Helpless husbands and the fixed mindset excuse

Just read this on a mommy blog:  “Dh said that he leaves me to do all those things because I’m better at it than he is.”

I’ve seen the sentiment before.  Heck, my in-laws recently revoked laundry privileges from both my BIL and my FIL… something about a shrunken sweater.

That doesn’t fly in our household.  If you suck at something that is a basic ability, if that’s your excuse, well, then you need more practice.

My partner wore a lot of pink underpants and socks when he started doing laundry.  That’s not an excuse to stop doing laundry, just a reason to not buy red clothing to begin with.  (Or really any clothing that’s not color-safe.  Who has time to separate laundry these days?  Not us!)

My husband didn’t know how to cook when we got married.  He made some memorably spectacular mistakes (pretzel bread, fish cookies, etc.), and now he’s a better cook than I am.  That means I need more practice!  We even sent him to cooking school to speed up his knife skills and it worked.

If you’re bad at something, that’s not an excuse not to do it.  That’s a reason that you need to do more of it.

Now, if you don’t like doing something, then perhaps you should consider outsourcing, because your partner may not like doing it either, or even if your partner likes doing it, you may dislike far too many household chores to be able to split them evenly.

Of course, something like baby-care becomes more enjoyable when the baby has bonded with you both, and that takes an upfront start-up cost of time spent taking care of the baby.

What do you think?  Do you or does someone you know use the “but I suck at it excuse” to shift work onto other people?

51 Responses to “Helpless husbands and the fixed mindset excuse”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I prefer doing the laundry and it takes effort and on those occasions that i am on the road and come back to a pile of clean and folded laundry, it takes some effort not to complain that the clothes aren’t folded as crisply as I would have done myself. Now, if I went home and complained of the quality of chore doing, instead of giving thanks, less chores may have been done in my absence.

    I think in these situations both parties are often at fault because encouragement and thanks goes a lot further than criticism. Maybe the “I suck” person isn’t lazy but just doesn’t want to be criticized? Yes, there are people who are lazy too and I am thankful I am not married to one.

    Most chores, even cooking is not rocket science. I am sure lack of skill has more to do with lack of practice or effort to learn.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, if you do nothing but criticize someone else’s efforts, that’s probably going to end up in you doing everything. On the one hand, constant criticism doesn’t generally help students learn. On the other hand, there is more than one way to load a dishwasher. In any case, the correct response there is, “I would love to do my share of the chores, but I feel incompetent when I’m yelled at for not doing things a certain way.”

      • Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

        Yes, the difference in standards — who cares more — winds up coming into play a lot here. I tend to be the one who meets contractors/approves/pays for work because I work at home. My husband has never met a contractor he doesn’t think is cheating him and doing shoddy work. I’ve recently decided that I’m done being grilled about the contractor’s work/what he charged. It is no fun having to do the work but not being trusted to make judgments. I would imagine someone who is being criticized for dishwasher-loading would feel the same way.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t remember where I read it or saw it, but I do remember being impressed by the idea that “the first person who complains about the food is the new cook.”

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The internet tells me it is a legend about Moose Turd Pie.

  2. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    There’s a difference between making a genuine effort to learn how to do something and not getting good enough at it to succeed versus being a lazy passive assbagge who is soft-pedaling to avoid sharing a burden.

    • Perpetua Says:

      Exactly! And when men make that “I’m just bad at it” statement about chores or child rearing there is a 99% chance they are being a lazy passive assbagge. It’s totally gendered, and it’s about men refusing to participate in household chores and basic childrearing (the “I have to babysit tonight!” mentality).

      When our first baby was born, my husband had never so much as held a baby. Guess what? Within six hours, he was holding, rocking, soothing, and changing.

      Really not wanting to do something around the house or with the kids is one thing, that’s open to negotiation as long as the person is honest about it, and a fair trade is made.

  3. Foscavista Says:

    We have four laundry baskets for colors, whites, towels, and dry cleaning, respectively. It makes laundry go quicker.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We used to do something like that, but now we just buy color-safe washable stuff and it is a lot easier, especially with a 5 year old doing a good portion of the laundry. Now we have the baskets and my delicates pile where my work clothing goes.

  4. becca Says:

    “On the other hand, there is more than one way to load a dishwasher.”
    Yes, but there is one one Right way (ronnies) and one Best way (beccas).

    Also, in the vast world of lovely clothes, why would anyone buy stuff that can’t be washed easily?

  5. oilandgarlic Says:

    I agree . I hear it from other women all the time. Absolutely hate that excuse because it seems the woman is somehow always the one who is better at chores and often childcare. how is the man going to improve if not given the chance?? You already know how I feel about laundry!

