I At some point, every homemaker has asked how to get family to help with chores. That’s certainly the case with today’s Reader Question from “Screaming Mom,” whose New Year’s Resolution to clean and organize her house is running into the reality of a less-than-helpful family. (Be sure to read the fantastic UPDATE below!)
How to Get Family to Help with Chores
Since buying our house three years ago, it’s grown increasingly cluttered and dirty. I try my best to keep up with housework, but as a SAHM with two kids (3 and 5), plus a messy husband who comes home and flops in front of the television, it’s hard to do! This year I made a New Year’s resolution to get the house clean and toss some of the clutter, and then KEEP it that way. But here we are barely a week into the New Year, and I’m already struggling.
How do I make my husband help out more? And is it unrealistic to expect children my kids’ age to pitch in, too?
More Cleaning, Less Screaming
Dear Screaming Mom,
Before I tell you the answer, I want you to take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Better? Good, now sit down because you’re probably not going to like this.
You can’t MAKE your husband help out more.
(Take another deep breath, woman.) Remember, this was your New Year’s Resolution, not his. If you’d resolved to lose 10 lbs (and I’m not saying that you need to), you wouldn’t expect him to do that for you, would you? Of course not.
I say this from experience. I spent the first decade of marriage trying to nag my sloppy, pack rat husband into performing various chores. Our kids weren’t any better at pitching in. Trying to change them nearly drove me crazy, too.
Over the years, I learned a few things — like how to make a fabulous martini to reward myself at the end of the day. I also learned that screaming at my husband and kids doesn’t make them change in any meaningful fashion.
But you CAN make him want to help.
That said, there are ways to get family to help with chores that will lighten your load you’ve chosen to carry. And there are benefits for them, too. Spouses who help around the house do better at work and kids who do chores do better later in life.
But remember: when you set standards for how clean you want your home to be, you are choosing the size of your burden.
These steps worked with my family.
How To Get Family To Help With Chores
Getting Your Husband To Help
Being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t mean that you are your husband’s maid. For one thing, maids have set working hours and get time off, but SAHMs don’t. Keeping the house clean shouldn’t be entirely your responsibility. Your husband isn’t one of the kids you stayed home to raise. Plus, there are some things you need an extra set of hands or muscles to accomplish.
Don’t give him a reason to rush.
I used to ask my husband to spend an hour or so on Sundays helping me before football started. Know what happened? He’d rush through whatever I’d asked him to do, usually doing only a part of it. Then he would plant himself in front of the TV. You can imagine my mood for the rest of the day.
Don’t ambush him at the door.
Being home all day with the kids can be draining. Having to keep mental track of a To Do list adds to that stress. Sometimes, we SAHPs forget our spouses come home with their own mental fatigue. They need a chance to unwind before being asked to do stuff around the house. Give him a half-hour to change and play with the kids. I bet you’ll find he’s more open to helping.
Don’t overwhelm him.
Whether we like it or not, as children grow up, girls usually receive more homemaking instruction. In other words, you’re already at an advantage when it comes to knowing what to do and how.
Asking your husband to “clean the family room” may mean, in his mind, picking up trash. Meanwhile, you think he should also dust the tables, take the empty dishes to the sink, and give the floor a quick vacuum, too.
Spell it out for him — simply.
Hand him one of my printable house cleaning checklists. Reading the steps for himself means you don’t have to nag him, and he’ll know everything he needs to do.
Positive reinforcement works wonders.
How is it that a wife can do laundry, clean house, and fix dinner from scratch without anyone noticing, but if a husband cleans water spots off a mirror he expects a standing ovation? (Or maybe that’s just how it is in my house.)
As silly as it is, it makes a man nervous to go out of his comfort zone to do a chore he wasn’t raised knowing how to do. Your praise lets him know that you realize he helped and that he did it right (even if he didn’t). I’m not saying you need to throw a parade, but a cheery “Thank you so much!” encourages him to keep pitching in around the house.
Getting your Kids to Help
Pay it forward.
If you’re raising boys, do the next generation a favor: get your sons involved in housework! You’ll be teaching valuable life skills they’ll need as adults, and helping them avoid domestic friction when they’re married someday.
Make it mandatory.
As soon as kids can walk they should have “chores,” even if it’s just putting their toys away before naptime. This teaches them that being part of a family means pitching in. A clean, cozy house benefits everyone.
Give age-appropriate tasks.
As for which tasks to give the kids, check out this list of chores kids can do and decide what your little ones are ready to handle.
Good luck, Screaming Mom, and try to keep it all in perspective. Your kids will get better about picking up after themselves!
UPDATE (8/12/2013): Screaming Mom sent a follow-up email!
I wish I could give you a big hug! When I first wrote to ask for your help I wasn’t very fond of your answer. It seemed like you were telling me to either be okay with my house being messier or shut up and do it myself. I just want to apologize for all the names I called you that day and for days after that. But even though I didn’t like your advice I followed it at least with respects to my husband. I wrote on the family calendar what I’d be cleaning each day and after he watched a show or two on TV after work, he started helping me with anything I hadn’t finished.
You told me to gush with praise whenever he helped and I did. He liked that so he started helping even more. The kids saw Daddy helping Mommy clean and getting treats for it (I started baking cookies and things) and they began helping me too. Now we all spend a half hour or so cleaning together every evening after dinner and before our bath and book time. My house looks better than it ever has.
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write back and let you know how we turned out. It’s just that we had such a great spring and summer together, including vacations and visits from family that didn’t send me into a tantrum because my house was clean already! Thank you SO MUCH, Katie! You are my hero.
Home is now Heavenly