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Mad at Dad

My husband and I just celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. I'd say we have a great marriage. There's no one I trust more, no one else I'd rather talk to, and no one who makes me laugh harder.

But that doesn't mean I don't get furious at him from time to time.

Once, when I was dangling at the end of my rope, I insisted he go to the doctor for a hearing test. I was quite certain the man was deaf. How else, for instance, could he have taken my grandma's books to Goodwill instead of the antique-book dealer, as I'd asked when he was cleaning out the basement?

Just as I'd gotten used to the idea of the man I love with hearing aids, the news came in from the doctor. My husband's ears work fine. Better than mine, actually.

I know I'm not the only one who gets Mad at Dad. Whenever I see the phone number of a certain close friend on the caller ID, I know she needs my understanding ear because her husband has dropped a wad of cash on electronics while telling her she can't have someone in every other week to help clean, or because he let the kids eat junk food and play video games while she was running errands, and now they're glassy-eyed and glued to the ceiling. Meanwhile, his whiskers are in the sink and his boxers are on the floor, making her feel like she's married to nothing more than a hairy man-child.

These are the kinds of things we see parodied on TV sitcoms, where bumbling husbands get laughs for feeding the kids frosting sandwiches and sending them to school in scuba gear. These are the kinds of things we moan and groan about when we get together with our other mom friends, often playing our irritations for laughs. Honestly, though, it's not that funny. None of us signed up to live in a sitcom.

Life for women may be better in many ways than it's ever been, but we're far from whistling show tunes. According to Parenting's nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 mothers on MomConnection, an online panel of moms, the majority of us confess to feeling anger at surprising levels. We love our husbands -- but we're mad that we spend more mental energy on the details of parenting. We're mad that having children has turned our lives upside down much more than theirs. We're mad that these guys, who can manage businesses or keep track of thousands of pieces of sports trivia, can be clueless when it comes to what our kids are eating and what supplies they need for school. And more than anything else, we're mad that they get more time to themselves than we do.

HOW ANGRY ARE WE?

46% of moms get irate with their husbands once a week or more. Those with kids younger than 1 are even more likely to be mad that often (54 percent). About half of the moms describe their anger as intense but passing; 1 in 10 say it's "deep and long-lasting."

Bridget Malbrough, who lives in Houma, LA, says she feels angry "the majority of the time." She and her husband have been married for four years, though they separated temporarily after the birth of their daughter, who's now 1.

Her husband doesn't seem to pay attention to or understand his daughter's basic needs, says Malbrough -- for instance, that babies need a lot of sleep. He recently came home from a shift at work at 8:00 in the morning, when Malbrough and her daughter were still snoozing. They'd been up late the night before, and both mom and baby were zonked.

"He just decides he's going to wake everyone in the house up," Malbrough says. "He doesn't think she needs to sleep as much as she does." And, she adds, not only does he violate the universal "never wake a sleeping baby" rule, but once their daughter's awake, she's the one who has to tend to her.

Many moms -- 44 percent -- are peeved that dads often don't notice what needs to be done around the house or with the kids (it jumps to 54 percent for moms with three-plus children). We hate that we have to tell them what needs to be done, that they can step over a basket of laundry on their way to find the remote control.

Erin Niumata, a New Yorker and a mother of one, has a husband who's handy with a vacuum because he hates to see debris on the carpet. But he's oblivious to other things -- he never remembers to clean the bathtub, for example, even though she's asked countless times and can't do it herself because of a back injury.

"I hate nagging," she says. "If he asks me to do something, it's done. But if something doesn't matter to him, why should he bother? He'd never forget to TiVo something he wanted to watch, mind you."

Terry, another New York mom with three kids and a full-time job, gets irate every morning during the mad rush to get the family out the door to daycare, school, and work. "I'm making breakfast, getting dressed, and screaming at everyone to get ready -- while he's at the computer," she says. "He always hops-to when I ask him, but it bugs me that he doesn't just pitch in and help on his own. I have to ask every damn day."

Lots of moms -- 40 percent -- are also angry that their husbands seem clueless about the best way to take care of kids. We know we didn't marry buffoons. We married smart men who can fix cars and garbage disposals, men who empty mousetraps without getting the heebie-jeebies, men who can keep track of their fantasy football trades. So why can't they remember to put kids in coats and mittens before sending them off to school? Why do they give the baby a bottle right before we come home, all bursting and ready to nurse?

"My husband is sometimes lax when it comes to keeping an eye on the kids," says Sarah, the mom of a toddler and preschooler in New Jersey. "No one's ever gotten hurt, but once I came home and found that my toddler's brand-new -- expensive! -- rug was covered in marker. It was clear he'd left them on their own for a while, with markers. I was furious. I'm still furious."

