A family's decisions often fall to mothers

May 14, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

I THOUGHT PRESIDENT BUSH was just butchering the language again when he said, "I'm the decider, and I decide what's best."

He was talking about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the calls for Rumsfeld's firing. But now I think he may actually have found the perfect substitute for those vague titles "mother" and "wife."

"Decider." I like the sound of that.

"I am the decider, and I decide what's best."

I tried the line out on my husband and children, and I am certain that their blank stares mean only that they need some time to come to terms with the clarity of the concept. After all, I have been deciding what is best for a long time.

When my future husband gave me diamond stud earrings for Christmas one year, I "decided" that he was asking me to marry him and I set about planning a wedding. It was only the first of so many family decisions that would fall to me, mostly by default.

I became the decider because no one in the other half of the marriage wanted to decide. I became the decider, but only after he became the "can I get back to you on that after work tonight?"

Lots of couples will tell you that they make decisions together, but they are lying to you and kidding themselves. If one half of the marriage is not a full-fledged tyrant, then family decisions tend to fall to the spouse who is most equipped to make them -- or who has the most at stake.

You can bet that the woman is the decider in most marriages.

She probably decides how they will marry -- I don't think there is a Grooms magazine. And she probably decides on the house that they will buy, because it is her daydreams that will come true inside its walls.

She probably decides on the number of kids. Whether she works outside the house or not, she is the one who is going to do most of the kid work, and it is only fair that she get to decide when she has had enough.

Consumer research suggests that she influences more than 80 percent of all new car decisions. That's probably because she sees herself getting the kids and their friends in and out of that car.

She makes most of the purchasing decisions, surveys show. She probably decides what socks and jockey shorts he wears -- because she is more likely to be ashamed of how worn they are -- but I am guessing he decides "boxers or briefs."

She probably decides what's on the holiday menu, but the decision about whose parents get the visit is probably a source of contention, because both want to be the decider on that tough topic.

He may dream of his children starring in sports, but she's the one who decides which sport, because the practice schedule is something that will be written on her calendar. If she tells him they need more coaches, he decides that he will coach.

She probably makes the decisions about the kids' schooling, often because she is the one most intimately connected with the neighborhood. She probably handles the college decision-making, too, if only because he hasn't got the time for all that paperwork.

She decides on the pediatrician and the dentist and the orthodontist because she is the one who will have to get time off work to get to the appointments -- unless she decides that it is his turn to take the day off to be with the sick child.

He probably decides what lawn mower to purchase, but she decides where the flowerbeds will go. Then, she decides that he does the digging.

In the halls of government and business, being the decider is often less about the decision itself than it is about being the one to make it. It is about power. That's certainly what President Bush was suggesting when he acknowledged the calls for the sacking of his defense secretary.

But inside the American family, overrun as it is by the chaos of life, decisions are not about power as much as they are about proximity. The one in the middle of the madness is the one who has to make the decisions about how best to manage it.

The decider. Has a nice ring to it. The ring of truth, I think. It is what women do. We decide. Not because we are power-mad, but because we are almost always the ones on site when a decision has to be made.

So, on this day of all days, I would like to say to all the other mothers, "Happy Decider's Day."

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear an audio clip of this column and others, go to baltimore sun.com / reimer.

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