Thursday morning is the day our local sanitation department picks up our recyclables. The designated day has been Thursday since my husband and I moved to our suburban Long Island town three-and-a-half years ago. Wednesday night, despite being exhausted and nauseated, the unfortunate side effects of being pregnant, I dragged out four of the eight bags of recyclables that have piled up since we've been cleaning out our basement. Two trips back and forth, and I was spent.
The day of recyclable pickup, our preschooler, Jeremy, was up early, and he excitedly told me that he heard the garbage trucks roaring down our block. I looked over at the spot in our kitchen where we store our recyclables and saw the remaining four bags, untouched. When my husband, Paul, who generously has been cooking dinner for us and bathing our son all by himself almost every night because I've been too sick, came downstairs, I asked him why he hadn't taken out the garbage. And then came the five most infuriating words a man, who claims to be an equal partner in childcare and all other chores, can say:
"You didn't ask me to."
Deep breath, Meredith, I instructed myself.
"I shouldn't have to ask you to," I responded. This is the mental load that should be his responsibility to share with me. He lives in the same modestly sized house I do and has good-enough eyes that can see the bags of recyclables. I reminded him that I took out four bags the night before, and now we had missed the garbage trucks.
"I don't know when recycling day is," he said in his defense.
Another deep breath. "Would you like me to send you Google calendar reminders?" I offered, trying to think of what he'd do in this situation.
"You can if you want," he replied, before adding that it probably won't help.
Men try to solve problems, every psychologist I’ve ever interviewed has told me. In that moment, I wanted to say, “Well, fucking solve this problem.”
“I just don’t have as good of a memory as you do,” he insisted.
It’s probably why he hasn’t sent a gift to the friend whose wife gave birth to their first child several months ago. I’ve drawn the line—your friends and family, your responsibility. But inevitably, he drops the ball, and I feel bad.
He’s not wrong about his poor memory, but I know it’s merely an excuse for his discomfort in taking on the mind labor that seems unfamiliar to many others of his gender. My dad, who has an impressive memory, apparently struggles with remembering to help my mom. He pitched in much more than the men in his generation married to stay-at-home moms, and yet his contributions still weren’t enough for my working mother … and they wouldn’t be for any working mom. She continues to remind him about every. Little. Thing. And if she didn’t? Their dog wouldn’t get walked, doctor appointments wouldn’t get made, and their house would, quite literally, fall apart. Doing what is asked of you is helpful. Doing what isn't asked of you? That's really what women want.
Thankfully, husbands are doing more than ever at home, so much that they think they’re doing an equal share, or at least think they have as many work-life conflicts as moms do, according to a study in published in July 2017 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
In fact, one Saturday night, as we were getting ready to meet friends for dinner, I asked my husband to be ready to leave at 6:30 so we wouldn’t be late. Paul stayed in his spot on the couch as I prepped to go. He was ready to walk out the door at 6:35. Sure, it’s just five minutes, but that’s five extra minutes we had to appease our hangry preschooler.
Paul justified his delay with “I had to do several things for Jeremy."
Incredulous, I thought of everything I had done for Jeremy—picked out his clothes, got him dressed, filled his water cup for him, packed it, plus snacks and a change of clothes, and put on one of his shoes.
“You put on one shoe,” I said to Paul.
“Yeah, but he fought me more than you.”
In Paul’s head, because that one task felt difficult, it added up to several tasks. It really was just one, though, he later admitted.
Yes, I should feel lucky that Paul put on one shoe. Some husbands don’t even do that. Yes, I should feel lucky he was only five minutes behind my somewhat-arbitrary departure time. Some husbands don’t even try to meet their wives’ friends on schedule. Yes, I should feel lucky that Paul tolerates my “nagging,” which are just reminders to get him to be on time, clean up and do the right thing for his friends and family. Yes, he contributes to our family in many helpful ways, like earning a respectable salary, setting us up for retirement and driving us everywhere because I’m terrible behind the wheel. Yes, he is absolutely a great guy and I wouldn’t choose any other husband for me or father for my children. I'm fortunate beyond measure.
But it is still not enough.
“I don't want to micromanage housework. I want a partner with equal initiative,” Gemma Hartley wrote on HarpersBazaar.com. And that’s just it. If we’re constantly delegating responsibilities, and then reminding our spouses to actually do them, it’s almost as tiring as just doing everything ourselves. Men, don't just look at what your wife is doing. Look at your home and how it looks different every day, and then think about how that's happening and contribute to making that happen. Think about your child's needs and learn, as we have, to anticipate them and solve them. It's extra effort, true. But that's kind of the point.
This article originally appeared on Working Mother.
Working Mother is mentor, role model and advocate for the country’s more than 17 million moms who are devoted to their families and committed to their careers. Through our website, magazine, research, radio and powerful events, Working Mother provides its readers with the community, solutions and strategies they need to thrive.