“Do you think this is a good idea?”
My husband looked up from his phone, confused as to where my usual shaming voice had gone bickering off to.
I pointed at my toddler son, walking up the stairs with a pair of scissors, and repeated my question: “Do you think this is a good idea?”
Before I knew it my husband was on his feet, our toddler safe in his arms and the kitchen, complete with scissors, was cleaned up and things were put away. At that moment, our post-child domestic life was revolutionized.
Like many other new parents, my husband and I had fallen into the nagging trap. I would see him do something wrong—or nothing at all—say something, and he would grumble and correct his behavior, only to repeat it once more. Every time we went through this cycle my voice became a little less effective, and every time he ignored me, I became a little bit angrier.
When I began talking to my friends about my husband’s seeming disengagement I quickly learned that many of them felt the same way. We used to joke that everyone says that love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, but that no one gets a whip at the altar. Something had to happen, but I was at a total loss of what to do. All I knew is that I needed him to carry part of the parental weight on his shoulders, but I wasn’t sure how to get it over there.
I tried reasoning. Written instructions. Angry looks. Nudges and nagging. I even tried the silent treatment, which my husband thought was a wonderful break from the routine.
I realized that I'd been taking care of everything and micromanaging every aspect of my kid’s life, leaving him little to do as the dad.
Then one day, I decided to try something entirely different: I would ask him to take over part of the responsibility of worrying about the small things.
And I started asking him: “Do you think this is a good idea?”
When I first started, he didn’t get it. He wasn’t used to paying attention to the details, and so I’d fill him in:
Do you think it’s a good idea for you to be using the computer in front of your son?
Do you think it’s a good idea to leave the cabinets with the dish soap unlocked?
Do you think it’s a good idea to let your wife go to bed without a kiss every night?
The first few times I called him out on things this way he was confused and thought I was being sarcastic. I realized that I'd been taking care of everything and micromanaging every aspect of my kid’s life, leaving him little to do as the dad.
When our son was an infant he was usually with me or his grandma, so my husband had never thought anything of working in front of him, and hadn’t noticed that his precocious little toddler turns to everyone but him to play. He also had grown used to me being too busy and tired to seek out his affection, leaving me utterly frustrated that my husband no longer sought out mine when I was ready to give it.
Asking him this one simple question allowed him to re-engage with our family, and also reminded me to make room for him to do so.
Parenthood is stressful. Messy. Frustrating. Exhausting. It's also filled with so much wonder, love and joy that there are days where I stand in awe of it. In the past, these moments were always sandwiches between long spans of worry, frustration and exhaustion.
Now I realize that my asking this one simple question, I can both re-train my husband to take on more responsibility in the house and teach myself to let some of it go.