Category Archives: Parenting

No Really, You Should’ve Asked!

My eyes wide open 2 minutes before my 6AM alarm goes off, and I swear my brain has already been churning out agenda of the day throughout the night – get breakfast ready, get the kids and their lunches ready, client appointments, review client progress notes, call the contractor, sign kids up for swim class, send expense to accountant, donate kids clothes, buy grocery and kids clothes from Costco, turn in kids school forms, talk to that web guy about SEO, make doctor appointment for kids booster shots, fix that scheduling bug on my website, get a sitter for Saturday night thingy, dinner, screw dinner, etc.

“Ok, it’s 5:58 AM! Wakey wakey,” says my brain. I turn around to see my snoring husband, I give him a stink eye and mutter, “You have no idea what I am going through!”

This is what feminists called, “mental load”. It is when a woman keeps mental track of all these things she has to do, the tasks that men do not think about and anticipate, and therefore do not help with unless they are being asked. This creates stress for many women, and tension for many couples. French comic artist Emma succinctly illustrated how women bear this “mental load” and that men should be more in tuned with women’s needs in her post “You Should Have Asked”.

I Agree To Disagree

In Emma’s comic, the wife is busy feeding kids and food boils over. The husband said, “you should’ve asked”. Emma stresses that men need to anticipate the household needs and women shouldn’t have to ask because when a woman asks, it puts her as manager and the man as subordinate. While I find Emma’s comic entertaining, I do not agree with that message.

I agree that men should not be passive bystanders when it comes to shared duties, but I don’t think men should anticipate all the needs without women communicating because some tasks are very obvious that the women need help and some are not obvious at all.

Once, I put all the clean clothes in a hamper and placed it near my husband’s side of the bed without instructions. He knew those are clean because he participated in the folding and yet he did nothing. After 3 days I asked him why he didn’t put the clean clothes away. He said he would have if I had asked. I asked why he needed me to ask and he simply said, “I don’t know what your plan is. Maybe you are putting the winter clothes away; maybe you plan to donate some of them. I can’t read your mind.” I then asked him, “Couldn’t you ask me what I want to do with it?” He replied, “I could. I suppose we both can step it up on this communication game when things are not so cut and dry.”

Touché.

Things Aren’t So Obvious

In the case of Emma’s comic, there’s no way for the husband to know if she is intending for the pot to boil until it’s too late. Only obvious or routine needs can be anticipated. If the family is leaving the house and he notices something is boiling on the stove, it makes sense for him to turn off the stove without asking. That’s obvious because it’s basic safety.

If Tuesday night is garbage day and she is not home in time to take care of it, it makes sense for him to take out the garbage without prompt because garbage day is routine and predictable.

For things that are not obvious or routine, two-way communication is essential. We really shouldn’t expect our partners to be mind readers and we need to communicate with each other.

It’s Not The What But The How

Communicating needs does not make one a manager and the other a subordinate but how you communicate those needs sets the tone of roles. If you bark your orders with your arms crossed, it might look like manager-subordinate roles and does not convey equilateral relationship. In communications, it’s not what you communicate but it’s how you communicate, verbally and non-verbally. There’s are always effective ways to communicate your needs without leaving a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.

If she finds a pile of dishes in the sink that she wishes he had done, she has three options: 1) yell at him about why he hasn’t done the dishes; 2) begrudgingly do the dishes while building resentment; 3) ask him to do the dishes while you do the things you intended on doing if he had done the dishes, and ask him to do it next time if he is the first on the scene of the dirty dishes.  Some communications, verbal, text, even a post-it note is better than no communication. Chances are he will need to be reminded a few times before he makes this into a habit but it might be a better option than 1 and 2.

In the case of the husband in Emma’s comic, he could use a better communication tactic as well. Instead of asking his wife, “What did you do?” in an accusatory tone when the pot boiled over which aggravated his wife, he could say, “What happened? How can I help?” Remember, it’s not what you communicate, it’s how you communicate.

It’s 6:01 AM, my therapist brain finally wakes up. I look at my snoring husband again and remind myself that I shouldn’t expect him to be a mind reader. I walk over to his side, gave him a gentle kiss, and put a hamper of fresh clean clothes on the floor next to him with a note “Please put us away”, and go about my day.

Mabel Yiu is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in girls’ and women’s mental health at the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach her at mabel@womenstherapyinstitute.com for more tips or tools, or schedule an online appointment.

Image Source: Emma

“Maternal Gatekeeping” Can Destroy Our Relationships

Maternal Gatekeeping Sandra gets home from work and finds her husband bathing their toddler. She marches up to him and said, “You’ve got water all over the floor! Stop! Let me do this!” Her husband fires back, “Fine!”

