Friday, March 11, 2016

Ask Firangi Bahu: How do you get your Indian husband to do more housework?

(Img by Jeremy Thomas)

Sharing a letter from a reader....

"Hi Alexandra,

I have been reading your blog for quite some time and I really enjoy reading your posts. I have a question for your readers. Maybe they can offer me some advice. I have been married to my Indian husband for 4 years now and we have a beautiful 7 month old son. We waited 3 years to start having kids because we wanted to enjoy being married and travel. I have noticed a huge shift in our relationship after having kids. It benefits him, but it has been a negative experience for me.

For example:

Before kids: He would help me equally with household chores like washing dishes, laundry, cooking, and general cleaning.

After kids: He does not help me with ANY household chores. He does not help me with our son. Even if I need to take a shower, he will not watch him. He will sigh and roll his eyes, as if it is a big task for him to watch the baby. He has become useless around the house and just wants to sit around and relax.

I am completely overwhelmed. My son is not sleeping through the night, so I have to get up several times. I am working from morning until night running the household and taking care of our son. It is a struggle for me to do basic tasks like cook dinner or get groceries. And I feel like my once-helpful husband is a stranger. He gets mad at me when I say that I'm so tired, as if he can't possibly understand why. We both would like more kids, but now I'm having second thoughts. I have hired a cleaner to help me out once a week. I have hired a nanny to come for a few hours, once a week. But the one thing I really want is my husband to pull his equal weight around the house when he is home.

My husband also has to travel for work several times a month, so it feels like I'm a single mom. I envy that he can waltz around like a bachelor on these work trips. When he does come home from the trips, he is no help at all. All he wants to do it relax, while I'm overwhelmed with the responsibility. Indirectly, I think my mother in law has a lot to do with it. She told me that housework is the woman's job and that he's working hard and I'm living in his house for free so I should do it!

I have tried to bring it up to him but he thinks I'm a nag. Deep down, I feel like a servant. I want my old husband back, the one who actually felt like an equal partner. I don't understand how someone can change so much after having children. Where did this come from? I have spent the last 7 months in a state of disbelief. We fight a lot because I just can't accept this. Sometimes I wonder why I'm even married. I feel alone. If he would just offer to wash a single dish that would make me so happy.

Going forward, how do you get your Indian husband to do more housework? I would like to return to work, ideally part-time, but I'm afraid it will just add to my workload and I'll feel like quitting, the way things are going now.

Please, I'm desperate..."


Dear readers, what advice do you have for this bahu?
Have you ever felt like this in your relationship?
If so, how did you get past it?



  1. Hi,
    I have been married to my Indian husband for almost 7 years. We have a 3 year old and a 6 month old. I definitely found that once our first got a little older so that he could play and interact with him (walking and talking) he started helping out a lot more with him. I have been a full time PhD student for two years now and he watches my older son on nights I have class. (I have been able to talk him into keeping the 6 month old as well one night a week). I say this to say that it may get better. My husband has told me that it's just exhausting to watch the baby because he feels helpless and doesn't know how to keep him happy (he's breastfed).
    It sounds like you used to work, and perhaps that's why he felt more like it was his responsibility to chip in and help out. It's possible he feels like if you are not working your "job" is the house. I'm sure his gold standard is his own mother (we've all been there I'm sure...) but he has to also realize that he married cross-culturally and there should be some compromise.
    I have often found the best way to get what I want from my husband is to meet his needs first. Unfortunately it might take time for him to come around but my husband has always surprised me when I stop focusing on what I wish he would be doing and try my best to do the 2 top things that I know are important to him. Lately I've been trying really hard to cook good home food everyday because I know that is TOPS for him. As a result I think he feels bad complaining when I ask him to pitch in and help out. haha. I feel like I have some "money in the bank" so to speak to ask him to chip in with some other things (watching the kids so I can go for a run, getting him to vacuum etc.)
    Don't give up! A few months ago I was overwhelmed because I felt like everything I did wasn't good enough and I felt like he had no idea how much I had on my plate and wasn't helping at all. We were having the same fights over and over. But it's been so much better recently, just by making those changes (choosing to do really well with the cooking and trying my best with what cleaning I can).

  2. May help to understand more about the context of how your hubby grew up. If it was in India, then chance are his mother who looks on as doing everything for him had a LOT of help. At a minimum, they had a maid who would come everyday to sweep, swab, dust and more. Likely this maid also help prep all the veggies and more for your mother-in-law (MIL) to get credit for creating fabulous hot fresh food everyday. Even more likely, your hubby had an ayah who fussed over him, changed his nappies even if his mother did not work outside the home. Plus there would be an extended family.... if in a joint household your MIL had another sister-in-law to rely on or her MIL. In short, what your husband expects of you - to be wife, mother, maid and more is NOT what his own mother did.

