Q. Yesterday, I came home to a messy house, which is typical. There were dirty dishes all over the kitchen, toys everywhere and piles of undone laundry. I lost my self-control and yelled at my wife and kids. When we married, I didn’t realize my wife would be so messy. I don’t want a divorce, but I can’t live like this. What do you suggest?
A. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “opposites attract.” Humans are probably subconsciously attracted to our opposite in a mate for a reason. Maybe you don’t want to be quite so compulsively neat, and your wife doesn’t want to be so messy.
First off, ask your wife if she might be depressed. Depression is often associated with procrastination of chores. If she says yes, see that she gets help. If she isn’t depressed, she may just be overwhelmed by the amount of work or the sameness of the routine.
Years ago, I had a depressed and overwhelmed neighbor in a similar situation. She got a prescription for an antidepressant, went to work full time and hired a housekeeper. That’s one way to deal with the problem.
But your children need to learn both these skills from their parents: how to make things neat and when to let things go. So instead of a housekeeper, consider some of the following strategies:
1 Help your wife with at least one chore, predictably, every day. Some husbands clean the kitchen after supper; others fold and put away the laundry. Having predictable help can be a great mood elevator for your wife, and you have the pleasure of seeing things tidy.
2 Create a chores chart. Help the kids make a list, and let them volunteer for specific chores. They can put their initials by the ones they complete, and you can brag on each of them for their help.
3 Foster fun around chores. Would singing, telling jokes or playing verbal games make chores go faster?
4 Creatively motivate the family to complete chores. For example, award the most enthusiastic worker, the most chores done or the first to complete all assigned chores.
5 Don’t pay kids to do daily chores like dishes or taking out the trash. These are part of being a member of a family and training for living as an adult. Bigger chores can be set up for kids to earn money.
6 Periodically have a clean out day, where each person in the family gets a bag to fill for a charity accepting donations of clothes, toys and household goods. Occasionally—such as before guests arrive—enlist the kids to help clean more thoroughly.
7 Find and hire a high school student to help the kids with homework after school and to put away their belongings throughout the house.
8 Make the kids’ social events—parties, play dates and sleepovers—contingent on having certain areas of the house clean and the child’s own room tidy. The rest of the time, have the children keep their bedroom doors shut so you and guests don’t have to see the clutter.
9 Put some bedroom inspection days on a posted kids’ calendar. Make an “official” inspection sheet, so the kids can be prepared. List things like dirty dishes and old food and drink containers. Plan a fun event to take place after room inspection, such as going on a family outing.
You may think I’ve asked a lot of you, as a father who has already put in a full day’s work. I realize there are other chores that usually fall to a father figure in the house, such as taking care of the cars, painting and yard work.
But then again, you would miss all the fun of doing things with your kids and the chance to teach your children when and how to be neat. And the romance in your life may increase as you make home life more enjoyable for your wife.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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