One morning, before the baby came and when I was off of teaching for the day, Kyle was trying to rouse himself out of bed for work. He lay next to me, in between alarm-clock snoozes, and whined, “Don’t make me go to work.”
“But you have to bring home the bacon,” I said. It was just a little joke, but his whole body filled with energy. He laughed. He imitated my voice saying those words and asked me to say them again. Then he practically leapt out of bed and hit the shower. Wow, I thought. That worked really well.
I had accidentally discovered a wonderful trait in my husband: his love of being needed.
In the classic exploration of the differences between the sexes, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, Dr. John Gray devotes a whole chapter to motivation. While women are motivated by being cherished, he writes, “men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed. When a man does not feel needed in a relationship, he gradually becomes passive and less energized; with each passing day he has less to give the relationship.”
If this is true, we modern women might need to rethink our approach to relationships and parenting. We are part of a generation of women who can “do it all” – or at least that’s what we tell ourselves because how else are we going to get everything done? Between our jobs and childcare we are often the first ones to tell our men “I got this.” But when we work so hard to send the message that we don’t need men, we might find we’re just working really, really hard all around.
On the other hand, if we let our boyfriends, husbands, and fathers of our children know that they are needed – that they are valuable for their individual and masculine strengths – we might find an unexpected gift. A beautiful partnership.
Why not empower men to do and be more? The following are tips for letting a man know he is needed.
Compliment and thank him.
Who doesn’t love compliments and acknowledgement? When the man in your life does something of service for you or the family, thank him and let him know how much you needed it. You did need it, and so did he. Even if it’s something you normally do without a fuss (like scrubbing the spaghetti-sauce pan) or something he typically likes to do anyway (like mowing the lawn ) compliment and thank him. Let him know how important his work is to you and his children. What’s more, let him know that what he has to offer is special because he is special and absolutely irreplaceable. Your dad or girlfriend could have helped you out, but you wanted him.
Appreciate his masculinity.
Too often, your traditional “manly man” is seen as dead weight when it comes to marriage and family. This doesn’t do much for men, unfortunately. If your guy really comes alive doing traditionally male things, like throwing the football around with your kids or bringing a hard-earned paycheck home to you, why not appreciate and enjoy his enjoyment? Even if you can change a light bulb with the best of them, or bring home a bigger paycheck than he does, it might still be meaningful for him offer you these gifts of masculine care-taking.
Tell him clearly and simply what you need.
How often have we heard that men do better with direct communication than hints? How many jokes about ineffective nagging wives have we had to endure? When you need something from the man in your life, tell him clearly and simply. My husband tells me it’s all about the tone. He doesn’t want to be talked to like a little boy getting directions from his mom. He doesn’t want to be micromanaged. He doesn’t want to be talked down to (“It would really help me out if…”). What he wants is to be given a mission: “Here’s what has to be done – don’t let me down.”
Don’t over-function – let him shine.
Kyle and I recently discovered a reality show on Netflix called Nanny 911. Each episode features a family with out-of-control kids going through child-care boot camp with a visiting British nanny. We’ve noticed a pattern. The problems seem to stem from an imbalance in the parents’ relationship: the mother takes on way too much of the work on the home front and, you guessed it, the father has become, in Dr. Gray’s words, “passive and less energized; with each passing day he has less to give the relationship.”
Luckily, the nanny knows what to do. She asks the mother to back off a little – to stop jumping up to do all the diapers, dishes, and discipline – and empowers the father to step up. When the family starts to function better, guess who feels surprisingly gratified. Guess who feels like the strong partner and parent he always meant to be. Guess who knows he and only he can fulfill his unique role. Yep, the man of the house.
Let that be your man. Let him know he’s invaluable, that you need him. Let him reach his potential as a man, and see how happy you both can be.