How To Get Family To Help With Chores

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Struggling to do it all yourself? Here’s advice on how to get family to help with chores like cleaning the house.

It’s not uncommon for one person in the household to feel like they’re the ones doing most of the work around the house.

That’s the case with “Screaming Mom,” who wrote to ask for advice on how to get family members to help with chores like cleaning or even just doing the dishes. (Be sure to read the fantastic UPDATE below!)

How to Get Family to Help Clean

Dear Katie,
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 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, packrat husband into performing various chores. Our kids weren’t any better at helping around the house. Trying to change them nearly drove me crazy, too.

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But over the years, I’ve learned a few tactics to get the family to help clean, including my husband, and maybe you’ll find a few useful, too. Just know up front that screaming at your husband or kids won’t make them change in any meaningful fashion, and that’s what you really want to happen, isn’t it?

But You CAN Make Him WANT to Help

There are ways to get family to help with chores that will lighten your load, and there are benefits for them if they do. Spouses who help around the house do better at work and kids who do chores become more successful adults.

These steps worked with my family.

How to Get Family to Help Clean House

Getting Your Husband To Help Clean

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 help me for an hour or so on Sundays to clean the house before football started. Know what happened?

He’d hurry through whatever I’d asked him to do, and often only completed part of it before planting himself in front of the TV. You can imagine my mood for the rest of the day.

Don’t Overwhelm Him

Whether we like it or not, girls usually receive more homemaking instruction while growing up than boys do. 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.

So, he may think he’s done a great job — no trash here! — but you know he’s only tidied, not cleaned. You wind up feeling let down. (And probably also tired of asking.)

Spell it Out for Him — Simply

Hand him a written list of what to clean and what steps to take cleaning it. Reading the process for himself means you don’t have to nag him, and he’ll know everything he needs to do. (Related: Printable Cleaning Checklists for Every Room of Your Home.)

Cartoon drawing about getting family to help clean house which reads: "Why do men think they deserve a parade for doing a chore once that you do everyday?"

Positive Reinforcement Works Wonders

Look, I’m not saying you need to train your husband like you would a new dog. But, given how few homemaking skills men learn while growing up, I think some of them get nervous doing chores they don’t have a lot of experience with.

A little praise makes him feel seen and lets him know his efforts mattered. You don’t need to throw a parade, but a cheery “Thank you so much!” lets him know he didn’t screw up the task.

Getting Kids to Help Clean

Young boy sweeping crumbs with handheld broom

Pay it Forward!

If you’re raising boys, please do the next generation a favor: get your sons involved in housework! You’ll teach them valuable life skills they’ll need as adults, and cut down domestic friction in their future.

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 practice teaches them that being part of a family means pitching in. A clean, cozy house benefits everyone who lives in it.

Chores don’t have to be complicated or even dull. Turning housework into something that feels like playtime is a great way to motivate kids to help clean house. (Related: Games That Get Kids Cleaning.)

You might even consider assigning a few specific tasks they must do every week. A good rule of thumb is the same number of chores as their age, so a 3-year-old would have three simple tasks, while a 14-year-old would have two per day. (Related: Age-Based List of Kids Chores.)

Hire Them

While I’m a firm believer that kids should pitch in around the house because they live there, it’s also important to teach them the value of hard work. A great way to do that is by letting them earn money doing extra chores.

Fair warning, though: my son was sneaky at first, doing paid chores early in the week, then blowing off the rest. So, our rule is that unpaid tasks must all get finished, too, he doesn’t get paid for the extras at all.

Now he knows to do what I recommend to blog readers — divide housework throughout the week, create a manageable daily To-Do list, and make sure each day’s schedule is complete before dinner, so there’s time to unwind in the evening.

Someday, I hope his future spouse will thank me. But, even if that never happens, I’m less stressed out because my family has learned to help clean the house, too.

UPDATE (8/12/2013): Screaming Mom sent a follow-up email!

Dear Katie,

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

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  1. I must be one of the lucky ones!! My hubby has always ‘helped out’. Sometimes not in ways I really wanted him to, but I still had to appreciate it so he would eventually do the things that were really helpful!! *L* Since I’ve gotten sick he has really stepped forward and I can’t say enough good about that! I agree with your hints, though, especially timing it right. Most men will do most anything if they think it was their idea in the first place!

    1. LOL Yes, if we put the notion in their heads they’ll run with it. I had to chuckle at your husband’s initial efforts to be helpful. Mine was the same way, and for years I wondered if he’d intentionally messed things up so I wouldn’t ask for his help anymore. Then I realized he just had no idea how to clean!

  2. Dearest Katie,
    What a humorous but very well written post! Your approach is excellent and especially the last segment I loved: “If you’re raising boys, do the next generation of wives an enormous favor: get your sons involved in housework!”
    Good luck with your men.
    Hugs to you,

    1. Hello Mariette!
      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished my mother-in-law had spent a bit more time teaching my husband things like “We don’t use the kitchen towel to wipe up spills from the floor and then rehang it!” or “It’s better to make your sandwich on your plate than directly on the counter, because you have no idea what was sitting there previously and, besides, wiping your mess up with your hand STILL leaves a mess!”

