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updated 8/5/2009 1:41:22 PM ET 2009-08-05T17:41:22

Q. I work full time and my income is almost twice that of my husband. Therefore, my work is also more demanding. This does not translate at home to assistance in maintaining our family life. My husband actually brags about the wife that supports him.

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Last year, I suggested that I needed more help from my teenage children and my husband. I asked his help to start having our children take larger roles in our household. He agreed but never followed through with enforcing the shared-work rule.

I asked that each kid take a night to make dinner, reducing our workload. I set up the schedule, yet he continued to make dinner even on the kids’ assigned days. This has resulted in the children constantly refusing to help me when I request help. They say, “Dad doesn’t, so why should I?”

I think he is afraid of being the bad dad. I am on the verge of moving out just to get relief. Can you help me figure this out?

A. It sounds as though you are annoyed because your husband steps in and does the household work you have assigned to the kids.

Having the kids chip in to help around the house is good for everyone. It relieves the burden on the parents and teaches the kids how to contribute as a member of a group.

But I think you need to reframe your problem. You indicate that your life is awful and your family is responsible for failing to make it better. You need to think, instead, how a combined effort is good for the family as a unit.

The first step is for you and your husband to get on the same page about both your roles. Being a good parent is not about being a friend of the kids or being lenient with discipline, but about fostering their growth and independence so that one day they can grow up into well-functioning adults.

Video: Balancing kids and a husband

So you must first deal with him, not with the kids, and tell him why you need the dinner preparation to be rotated.

The kids must be old enough to do what you are asking. You don’t say whether they are 13 or 19, but a younger teenager might not know enough in the kitchen to prepare much of a meal. So make sure this task is safe and doable. There is a difference between cooking from scratch, sticking something in the oven and ordering takeout.

While you may indeed deserve the kids’ help around the house, that doesn’t seem to be the point. Reading between the lines of your letter, I detect something else going on. There seems to be great tension in your household.

You seem to make a big deal of your demanding work and higher salary. I suspect you are happy to make it clear you are the main breadwinner. The question is whether you are doing this in a way that is degrading and controlling toward your husband, which is unlikely to get the desired results.

While he “brags” that his wife supports him, this might be a kind of gallows humor or self-deprecating humor. Underneath, he may feel angry or emasculated.

You might be constantly reminding him that he is not much of a wage earner or provider. So he says to himself, “Well, at least I can make a good dinner.” Therefore he might feel that, if the kids take care of dinner, he has nothing left to contribute. Their refusal to make dinner, and his complicity with them, is really your family’s reaction to a couples problem.

So you need to find out how your husband really feels. A more understanding attitude toward him will help get him on board. This will also help you present a united front to the kids. If you and your husband don’t agree, the kids will continue to pit you against each other.

Dr. Gail’s bottom line: To get the kids to behave, parents must agree on age-appropriate tasks and present a united front.


Any ideas, suggestions in this column are not intended as a substitute for consulting your physician or mental health professional. All matters regarding emotional and mental health should be supervised by a personal professional. The author shall not be responsible or liable for any loss, injury or damage arising from any information or suggestion in this column.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her most recent book is “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life” (Rodale). For more information, please visit www.drgailsaltz.com.

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