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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GROWING PAINS: Good Husband,Father Irks the Mother-in-Law




The other day I got talking with the woman who'd come to decorate our apartment.


"What's your husband like then?" she asks.


"Oh, he's very nice, thank you," I say politely.


"Ne pyot? Ne byot?" (Doesn't drink? Doesn't beat you?) "He must be nice."


Living in Russia with a Russian husband, I frequently find that people think if he's sober and doesn't interfere in bringing up the children, I've got a good'un. That he takes an active part in bringing up the children leaves nannies and acquaintances gasping in wonderment.


This afternoon, for example, he took the children off to Sparrow Hills, fishing. Since I was going frantic with two deadlines to meet, and he had the day off, I was grateful, but not gob-smacked like my nanny. She leaned back against the door, lost in rapture at the miracle of his voluntarily taking three kids out. Her own husband walked out on her when she carried an unwanted pregnancy to term, and he hasn't seen their 3- year-old son since.


In the course of our 15-year marriage, I have become well used to hearty congratulations from my Russian girlfriends on having managed to snaffle a husband who not only cleans the dishes, but actually plays with the kids too. Though they work the same hours as their husbands, they are often expected to cook the supper, do the washing and ironing and put the kids to bed while hubby collapses righteously in front of the television.


Being Russian himself, you might think my own husband would be spoiled by this endless female adoration of his fatherly qualities, particularly since his mom brought him up in the good old Russian tradition of "children are a woman's lot." Luckily this isn't the case, but the flack I get from my mother-in-law for being a worthless good-for-nothing without a spark of maternal feeling is beginning to grate, just an insy winsy bit.


I don't know what horrifies her most -- the fact that her son is reduced to filling the washing machine, or is doomed to look after the children on the occasional Saturday while I work. Although she is tight-lipped with me on the subject, I hear from everyone else who comes into contact with her how harrowing it is to find her son being exploited in this manner by his Western wife.


And it's no good explaining to her about this modern notion of parenting being a sharing process, or that her son might actually enjoy the pillow fights and games of hide-and-seek. So I just bite my lip and think back to England, where many's the time my girlfriend and I have sat out on her terrace sipping Pimms by the pool while her husband hung the washing out to dry. Call me a worthless good-for-nothing, but it seems to me we've got it slightly better organized back in Britain.