The first time I got married, my Mama cautioned me with these words, which I will never forget, because I hated them so much they made my blood boil: “Don’t forget to praise him, all the time, for the little things he does.” Things like mowing the lawn, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or clearing the table, for example. And no, you unmarried ladies out there, she didn’t mean when he does those things without being asked.
She meant when asked, he did them. If he did them without being asked, well, praise the Lord! He was magnificent. A real, true stud.
This is not some quaint, antiquated notion. This is something touted by mothers everywhere, and not just mothers of daughters. My mother-in-law has three boys – no girls – and she expects the same of me. (Boy, did she get utterly screwed on that one. I am such a disappointment to traditionalists out there!) I need to add that my Mama and my mother-in-law are intelligent women. They aren’t living in the 50s. They have e-mail accounts. There is just this general expectation out there by married people of both genders that praising a husband makes him easier to train. Easier, say, than by pushing him like a drill sergeant.
Well, I speak from experience of both my marriages in that praise or nagging or pushing do not work. Praise does not motivate a man. Well, I take that back; when you praise your husband, for some reason he automatically expects that tonight is the night! How, “Honey, thanks for cleaning up the kid’s poop” turns into evening fun, I do not know.
Praise does motivate a child, and in many ways, man and child are a lot alike. They both get their meals cooked, their houses cleaned, their clothes washed and folded, etc. by a woman (in most cases). They both like to play video games, watch dumb-humor movies, leave dirty everything out when they know they should put it away – the list goes on and on.
So in honor of weary, frustrated, angry, confused women everywhere – I say let’s end this praise thing. As I told Mama, did she think my husbands would praise me for the loading of the dishwasher? Of course not!, she retorted. That’s just your job. That is, if you’re a stay-at-home mom like me. (She didn’t say that; I added it myself).
Now, us lucky moms and wives do get praised twice a year for our hard work: Mother’s Day and our anniversaries. I’m particularly lucky because when I’m so mad I’m spitting nails because I went to get my hair done and when I got home the house looked like a tornado the size of an F-5 ripped through it, my husband desperately starts telling me how much I’m appreciated around here. “I love how you cook! Don’t cry! You do a really great job cleaning the toilets! Please don’t cry! You are so awesome at wiping runny noses! Seriously, don’t throw that? I don’t know anyone who can do the dishes better than you!”
This inability to do household chores without being told (and that, my friends, is the key) stems from several places, some of which may not apply to your husband, or in other cases, all of them do: Mommy did it all for him; he’s lazy as all get-out; wait…that’s pretty much it.
My husband and I were spring-cleaning last year, and we started on the bedroom of my oldest. I was appalled at the dirtiness but kept my mouth shut (now THAT I should be praised for!). Eventually, during a lull in conversation, he looked at me and said, “I’m really embarrassed at how dirty it is.” YES!!!! Direct hit of realization plus guilt!! I did not hold my breath, however, as these moments only come around once every fifty years or so. I will probably be dead before this happens again.
It took my husband a full year to admit that he was lazy when it came to being a good steward of his belongings, such as his home and his car. Before that it was all about “my priorities just aren’t the same as yours.” Uh-huh. No kidding.
I once had a boyfriend in college who would often cook dinner for me. I would go over to his place and the table would be set (he did an ok job), the food would be cooking (it was usually pretty good), and a glass of wine would be waiting. There were also vitamins by my plate! What a sweetheart. He was also, it turns out, a little bit OCD. Meaning, his house was always clean. I mean – CLEAN. It was awesome. I didn’t even mind when he’d get ever-so-slightly miffed by my leaving a fallen thread on the carpet. Alas, he had commitment issues. No one is perfect.
So, ladies, I suggest you drop praise-for-nothing from your arsenal of ways to get your husband to do what you need him to. Do not cry; do not scream; do not throw things. These methods do not work either. LEAVE THE ROOM. Leave the room until you are not mad as a hatter, and when you come back in, using your very best Darth Vader voice, let him know firmly and quietly what you want him to do. And if that doesn’t work? Hire a maid. Behind his back. A very expensive maid. Bonus points if you have to open a credit card just to do it.