From mummy’s boy to man of the house
Growing up, I was a mummy’s boy. As an only child, I was the precious prince of the house. For as long as I can remember, my parents have spread their wings to protect, guide and tend to my every need. At times, their approach was one that was overprotective – I was not allowed to learn swimming and cycling out of safety concerns, and only self-taught these essential life skills in my twenties. Perhaps the most familiar rite of passage for guys here is National Service (NS), or “from boys to men”. But for me, getting married and going from mama’s boy to man of the house was an experience that forced me out of my comfort zone just as much.
Here’s what I learnt from moving out of my parents’ nest and setting up my own den as the man of the house.
*All images for illustrative purposes only.
1. Housework isn’t a “woman’s job”
The man of the house, unfortunately, doesn’t have anyone to pick up after him.
Growing up, I hardly had to lift a finger around the house. My mum has always regarded housework as a “woman’s job”, and didn’t even let me help with simple chores such as setting the dining table before mealtimes.
Indeed, eating at home with my mum and dad felt like restaurant dining, but without the service charge. All I had to do was help myself to the delicious food, with my mum serving and clearing the dishes every time.
For a while after I got my own place, the dishes were still being “cleared” without me tending to them, but in a different way – flies would buzz around and “clean up” the leftover food. I’d usually only clear the plates hours later.
All that changed when my wife entered the picture – unfortunately for me, she thinks that housework is as much a “man’s job” as it is a woman’s, if not more. It’s restaurant dining no more, but self-service for meals and everything else at home.
This meant we ended up doing a lot of housework together, which turned into impromptu bonding time. Scrubbing the bathroom together may sound rather unromantic, but this was a good way for us to catch up with each other, especially when we’re usually pressed for time because of the kids.
And speaking of kids, it’s definitely a good idea to get them involved around the house when they’re old enough. They learn about responsibility and empathy, and besides, housework should actually be a “family’s job”.
2. Money matters can be trickier
For the first year after moving in with my wife, she refused to open a joint savings account with me, which perhaps wasn’t surprising. It was Spendthrift Me vs Frugal Her, and every expenditure felt like a financial tug of war between us, from 3-digit silk pyjamas vs plain cotton ones from the pasar malam, to whether the living room needed an aircon unit.
After all, life with my folks was much simpler money-wise – my money was my money, and theirs was partly mine as well – they used to give me an allowance even after I started working.
Moving out not only meant no more easy money; there was also the rude shock of “hidden” expenses such as property taxes and Service & Conservancy Charges (S&CC) that came with having your own place.
Money matters need to be taken into your own hands as the man of the house.
Being miserly was so uncool, I used to think. Yet, here I am today, sweating over the big dollars like which bank offers the lowest mortgage rate, and the small cents like which brand of dishwashing liquid is the cheapest.
Of course, my missus does chip in for the household expenses. But unlike your parents, your other half is usually an “equal” partner at home, who’s not obliged to fund your living or manage your finances for you.
And talking about money with each other can be more stressful than with your folks. The day my wife insisted we use my personal bank account for the monthly utilities and internet bills, I knew my “leeching” days are well and truly over.
3. With more freedom comes greater self-responsibility
Living on my own is great, if only because there’s no one to nag at me for sleeping late or skipping breakfast. But this also means there’s no one to drag me out of bed whenever I’m running late for work in the mornings. Also, no 5-course breakfast set, packed bento-style.
No more carefree bachelor life.
Other mundane but life-saving things also constantly remind me of mama: loading all the clothes into the washer, only to realise we’ve run out of laundry detergent; or saying hello to an empty toilet roll while taking a poop.
Other times, I get more emotional and nostalgic. Cue my sobbing with the heavens when I get caught in the rain and realise there’s no umbrella dutifully tucked into my bag.
My wife and I share the tasks and responsibilities with regular to-do lists and schedules. But, as we’re still quite a traditional Asian society, she still expects me to be the “bigger” boss in the house, which means a grown-up husband and father, handyman, and utility guy all rolled into one. Sigh.
