It used to drive Shannon Johnson nuts when her husband would put their children in the car without packing snacks and diapers.
For Kristen Chase, it was her husband’s choice to stop at the gym after putting in long hours at work.
Looking back they seem like small things — but the women still remember how the acts made their blood boil. And it’s become clear they’re not the only moms harboring a touch of rage at their husbands.
“The truth is, if you prick any one of us with a little pin, anger comes out,” said Lisa Bain, executive editor of Parenting magazine, which recently published an article titled “Mad at Dad,” which described the site’s readers’ irritations with their husbands.
The article quickly became the site’s most popular and took on a life of its own on the Internet, where it was picked up by bloggers and provoked an avalanche of comments by moms venting their frustrations with men who don’t do enough around the house, can’t multitask and don’t do their share of parenting duties.
And, perhaps because many of these sites allow anonymous comments, many moms didn’t hold back. “I have been mad at my husband from day one of the birth of our daughter,” wrote one poster on the Parenting site. “It’s about the fathers who don’t even bother to try ... who assume all is taken care of and the mom is OK with it all on her plate,” wrote another.
New York Times blogger Lisa Belkin alone received 265 responses to her take on the story.
“It resonated with people,” Bain said. “I’m not saying everyone agreed, but it resonated with people in some way.”
Studies confirm there’s ample reason for frustration: American men still don’t pull their weight when it comes to housework and child care, according to a report last year from the Council on Contemporary Families summarizing several studies on family dynamics.
Men aren’t quite the slackers they used to be — one report found that men’s contribution to housework had doubled over the past four decades; another found they tripled the time spent on child care over that span.
But the flood of anger released by the Parenting.com article reassured Heather Starr Fiedler that she wasn’t alone in wishing her husband would be more proactive in tackling household chores.
“It made me feel like I’m not the only one getting mad at my husband — maybe too much or maybe not enough,” said the mother of two, who blogs at PittsburghMom.com.
The anonymity of the Web often prompts women to share what’s really bothering them, said Fiedler, a professor of digital media at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.
“Any time we write about our husbands — especially if we’re venting — we get so much response,” she said.
Of course, some did come to dads’ defense, saying they couldn’t do what they do without the support of their husbands. “After reading that article, I had no idea what whiners women could be,” wrote one stay-at-home dad. “I feel blessed to have this role in my children’s lives, and I’m doubly lucky to be married to a woman who can pay the bills.”
It’s not uncommon for emotions to flare over parenting and housework, and the emotions can become extreme, said psychologist Willard F. Harley of White Bear Lake, Minn.
“The thing that infuriates most women isn’t what he doesn’t do, it’s what he does do,” said Harley, whose written books on relationships. “Women see their husbands at home at night drinking a beer or resting comfortably — seeing him there resting makes her really frustrated.”
Chase remembers getting upset over the amount of time her husband was out of the house. “Everything seemed unfair,” the Atlanta resident said. “It was breeding a lot of resentment.”
Johnson said she can “identify with the rage” in the article, but attributes a lot of the issues to the different communication styles of men and women.
The 31-year-old mother of three used to fume when her husband left the house empty handed even though she knew he thought he was helping by loading the kids in the car. But she also knew, once everyone was buckled in, he would be checking messages and surfing the Web on his BlackBerry.
She initially tried to solve their problems by yelling. When her husband asked her to stop, she told him: “I have to yell because I have to get your attention.”
Eventually, she realized telling him what was bothering her yielded better results.
“I don’t expect my husband to be perfect,” she said. “I expect him to try harder.”
It’s a role Tom Johnson, 33, is comfortable with. He likes when they sit down and come up with ways to address their concerns. “The whole solution thing is great,” he said.
That’s really what many men want, added Thomas Haller, a couples therapist and author in Bay City, Mich.
“Women want to talk around and around an issue,” said the Bay City, Mich., counselor. “Men just want to know what the problem is and what to do about it.”