I think some people get nagging, I mean they get why it’s so tempting.

I do.

Nagging “the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignored and both become increasingly annoyed” defined last Wednesday by Elizabeth Bernstein, in the Wall Street Journal’s Meet The Marriage Killer: It’s More Common Than Adultery and Potentially as Toxic, So Why is it So Hard to Stop Nagging?

Bernstein calls it a vicious cycle.

Comic Credit: Wall Street Journal

I ask Dale about the pile of papers on the table.

He explains it’s work he needs to have out to remember to get done.

I remind him about our lovely wicker basket system (lovely because you can put papers within and shut them from my eyes)

He explains the wicker basket is full.

It’s full? Well, that’s because you haven’t dedicated and organized and prioritized. I then begin to outline a new plan, for him.

He interrupts me to restate his need for papers on the kitchen table. Or else, it won’t get done!

Now, how can you argue with that?

Recently, I believed we solved this problem by purchasing a new kitchen table. It’s antique finish awed Dale enough to leave all the piles of paper on the floor, making it difficult to slide into his place for mealtime.

“You really need to do something about this pile of papers,” I remind him yesterday

Repeat above conversation.

Mr. Nag?

Why do women nag more than men?

“Because we are conditioned to feel more responsible for managing home and family life, we are more sensitive to early sign of problems in a relationship . . . etc. etc” or so say the experts from the Journal. Thank you Ms. Bernstein.

But really, now.

So when Dale asks me, repeatedly to not place my clothes on the ladder (he might slip!) and I tell him it’s easier for me and besides, that’s what eyes are for.

And he keeps asking and asking.

We don’t look like this when we’re nagging each other.

Is this not nagging?

Or when Dale requests that I do not move his carefully piled papers on the table, again and again.

Oh, men can nag. I bet I can get even the most unrelational, unemotional, unsocial man to nag.

Recipe: find the thing THEY are responsible for and don’t take care of it, again and again.

They will remind you, again and again.

I do not recommend this.

My father was really good at nagging me to not touch his Porshe 911 with my hands (There is invisible dust, Joni, that your fingers press into and scratch the paint. Don’t touch it!). He asked me repeatedly. Somehow the creamy white begged me to forget.

I didn’t try to turn my dad into a nagger, but I did.

If nagging is such a problem and so wide-spread, what can we do? The WSJ suggests that nagging makes men feel like little boys (girls, you’re not being sexy!), that nagging can ruin marriages (scared, yet?).  Bernstein says we must begin by admitting it (confess your sins? a good start), doing personality tests, learning better communication.

Nice suggestions, but not that helpful, not foundational enough.

Like most stuff journalists pump out,  they’re superb at problem revealing, not at problem solving.

Equally Shared Parenting

I’ve recently picked up a book that was serendipitously displayed at my local library in the parenting section–a section full of book titles that normally make me laugh (Screamfree Parenting, Successful Parenting, True Parenting)

Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of Parents by Marc and Amy Vachon, featured in The New York Times in 2008 article “When Mom and Dad Share it All“.

I didn’t laugh. I just marched over and seized it.

Found within, a husband and wife introduce me to my tribe (EquallySharedParenting.com: Half the Work, All the Fun), the group of people who have chosen, voluntarily and happily to share all of parenting and life’s joys and responsibilities. They call this equally shared parenting (ESP).

Ingredients: 2 willing partners

Goals: full partnership in each of the four domains

4 Domains: childraising, breadwinning, house-work and time for self.

Yeild: a marriage where responsibility isn’t divided along gender roles, but along equality.

Now how in the world do you do that?

First, they believe it’s not fair for one spouse to get sidelined to assistant in parenting (what do I feed him? where are his socks?), they (usually the father) miss out on too much.

Second, they believe it’s not fair for one spouse to get sidelined in terms of career (but I made 1/2 of what you do), they (usually the mother) miss out on too much.

Solution: share.

Their book is a detailed look at how to share, from learning to ask employers for part-time work (The guy tries over half a dozen times before learning HOW to ask), to relinquishing control on typical female or male roles (spoiler alert: the main reason guys don’t help with childcare is because women teach them to feel incompetent), to expecting and giving trust.

What a godly idea, though the Vachon’s don’t profess any faith, their mutuality, respect and equality rivals what I’ve envisioned parenting, career and marriage can be if I were brave enough to try.

I’m half way through and taking copious notes. If I get enough feedback from this post, I’ll post a full review.

For now, let me apply their principle to the nagging problems in our lives.

