Dear Hallee: “Help!”
I’m embarrassed to say how long ago I received the following letter – several weeks at least. I read it, and started mulling over it and just never got back to it. It took me a while to decide how to respond, and then it took me a while to decide to respond here. The subject line in the email was “Help!”
I think discussing this here is safe because this is a pretty anonymous arena and there are absolutely no signs that would say who this person is. But, if it’s you and you’re upset that I addressed it so publicly, I apologize. I just really think that you would do well to hear several different opinions, and I really think that what I have to say will help someone else.
So, here’s the letter. Read below for my response:
I have 3 kids, ages 11,8, 4. I homeschool the 8 y/o full-time and homeschool the 4 y/o part-time and she attends a co-op 3 days/week that is 30 minutes away. I have a 6000 sq ft house on about 2 acres. I also work every other weekend and most nights. My husband earns a wonderful living for us, but doesn’t want to help out in any aspect of parenting, housekeeping, yardwork, or fixing stuff. He is also very messy and makes really big messes for me to pick up. He criticizes me all the time for not doing a good enough job in any aspect of anything. I have broken down the house into zones, like you have suggested.
I try to cook meals ahead of time. I try to at least get the kids to help me out, but my 8 y/o has ADHD and cleaning and organizing is very difficult for him. This is a life skill I am trying to teach him, but in the meantime he is little help. My husband also doesn’t want me to ask the kids to do too much work – he thinks it should be my job. In addition, my husband likes the kids to be a few years ahead in their academics so we do extra lessons and schoolwork on top of everything else (swim team, tennis, basketball, therapy, gymnastics).
I have tried for years to explain that I can’t do all of this, but he thinks I’m being lazy. I know if anyone could handle all of this you could. My husband won’t allow me to stop working, won’t allow the kids to back off activities or extra schoolwork and won’t let the kids help me more with housework.
Gregg and I are looking for property right now. We looked at a 4300 square foot home on 15 acres. We loved the home, but knew it would not be for us. As we walked from floor to floor and room to room we agreed that if we had a home that big, every minute of my day would be spent maintaining it. I’m just not willing to devote that much time to a home big enough that my children could hide away in separate rooms and never even have to interact with their family.
As for the homeschooling: the thing about homeschooling is that it takes your time and attention. You must devote that time and attention to your homeschooled student, or else you will surely have a failed program – especially when you have a very young student and a very attention-required student. You have both. In order to effectively homeschool, other areas in your life that would require your time and attention simply must be sacrificed.
I am an extremely capable person. I work quickly and efficiently at all tasks, and am very good at multi-tasking. I left my job after Scott was born and my bosses were forced to hire two people to replace me. I believe the skills given to me are God-ordained and are to be used for His work and His purposes, even if right now they’re just to manage our home with parenting with writing with blogging.
That said, as capable as I am, I know that I would not be able to handle full time homeschooling, a 6000 square foot house and large yard, and work part time — and continue to devote myself to God as I am called to do. There are simply not enough hours in the day, nor are there enough ways to multitask that kind of work load.
Another thing that really stands out is your relationship with your husband. A marriage is to be a partnership – not a dictatorship. I can assure you that if my Gregg saw me overloaded and needing help, he would go out of his way to find a way to help me. He has done so over and over during the course of our marriage. On more than one occasion, he has bagged up all the laundry and taken it to a pay-per-pound laundry service. He is not averse to doing dishes, taking the garbage to the curb, doing yard work, keeping the cars maintained, and he makes the bed most mornings. He lovingly limited me to one morning per week in the soup kitchen when it began to consume my time and attention. When I hear of a ministry activity I want to get involved in, he never says “no,” he simply asks what ministry I intend to give up so that I don’t overextend.
When Gregg read this letter, the first thing he said was, “Assuming her husband isn’t a jerk, I wonder if her husband has ever tried to help her in the past and she criticized him so that now he just doesn’t even try.” Maybe Gregg doesn’t make the bed as neatly as I would. Maybe he doesn’t load the dishwasher the exact same way I would load it. But I would never criticize or disrespect his efforts. If I ever did, I would certainly be asking for trouble. Understand that neither I nor Gregg are suggesting that it may be so cut and dry as that. However, in study after study, book after book, case after case, in even secular literature this is a cycle that is quite common whenever wives feel their husbands are not helping enough in the home.
