This week in Slate’s Dear Prudence: A woman who works full-time while her husband does not, yet is still charged with doing half of the domestic work:
My husband achieved professional success and wealth early in life. His work involved long hours and lots of stress, and by his 30s he decided that he wanted out. His accumulated wealth could easily support our lifestyle indefinitely, so he retired about 18 months ago, shortly after the birth of our first child. He has not found anything to do in that time! We have an excellent nanny 40 hours a week, and outside those hours my husband is an extremely involved father. We split the domestic duties roughly 50–50, as before, but now I am the only one working and he says he shouldn’t be “penalized” by having extra domestic responsibilities. So he spends the week dicking around (gym, squash, books, movies, etc.). It’s making me crazy with resentment, especially when I come home from a hard day at work. He tells me I should just quit if I don’t like it, and that I shouldn’t worry about being dependent because he’s set up a trust fund for me and our son. But I also think it sets a bad example for our son to see a father who doesn’t have some productive purpose in life. My husband disagrees and says he will be “an excellent corrective to the productionist propaganda schools inflict on kids to make them the unquestioning worker bees the economy demands.” He says he doesn’t care if our son grows up to work hard and that work is a lamentable necessity and it is only “false consciousness” to think otherwise. I’m tired of this devolving into a sociological debate! How can we resolve this?
If your husband is such a Marxist, perhaps suggest that each of you contribute according to your abilities — and since he has nothing to do all day, he should be taking on the lion’s share of the work at home. If he doesn’t want to be involved as a father and as a partner, why stay married to him? That’s great that you have a nanny taking care of the kid for 40 hours a week, but kids need care outside of a 9-5, and if you’re working outside of the home all day while your husband is at the gym and watching TV, he should probably take the lead on that. Also, nannies aren’t maids, and they aren’t in charge of cleaning your house, doing the laundry, etc etc — unless that’s a negotiated part of their contract and you’re paying them more for it. All that at-home stuff that just needs to get done? A partner who doesn’t have a job and is perfectly able to handle it probably should.
But Prudie’s response is that the wife is a nagging bitch.
Since I’ve grappled with such wrenching issues as where the dog sleeps and how big toddler birthday parties should be, I’m willing to take on the agony of having a young, rich husband who’s thrilled to be doing not much of anything. First of all, whatever your husband did for a living, he must have been pretty good at it if he can finance the next 50 years of high-end hanging out without ever having to earn another cent. Having worked like a demon to accumulate this pile, your husband is entitled to feel he deserves a sabbatical. But while many self-made people do indulge in the luxuries great wealth brings, often they continue to be driven to make a mark. Thus, Michael Bloomberg becomes mayor of New York and Bill Gates becomes a mega philanthropist. I can understand that it would be irritating to have a life partner who while still in his 30s contemplates the rest of life as one long Margaritaville. More irritating would be marrying the consummate capitalist who now spouts Marxist prattle.
The other problem is your resentment of the fact that you’re still out grinding away while he’s perfecting his squash game. But that’s on you. Stop making your husband’s yammering about the oppression of having a job sound correct. If you enjoy your career and want to go at it full bore, then do so. He may not acknowledge the irony that in order for him to pursue his freedom from work, he needs to employ someone to change his son’s diapers. But since you do pay someone to do this, stop insisting your husband take on these duties during the nanny’s work week. And as your son is not yet toilet trained, don’t spend too much time worrying about where your son will align himself in the class struggle. You are having a difficult time accepting that the hard-working man you married has been newly minted as a man of leisure. But instead of carping at him, start having some gentle and genuine talks about what you both want out of life. Tell him you think of him as so accomplished and productive that when he’s done unwinding, you hope a cause of some kind engages his attention. Given your family’s resources and smarts, surely there’s something the two of you could work on together to make your community, even the world, a better place.