It was a busy Thursday night, and I was trying to help my wife get ready for Shabbos. “Can I make this for you?” “Can I help you with this?” But no matter how helpful I tried to be, the clear message I was getting was “Just go away and let me do this!” (You know that line, “Behind every great man is the drawer I need to get into, and why are you even in the kitchen right now anyway!?” It rings true in our house.) And this is after several years of marriage.
So it got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be helpful to put together some tips and tricks for the clueless husband who genuinely wants to help, but has no idea how?
Assess the Situation
The first, and arguably only, tip that matters is to pay attention to whether your wife even wants help at the particular moment that you’re offering it. Many people know what they want to do and methodically go through their entire list without stopping, and if you stick your nose in, even to help, it may get cut off. So exercise caution before you make your offer.
To clarify, whether your wife wants your help is best determined not while she’s in the middle of skinning the chicken and making the kugel, but early in the week, while she can still think coherently. My sense is that Jewish women have an internal clock that counts down to Shabbos, and the closer it gets to candle lighting, the louder it ticks in their ears. So if you talk to them, do it on Wednesday, when they can still pay attention to you. Once it’s Friday afternoon, they can’t even hear you speak.
Plot a Course of Action
Now, one area of help where you can’t go wrong is by doing dishes. Dishes are the silent killer — they sneak up on you in the kitchen without you realizing it. Imagine this: You’re calmly cooking and baking, and the next thing you know, every measuring spoon you’ve ever owned, rented, or borrowed is dirty. Buried under a giant pile of plates, mixing bowls, and assorted cooking paraphernalia that you never knew you had.
Even people who enjoy cooking have the specter of washing dishes hanging over their heads. (I once knew someone who never measured ingredients. Not because they were experienced enough to know how much baking powder went into the cake, but because they would rather have a sunken cake than wash the extra measuring spoon.) The sense of accomplishment you feel when you slide that amazing kugel into the oven is tempered by the feeling of helplessness when you turn around and see every surface in the kitchen covered with something that needs to be washed.
When my wife and I were engaged, she told me unequivocally that she doesn’t like to do dishes. I, being the gallant and chivalrous chassan, told her that I would do them. It’s now seven years later, and she has barely touched a dirty dish since. If for whatever reason I’m not able to do the dishes, we use plastic. The thought of her washing dishes isn’t even on our radar. And you know what, that’s okay. She works really hard making delicious meals for our family, the least I can do is wash up after her.
Duck and Cover
So long story short, to the clueless husband who wants to help but doesn’t know how: Start by waiting until your wife finishes cooking, then proudly tell her, “I got this,” and let her relax for a few minutes while you tackle that ridiculously huge stack of dishes in the sink. (Hint: Even though it was just a one-pan chicken dinner, you can expect to wash at least seven utensils that you can’t imagine what they were used for. Don’t ask, just go with it.)
Inevitably, she won’t relax. She’ll either find something else to do to keep herself busy, or more likely, hover over you and gently make suggestions about (i.e., criticize) your technique. “Too much soap, not enough soap, don’t forget to use soap, that’s the milchig sponge!” You may even hear all of this in one shot. Just keep in mind, you’re being helpful and that’s all you can do. (Deep down, she really does appreciate it.)
Wait for the Green Light
One more thing to keep in mind: Don’t try to get ahead and clean up while your wife is still cooking. You’ll see her use the measuring cup and put it down. So you grab it, quickly wash it, and put it on the drying rack. As soon as you put it down, expect her to ask, “Where’s the measuring cup? I need it.”
She won’t notice that you took it. She won’t notice that you washed it. But invariably she’ll need it again as soon as you do. (Even if she claims she’s done with it, don’t believe it. It will only come back to haunt you.) So do yourself a favor and just wait until she finishes. By staying out of the way, she can work in peace.
Which brings us back to the beginning of this article: Unless otherwise told, the best help you can offer your wife on a busy Thursday night is doing the dishes. That’s probably all she wants you to do anyway. Just make sure to use enough soap, and don’t use the milchig sponge.
No dishes were harmed in the writing or researching of this article.
(Originally featured in Family Table, Issue 833)
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