ONLY ONE THING AT A TIME

40% of moms are mad that Dad can't multitask. And the more kids they have, the madder they are: 46 percent of moms with three-plus kids are irked by this.

As mothers, we think nothing of stirring a pot of noodles while setting up a refrigerator-repair appointment, sorting mail, and helping a child with his weekly spelling words. And it annoys us when our husbands act put-upon or overwhelmed when we want them to handle a couple of things at once. The dinner hour tends to be especially trying. Randi Maerz, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Keokuk, IA, says she's repeatedly asked her husband to watch their daughters, 4 and 2, while she's cooking, if only to keep them safe.

Instead, he comes home with a list of things he plans to do around the house. He gets to focus on one thing at a time, whether it's changing his clothes or doing touch-up painting on the house. Meanwhile, she's trying to cook with human leg warmers clinging to her shins.

"His priorities always come first," Maerz says. "He's got to accomplish them before he can focus on helping me with the kids." She likes how he takes on house projects, but his inability to acknowledge her needs and his unwillingness to multitask irritate her every day.

Lisa, a mom of two who lives in the suburbs of New York, knows the feeling.

After a full day at work, she can be cooking dinner, helping with homework, and taking notes for a PTA meeting while her husband is in the family room with their preschooler. She'll ask him to sort through magazines to be recycled while he's there, and he'll claim he can't because he's watching their kid.

 

OUT-OF-WHACK WORKLOAD

31% of moms say their husbands don't help with the chores -- in fact, they generate more.

Lucy King is a former executive turned stay-at-home mom in Franklin, TN. Her much-loved husband leaves his dirty dishes in the sink, even though the dishwasher is empty, and can walk right by a basket of laundry without thinking to take it to the washing machine.

"It's like being pecked to death by a chicken," she says. "I call these silly little things the pecks that are nothing, but when they keep happening, they drive you crazy. I think, 'I shouldn't have to tell you I need this.' "

Malbrough, who also stays home with her daughter, says her husband leaves all the housework to her -- even though he works two weeks on and two weeks off as a cementer's assistant. "He said that's my job," she says. "Since we've been married, he has cooked twice that I can remember. He doesn't know how to operate the dishwasher. He's never vacuumed."

Many moms complain they do more family work outside the house, too. One in five moms says her husband finds time for his own errands, like taking his shirts to the dry cleaner, but doesn't manage to fit in such family ones as going to the supermarket.

Traci Magee of Oak Ridge, TN, has a 6-year-old daughter and a job as a school librarian. Her husband assumes that because her workday ends earlier, she can do all the errands -- even though he has no idea of the sort of maneuvering that takes, especially with a kid in tow.

"Right now, his car needs to go into the shop," she says. "Somehow, I'm supposed to be the person who figures out how to get that done. I don't think he understands the logistics of getting a child somewhere, taking her to daycare, planning ahead for all the things that come up." Often, she says, she isn't home until 6 P.M. -- and he's already there. "A woman's expected to be able to wear fifteen hats," she says. "And it's very time-consuming and tiring."

IT'S NOT JUST THE HAT: IT'S WHAT'S INSIDE THE HAT

33% of moms say their husbands aren't shouldering equal responsibility and are less concerned than they are about their children's basic needs, like nutrition and clothing -- a number that rises to 41 percent for those with three or more kids. What these moms wish: that their husbands acted more like partners -- especially when it comes to the nitty-gritty.

Andrea, a mom of three who lives on Long Island, NY, comes home from work to find her husband has let the kids snack at 5 P.M. instead of giving them a real dinner, though she's repeatedly asked him to just go ahead and feed them. Or he has tried to feed them but has served something they won't eat, like a "bloody wedge of meat on a plate" with no side dishes. Then, after the kids have brushed their teeth for bedtime, they complain of hunger ("Of course they're hungry!"), so he gives them more snacks. "And then who has to oversee the rebrushing of teeth while my husband is off watching TV? I do."

Terry's husband, she says, never thinks about what the kids should be eating when he does the grocery shopping. "I cannot remember once -- not once -- that my husband bought fresh fruit or vegetables, let alone prepared them, for our three children. Now that I think of it, I don't think he's ever spontaneously bought any frozen vegetables, either."

Nearly one third of moms complain that parenthood has changed their lives more than their husbands'. We carry so much of this life-altering responsibility in our heads: the doctors' appointments, the shoe sizes, the details about the kids' friends. Many dads wouldn't even think to buy valentines for the class, for example, or know when it's time to sign kids up for the pre-camp physical, or that curriculum night is next Thursday at 7:30 and you need to hire a sitter and bring a nut-free vegetarian appetizer that can be eaten without a fork. Even moms who work full-time take it upon themselves to store all this data in our already overstuffed heads. We're the walking, talking encyclopedias of family life, while dads tend to be more like brochures.