  6. mom2boy Says:

    If one person does the chore but the other has lots of ideas about how it should be done, who decides?

    I am always nervous to start cleaning up the kitchen at someone else’s house after dinner because I’m afraid I’m doing it the “wrong” way.

    I have discovered that couscous and orzo are a bad/unpracticed cook’s friend – unlike white/brown rice…

  7. Bardiac Says:

    I don’t much care how my friends work things out with their partners (though I do wonder privately at times, why), but I really hate it when certain people around my department just can’t manage to do some basic department-citizen tasks, or do them so poorly that they get let off by the rest because it’s harder to make them do something right than to assign it to someone else.

  8. bogart Says:

    I’m sorry, you lost me at “there is more than one way to load a dishwasher.” Really, where do you get these crazy ideas ;) ?

    I’m in complete agreement with your basic point. At the same time, there is something of a tension between it and the “efficiency in repetition/expertise” value, as well as the “but I like doing laundry” value (not one of my values, but hey…). OTOH I would argue that one then sets a better example for the children (would someone please think of the children!) in expressing those reasons for the division of labor and not the “oh, he’s clueless” (or “oh, she’s clueless,” see below) one (Those not currently engaged in raising children get a pass, provided they express their ideas only to one another in the privacy of their own home).

    At the same time, I am sympathetic to Swistle’s recent Spectum post ( and my DH’s blase approach to processed foods, yet I feel strongly that cool ranch doritos (e.g.) do not belong in our LO’s lunchbox. Thus is it that I always pack the school lunches (at least for now).

    While several comments above refer (as your original post does) to this logic being applied to why men don’t do “women’s” tasks (which happen thereby to become women’s tasks, without the quotes), the reverse also happens, and I’d guess perhaps as frequently. In how many households do men do all the car maintenance, home repairs, or yard work? Here I’d guess physical strength and/or skill with “tools” is more likely to be the rationale given but those are usually (not always) every bit as silly.

    Of course, underlying both sides (the “men’s work” and the “women’s work”) is a question of what constitutes a routine task (and therefore something everyone should learn to do competently) and what constitutes a hobby, occasional need, or something worthy of (always) outsourcing. We group things like oil changes and replacing alternators and radiators in the vehicles, and replacing the hot water heater, light fixtures, faucets and drains in the house, in the “routine task” column, but many households don’t.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Our hybrid is special (requiring both a pit and something else that causes our regular mechanic to refuse to do it) so we outsource oil changes. Oil changing is something that my father taught me to do. It seems to be pretty easy to outsource most male-dominated chores.

      • bogart Says:

        Yeah, what strikes me in thinking about this is that many “male” chores are comparatively infrequent, whereas many “female” chores are — what’s the word? Oh yes, incessant. And I don’t imagine that that’s in any way coincidental (IBTP).

        I suspect, too, that the ease (and guilt-free nature) of outsourcing “male” chores is not coincidental. I have read that Amish women find that Amish men (i.e. the authority structure) find it more acceptable to adopt (a few) conveniences that facilitate modern male rather than female chores, though I don’t know what research/documentation there is of this.

        We outsource changing our Toyota’s oil too (a truck, not a Prius), which happens to be DH’s vehicle, and I do my car’s myself (and we’re fairly early in both vehicle’s lifespans, so haven’t gotten to the alternator/radiator stage yet). His requires removing a plate under the vehicle, and he claims (probably correctly) it’s too much work. I find it much, much, (much!), simpler to do mine at home than to subject myself to driving to and sitting at Jiffy Lube (or similar, or scheduling an appt.), plus I enjoy having DS help me (he monitors drainage, and hands me tools). In short, DH and I don’t do “our own” laundry (it’s merged, and per the same sorts of rules you describe: throw it all in together) but we do manage our own oil changes, albeit via different mechanisms.

        DH being 1.5+ decades older than me also shapes things some. How old is too old to be expected to [change your own oil, crawl under a car or a sink, climb on the roof, …] ?

  9. chacha1 Says:

    I think anyone, irrespective of gender, who is old enough to contract a legal marriage (or other domestic arrangement) is old enough to know certain basic life skills, including how to keep your car running safely (or in the case of those rare cities with excellent public transit, how to get around without a car), how to do basic housekeeping, and how to put a meal on the table. Anyone who doesn’t really is not ready for ANY kind of domestic partnership (starting with “college roommate”).

    DH and I did not meet until our 30s … and by then a person had damn well better have some basic competencies around the house. I can’t imagine living with someone who would think that “I don’t know how” is an acceptable response to a housekeeping request or expectation.

