Question: My husband likes the "fun" part of raising kids – he’s great at getting down on the floor and "wrestling" with our toddler. But when it comes to the practical side of parenting, I don’t think he’s pulling his weight. He never offers to change the baby’s diapers or get dinner for the kids. What can I do about this? 


Here, as in every other area of married life, open communication is the key to mutual understanding and a successful relationship. Many couples never talk to each other about their parenting expectations. Nor are they willing to open up and share the fears and struggles they’re facing as they take on the challenge of caring for a child. In most cases, both of them are doing the best they can, and both of them are feeling insecure. The first step toward resolving this difficulty is to air these thoughts and feelings in an honest and non-threatening way. 

Encourage him

It’s also important to understand how the God-ordained distinction between male and female comes into play in this particular instance. Nature has delegated the functions of pregnancy, childbearing, nursing and nurturing to the woman. As a result, mothers tend to have an immediate and intuitive connection with a new baby, whereas fathers sometimes feel uncomfortable and "out of their element" when asked to step in and lend a hand. Women often say they want their husbands to assist with parenting tasks like diapering and feeding the baby, but when Dad tries to help, Mom jumps in to correct everything he’s doing. This leads to greater irritation on both sides, and the husband shrinks from trying to help next time, fearing that his attempts will be criticized. These are only general observations, of course. You will know best how relevant they are to the situation in your home.

Discuss expectations and feelings

The solution, as we’ve already indicated, is to discuss your feelings and expectations. If you and your husband share the traditional belief that Mom should stay home with the kids while Dad goes out to earn the income, consider the practical ways in which this arrangement might play itself out on a daily basis. Does it mean that the wife is supposed to tend to the children all day and all night? Does it include a proviso that she must also keep the home spotless and have dinner ready when her husband gets home from work? If you have a less traditional view of gender roles, it’s even more important that each of you clearly understands what the other is thinking. 

These days it’s common for spouses in our culture to share child-rearing tasks to a much greater extent than their grandparents did. This is largely because it’s also common for both husband and wife to be employed outside the home. Many contemporary couples are convinced that it is impossible to live on one income. We would suggest that this is an assumption worth challenging. If you have enough courage to give it a try, you may possibly discover that you can cut back on expenses and stretch your resources so that Mom is enabled to stay home with the kids. This in turn may go a long way toward resolving some of your conflicts over the question of sharing childcare responsibilities. 

Be a team

Whatever approach you take, it’s vital that you and your husband learn how to function as a team. God designed babies to benefit from the love and care of both parents, and you and your spouse were designed to fall in love with your child. None of this can happen unless you spend time together. Some parents, especially dads, avoid spending time with their little ones, protesting that they’re unfamiliar with the routine. But childcare skills can be learned. No one should use inexperience as an excuse for abdicating responsibility. This is yet another area in which husband and wife need to be patient with one another and cut each other some slack. 

If you and your spouse are struggling in your respective roles as mother and father, our counsellors would be happy to come alongside you and lend you a hand. It would be their privilege to listen to your concerns and offer their perspective over the phone. They can also provide you with referrals to qualified counsellors in your area who specialize in marriage and family therapy. You can contact our counselling team Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time, at 1.800.661.9800.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 2006 Focus on the Family.

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