It's no wonder that more than one in four moms feels like she spends more mental energy on parenting than dads do. Meanwhile, the thing that would help -- some time off -- seems like it disproportionately goes to dads.

NEEDED: A BREATHER

50% of moms tell us their husbands get more time for themselves. Brandi Morgan, a mother of two boys in Bandera, TX, feels her anger spike "when I've had sleepless nights staying up nursing the baby, and I'm up early cleaning after last night's dinner and trying to have a moment to breathe by myself, and my husband, by his own choice, gets up early and spends a lot of time at the gym," she says.

Jessica, a stay-at-home mom of two who lives in New Jersey, is angry that her husband, a mortgage broker who works 11-hour days, manages to carve out one weekend day for his passion -- his work as an independent music producer. The other day is "family day." If Jessica is lucky, she gets an hour or two off a week. "I sometimes want to get in the car and just drive and not have to worry about the kids," she says.

The lack of time off is a huge issue for the moms carrying the most anger. Over 60 percent of the moms who get mad weekly -- and almost three-quarters of those who are angry every day -- feel this way.

One thing that can complicate it is the different ways some moms and dads choose to spend their time. Moms tend not to let themselves slack off when there are chores to be done.

Erin Martin of Seattle remembers the Saturday morning she spent rushing making football-shaped sandwiches for her son's sixth-birthday party. Her husband, meanwhile, was goofing around on the computer, oblivious that he could be pitching in.

This sort of thing happens all the time -- she's taking care of the kids or the house or something else for the family, and he's taking care of himself. "I used to think he did it on purpose and it would make me much angrier," she says. "Now, I think it doesn't dawn on him. Guys are just better at compartmentalizing."

Over time, all these feelings -- from annoyance to outright rage -- can be hard on a marriage.

"Anger is corrosive," says Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., the mother of two grown children and a University of Washington sociologist who's studied couples' dynamics for decades. "It's like a termite that starts to reproduce more termites. If you never get rid of the termites, one day you're going to lean on a wall and it's going to crumble underneath your weight."

Anger can also erupt in unexpected ways, Schwartz says. A mom might blow her stack because her husband forgot to turn off the light switch. He'll think she's crazy because it's just a light switch. But it means so much more.

Lucy King, the former executive who gave it up to be a full-time mom, was so mad she couldn't even talk to her husband because of...a coffeepot.

"I said something might be wrong with the coffeepot. He gave me this funny look like, 'You're crazy.'?" What set her off was the look, which felt like a failure of her husband to support her.

"I used to manage 400 employees," she says. "I have a master's degree. I was a pretty high-ranking executive. And he questions me about this little stuff! It's hard."

Anger is worth paying attention to.

If you're chronically at the boiling point, it could be damaging to your health.

When you're mad, your body floods with adrenaline. If you're often angry, you might lose your ability to produce a hormone that blunts adrenaline's worst effects. You can also weaken your heart, harden your arteries, raise your cholesterol, damage your kidneys and liver, and put yourself at risk for depression or anxiety. It's no wonder that some scientists consider chronic anger more likely to kill you prematurely than smoking or obesity.

Redford Williams, M.D., director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University, is blunt about it. "Anger kills," he says. "It's not just that it can damage your heart -- which it does -- but it's also been found in epidemiological studies to identify people who are more likely to have a heart attack or drop dead from any cause." Great. We're not only mad because we're carrying our family's weight, it's going to kill us.

SO NOW WHAT?

60% of moms don't tell their friends what they're going through, or they make light of it.

This is particularly surprising, since our mom friends -- who'd understand better than anyone -- could be a great source of support. "When we make jokes about it, it's one way of talking about it without admitting to ourselves that it's really bad," Schwartz says.

We should talk to each other -- and be more honest about the depth of our feelings. There's great comfort in knowing you're not alone, you're not unreasonable, you're not crazy. If it's uncomfortable to do that with a friend face-to-face -- whether you're worried about being judged or feel it's disloyal to your husband -- then, hey, find some online friends to commiserate with.

The ones we also really need to talk to, however, are our husbands. The fact that so many moms are mad, and that so many of the complaints are similar, is significant. And maybe that can give all of us moms -- who love our husbands but wish they'd just be...more like us -- the push to make some changes, to delegate more and demand more for ourselves. Anger can be debilitating -- but it can also be motivating.

Plus: Mad at Dad Part 2: a response to this controversial article

Martha Brockenbrough is the author of Things That Make Us [Sic], a funny, snarky guide to avoiding bad grammar.

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