ESP and Nagging

If women relinquish the Mom Power Grab to take all the responsibility (deciding childcare options, scheduling all activities, doctor’s appointments, packing diaper bag, present purchases, bedtime, potty training method etc) and goodies (first time experience at zoo, birthdays, first step, swimming lessons, nighttime snuggles, post-injury comfort, etc) Dads can have a chance to own the responsibility and goodies of child-raising, too.

And the increase of responsibility = lower nagging.

How?  A responsible mother or father must in turn learn competence. And there is no quicker terminator of nagging than competence. It eliminates all the bad-mouthing of incompetent, unavailable, disagreeable, insensitive husbands, for instance.

Now, this is not easy. Today, Dale had Finn for the morning hours so I could watercolor.  I was to meet them at the Old Town Hot Springs for workout and swim time together.  I was right on time, but passed Dale’s Jeep making a left turn in front of me and pulling into (no it can’t be!)

McDONALDS! as drove past.

I was on the phone with a friend, thankfully, which kept me from leaping into the Mom Power grab.

I wanted to call Dale, remind him that there were better eating options for Finn than McDonalds.

I would have liked to text him the extra snacks I packed (a sign I didn’t really trust him to pack food!) in my car that Finn could eat.

I wanted to tell him he was going to be late, as well.

Instead I cruised right by and only miss a few seconds of my friend’s story.

Dale with Finn at 4 months

Dale was responsible.

Could I trust him?

Could I?

Even if he doesn’t father like I mother.

If I want to say no to nagging… YES.

ESP refuses to transfer ownership of any one domain automatically back on one partner for credit or blame.  For instance, Finn’s got a blow-out at McDonalds (okay, I go there voluntarily), Dale finds extra wipes in the diaper bag. A nearby mother comments, “Good thing Mom packed extra wipes!”  But it was Dad who packed them.

Or say our bank account is shrinking faster than expected due to new home building project. Instead of asking, “Didn’t you plan for this?” of Dale, we work out how we can both make compromises, more savings, less purchases.

With ESP, making money, finding time for our personal hobbies, taking care of Finn, keeping the house (clean, stocked, washed, ordered) is not one person’s sole domain.

Now, of course ESP isn’t for everybody. But it is an attempt to name the thing I’ve been trying to label co-parenting. This equally shared parenting is what Dale and I have been trying to do.

Emphasis on “trying”.

And what’s more exciting, lots of other people are doing it. And they’re not just incredibly lucky, independently wealthy or crazy peeps either.  These are couples who want to make sacrifices so that no one parent is shouldered with the primary task of bringing in the income or raising the children.

So back to nagging about those papers.  Would you believe it? Nagging goes down if I’m not the only one in charge of vacuuming and dusting around Dale’s pile of papers?

Dale finds his own way and time to tidy up when vacuuming is something he does as well. Do you have any idea of how hard it is to vacuum around papers? You don’t have to argue about it, experience is a lovely and swift teacher.

Getting Rid of the Nag

If you struggle with nagging, one of the sweetest little gifts for a Valentine’s Day present is to back up five paces on the nagging issue.

Who has control over it? Whose domain is getting neglected?

In other words, if the dishes aren’t done, who gets inconvenienced?

If it’s both of you, then nagging won’t be a problem. (Side note: sharing chores does require that you 1- agree what needs attention 2- agree to let the other person clean as they see fit). We both clean as if this is OUR property, not someplace our mom will come after and fix the shoddy job. It also means that my standard of cleanliness may or may not be the same as Dale’s. This is where letting my standard bend to Dale’s (also clean) standard comes in. Very few women can do this.

And this is why we nag.

In our home, Dale does all the dishes, unless he cooks, then we switch.  But if the dishes aren’t done, and I cannot make the next meal, the meal doesn’t get made (or we eat cereal out of mugs with plastic spoons). Or I work around the mess, but I don’t complain about the dirty dishes (this is a seven year old skill that isn’t completely in the bag, yet), I cook and make the dishes pile a little larger. It is impossible to make a meal without making some mess (which means more for Dale to eventually clean).

Peanut butter and jelly on paper towels all around.

Dale is not a fan of peanut butter and jelly for all his meals.

The responsibility is shared. We all get impacted by how we do or don’t clean, cook, watch Finn, work on Soulation, take a break. Equality, shared responsibility, even in the areas that seem like the “man’s” or the “woman’s” realm.

And Mr. and Mrs. Nag are slowly retreating.

And with their tail lights in my review mirror, I might just break open that box of chocolates!