The question: “My husband is going on vacation for 2 weeks and, as a surprise for him while he’s gone, I’m planning on having some work done to our home…fix the floor, remodel, trim the trees and bushes, etc. I was going to have family help with these things to keep costs down. I have previously mentioned the things to him that I plan to do. He works long hours 6 days a week so I can stay home with our 14 month old baby. I love him and appreciate his hard work and thought this would be a nice way to help him out with things that he doesn’t have time for. Do you think that this is a good idea?”
Dr. Laura’s answer: “No. I think it’s going to…even though he doesn’t have time and these things do need to be done…I worry that it’s going to leave him with the feeling of not being needed, of being a failure, of not having followed through for you and of not being able to do 16 things at one time. I don’t think so, if…no…no [Laughs]. I don’t know how else to say “No.”
Now if you know he has a hobby but doesn’t have the time to put together the wherewithal to do this hobby…like nuts and bolts, screws and hammers, and saws and drill presses and what-have-you that guys like to play with. Whatever these things are, you might want to set up a little hobby area for him. You can remodel that so that he gets rewarded for his hard work, he can come home and fiddle…whatever it is that he likes to fiddle with. Maybe it’s paint, so you get paints and an easel and some class for 6 weeks.
I think you should set up something for his R&R but I don’t think that you should do the things that really he knew he should be doing because I think it’s going to make him feel bad. I wouldn’t take the risk. Do the hobby thing. I think that’s guaranteed.”
Laura, Laura, Laura. After last week’s falling out I wasn’t sure I could ever come back. Thankfully, this week’s advice-off doesn’t make me want to set fire to my computer. Stupid, yes. But there is no rape apology here, so I will manage.
Laura is right in that it’s not a great idea to undertake these projects while the husband is away, but not because men are some kind of simple, programmable machines that get all Hulk-smashy when the vagina-havers try to do man things. Instead, it’s just not a great idea because this is shared space. What if you paint the walls a luxurious emerald green only to find out that emerald green was the color of his beloved grandmother’s coffin? What if the furniture you so lovingly pick out turns out to be covered in a resin that gives him hives? Or if when you are trimming the trees and bushes, you rip out his all-time favorite money-growing plant?
By taking this upon yourself, you are not saying, “I am disappointed in your laziness and inability to be manly,” but you are saying “my vision of our house is the only one that matters.” There are certain things that just don’t work as surprises: surprise! a puppy!; surprise! I sold the house and bought a camper!; surprise! I remodeled while you were away!
If it would be a wonderful surprise, it will also be a wonderful thing for you to do as a non-surprise. Talk to him about it. Get his input, and then put in the time. It won’t ruin the loveliness of the gift, and it will save you from doing something that is really hard to undo that makes his life miserable.
It’s your living space. It’s his living space, too. He needs to be a part of the remodeling.