    I mean … there’s a spectrum from knowing how to do a load of laundry to knowing how to install a hardwired light fixture. The first is non-negotiable in an adult. And any legal adult ought to be able to feed hirself (and, by extension, other people).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My father got married after having been out on his own for quite a while and taught me how to sew buttons and iron clothing. However, I’m not sure his reason for doing so is any better than claiming ignorance, “I refuse to do it because it is woman’s work.” That, and my mom would not do it for him.

  10. chacha1 Says:

    However … outside the home, I would be the first to admit that I often take over tasks because it is more efficient for me to do something myself than to try to train and supervise someone else. This comes up constantly in the nonprofit I work with. When everyone is working on personal time and the personal times available rarely coincide, it’s just more trouble than it’s worth to delegate.

    At the office, I have a narrow spectrum of responsibilities … my competencies go far beyond what I am *permitted* to do in my workplace. I just do what I’m s’posed to and mind my own business. Because I’m the sole representative (at my location) of my department, I don’t have any issues with people not doing what THEY are s’posed to. :-)

  11. rented life Says:

    I can’t comment because I’m in utter horror over the fish cookies. Maybe after class I’ll have something to say.

  12. Cloud Says:

    You won’t be surprised to find that I basically agree! Most of the chores people dislike doing are actually quite easy to learn how to do!

    The one thing that might be an exception in my own life is the fact that I do most of the “master organizer” work in our house. That is because I am good at it and have lots of tricks for doing it based on the fact that I am a project manager. We balanced that by having him do more of chores like laundry. My default way of being is to organize and invent processes to organize. My husband’s default way of being is to analyze and optimize. Usually we work really well as a team. However, I have begun to suspect that I am bumping up against my limit here, and so have asked him to take on more of the organizational work at home. We are still rebalancing.

    Thinking about the general point hiding in that story… I think that sometimes, one partner is much better/faster at something, and the family is at a point where optimization of time is more important- and then it makes sense to balance the load by trading off chores. Yes, my husband could learn to be better at the “project management” like things I do at home. But we don’t have time to wait for that right now, so we’re looking for other solutions.

    And they key thing is that he recognizes that the organizational work is a real chore. I’ve met wives whose husbands don’t recognize that and my advice to them is to stop doing the work for a week or two and see what he thinks then!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I was doing the money stuff for most of our relationship for the same reason, but, like you, I started bumping up against some limits of my own and he’s stepped in a bit.

      • hush Says:

        “I think that sometimes, one partner is much better/faster at something, and the family is at a point where optimization of time is more important- and then it makes sense to balance the load by trading off chores.” Yep.

        Dinner is the perfect example of this, and it’s precisely why I will never cook a family meal when we are hungry, tired, and need to have it done and cleaned up by a certain time. My DH started cooking in his family’s restaurant when he was 3, and will always be lightyears ahead of me in that area. What he can do in 15 minutes would take me well over an hour, and mine wouldn’t taste nearly as good – and I’d make a bigger mess and waste more of our supplies doing it. He is an amazing cook with subscriptions to Cook’s Illustrated, Saveur, and Bon Appetit, and he loves to do it. So, we’ll always be unequal by choice when it comes to cooking.

  13. Viola Says:

    I completely agree with your post, Grumpies, although I feel like I’ve had an interesting challenge arise from the “you need to learn” approach. I was happy to help my partner learn, but I feel like after a while it just became an excuse for them to ask me about everything, rather than actually remembering how to do things. So, in theory they’re doing chores, or helping with dinner, but it still takes mental energy for me to answer to all the questions. It took me a while to realize that this was even going on. I don’t know if I’ve inadvertently been too critical of mistakes or if it’s just the route of least resistance for them. I need to break the cycle.

  14. J Liedl Says:

    I aspire to be the best at loafing around. My family members should have to leave that to me as I’ll show them how inferior their efforts appear next to my clear mastery of the do-nothing principle!

  15. Revanche Says:

    I absolutely know people who use that as a tool to manipulate others into doing things for them so I learned that trick early on. I stayed friends with the ones who only do it jokingly but actually do more for others than not, not so much the other sorts but ever since, my interpretation of “I don’t know how” has been “I don’t want to.” In general, I don’t have any issues with pointing that out.

    I’ll admit to using that code at least once or twice with *ahem* certain family members to avoid the issue of simply not wanting to sucked into their godawful messes of plans, but it was usually legitimately a combination of not knowing how to handle the things they want to dump on me as well as not *wanting* to learn and become a constant dumpee.

    But as a usual daily life thing, we don’t really have an issue at home with chores and not knowing how to do them. If you can’t, you figure it out. If you don’t like how the other person is doing it, then negotiate how it’s being done, make suggestions, do it yourself or some combination thereof.

