A woman has published a letter asking her husband for his help taking care of their two young children – and it has touched a nerve with women everywhere.
When it comes to household chores and parenting duties, men and women are judged by entirely different standards. It happens in Hollywood and in happens to everyone else too: nobody bats an eyelid when women manage to get dinner on the table, the washing on the line, the dishes scrubbed and the kids picked up from school.
Men, on the other hand, are often showered with praise when they prove themselves to be enlightened and “hands-on” individuals – with a red carpet and 12-piece band on standby whenever they so much as pick up a dishtowel.
While, obviously, not all relationships are like that, it’s a pervasive idea that’s demeaning to both sexes in this day and age, setting an unfair expectation that women in heterosexual relationships manage home and hearth.
And, more importantly, it’s a toxic belief that can seep into even the healthiest of relationships, through common and everyday turns of phrase.
Nailing the issue perfectly, Celeste Erlach – who is the primary caretaker of her children – has penned a letter to her husband explaining why she cannot “do it all and make it look effortless”.
The letter – which begins with the phrase, “Dear Husband, I. Need. More. Help” – was posted to the Breastfeeding Mama Talk’s Facebook earlier this month. And, in it, Erlach describes what she needs from her husband during this busy time of no sleep and crying babies.
“Last night was hard for you,” writes Erlach. “I asked you to watch the baby so I could go to bed early. The baby was crying. Wailing, really. I could hear him from upstairs and my stomach knotted from the sound, wondering if I should come down there and relieve you or just shut the door so I could get some desperately needed sleep. I chose the latter.
“You came into the room 20 minutes later, with the baby still frantically crying. You placed the baby in the bassinet and gently pushed the bassinet just a few inches closer to my side of the bed, a clear gesture that you were done watching him.
“I wanted to scream at you. I wanted to launch an epic fight that very moment. I had been watching the baby and the toddler all damn day. I was going to be waking up with the baby to feed him all damn night. The least you could do is hold him for a couple of hours in the evening to I can attempt to sleep.
“Just a few hours of precious sleep. Is that too much to ask?”
It was this moment that prompted Erlach to write out what she needs from her husband as a full-time mum so they don’t fall into the same typical mother-father roles of their own parents: help with their toddler in the mornings, for example, so she can focus on feeding the baby. An hour each night so she can “decompress in bed knowing our toddler is asleep and the baby is in your care”. More breaks on the weekend, so she can “get out of the house by myself and feel like an individual”. Him to “start putting the dishes away without me suggesting it”.
Most importantly, though, Erlach needs to hear that her husband is gratitude.
“Lastly, I need to hear you are grateful for all I do. I want to know that you notice the laundry is done and a nice dinner has been prepared,” Erlach writes, before listing the other things she does around the house that she would appreciate were noticed.
Erlach’s letter to her husband also acknowledges her fears that she is not an adequate mother, pointing out: “Maybe our friends are playing the part in public and secretly struggling. Maybe our mums suffered in silence for years and now, thirty years later, they simply don’t remember how hard it really was.
“Or maybe, and this is something I berate myself over every single day, I’m just not as qualified for the job as everyone else is.
“And as much as I cringe just thinking about it, I’m going to say it: I need more help.”
She concludes the letter: “I’m waving a white flag and admitting I’m only human. I’m telling you how much I need you, and if I keep going at the pace I’ve been on, I will break. And that would hurt you, the kids, and our family.
“Because let’s face it: you need me too.”
Erlach’s letter has, at the time of writing this article, been shared 4,162 times on Facebook – and has generated over a thousand comments.
“So many mothers, myself included feel like this,” says one Facebook user. “I wish it wasn’t true and we truly could be wonderwomen but it is. We need help [and] we need community.”
Another adds: “I wish more women would throw up the white flag and ask for help!”
“I could have written this. My husband is an amazing father and partner, but yes, sometimes I do need that extra help. A pat on the back. A nap. A thank you. An hour of alone time,” shares a third.
“This is exactly what I’m going through with my husband right now,” insists another.
And one more says: “I have felt this exact way all day today.”
These comments are just the tip of the iceberg: research published in 2013 showed that UK women spend five hours more than men a week on unpaid labour within the home, with 60% of women reporting feeling that they do “more than their fair share” of household chores.
So, with all these obstacles to gender parity, what’s a working woman to do? Philosophy professor Alexandra Bradner suggests on the Atlantic’s website that couples sit down with a list of questions like, “Do I do half of the laundry and half of the dishes every day?” to figure out where they’re slacking off in comparison to their mate.
This sounds, admittedly, exhausting – but there is something to be said for sitting down, talking over household chore expectations and getting some balance in place if you feel like you unfairly shoulder the lion’s share. Communication is key to so many aspects in relationships, after all, so it may just be the solution to finding balance, too.