“Hey, can you help me get the kids ready for bed?” I asked my husband.
Bedtime comes around at the same time every night, and with three kids who need multiple reminders to put on pajamas, brush their teeth and do all their little rituals, it’s a hell of a lot easier as a two-person job.
Yet I would often have to ask my husband to “help” me get our kids off to bed as if it was by default my job that needed to be delegated to him if I wanted extra hands.
Honestly, there were a lot of situations like these.
Instead of noticing what needed to be done and doing it himself, my husband waited for direction. Sure, he’d do the dishes, pick up the groceries I’d listed out for him, take out the trash, get the kids ready for school ― as long as I asked him to.
It seemed if I wanted anything done, I had to specifically ask for “help” before my husband would step in.
The mental load of noticing what needed to be done, making plans, asking for help (while trying not to sound like a “nag”), and overseeing any work I delegated to my husband ― all of that was on me. A lot of the time, it felt easier to just do it all myself. The truth was, I didn’t want “help.” I wanted a partner who took equal responsibility for our shared life.
Because the word “help” implied that everything was my responsibility, everything my husband did was extra credit work.
Instead of viewing his contributions as an implicit expectation, the domestic labor he took on in our home was always framed as “helping me.” But was it really only me who was benefiting from having clean dishes or clothes? Of course not. Domestic labor is part of a larger ecosystem that benefits everyone who lives in this house.
It’s a small linguistic shift, but using or not using the word “help” regarding domestic labor has powerful ramifications for how we view gender roles. If I am the one constantly asking for help, I am reinforcing that the mental load and domestic labor are inherently mine to shoulder. And when I thank my husband for “helping me out” by doing something that benefits our shared life, I’m telling him he’s doing my job ― and our kids are hearing that, too.
This is why I’ve stopped using the word “help,” not only with my husband but with our kids as well. As we’ve shifted the mental load in our home over the past few years, it’s rare that I have to ask my husband to share in the tasks of daily life anymore. He’s decided to fully show up, take equal initiative, and notices what needs to be done without my asking. But if there is something that needs doing that I notice first, I simply ask him to do the task, no “help” required.
I still thank him for showing up and doing what needs to be done, but again, I’m not thanking him for “helping out.” I can thank him for getting the kids bathed or scheduling the dog’s vet appointment without framing his contributions as “helping me.”
The same logic applies to the way we’re raising our kids. I don’t ask them to “help mom” by bringing in the groceries ― because, let’s face it, my middle schooler will truly be the one to suffer if those frozen burritos thaw on the counter.
Everyone benefits from putting food away, cleaning shared spaces or preparing meals. I don’t want them to view their shared responsibilities in our home as “helping mom” because they’ll grow up internalizing that same damning message: that everything is “mom’s job.”
Just as I don’t want my daughter to feel like everything is her responsibility, I want my sons to know they’re expected to take up their share of the domestic labor in their homes. Shifting our language away from “help” and modeling an equitably shared home is one way I hope to do that.
So, what does that look like in real life? It’s actually pretty simple to remove the word help from your vocabulary, and yes, it works even with young kids. Instead of saying something like, “It’s time to help mom clean up,” you might say: “It’s time to clean up the playroom. You can get those blocks, and I will put these books away.” I also use a lot of cause-and-effect language like, “You need to clear the table so we can get ready for dinner.”
And shifting the language away from help doesn’t mean getting rid of gratitude or not reinforcing good behavior. I like to say things like, “You did a really nice job with that task. It looks so good in here!” or “I noticed how hard you worked on that task. Thank you for doing such a great job.”
It can feel awkward at first, and I still sometimes catch myself using the word “help” with my family, but I know that shifting our language is worth fighting for. Especially if it teaches my sons to carry their own weight in their future homes and my daughter not to shoulder the responsibility that should be shared equally.