What is certainly true is that there was a beginning to this current situation, and — unless he’s always been a bully — you need to trace back to where your relationship started to fall apart. You need to have a LONG sit-down with him, away from your home and your children, and let him read this letter and let him see how far beyond your very human limits you feel like you’ve been pushed. Then let him help you fix it and don’t criticize or disrespect.
If it were me, I’d say to my husband, “You have two choices. No negotiating, no ultimatums. It’s just come down to this, and you must chose one. A housekeeper or a private school for the kids. Period.” I wouldn’t back down. I’d research schools and contact agencies for the housekeeper and go to your husband with the list. You must get help. You simply must have help.
I would also insist that if he didn’t want to start maintaining the yard, then he needs to hire someone to do it until your son is old enough to take on the chore.
We limit our children to two activities — on top of church. Currently, that’s horseback riding and softball. It looks like your children are overloaded with activities, academic and otherwise. Your husband is going to end up with a resentful wife worked into an early grave and some extremely resentful and exhausted children if he doesn’t learn to back off the demands and chill on the dictates.
That said, I read through your schedule that you sent me and your zones look good. I don’t know if I would do a whole lot of meal cooking ahead of time. At least for me, this just creates more stress. I don’t understand why people think freezer cooking is a time-saver, because it takes at least two days of prep and cooking to pull it off, and I don’t have two full days to devote to it. However, I’d get a crock pot cookbook and just start cooking in a crockpot every night. Throw most crockpot meals together with a salad and you have a decent meal.
If you don’t have to work for finances, if it were me I’d stop for now. You have enough on your plate without the burden of being away from home for so many hours a week. If you must work, or if your pay would have to go toward the housekeeper or the gardener or the private school, then on the nights and weekends you work, you need to leave a chore list for your older children and a honey-do list for your husband. Keep it light at first and gradually add to it.
Your letter sounds like you’re sinking and gasping your last breath. I pray that this situation is resolved for you.
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“ground into the ground” — that’s well said. That’s exactly what it looks like is happening.
This is a beautiful reply. I’m ashamed I didn’t recommend getting mentoring from church.
Unlike Gregg, I am assuming that this husband is far from reality and extremely self centered. The “perfect” wife/child/house/yard does not exist, yet it sounds as if he believes this to be true.
I do, however, agree that many women are under the assumption that they are the only ones who can do house keeping & child rearing the “correct” way which leaves their husbands feeling unneeded and disrespected (and their children unprepared for adult life without a clear picture on how a healthy marriage looks). I also agree that a LONG talk away from home and children is due because the life this couple has now is not destined to last without some kind of casualty.
As usual, I think your answers were down to earth and right on the money. I pray that this family makes the changes it needs to be strong and healthy.
I must say I am in 100% agreement with Hallee. In the letter the writer sounds completely overwhelmed. I have been overwhelmed by 2 small children, a 1600 sq ft home, and a chronic illness. My spouse helps all the time. I do not say to him the dishes need to be this way or any criticisms, he works hard and helps me when he sees a need. I am lucky. I wish I had better advice but want the writer to know I feel for her and am thinking of her and hoping her and her spouse can find a middle ground where everyone can flourish instead of being ground into the ground.
I don’t have the weight load you have and I already feel like I am drowning and not reaching my potential some days. So you can see where I am coming from I am homeschooling 2 – 3rd and 1rst. I try to figure out what to do with the 3 yr. old but I feel many times she gets the bad end of the deal. I clean houses 1 day a week, have responsibilities at home school co-op 1 day a week, have a 954 sq. ft house that I can’t keep up and make meals. Some days I feel like I am drowning. Currently my house is a disaster but I have a wonderful husband who cares and helps me. With this “little” in comparison to you I already feel the weight. I want to commend you for trying to meet your husband’s WANTS but at the same time something has to give and I don’t think it should be your health – mental and physical. How interesting to me that he doesn’t see the flawed rational that he works all day but YOU WORK AT NIGHT. How is it YOUR job to do “the woman’s work” and go out and work for an income also?
