Writer and broadcaster

My husband has become a domestic slave. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

I am writing to ask if you can help me to persuade my husband to do less around the house. I am worried that he is going to make himself ill from exhaustion. Also, and it is hard for me to say this to him without being hurtful, I married him for his fun personality not his work ethic and I fear I am losing him to domestic drudgery. I want an equal partner, not a slave.

We have a toddler and a baby, born in January. During the pregnancy, I was quite tired and run down and my darling, supportive husband started to do more and more around the house and with our son (and despite a full-time, responsible job, he has always done more than his fair share of housework). I am now breastfeeding the baby, which is tough because he barely stops feeding and won’t really nap anywhere except in my arms.

So this leaves my husband doing the shopping, tidying, washing and cooking. He gets up at 6am every morning to get our toddler ready for nursery, with a packed lunch, and he drops him off before he can get himself off to work. Meanwhile, I just sit around feeding the baby!

I feel permanently guilty and as if the only way I will get my husband to do less is if I do more. The thing is that I can walk away from mess and he can’t.

I hugely appreciate him helping, but, beyond the basics, would rather see him sleeping or even cuddling me on the sofa rather than trying to be on top of everything. I love my husband – he is truly the sweetest, most loving, most wonderful lover and father, but I find myself resenting the fact that I barely see his fun side these days because he is so tired that he is essentially ill – and I can’t help thinking it is at least partly self-inflicted.

C, via email

First, I have two practical suggestions: one, get a sling for your baby. It will be a godsend. I am not suggesting you should do more around the house, breastfeeding a baby is work enough. This being your second, you will know about growth spurts – those endless feeding sessions do lessen. But with a sling, your baby will sleep because he is right next to you, which is all he wants, and you can get on and do stuff if you want to. I recommend the Moby (sasaslings.co.uk) or an Ergo (ergobaby.eu). Sasaslings also has others and Sandra, who owns the company, is really helpful.

Second, get a cleaner, if you can afford it, even if it is just for a few months. I think this will be absolutely key to you all being able to enjoy the more fun side of yourselves.

Now the emotional side. Have you told your husband how you feel and asked him how he feels? He may simply not know what help to give and is doing what he thinks is right. Which in this case sounds like everything. But, poor man, he can’t do right for doing wrong. I’m also concerned that he might feel out of control and is trying to control what he can: in this case the housework. We can all be a bit obsessive when anxious. It sounds as if he is trying to keep everything together. What does he fear if he lets the housework go?

Was he like this before? I mean, you mention that when you were pregnant he started doing a lot more, but what about before that?

Do you think he is depressed? If so, then please urge him to see his GP, or call your GP to discuss this, and say you are concerned. Or does your husband have a close friend you can confide in? Perhaps find out if there is something else on his mind. Because the housework is a symptom, isn’t it? There is something else going on here and if you can find out what it is, that will be your key to helping him ease up a bit to allow you all to enjoy life more.

Some people find it a real shock having their first baby; for others it is baby number two etc, that can set things off. Instead of telling your husband not to do things, if you are sure this isn’t a sign of something deeper then, perhaps, let him get on with it until he finds his own equilibrium with the situation. A new baby shakes everyone in the house and it will take you all time to settle into new roles. In the meantime, get a cleaner and a sling.

First published in the Guardian Family section on 19 April 2013.