My wife resents having primary (overwhelming) responsibility for our family’s dinner. I try to help out. I try to be responsible for cooking at least one meal a week and to come home with takeout when we’re both busy. The complication for me is that I work a lot more hours: 40 to 50 to her 16 to 20. What’s fair?
—Feminist Working Stiff
Dear Working Stiff,
It’s hard for couples to discuss the domestic division of labor. Any criticism feels like a failure of our partner’s understanding: How can they not know how hard we work? “When could I have possibly done that?” we mumble inwardly or, in moments when diplomacy fails us, out loud. Worse, any effort to lighten our partner’s workload adds to our own. Yet the situation demands empathy.
It sounds as if you have children still living at home (or other dependents). If your wife is caring for them on top of her part-time job, it’s not surprising that she doesn’t feel she has much more time or energy to cook dinner than you do. Since women’s labor is often invisible to men, she may feel (fairly or unfairly!) that, by assuming she has time to cook, you’re failing to appreciate the hard work of raising kids.
Has your wife historically loved cooking and food? If so, the question is: How can you make this fun for her again? Can you do more of the shopping? You can certainly clean up, Working Stiff. Also, if they’re old enough, encourage the kids to help. In fact, you might consider training them to prepare a few simple meals, eventually making dinner their weekly responsibility.
You could take charge of dinner on the weekends. You could also, on Sunday, make some meals that can be frozen and enjoyed later in the week, like stews, pasta sauces, and soups.
Is your wife a talented cook? Are you? Praise for each other’s culinary efforts, when merited, can make this labor more rewarding.
For some people, cooking is so essential to family life, caregiving, and well-being that it can’t be hacked, even in this age of tandoori-chicken TV dinners. But at least consider the myriad ways of downsizing and outsourcing dinner. I applaud your takeout solution; there are other shortcuts. Kids don’t care how much time or money you spend on a meal. They even like store-bought spaghetti sauce. Just last night, my son gleefully demanded “mac ‘n’ cheese, but with cheese”—a reference to an incident in which your genius advice columnist may have neglected to add the cheese powder to the Annie’s boxed mac ‘n’ cheese.
I am a middle-aged professor at a large public university. Call me naive, but I have been shocked to learn that some of my junior colleagues have over six figures in student-loan debt. I am now realizing that it is not just our PhD students who face a lifetime of crushing debt from financing their educations; it is the new generation of young profs, whose starting salaries are, of course, not even close to six figures. I had wondered why they were so disengaged from university controversies. Now I feel guilty for thinking of them as politically conservative nerds. Of course they’re disengaged—they are serfs to the student-loan industry!