      Needless to say, I’m making a point to teach my son to clean well. I figure his future wife will have plenty of other reasons to dislike me, but this topic doesn’t need to be one.


    2. Dearest Katie,
      Your future daughter-in-law will be grateful for your efforts!

  3. Just wanted to say that I totally got where screaming mom was coming from! I have the same situation almost exactly, except I may have less time at home.

    I do kinder runs every day with my kids on foot due to only having one car which my husband needs for work (roll on getting a 2nd car sometime in the next month!). This takes around 2 hours per day due to where we live. I volunteer at the kinder and in the local community doing environmental education and I’m studying part-time evenings, so I’m squeezing school work in where possible.

    Before I started school I was given assurances that he would do what he could to support me and help out, but recently there was a huge fight over the bathroom (I got fed up cleaning it and decided to pretend I couldn’t see the mess to see how long it took before anyone noticed… almost a year!!!) and I was told that he expected me to do everything as he was “at work all day”. When I pointed out that I wasn’t exactly sitting on my backside I got the “well you’ve obviously taken on too much” response… yep. I made the mistake of taking on a husband!!

    Thing is, he’s a wonderful man and a fantastic father. I couldn’t ask for better and I love him with all my heart, but he seems oblivious to what is involved in our daily lives.

    So, thanks to this website I’m putting everything I do down in writing as daily tasks, weekly tasks etc and putting them up on the wall where he can’t fail to see them. I’ve also allocated some to him to deal with in the evenings, nothing major but stuff that either I can’t do as I’ll be at school or studying.

    Plus I’m booking in some regular ME time at the weekends!!!

    Thanks for your inspiration and for your response to screaming mum. Helped me to de-stress a little and think of a more positive way to get some help rather than bottling it all up until there’s a monumental outpouring of rage when I’ve had enough! 😀

    1. I think once you started school yourself it was only fair for the family to revisit the division of household tasks. It’s one thing when a woman has left the workforce to work at home, as I have, with the knowledge that the vast majority of household chores will fall to her. It’s an entirely different thing when a woman is in school or working. I can only imagine how frustrated you must have felt, putting in time in class and time on homework, and feeling like those commitments weren’t being taken into consideration. After all, YOU were “at work all day” just like him!

      I’m very pleased that my cleaning checklists and other tips are helping you. Please do make a point of budgeting in time for YOU when you can. You deserve it!

  4. I loved all the advice but, that’s all it was. I wish you could have seen my husband’s face when I asked for help. His response “I work at a job all week”! My husband and teenage sons spend every free minute on their computer’s.

    1. I remember what that look looks like! My teen now knows that I’ll change the wifi password and take the HDMI cords from his gaming systems if he doesn’t get his chores done. As I explained to him, “This is your current job. Some day you’ll have a real one. You don’t get to blow off your employer’s requests because you’d rather game.”

  5. This situation makes me laugh. I am a working mom of 3. I threaten my family constantly that I am going to quit my job just to be their maid because they already treat me that way after I have worked all day. I cry at least 5 days out of the week because I can’t get anyone (except my 2yr old son) to pick up anything. My daughters scream and throw tantrums if I ask them to make their bed. I made the mistake once making a list of things needing accomplished at home and my husband ripped it up and threw it away. I am at my wits end and extremely unhappy ( which happens to be my fault because I do nothing)

    1. I’m sorry you’re going through such a rough time, Amber. When my kids threw tantrums and refused to help, I responded by taking away everything in their rooms — everything — except their bed and a week’s worth of clothes. I removed the electric cord from the TV and computers, changed the password on the home wifi, and gave our neighbors all of the chips, pop, and frozen snacks we had. (I did not take away books. If they were bored, I figured they could spend some time learning.)

      They had the option to either continue living without or do their chores EVERY day for a week and then start earning things back — with the TV and computer being the last things they earned.

      It was a miserable week for all of us, but after the first couple of days their tantrums subsided. I still wouldn’t give things back. By the end of the week, they were literally begging for chores to earn things back faster. My house quickly started to look immaculate.

      After that, when they’d start slacking off I only had to mention taking away things before they’d hop up and do their chores without arguing. By the time they were in their early teens, helping around the house had become a habit and they knew they would get NO privileges or fun money if they did not.

      Only YOU know how your kids would respond, and how much blowback you can handle from them, but I do sympathize with feeling like you’ve lost control of your home, so maybe try this or a similar method to reclaim it. Best wishes to you!

  6. I just wanted to chime in as a guy who was taught by his mom to clean and do chores. Heavy on the clean. My early years in the military I was recognized for how presentably my dorm room always looked. Especially when you have a General visit your base and walks through. To all the moms. If your family (Including your hubby) helps you clean “do not” rip ’em a new one because it wasn’t done to your level of clean. No one likes that. Instead praise and communicate. Praise them for the job they did and then say, “Next time could you………..” For example, ” Honey, you did a great job in the bathroom. Next time you help me could you get behind the toilet as well?” As a husband I’ll tell you this – Next time behind the toilet would never look as good as it will when I’m finished. ?

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