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Wife and I raise our kid together. Most of time it works fine, but it's very hard to change those of her behavior that I find unacceptable.

For example - let's say she does the cooking. She's been liberal on eating time. Sometimes she'll have dinner ready at 5pm one day and 9pm another day. It's ok for me because I can eat myself, but I want her to have dinner ready at say 7pm every day for the kid.

However, every time I raise this issue to her, she'll get angry and refuses to cook the next day, saying that "if you want that then you do it yourself". As the argument becomes worse, she'll simply lock herself in the room and leave the kid entirely to me for a whole day "as a punishment".

What's the best strategy to ask someone to improve their job while relying on them to do it?

  • How do things normally go if you two have a disagreement about something else (where you don't rely on her for the thing you disagree about)? – Lio Elbammalf Jan 2 '18 at 22:35
  • Is the large variation random, or is it caused by something you can identify? For example, does a late dinner happens when your wife has had an exhausting day? – user1760 Jan 2 '18 at 23:45
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    @jf328 what's the kind of relationship you two have domestically? Do you both work or is one of you a house-parent? – Connor Jan 3 '18 at 9:40
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Relationships are a team sport; they work better with less "I" and "you" and more "we".

My husband and I have had this kind of problem, in both directions. He used to wash the dishes but I wasn't happy with the level of cleanliness. Meanwhile, I cook and had been pretty flexible about timing depending on evening activities, when we got home from work, and what I wanted to make, and it turned out he had some non-obvious timing constraints. (I'm describing these together, but they were two separate incidents not related to each other.)

On the dishwashing, I'd tried (for years) asking him to be more careful, making specific suggestions, and sometimes getting upset (not good I know, but we're all human). Even when I was careful in phrasing, there was a lot of "I don't like X" and "you don't do Y" involved. It didn't work.

What did work was when I said something like this: "I don't like the disagreements about this and I'm sure you don't either. Can we come up with a different distribution of chores that works better for both of us?" For reasons specific to our household, simply trading cooking and dishwashing wasn't going to work. We ended up working out larger changes that left me with both cooking and dishwashing, which works better for me if I could unload a different time-consuming chore that it turns out he didn't mind doing. It's been a year or so and things are much better in the kitchen.

When he had concerns about timing he used a similar approach -- "I'm trying to work around (constraint), so could we try to have dinner by (time)?" Once I understood the issue I could accommodate it and, more importantly, I could tell him in advance when on a particular night I wouldn't be able to accommodate it, so we could talk about options.

If a partner feels criticized it's natural to say "if you don't like the way I do it, you can do it yourself". And sometimes that can lead to actual or perceived passive-aggressiveness, doing or seeming to do the chore badly to get the other person to take it over, and that's no good for the relationship. Instead of that, try working together to solve a shared problem.

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    I like this answer. I would add that in this specific case it could be beneficial to use language that emphasizes the importance of these chores in relation to your child. "It's important that we provide a consistent environment for our child's sake, so can we work together to make sure that at least the child is given dinner at an earlier time?" Emphasizing that you're wanting to work together for the childs sake can also help take away from some of the "Me VS You" tension between you both. You're a parental TEAM, after all! – Jess K. Jan 3 '18 at 14:16
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The challenge here is meeting your standards vs not doing something in a way that affects others. If this were about vacuuming, then I'd say "forget about it, let the other person vacuum the way they want." However, for a kid to have dinner at 9 at night sounds like there would be a lot of complaining for 4 hours about how hungry they are. That teaches the kid that parents can't be relied upon and that they don't matter.

I'd start by saying, "Hey, let me cook for a little while" and have dinner ready by 7 every night. Get the kid used to that. Then, if the wife wants to cook, explain to her that you've been getting it ready at 7 and would like to continue that- that gives you both time to relax after work, the kid can make some plans before dinner, and you all can get into a routine. The trick is to hold yourself to the same standard you want to hold someone else to. If you can't do that, then you don't have authority to set standards for someone else.

In the end, it's about doing this together. There are things that you do better; there are things that she does better. Let each of you do the things you do best, and you'll have a happier relationship. That will help you have a happier and more well-adjusted child.

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Here's the problem I see from a cursory reading of your question:

Wife and I raise our kid together.

Let's say she does the cooking.

A relationship is a partnership. If you're not happy with the way certain things are being done, it appears to me that you can raise the issue (tactfully) but, if a fix isn't forthcoming, you may well have to adjust your own behaviour to suit. And, by tactfully, I don't mean asking your wife why she's so inconsistent, I mean offering to help out in some way.

I have absolutely no idea why your wife may be inconsistent in meal times but, rather than getting someone to "improve their job while relying on them to do it", you may want to at least consider the possibility that you should be putting more of your own effort into it.

For what it's worth, when we have our evening meal delayed for some reason, we simply have plans in place to ensure the kids don't go hungry. This is as simple as an apple or diced peaches, or a "surprise plate" with cheese, dates, sultanas, celery and so on.

Or we have a few quick meals that we can toss together in a hurry such as frozen carrot soup or home-made burger patties, eggs on toast and so on.

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