I’m with Hallee. You need to sit down and have a very honest conversation with him – not a “what do you think” but a “here’s the deal. I can’t do it anymore.” If he doesn’t have an open willing heart I would say the next “Bible centered” step (if you are both in a Christian Church) would be to step to an older wise couple in the church or your pastor. If you aren’t church attenders than I would recommend the next step of a mediator to help you both work through it. If he still isn’t willing to do anything or any of that it isn’t my place to suggest whether you should leave or stay.
I will third or fourth the “women criticizing the jobs men do and then wondering why they don’t help” line.
Wow! I am stunned and heartsick for this wife and mother. Makes me wonder if this man was waited on hand and foot by his mother and is expecting the same type of treatment from his wife. And requiring that she work nights and weekends is ludicrous and sounds like some sort of punishment especially if he makes enough to support the family. She already has several full-time jobs – mother, wife, cook, yard woman, housekeeper, teacher, laundress, nurse, etc. I would suggest that they switch places for one week and let him see the reality of it for himself.
She is in my heart and my prayers.
I feel the need to add that children can not be made without two people. A woman needs her partner, her mate to conceive each child. She may nourish and protect them for 9 months but when a baby is born- BOTH parents are responsible for that child. To teach them, love them, protect them, to nurture them. I sense that Dad thinks his part is done or minimal at this point, and I feel like it’s just begun. I don’t know if these are the right words to convey my thoughts, I just sense that Dad wants all the credit but none of the work. Bringing money in is important, yet I feel time with your children and time with your not over stressed wife is more important.
I think counseling is an excellent idea- whether with a pastor, mentoring couple, or a professional. It sounds like outside help and vision is needed.
Maintaining the family is a family job, not just a mom job.
It sounds like both the husband and the wife have a lot of unmet expectations, both for each other and for their children. The best advice I can give her is to pray about it, and to ask God to help them let go of those expectations. This is a broken world and making messes and cleaning them up is our reality.
I hate the saying “God never gives you more than you can handle” because its an out right lie. If God only gave you what you could handle you’d have no need of Him. He will put you in situations where you feel overwhelmed so you will realize your need and call out to Him. She should ask God to help her husband see her hurt and how much she needs help. Her husband is called to protect her, even from overworking herself. Maybe her husband is hurt too and that’s why he’s asking so much, ask God to reveal his pain to her. She is called to help him and submit to his headship, but that doesn’t mean do everything for him. A man gains more respect by acting like a grown man rather than a little boy. Keeping in mind she cannot expect his help in every little thing either, we all do things alone at times.
I am most concerned about when and how much she sleeps? Sleep is also a reality, though our culture pretends its not.
I realize I’m not offering any quick fixes or I guess any real practical advice here, but maybe by asking God for a change of heart, she’ll be able to view this from another perspective and come up with a better solution. Prayer has been know to work miracles, and if anyone can help them its God.
I could be wrong, but from what is being told, I think there is more going on than just “dictatorship”. I lived in an abusive marriage for several years, and this is exactly the trials that I lived through. It sounds like the over extended scheduling of the wife is the husbands way of making sure she has absolutely no time for a life outside of his kingdom. That added in with the insults makes me wonder if the previous advice about hiring help or approaching him with an ultimatum is even an option. My gut tells me probably not. My heart aches for this woman and I pray that she has some kind of support system outside of her home. It is obcvious that she is SCREAMING out for help. My prayers are going up for her.
This gal sounds fantastic, but she definitely lacks some self-confidence. I was in the same boat that she is now, only my husband was a jerk. I cleaned and kept up a huge house, homeschooled 2 kids, worked 2 nights a week at his office (he demanded it), did all cooking, yardwork, errands, bills, and anything else that needed to be done. He came home from work and wanted food on the table, house clean and kids turned into genius’s. I could never do anything right!
The turning point came when I found out that he had been having an affair for 5 years! WOW! What an eye opener for me! That day I learned that NO ONE was gonna take care of my needs, except ME!!!! I was soooo angry! That day I changed! I am a God-fearing woman, but God did not intend for me to be a DOORMAT! Marriage is a partnership…..give and take. Yes, I did give him an ultimatum, but THIS TIME it was on MY terms! I had guts now! NO MORE DOORMAT!
