Village Pickle

The Village Pickle

How to train your ‘HusBum’

Dear Village Pickle: I have a close group of girlfriends of many years. We all live in different cities, but make an effort to stay in touch and get together once a year with our families. We all have children under 5, so it’s chaotic but fun. Most of us have supportive husbands who take turns with childcare duties so we can all catch up at different points during the week. However, one friend’s husband doesn’t get it. He is always hanging out with the adults, leaving his wife to deal with their baby and 3-year-old for the early morning shift, all the meals, and bedtime. He occasionally takes the eldest for 30-minute stints and then acts like he deserves a medal for his fathering. She never gets a turn without the kids, and as a result, never gets to have an extended conversation with anyone.

They seem to have a happy marriage, but I can’t tell if she thinks this is a fair arrangement or not. It’s not my place to meddle, but I don’t know if I can stand going on one more vacation intending to catch up with my friend, only to be stuck talking to her slacker husband all the time.

Advice?

—Peeved in Cambridge

Dear Peeved: Ah, the marriages of others. Ever a source of intrigue, envy, frustration and bafflement. You’re correct that you have no place in their marriage, however lopsided it may seem. However, you do have a place in both your friendship and vacation, so some strategizing is certainly in order.

First, do some preemptive planning. Send out an email to all the girlfriends saying something like, “Hey ladies, so excited to see everyone soon. While we’re together, I thought it would be fun to have a girls’ night out/brunch/spa day, etc. How about the second night we’re together? We can leave the kiddos with our guys and go do our thing.” Theoretically, other friends will respond in the affirmative and it will become clear that, at least for one night/afternoon/whatever, the dudes are on duty. It’s up to your friend to inform her husband, but even if she doesn’t, it will become apparent once you’re all together what’s expected of him. Alternatively, you can have a girls’ day in and the fathers can take the children somewhere child-friendly while you all bask in the glow of a child-free home.

This leads me to the second angle, which is explicitly enlisting the help of the menfolk. Talk to your husband (and if other friends share your frustration, ask them to do the same) and request that he make a point of engaging the HusBum in childcare activities, ie., “Hey, kidlet and I are going for a walk. Why don’t you and Jane and Joey come along?” While your partner may not enjoy this task, ask him to take one for the team. If necessary, you can play dirty and remind him of all the boring people you have entertained on his behalf.

Finally, it’s okay to ask — politely — for what you want. The operative word here is “politely.” Instead of approaching it as a veiled confrontation, see it as a simple conversation about logistics. When the husband is nearby, tell your friend you’d like some one-on-one time with her and suggest going on a walk. Then, keeping all irritation, judgment and disdain out of your voice, turn to her husband and say “HusBum, you can take the kids for a while, right?” It’s imperative that you’re absolutely neutral when you do this. Practice in front of the mirror if you must, or role play with a friend until it really is just a casual request and not a thinly veiled indictment of his lousy spouse skills. Put this way, only the truly and thoroughly boorish (as opposed to the merely clueless) will refuse.

I wish you good luck and good times with the girls!

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