets bad enough that you need me to come home, I will." (And do, if she asks you to.)
Remember, what I've said here doesn't apply to all women, all marriages, or your own wife, unless she has emailed this to you with the subject line, "This is how I feel." This post was designed to give you and your spouse something to discuss, and a window into why your wife doesn't sign up for Sittercity and hire a housekeeper already.
Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, There's Nothing Sexier Than A Man Knocking Stuff Off A To-Do List.
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.