What Would My Husband Do?
I started asking myself this question when I realized that my husband was allowing himself basic self-care after becoming a parent. My life changed when I finally did the same.
My husband is my idol. Seriously. Isn’t that cute?
Before you roll your eyes and look for a more relatable article, bear with me here.
It actually took me a couple of years to figure that out. I built up some significant snark and quite a bit of resentment toward him when we started our parenting journey together. It all started with the fact that as new parents, my husband let me take the lead on all things baby. And I willingly took it.
I didn’t ask for his help. So, he helped himself.
If I didn’t ask for his help, he took care of his own needs. He slept in. (I mean, isn’t that enough to bring out the hater in any new mom?) He wouldn’t budge when the tiny wails started in the middle of the night unless I nudged him or asked him to help out before we went to bed. I appreciated his willingness, but why did I have to ask? I was starting to feel like I was parenting two people. Having to ask for and explain what I needed felt almost harder than doing it myself. So, I just started to do it all.
Here’s where it got confusing. When I did line up his help, he jumped up at the first sound of a cry (sometimes before I even awoke) and never complained. He took care of our son with adoration, compassion, and patience that I couldn’t muster all the time. But for some reason, I was still angry.
Why did everyone just assume that I was the one who was taking care of the kids? I shouldn’t have had to ask for help—I had a partner, and shouldn’t he sacrifice as much as I do?
Once, when we had just one kiddo and my husband was home with the baby while I worked, he recounted his day to me and told me he’d called his mom (who lives forty-five minutes away) to come watch the baby so he could grocery shop. He was so proud for helping with the groceries! But I was livid: I need her help. I need it for things I can’t do with the baby. Like work and, if possible, anything to care for myself. He can’t just waste her do-gooding (which isn’t a thing, she’s always happy to be asked to help) on a trip to the grocery store when I have to bring the kid with me, even for my own haircuts!
Asking for help feels like failing for so many new mothers—but why?
And that’s when something clicked. I thought to myself, “I have to” bring the kid with me. I didn’t. I could have asked for help just like my husband did, but for some reason I wasn’t doing it. I was hoping someone would step in, because asking felt like I was failing.
Why do so many mothers feel like this? I don’t really know for sure, but as I’ve focused my work on helping new moms, I am learning that a lot of us do exactly that. Even if it’s fleeting for some, or a constant pounding in the head for others, so many of us feel like this. There is this image of motherhood everywhere that makes it seem like we’ve got this all on our own.
“Look at my smiling kids and these perfectly healthy and cute lunches I make every day!” #blessed. We see people all around us making it work, but what we don’t see are the meltdowns, the struggles, and the hired help. It’s not necessarily feeling like we have to measure up, even, it’s the internal feeling of, I’m not sure I can do this, and everyone else looks like they’re coping just fine. What is wrong with me? So we push on.
In trying to keep it together on my own, it all came crashing down.
Over time, my husband’s sleeping in and calling in help when he wanted it, coupled with my lack of self-care and the implied assumption that I would handle everything all caught up to me and came crashing down. I realized I was depressed for months, and I was straddling a line of hate for this incredible man. This person I loved most in the world. My husband has been my best friend since I was fifteen. The way I love him is just a fact of life. It’s who I am. He is the best person I know, and I know that he feels the same. But then, sometimes, I’d find myself giving him the finger behind his back or boiling in a silent rage over his seeming lack of concern for my needs and happiness. Something had to change.
As I struggled to try to figure out how I could have so much anger for this amazing man who was nothing but helpful and loving and kind, something happened.
One day I noticed my husband was super stressed, so I took our two kids out for the day so he could work uninterrupted. When we came back home for lunch, my husband was in the kitchen cooking a delicious meal for himself. And I was instantly annoyed. Dude—you have time to cook a delicious and nutritious meal for yourself? On a day when I also have a lot to do, but I have forgone that to help alleviate your stress, you use that time to take care of yourself?
I was upset because when I have a ton of work to do, I shove random crap into my face for basic sustenance, and I barely even leave the computer to pee. And that’s when I had an epiphany: Was my lack of self care something I was proud of? Something I expected to see in others? There he was, taking time to… oh… feed himself food he enjoys. That’s a good thing. A basic life need. We should be allowed to do that. I was allowed to to that—I just wasn’t allowing myself.
My husband was allowing himself basic self-care. My life changed when I finally did the same.
I realized right then that it was me who needed to change, not him. In fact, I needed to be more like him! It never occurred to him to sacrifice his basic needs to get things done, and that shouldn’t have been my default either. I don’t know whether it’s my type-A personality, the way I was raised, or just society’s gender norms that I fell into, but I finally saw that my husband was doing nothing wrong. In fact, he was doing everything right. And if I thought about it, I could really benefit from taking a page out of his book. So I started asking for help—not just when I needed it, but when I wanted it. I started emulating my husband. And life got better. Way better, in fact.
My husband operated on the assumption that I was in control because that’s the role I took on. When I didn’t ask for his help, he assumed I wanted to be the one handing it all. He wasn’t ignoring my needs or imposing a job on me that I hadn’t signed up for. My actions led him to believe that I had enthusiastically taken on the role of primary caregiver, and in his attempt to carve out his place as a parent, he stepped into the role he felt I’d given him. I didn’t want another person I had to ask for help. I wanted a partner, but that was not the message I was sending. He was actually happy to help—and even take over—at the drop of a hat.
When I brought up how I was feeling and my plan of attack to banish the little green envious monster inside me, he responded with such immediate understanding that I knew this would work. I tried to prepare him. I told him that I was going to take care of my needs, and he needed to start assuming his role as a co-parent. He just looked at me and said, “great.” He had been wanting this autonomy and partnership, but since I was the one struggling, he’d been letting me take the lead. And that was the last we discussed it. My trust in him took over, and his “permission” from me to do his thing gave him a new approach to parenting. Turns out he was a natural.
So now “Operation WWMHD” (what would my husband do) is in full effect, and life as a parent is pretty great. He understands what I need. And now, like my husband, I also get to do what I need, and have someone to tag in seamlessly.
If he expects that he should be able to get work done (and he should) on a Saturday, I can also have the same expectation. I announce what I need or what I am going to do, and then I just let the assumption that he can take over kick in—just as he would. No need to plan or schedule or rush home. If he can do it, I can do it. Some mornings I send the kids over to him so he can get up while I get some more sleep. And he’s happy(ish) to get up.
The more I do I as my husband does, the more he does as I do.
The more I emulate him, the more he emulates me. He slid right into the co-parenting role I had dreamed he would have, rather than being one more person I needed to micro-manage. When I find that I need some self-care, I line up help. We have two grandmas who are always happy to help if they can, sisters who are happy to have nephews rather than their own (for now), and a couple of incredible sitters who are worth their weight in gold. Having someone watch the kids so I can take care of myself is just as important as someone watching the kids so I can work.
My husband is no longer my source of stress or a tiny cloud of anger hanging over my head that makes me feel guilty. He is my inspiration to be a parent who is awesome, loving, and hands-on thats’s also a woman who meet her own needs—guilt-free.
Shannon Shearn is the owner and founder of Savage Wellness, a virtual gym designed just for moms. She is a writer, mother, personal trainer and health coach, passionate about helping mothers prioritize their health and happiness.