    There are a number of things that PiC does more than I do because he hates the way I do them (nothing personal, he just REALLY likes doing it his way and I just don’t mind how it’s done) & I prefer not to be nattered at. There are things I do more of because I like doing it more or I simply won’t be able to help myself if he makes a mistake (cooking new recipes, taxes). It works ok.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I used it today to avoid a completely unreasonable teaching request for next year… (but it was also true, I haven’t seen that course material since I was a sophomore in college, don’t use it in my work, and the request as a whole was unreasonable in many other ways as well)

  16. rented life Says:

    So this post makes me think of when wives say their DH is babysitting the kids. No babysitters get paid. If it’s his kids, then he’s just being a parent, not a babysitter. I mean really. I really despise women’s/men’s work when it comes to the domestic stuff.

    The first time my husband did laundry when we were married, I came home frlom work and all this laundry was hanging to dry all over the apartment. Turns out he translated “tumble dry low” to “drip dry” For the most part we’re both aware now of what doesn’t fair well in the dryer. If he’s really concerned about making an error with one of my clothing pieces and I’m not home, he just doesn’t wash it–that doesn’t bother me. I don’t expect him to know how everything I buy should be handled.

    For the most part we just shift house work based on who has the businer work schedule…or if someone really doesn’t like to do certain thing. I don’t like grocery shopping or unloading the dishwasher. He doesn’t mind doing either. He doesn’t like washing dishes. I don’t mind that, etc.

  17. eemusings Says:

    Hmm, this one always makes me feel like a terrible feminist. We have a pretty good thing going, I think, though I still do my fair share of nagging, and yes, I do do a larger share of the housework. The main inequality stems from dishwashing – a) he HATES doing dishes and b) is a slack washer. I find it better all around if I do all the dishes in normal circumstances, while he sticks to his jobs (rubbish, recycling, the floors, the lounge). Thankfully cooking is not an issue for us – he’s much better at cooking than I am and more than pulls his weight there. Some weeks I definitely do more of it, but his meals are always way better and more epic.

    When we buy a house it will have a dishwasher. And I think we’ll have a monthly cleaner.

    • rented life Says:

      Renting last year and this year allowed us to have a dishwasher and I will NEVER go back.

      • Revanche Says:

        Hah, we HAVE had arguments over the dishwasher.

        ie: I insist on using it sometimes and he hates using it because he prefers to handwash. I didn’t think it was fair because I rarely have the energy and so I feel like I can’t carry my dishwashing burden my way part of the time. Finally I threw the NYTimes article at him about dishwashers breaking if you don’t use them occasionally. *eyeroll* We arrived at a compromise. I still think he’s a weirdo for it though which I’m allowed to say here because he knows it.

  18. Debbie M Says:

    I used to think that I’d get out of some of this as I grew older and started dating people who were older. Um, no. Though frankly, we all have areas where we are embarrassingly ignorant.

    One additional issue is what is causing the creation of the work. My boyfriend makes double the laundry that I do because he is bigger (so his clothes are bigger) and sweatier (so he changes more often). Those things are not his fault (except for some of the bigness).

    On the other hand, his dishes are way nastier than mine because he likes to burn everything (excuse me, “blacken”) and he is above using pans that are dishwasher safe. And he likes re-using the same grease (excuse me, “flavorings”) over and over. Bleh, I am not cleaning that.

    Another issue is who cares more. If Monica (on “Friends”) is the one who can’t sleep knowing there is some lint on the carpet, she should be the one who has to vacuum at night. However, when one person cares more about _everything_, it gets old. There comes a point when you have to say, “If you care about me, you will help with some of the things that are bothering me,” especially if those things are seriously eroding the quality of life–like if you never buy frozen things anymore because you’re afraid of getting hit on the head by something falling out of the freezer or you never have company anymore because the house is never acceptably presentable. Also, sometimes both people care, but at different levels. So, if person A would normally dust every week and person B would normally dust every month, when the get together, person A ends up doing all the dusting because things never get dusty enough for person B to feel that it needs to be done. In this situation, maybe person B could be talked into dusting once a month ANYWAY.

    As for the socks–he likes them folded (no stretching); I like them balled up (no separating). So, when I’m folding, I’ll fold his and ball up mine. When he’s folding, he can’t bring himself to ball up mine, so he folds them and leaves them for me to ball up. This is a good compromise.

  19. Books that foster a growth mindset in kids (and grownups) | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] as a way to be.  In fact, we have blogged about growth mindsets at least a couple of times before.  And we’ve discussed Mindset by Carol Dweck here and there.  Here’s some additional […]

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