Traditionally childrearing is considered a woman’s job but the world is changing. Today women are excelling in education, succeeding in careers and entering into relationships holding their own weight. Men are also stepping outside of their social gender role, and are 3x more involved in their children’s lives compared to their father’s generation. Most mothers rejoice over this trend, yet a good 21% consciously or unconsciously engage in “maternal gatekeeping” that may dissuade fathers from taking on more childcare tasks.

Whether due to natural instinct or societal expectations, many mothers identify themselves as the primary caretaker of their children and hold this value dearly. Maternal gatekeeping happens when mothers believe fathers are not as competent in the caretaking tasks due to the same set of societal expectations, and behave in a way that discourages the fathers’ effort, thereby obstructing collaborative parenting.

It is understandable that mothers want to do what’s best for the children. We need a small dose of maternal gatekeeping to keep us parents organized and get things done, but too much of it can hinder father-child bonding and affect couples relationships. Having it keeps mothers overwhelmed and experience maternal burnout. Raising children is a tough job and mothers need support, especially those who are working outside of home.  More men are willing to step in nowadays so moms, you can allow yourself some rest. You deserve less stress.

How to prevent yourself from being a “Maternal Gatekeeper”?

  • Notice it – Sometimes our maternal instinct is so ingrained that we don’t even notice we are being the “gatekeeper.” Having an awareness of our behavior can help us make conscious decisions as parents.
  • Let go of high standards – Your partner has his own style of parenting. It’s unrealistic to expect your partner to do everything within your standards.
  • Focus on the big picture – Your kids will not remember the water splashing on the floor, but they will remember the fun times when their daddy made silly soapy hairstyles for them. (If the kids are old enough, you can coach daddy to have them clean up the mess together.)
  • Communication sandwich — If you need to communicate with your partner on how he can do things differently, consider talking to him after the fact when you two are in a good mood, and use two compliments to buffer one criticism.
  • Talk to a professional — Therapy can help you gain some relaxation skills so you can be happy even with soapy water on the floor.

Mabel Yiu is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in girls’ and women’s mental health at the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach her at mabel@womenstherapyinstitute.com for more tips or tools, or schedule an online appointment.

(Image source: GettyImage)

Blog Response: Should You Teach Your Kids to Share

Children SharingI recently came across an article on PopSugar called “Should You Teach Your Kids to Share”. In the article, author Beth W articulates that she doesn’t teach her son to share because the act of sharing teaches children 1) that they can have something that belongs to someone else, and 2) that they can act without regards of others.  While I think Beth W has some good points, her article only shows one side of the story…Let me show the other side.

The Evolution of Sharing

From an evolutionary standpoint, the prosocial act of sharing and cooperation has helped various species survive throughout times. Human beings are social animals; we share food, resources, and knowledge for support and protection. If the caveperson who discovered fire didn’t share the knowledge, the human race would probably have died from cold weather or food-borne diseases.

Sharing in the Modern Times

In our modern world, sharing is equally important. Until we solve the problem of inequality and poverty, many charities and activists still need donations from the “haves” to help the “have nots”.   When we teach kids not to share, teaching them that helping those in need is not important.

Sharing is also crucial to our cultural growth. For centuries, we have been sharing ideas and knowledge so that our arts can be more vibrant and our technology can be more advanced. If our kids guard their ideas so tightly, they will inadvertently limit their own world.

Sharing in the Work Place

On a micro-level standpoint, sharing is an essential part of our day-to-day work life. I am a therapist in a community health agency, and everyday my colleagues and I rely on each other’s support to provide good care to our clients. Often times I need to leverage resources from another department to help my clients. I don’t speak Spanish, and it would be difficult for me to work with a Spanish-speaking client if I cannot “borrow” a Spanish translator from another department.

What to Teach Kids About Sharing

I agree with Beth W’s article that there are downsides to sharing, but teaching kids not to share has its pitfalls. So how should we teach our kids about sharing? I believe the process needs to be fluid because I don’t think the all-or-nothing approach works well in our dynamic world. We will need to set some guidelines about sharing when it comes to our own belongings and public belongings (ie. school, parks and rec centers). We can teach our kids the positive aspect of sharing and encourage this prosocial behavior, while teaching them that they have a choice whether to share or not.

I believe we can teach our kids about coping with disappointment and making good choices in sharing at the same time.

Mabel Yiu is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in girls and women’s mental health at the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach her at mabel@womenstherapyinstitute.com for more tips or tools, or schedule an online appointment.

Image Source: Babysitting Academy