    What would I suggest? Start by having him realise just how much HELP his mother had. Help him understand you only have HIM. Which means that its his job to either do some of the work of running the house, caring for his son or he needs to hire someone who can. Like get a cleaning service that comes in regularly. Or a baby sitter who does full or half days so you can get out and do other things, have a life, not be chained to home and baby care or simply just have a 'break!'. Suddenly there will be monetary value to 'helping' rather than being a 'favour'.

    Another little element... seems like there may be something else going on if he's not even comfortable caring for his own son while you take a shower. If you gain ground overall... then slowly chip away at this too. It may be his own sense of inadequacy. Or not having a father who was connected him. There it may again help to flip the equation around to understand what kind of relationship he had with his dad. And ask what kind of relationship he wants with his son. It he had a distant or strained or awkward relationship, chances are that isn't really what he wants with his son. Help him to understand that all begins with being more 'hands on' in his sons care. Bonding early will remain.

    Last point, even those 'old dogs' can change... included from more traditional parts of say Bihar! I've seen this with men that were spoilt rotten in India, of an earlier generation who came to Canada with wives who struggled in Canada under the burden of being expected to do 'everything' that would have been divided between 3 or more people back in India. Imagine a man in his late 70s taking as a matter of course his job to do the dishes. Was it an easy transition - no! But it happens... in part as their own kids start to question why their friends dad's do lots of stuff like do the cooking for BBQs and more... why doesn't their father?

    Good luck!!

  3. If he was helpful around the house before you had a baby, I would think it is more to do with the change that having a baby brings than his Indian background. I'm not discounting the Indian background because it does provide a culturally acceptable image of the mother doing it all, but I've seen this kind of thing across cultures.

    It's a cliche, but some (many?) men find the arrival of a new baby extremely hard to deal with. The focus of the woman shifts from them to the new baby, and they resent it. Also as someone above pointed out, they get better when the baby is older and they can relate to it. But at the moment, after the gloss of the new birth has weaned off, they get frustrated. They deal with it by what I have noticed is a typical male reaction - denial. Pretend this problem doesn't exist, and keep going on. This might be a very good strategy in some circumstances, but in a marriage it doesn't work. It's even worse when the new mother is also disoriented and physically drained but doesn't have the chance of denial because, hormones or whatever, you cannot let your baby handle itself. They can roll their eyes because there's another stereotype out there of helicopter mothers, but over-caring is not a thing with a newborn.

    As someone pointed out above, if you worked outside the home before, your husband would have chipped in because he can relate to that. But when you are at home with the baby, he thinks you have time to catch up on your sleep and rest etc. Ha! I have been home with a newborn and went back to work when the baby was 3 months old and I know for a fact that the office is easier. Your husband needs to realise this, but it can be like talking to a wall.

    I don't know what the solution is. If you are trying to talk to him and he is shutting you out, then explaining is no use. It will upset you and result in him shutting down more. It's good that you are able to afford outside help. Get more of it if you can. I would shut out the husband and pretend that I am a single mother. Then if he broaches the topic, talk to him.

    Maybe on one day of the weekend, say you're going out and just leave him with the baby (though if you're breastfeeding that's going to be a problem... does the baby take expressed milk?). Let me experience what it's like to be with a newborn for a whole day and let him so how many naps he can get in.

  4. You can't make anybody do anything. I would suggest telling all that you told us in a non-accusing manner to your husband - how tired you are, how you feel, how you wish you had his help, not how he never helps you out anymore.
    We don't know why he is shutting down: if he expects the same as in India in terms of you doing stuff or there is anything else involved here.

  5. From an Indian guy's perspective ...

    To the dad: Stop being an asshole and do your job. Even if you feel "inadequate" or anything else.

    To the letter writer: I'd suggest to sit down face to face with your husband and talk about what you're going through. If possible, in a non-accusatory fashion. Give a few tries. If that doesn't work suggest that both of you need to see a marriage counselor. That should get his attention that this shit is serious. I also think a talk before having the baby was in order, but that is besides the point now.

    (I think) I played my part to the best of my abilities when we had our daughter. Was it enough? Mostly, but when it wasn't I was reminded by my wife to buckle up and do my share.

    I've read that first-time fathers, across the cultural divide, sometimes face such a situation, where having any kind of the empathy (forget love) towards the baby and the mom is lacking. I know that a lot of Indian males do duck from these chores under the charade of "oh-mom-knows-best" (all moms! the wife, his own, or the wife's) and just fade away from anything to look after the baby.

    Hopefully things changes for the better very soon!


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