I killed the conversation at a neighborhood playdate the other day. One woman started talking about what a big man-child her husband was–never cleans up, can’t make dinner, etc. Another started in on how her house becomes a disaster if she goes out for a few hours, and she has to make sure the meals are lined up because he doesn’t really take care of the kids. I said “Huh. Well, my husband would make a good housewife if he stayed home with the kids…he’s really good at doing lots of things.” Awkward lull. “But it’s a moot point, because I don’t have the skills to do his job…he’s just good at things.”
“That’s nice,” said one of my neighbors. There was silence for a bit. Oops.
This “My husband is soooo incompetent” theme appears often when the neighborhood moms are sitting around together. I haven’t spoken up before because 1) I want my kids to be invited to playdates; 2) it feels a little obscene to boast about my husband’s superiority when everyone else is kvetching about their husbands; 3) these conversations usually aren’t long enough to be really bothersome, and 4) I generally like these women and don’t want to make them uncomfortable; I am either a guest or a host, after all, with the obligations of a guest or host. In this case, I was in another woman’s home, sipping her sparkling water.
But I was a little tired of hearing the same spiel from women who one and all live in lovely houses and get to buy lots of things and go out to eat, and then spend time trashing the men who were generally out working while we sat around and chatted. And I was glad I’d spoken up, for the second mother eventually said, “You know, I think it is really stressful for [her husband] to have the pressure of being the provider for our family. I mean, he doesn’t talk about it, but he really feels the weight of it, that if something goes wrong at work then it’s a major thing for our family.” I have heard her express respectful appreciation for her husband at other times, and I know that she cheerfully works at home doing a superb job housekeeping, getting the yardwork done, and bringing in extra income by running an in-home daycare. It was rather surprising to hear her join in the complaining, and she quickly stopped when called out on it.
Women who get together enjoy sharing commonalities of experience. Some of this sharing takes the form of complaining–about the crazy neighbors who like to stick their noses into everyone’s business, about the ridiculous school schedule, about demanding little children not allowing Mommy a moment’s piece. We bond over complaining.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The women at my church group may complain about, say, a hard week with sick children or other difficult circumstances, but they don’t direct their complaints toward their family, and especially not toward their husbands. What I don’t know how to do is to change the culture in my neighborhood. I don’t really want to be a killjoy, nor do I want to pose as superior to the other neighborhood women–God knows I have many faults. I don’t want to tear down my neighbors–male or female. They’re nice folks, and they provide good homes for their children and raise them well and carefully.
Probably a better way to have redirected the conversation would have been to say something complimentary about the other men. “Well, I love what ‘Bob’ has done with your landscaping,” or “‘Rich’ is so good with the kids.” In this way I would have been signaling that I’d rather hear nice things about them, and wouldn’t have appeared to be bragging.
Well, we’ll see what happens at the next playdate–if I’m invited, that is.