On Thanksgiving Day with my family, or whenever my husband and I host meals at our home, only the women help clear dirty dishes from the table. I often ask that no one help us, but people — by which I mean women — always do. I make sure my husband pitches in; our children are too young still. But it annoys me that my father, brother and other husbands in our community (where most women work outside the home) still view cooking and cleanup as women’s work. I am guessing you will tell me that I can ask only my husband to help. Is there anything else I can do?
Well, you guessed wrong, Rachel! Before turning to your question, though, let me stave off the objections of men who assume equal (or greater) responsibility for domestic chores and of etiquette mavens who believe no guest should ever lift a finger: It’s a wide world. Many male partners cook and clean, and many guests are hard-wired to help, no matter how often hosts ask them not to.
Still, I have frequently witnessed the imbalance you describe, whether it’s in cooking, cleaning or child care. Women tend to work, and many men sit and watch. I see no reason for you to be quiet about inequality in your own home, even among guests who have chosen an “Ozzie and Harriet” model for their relationships.
Decades ago, my mother announced at our Thanksgiving table: “In gratitude for all the work that women do, the men will now clear.” She and the other women remained seated, and the men got to work — cheerfully enough, as I recall. (If you prefer, tailor your request to people who haven’t helped with the cooking.) It’s a lighter touch than making speeches about gender roles, but it addresses the problem you raise and sets a nice example for your young children.
When Gift Giving Grows Thankless
I have two nieces in their 20s. Over the past few years, there have been many occasions for giving gifts to them: graduations, showers, a wedding and the birth of a child. Neither is great at acknowledging gifts, and it is starting to annoy me. I have taken to asking (by text) if they received my gift, then they thank me. There’s rarely an opportunity to sit down and discuss the importance of gratitude. Any suggestions?
An observation: I have never received a letter from a young person complaining about the absence of a gift, but I am drowning in emails from gift givers who are hurt or annoyed by the failure of young recipients to acknowledge gifts on their own. To me, this argues for a course correction (unless you like feeling bad).
Your nieces should thank you, of course, but I can’t make that happen. If they are indifferent to you and your gifts, or if your true relationship is with their parents or grandparents — as is often the case — stop giving. If you don’t feel close enough to your nieces to ask them directly for what you want from them, also stop. Churning out more gifts is not a solution, and you achieve nothing by complaining to third parties. Consider greeting cards if you can’t go cold turkey.
Earning Back Your Right to Advise
My wife thinks (correctly) that I give her too much “helpful” advice — how to load the dishwasher, for instance, or avoid grammatical errors. I am trying to stop. But lately she has taken to playing games on her phone when we socialize with other couples. She turns her body to hide what she’s doing, but this seems so rude! I have held back from saying anything, given our issue with advice, but may I say something this once?
Let me see if I have this right: You have so abused the avenue of “helpful advice” — a.k.a. criticism — that you are now enlisting advice columns to deliver it for you. I agree that it is rude to fiddle with phones while we socialize, but I think an endless stream of spousal criticism is worse. (It may undercut your partner’s self-esteem.)
Wait until you have gone a full week without nitpicking your wife’s behavior — starting now! — and then ask her to stow her phone at gatherings out of respect for your friends. Win-win!
Take That Doggie Bag to Go
Walking in my residential neighborhood with my sweet German shepherd, is it OK to toss sealed-up poop bags into other people’s trash bins that are on the curb waiting to be collected?
This dog lover is going to give you a hard no. In my neighborhood, trash bins are privately owned. Some people may not mind your tossing in a poop bag, depending on your expertise at knotting them, but it’s a pretty big overstep to dispose of fecal matter in someone else’s private property without permission.
Also, my trash company asks that we place all garbage in large plastic bags that are tied up. (Individual bags of poop may leak or become unsealed and create a mess.) If there are no municipal trash receptacles on your walking route, carry the poop bags home with you and dispose of them there.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.