Mom: The designated worrier

One reason women like me get stuck with the micromanagement is that we don’t see it coming, not at first. Pamela Smock, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, tells a story about the students in her “Women and Work” class. Mostly women, they spend a semester reading about the gendered division of domestic labor. And yet in their presentations, even they slip up and talk about men “helping out.” “As long as the phrase ‘he helped’ is used,” says Dr. Smock, “we know we have not attained gender equality.”

No matter how generous, “helping out” isn’t sharing. I feel pinpricks of rage every time my husband fishes for praise for something I’ve asked him to do. On the other hand, I’ve never gotten around to drawing up the List of Lists and insisting that we split it. I don’t see my friends doing that either. Even though women tell researchers that having to answer for the completion of domestic tasks stresses them out more than any other aspect of family life, I suspect they’re not always willing to cede control.

I’ve definitely been guilty of “maternal gatekeeping” — rolling my eyes or making sardonic asides when my husband has been in charge but hasn’t pushed hard enough to get teeth brushed or bar mitzvah practice done. This drives my husband insane, because he’s a really good father and he knows that I know it. But I can’t help myself. I have my standards, helicopter-ish though they may be.