This lovely lady needs to see that she is at the end of her journey as a doormat! She will not be a bad wife by putting her foot down! Time to take back her life! He needs to know that she means business….get some counseling if she has to….but she is an equal partner…and he needs to understand that!
Yes, I did stay with my husband, we got some counseling, and he is a much better husband.
And he knows that I now have my own opinion on things and I will absolutely tell him what I think, but in a nice way. Not in anger. But still I have my own voice! If my husband ever goes back to wanting me to do everything or treating me like a doormat, he will be told to leave!!
The idea of extra schooling makes me wonder if the husband is from a different country.
Also no mention of church in the section above, so counseling through a church may not be an option. It seems that the older child is in public school and only the child with ADHD is being homeschooled so maybe the ADHD is the reason,not a commitment to homeschooling for its own sake. I wonder if the husband is positive or negative about the homeschooling.
I agree with the size of the house issue. We recently moved into 4100 square feet and while I love it and the extra space, I sometimes wonder if it was the right move, because I am so much more stressed now keeping up with it. I can NEVER get it all clean (except the one day of the week the maid comes), and I feel overwhelmed often. You can’t have it all. I can have the big house and spend my time still dedicated to my kids and other projects, but I can’t have a spotless house. In the smaller house, I could usually have my time spent in the other areas and still devote enough to keep up with the house regularly. If her husband wants a big house and he wants it clean all the time, and he wants the kids homeschooled and overscheduled, then he’s going to have to decide what he’s willing to sacrifice to get it…. His marriage? His wife? Or the time it takes to take responsibility for some of the things that he wants.
And just have to say, the freezer cooking definitely doesn’t take me two days. Each week I usually pick a couple meals on my meal plan that I know will freeze well and I double or triple them on my grocery list. Doesn’t take any extra time, I’d be meal planning and making a grocery list anyway. Then when I’m making that meal for dinner (let’s say it’s spaghetti night) I just cook it triple. A large pot of sauce only takes a few more minutes than a small pot, and then I package two portions for the freezer, and serve that night’s dinner. I’ve spent maybe 5 extra minutes in additional chopping, but I’ve cleaned up once and saved myself the time of making dinner and cleaning up for two more nights. If you do this 2 or three nights week, you’ll always have a good stash of freezer meals for busy nights. Sometimes when I have quite a few things I want to make I devote a few hours between the day, I pick my favorite breakfast casseroles, muffins, and a dinner dish or two (sometimes as simple as putting chicken in a few different marinades) and will throw them together as time allows throughout the day between working with the kids and doing chores. I have tried the all day, cook for a month thing, and I will never do that again, HORRIBLE. But there are ways that the make ahead cooking can absolutely save you time.
I think the most important thing about that letter is that her marriage needs work. Her and her husband are not working in a partnership and there are definitely not healthy boundaries. Boundaries in Marriage is a great book/bible study that my husband and I recently completed and it really hits on a lot of what’s going on with your reader.
If the husband earns a “wonderful living” why on earth is this woman working? A 6,000 sq ft house is a luxury. If the husband cannot afford to pay for his luxury item on his own, then they need to sell and move into a smaller home he can afford.
I agree with some other comments in that it sound border-line dictatorship, not marriage.
As a woman, yes, I believe that as a stay-at-home-mom then you are responsible for cooking, cleaning, etc. If that is the case, then the hubby should be responsible for the yard, home repairs, washing cars, gardening, etc on the weekends. However, in this case, both parents work so both should equally share the responsibility of the home, not just the woman. It doesn’t matter if one earns significantly more than the other. If they are both away from the home, both contribute to the home chores.
Hallee makes a good point to trace back to when this started. Did the husband ever help? Why doesn’t he believe the kids should do chores? Certainly a woman would not marry a man who was like this from the get-go.
(P.S. I think it’s fabulous that you all are looking for land, plus I have to admit I am envious. I hope you’ll find the energy to keep on blogging if and when you start that new adventure.)
I agree with this commenter. Unless the anonymous mom is grossly exaggerating, this situation sounds extremely abusive. I will say a prayer for her and her children.