My wife Amy* and I had just had our second child Lisa*, and we were adjusting to the chaos that comes with a newborn. I was doing my part as a husband and father, when my mother began spamming me with a laundry list of ‘observations’ about how my household was being run. It was clear that my parents, as traditional Asian parents, had strong opinions about my role as a hands-on father. They even had strong opinions about how my kids were to be managed! To them, I was doing too much, and much more than a ‘man of the house’ should be doing. Below is the letter I wrote to them, when it was clear something had to be said about their meddling.
Dear Mum and Dad,
I have read your messages and acknowledge them. I’ve had some time to think and here are my distilled thoughts. Please don’t take my response as fighting words – these are my thoughts just as you had put down your own thoughts. I dislike these kind of situations, because again I am cast in the middle between my wife and family, and both of you.
I know what you are alluding to, i.e. the division of labour at home. Who does what and why, probably even alluding to gender roles and what it used to be like in your day.
I understand that some people think the home is completely the wife’s domain, and the husband should not get involved. Sure, I think maybe that worked and perhaps was the expectation in the older days. I don’t necessarily understand why it worked, or why men didn’t get more involved at home, but sure, I get that this is the main experience some people (like yourselves), grew up with.
Now, the question is then – how I am not subscribing to this division of labour in my own home?
There is no excuse
I believe there is no excuse to not help out at home. Whether the household configuration is made up of one or two breadwinners, I think these days both husband and wife should share the workload at home. I know this, because I have friends and all my male friends help out with the housework. ALL, WILLINGLY, VOLUNTARILY.
This is not about peer pressure. And this is certainly not about the wife having ‘control’ over the husband, who also happens to be the breadwinner. This is the norm. This is me. And this is what I will continue to do – whether or not a maid comes into the picture.
Some parents advocate for their sons to help at home, and not be a lazy bum who does nothing. Taking care of a household is tough, what more with children involved – and you should know this.
Nothing wrong with being an involved partner
What exactly is wrong if I want to cook on a day I happen to get home early? What is wrong if I want to go to the market sometimes, and what is wrong if I want to bathe Mary* – she’s on the way to doing it all herself soon anyway? How is it wrong if I want to cook on a Saturday or Sunday, and what is wrong if I want to wash some dishes? When I lived alone, I did all the housework anyway, so was all that domestication for nothing? This is my family!
I don’t get involved with anything else apart from the above, so I really don’t know what is wrong with the way things are being done. These are things I do willingly, and it is by no means something that my wife is expecting I do.
Before Lisa, Amy handled the bills, restocked the house, and took care of Mary and now Lisa. She reminded everyone to take their vitamins and she handled school matters. My wife also did the laundry, cooking, cleaning and so much else. Maybe you all don’t see this first hand but you certainly cannot assume she does not do much. And if I could help to alleviate some of that burden, why not?
If it is in your view that the breadwinner of the house should do nothing when he comes home, then so be it. That is your view and I will respect it, but I will not subscribe to it.
Lastly, as much as I appreciate your advice, sometimes it feels like I’m being managed. I feel there is some desire from you to see my household fit a certain expectation of yours. While I can appreciate that you are only looking out for any potential missteps, I think sometimes we have to make our own mistakes. We can only learn from our own mistakes. You can’t teach everything all the time and expect a perfect result all the time.
Frankly, I feel like I’ve been the most filial son a family could ask for, so I really don’t know what else is expected of me or how perfect we have to be. I think Amy and I have done a great job raising our children. Both of us are kind, caring, we have great friends and we don’t demand for anything. We want for nothing except maybe a holiday every now and then. We are prudent with our spending and our values are aligned to ensuring our children get the best. What am I missing, mum and dad? Really, what?
I’m tired of having to defend and prove myself all the time.
Both of you need to take a step back and calm down a bit. The world will not come crumbling down, there’s no need to intervene all the time. We will be alright.
Managing Interfering Parents or In-Laws
There were much fewer comments from my parents to me after I sent them this email. What they may talk about behind my back – I don’t really care.
Having gone through what I went through with my meddling parents, I do believe that there are lines that need to be drawn and defined from the outset with regard to your children’s grandparents. This is especially if they have the potential to be overbearing, and definitely if they live within driving distance!
Managing one’s parents or in-laws is very important when a newborn (especially a firstborn) enters the picture. I can safely say that doing this will result in a happy household.
It also takes some level of patience and common sense from the one who is being targeted. In my case, my parents were trying to influence me in my relationship with my wife. I know of other men with newborns who take the bait – hook line and sinker – by not censoring what the grandparents are saying. You end up with a very unhappy wife. The worse situation is where it ends up being a proxy war – I have also witnessed in-laws versus in-laws, fought over the baby.
Remembering What is Most Important
To you fathers out there who are navigating such challenging situations, remember that your parents and in-laws usually mean well. You (and your wife) will always be their child and hence they will always want to look out for you. In their view, they are thinking – “We’ve done this before, why can’t they see? They should listen to me!”
However, we did not become parents to be hand-held through one of the most challenging but fulfilling aspects of life. I think this is the spirit of the conversation that you may end up having with your parents/in-laws should you be in a similar situation.
Whatever comments or opinions they have – just say thank you, absorb what makes sense and move on. In the end, as long as your children and wife are happy and you’ve done no harm to anyone else, you’ve done right!
By Richard Lee
Richard Lee is a hands-on father who wrote this letter to his parents, without the knowledge of his wife. He believes a happy wife is a happy life.
*Names have been changed