When I was little and my mum was cleaning the house, the stairs would gradually fill up on the right-hand side with things that needed to be returned to their places upstairs. This would include piles of folded clothes, books, toys, any odd bits of shopping that needed to go up to the bathroom like replacement toothpaste, shampoo and so on. My dad, my brother and I would walk past these little piles, time and again, until we were asked in a ‘louder’ voice by mum to take them upstairs. Either that or a pile would get dislodged, she’d have to sort it out again, it must have been a never-ending source of frustration to her – and something that I’m now bitterly ashamed of.
Our son is two years and eight months old, like many children he’s got various boxes from IKEA in an Expedit unit that he puts his toys away in. One is labelled with a picture of jigsaw pieces, another with a picture of trucks, another with a train and so on. He’s only little, but when he helps us tidy up he can see where to put groups of things. He’s also got a basket that holds his cuddly toys; it may well get upended, but before he goes to bed, we treat the basket like a hoop and ‘shoot’ the toys away. It’s never too early to encourage your child to take responsibility for their belongings, he loves helping us, so we’re making the most of him being excited about running around with the duster and a cloth, smears and all, he’s helping.
Every child goes through a stage of not tidying their room, every child also goes through a stage of not washing or cleaning their teeth. This is when you need to grit your teeth, remind yourself (sometimes daily) that it is a stage and it will pass, but it doesn’t make it any less maddening. But what about the families where one person does the lion share of the cleaning? What do you do then? The drain on your energy levels when you’re running around like a mad thing and feel like you have to nag and nag and nag again to get people to do anything is immense.
This could consume you, if you let it. You could do everything yourself and be a martyr, if you want to. Or you could begin to let it slide, just a little, hoping that someone else would pick up the pieces, after all – what is the worse that could happen? Housework is one of those funny things that people don’t notice unless you don’t do it. This tactic will not work, so don’t try it, unless you talk to your family, no-one will pick up the pieces, because they don’t know what is happening they’ll just comment on the state of the floors, which will probably send you into orbit. Communication is key, but so is sharing the load, you simply cannot do everything on your own, so stop trying to, please.
There are lots of different ways to approach sharing jobs and chores across the family, as a point to note? Yelling isn’t the most effective solution; if you’ve only the one volume of ‘loud’ you won’t be heard. Before you start dividing tasks up, have a think about what you want done, do you want the dishwasher emptied? Do you want the children to begin to learn how to look after their laundry? Or do you need help with specific housework tasks? Start to pull a list of chores together in your head, then transfer these to your notebook, when you’ve a better idea of what you’re looking for, call a family meeting and open the conversation. If you can, talk it out over a meal, with the TV off and no other screens at the table, keep the notebook handy though. Explain that you all live there, we need to start dividing up the jobs, and make it clear that monetary incentives won’t be included. Cleaning any house they live in will continue when they leave home – and they certainly won’t get paid for it then! This is a life skill you’re giving them, one they honestly will thank you for. If you do pay your children for completing jobs, they will begin to expect the money and not necessarily do the chores.
Ask what do people like doing, or if it is easier, hate doing with a passion. I cannot stand to wipe up, so I don’t do it the majority of the time at home. I will still do it obviously, but I chose to do the laundry which my husband hates doing. Keep talking, draw up a list of things to be done daily, weekly and monthly in your home and try to assign a name to each area. Then consider consequences, how hard do you go for tasks missed? Agree as a family on what will happen if things are missed. Again, yelling won’t help, but if people are relying on Johnnie to make lunches and they’re not ready, that’s a whole family of hungry people he’ll have to answer to. Or if there is a severe lack of clean undies and socks, they won’t be the most popular person around.
For praising and encouragement with smaller children a star chart with their jobs on and a specific goal in mind, trip to a favourite place usually works well. Or consider sitting down with a pad of paper as a family, ask about favourite activities, treats, days out and write them down on individual pieces, fold them up and put them in a bowl in the kitchen. When someone has done well, they can select a folded treat from the bowl and you make it happen; but don’t store it up, if you can do it that day, excellent. If it’s bigger trip out or larger project to achieve, put it in the diary that day instead and do not forget about it.
Remember, if you want different, you need to do different. If you’re frustrated, cross and out of sorts because your to-do list just keeps on growing, while your teen is glued to their gadget and just grunts at you, you’re the parent, make a parenting decision. But start with a conversation, you’re raising your child to be an adult, give them an expectation of their behaviour and encourage them to meet it, don’t go into full banshee mode, as that isn’t how you like being talked to, so why would they? Ask them what they’d like to change in the house, then listen and respond to their needs. They may not want Bolognese pasta three times a week, but if you’ve no time to make anything else, ask them to help with the housework, teach them to cook, or ask them to prepare lunches or fold washing while you cook a different dinner.
Start talking, keep talking, pull together as a team and stop trying to do everything on your own. If not now, when?