Still, I’m grateful to my parents in another sense – their overprotective ways taught me how not to parent my own kids. They might have thought cocooning me was the best way of preparing me for life, but it was anything but a soft landing when it came to living on my own.
4. Living with a new spouse can feel strange at first
I love my wife, and couldn’t wait to start our new life together. But living with her felt strange – and challenging – at first. After 30 years of having my clothes folded in my own weird, unique style, I had to adapt to a totally different way of folding. Even the fridge smelt different, or more accurately, like a Korean minimart, with her kimchi and what not.
As a mummy’s boy and only child, my way was usually THE way in the house. Sadly, my wife didn’t grow up under the same roof as me, and there are many ways of living, no right or wrong. While I was pampered and indulged growing up, I’d like to think I’m a nice, considerate, sensitive “new age guy” too.
Which is why I never complain when she colonises the bathroom with her skincare stuff, and the bed with her giant bolsters. I used to have my own master ensuite room, so adapting, as you can imagine, was a little tough. Partly because with all the space taken up, not much tidying is actually needed day-to-day as well.
Life tip: Ultimately, don’t expect your other half to “spoil” you like your mum and dad did. Nor should she have to put up with your bad habits, tantrums or behaviour. Now I prepare my own cut-up fruits after my wife has repeatedly ignored my pleas to be served a platter, à la my mama.
As always, talking things out and some give-and-take usually helps.
5. It’s OK to miss mum and dad…
Beyond missing being doted on and looked after, I miss my mum’s nagging – yes, ironically – and dad’s nuggets of advice that used to warm my heart and soul day and night.
While I was happy to start a new chapter of my life in my new abode, deep down I was also feeling terribly homesick and insecure. Although I had lived on my own during NS and my stint studying overseas, this felt different. And knowing they too, missed me, made it worse.
While I used to be the comforted, now I AM the “comforter”. When my wife needs some TLC from a bad work day, it’s my turn to step up with those strong arms and reassuring words that, while still a baby at heart, I’ve learnt to also be a hero to a damsel in distress.
For my parents, it’s also been a chance for them to “grow” – sad, but proud that their mummy’s boy is now a hero of his own family.
6. …but seeing them too often isn’t good
Absence makes the heart fonder, but too much presence can cause trouble. When I first moved out, my mum and dad would drop by my place several times a week just to make sure I was still “surviving”. They, especially my mum, are worrywarts – whether I’m drinking soup, eating vitamins, or sleeping enough.
It can get tense or awkward, especially when my mother would instruct my wife to do more housework, parent the kids more, and take care of me like how she used to. Once, things got quite bad when they started arguing and exchanging death stares over why my clothes weren’t ironed properly.
Life tip: It’s good to have your folks visit but doing it too often can mess with the routine you and your wife are trying to set for things like housework and childcare. Nowadays, I call to reassure them how I’m indeed still surviving, and how my wife and I are actively sorting out our new life together.
My mum still believes my life’s a total mess without her, but thankfully, their weekly check-ins are now just monthly drop-bys.
7. Staying healthy is important for my family
It may sound rather inauspicious, but home could also feel like a 5-star hospital back then. Whenever I fell sick, my mum would nurse me back to health without me leaving the bed – cold sponging, medicines, tonics, and all. The household could still function perfectly without a blip.
The man of the house is now the one who’s the carer.
Now, coming down with the bug can mean “chaos” for my family, such as a messier house, crankier kids, and cancelled outings. When I saw how my wife seemed to have aged by a year after my 1-day illness, I realised looking after my health is also about looking after my family.
The same goes for my mental and emotional well-being. Sharing my problems and even shedding tears in front of my wife certainly feels much better than bottling things up. As our wedding vow goes, we should “face weal and woe together”. But of course, there’s a difference between this and being a crybaby every time.
Stepping out of the shoes of a mummy’s boy
Becoming the man of the house can sound scary, especially if you’ve always been a mummy’s boy. It often means swapping roles from the cared-for to the carer, or the protected to the protector. But with some adaptation and the support of your family, you’ll not only survive but thrive, even if you’ll always be a little boy in your mother’s eyes.
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