I know a lady who has jumped in to help her husband with his parents. Really, it is more accurate to say she has taken over the care-giving chore. They are getting older and needing more help. She feels like it is her responsibility to help out. The problem is that she wasn’t asked for her help, and nobody is taking her advice anyway.
She feels ignored and devalued.
Plenty of women feel it is their wifely duty to help when their parents in law get older. They feel that is a chore that women take care of. They feel that their husbands are inept at care-giving. They then shoulder the burden all by themselves, and they feel put upon.
There are a lot of problems to this.
A gift that is given freely is a good gift. It isn’t a gift if it has to be given. It isn’t a gift if it is given under duress. Even if nobody asked, but the giver felt obliged, it is duress.
Now, of course, that is all on the giver’s head. It is never a good idea to make up a script. If nobody told you what was expected of you, but you just felt that was something you had to do and did it anyway and felt unhappy about it, that is your problem.
Another problem is that it takes away responsibility from the husband. Men are just as able to be caregivers as women. There is nothing biological about being a caregiver. There is something in our society about it, but that isn’t set in stone. Roles can change, and often should.
If a wife takes over the care-giving responsibilities of her parents in law, the husband may feel grateful. That is one less chore he has to deal with. Say he always mowed the lawn, but she always felt he was doing it poorly. One day, she takes over that responsibility without saying anything to him. He notices what she is doing, realizes that this means he has more time to do what he wants to do, and lets her. She, then, feels resentment that her hard work isn’t appreciated.
It isn’t a gift. She didn’t do that out of love, but out of something darker.
There is a lot of unspoken expectation mixed up in all of this, and because of that, a lot of feelings will get hurt. Un-asked for promises and rewards aren’t forthcoming, because they weren’t put in the contract. There is no “if I do this, then you’ll do that” that is mentioned. The wife will feel unappreciated, and the husband will simply feel like she is doing something she wants to do.
She’ll continue helping (read “taking over”) with the care-giving of her parents in law, and he’ll keep not getting that she really doesn’t want to do it because she hasn’t said anything about it.
People can’t read minds. That is why we invented language.
Notice how small children get frustrated when they want something but they don’t use their words. They are hungry, or tired, or want their favorite toy, and all they can do is wail. Their parents can’t understand what they want, so the child’s needs continue to not be met, so the wails continue and get louder.
“Use your words” they might say, and the child has to slow down long enough to get out what is the problem. Then healing can start.
As long as the wife continues to do something she doesn’t really want to do, something that really should be the responsibility of her husband (because after all, they are his parents), resentment will build. She won’t wail outwardly, but she will seethe inwardly. It will come out in ugly ways.
It isn’t his responsibility to second guess her. It is her responsibility to talk, to say how she feels.