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
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.)
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!
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