Keep it in the Family (Book extract from Housework Blues)

If, for whatever reason, you don’t take on external help (and even if you do – you’ll still have to tidy up before they come!), it makes sense to utilise existing labour sources. I’m referring to The Others. The people you live with. Now you may be thinking – if those we live with did their fair share, we wouldn’t need this book! But I believe it’s possible (and just) to recruit them in your domestic battle. It’s simply a case of finding the right approach…

Time to reconsider your family members and view them as potential allies, rather than the enemy.

(The following techniques are aimed at those with partners and/or children. However these principles are based on human nature and so could be applied to any form of (human) housemate.)

The following ideas are ways to encourage/coerce/bribe/trick family members into helping out. This is not an immoral scheme. Neither is it taking an unfair advantage. You are just readdressing an imbalance. Those you live with a) undoubtedly add to your workload and b) (hopefully) care about your well-being. So you shouldn’t feel any guilt in enlisting their assistance (whether they know about it or not..).

Besides, you can’t force people to do anything they don’t want to, for long. The trick is to get them to want to do it. So, here are a few simple tactics to make your housemates more willing, and likely, to help out in the home:

Make a start. If you just begin, strange things happen. People see what you’re doing and, bizarrely, they often want to be in on it. For example, if I make a start on the carnage that is my sons’ bedroom, (making sure they’re present), they magically say, “Can we help you, Mummy?” Similarly, if my husband is hanging round the kitchen and I run a sink full of hot soapy water, before mysteriously disappearing… when I return, he’s got his hands in the sink! This one baffles me but I’m happy to go with it. Give it a go – at the very worst you’ve got the job started (which can often be the hardest part…)

Be visible. Your efforts in the home will be valued, not by what you actually do, but by what The Others notice that you do. A favourite trick of mine is to beaver away with all the chores whilst family members are around to see it. Then I take my Me-Time when they’re all out. (I’m pretty sure they forget I even exist when they’re off ‘doing their thing’, so they’re not likely to wonder what I’ve been up to.)

If your family’s awareness of you consists of the busy person, caring for them and looking after the home, your efforts will be logged, both consciously and sub-consciously. And when they feel that you do plenty for them, they will be naturally more inclined to help – they may even volunteer! (Hope springs eternal…)

Don’t nag. I wish I had learned this years ago: nagging is counter-productive. I’ll say that again – nagging is counter-productive. Not only will it not yield the assistance you’re after, but it has the opposite effect! It creates resentment, making people less likely to want to help you. Most people actually get enjoyment from helping others but only if they believe it was their idea. Not if they were bullied into it. You want your family to enjoy helping, if only because then they’ll be far more likely to do it again in future! So try a lighter-hearted approach and prepare to be amazed.

Ask. People are not psychic. You may assume that they know, or ought to know, what you require of them. In reality, though, they often don’t. So, tell them! If you outline your expectations, coming to an agreement in a calm and pleasant manner before it becomes an issue, they are much likely to stick to it than if they are harangued by a frazzled banshee. (They also then have less excuse for not doing it…)

Appreciate. One very small word can go a long, long way – Thank-you. Every single person on the planet wants to be appreciated. It really counts for a lot. Yet it is so easy to do! Though you may already appreciate it when someone helps out, if you don’t let them know, you are missing a powerful opportunity to a) increase your bond with that person and b) encourage them to help you the next time. Perhaps, you feel that they ought to do it without thanks and you may be right. But how much more inclined would you feel to do your duties, if you knew they were appreciated?

Play swaps. Just maybe, the jobs you hate are fun to somebody else. And vice versa. For example, my nine-year-old son finds ironing very exciting. (He’s a boy, there’s a gadget involved…) I am less inclined toward the mountain of clean-but-crumpled clothes that need attention. On the other hand, he hates sorting out his toys, which appeals to my ordered-brain. So we happily swap. It’s a great arrangement that gets the work done but also instills a spirit of teamwork and cooperation. (Though I’ve yet to find someone to barter with for the toilet-cleaning…)

Just mention it. I am constantly surprised by the power of just mentioning a need – and this applies to life, not just housework. Just by commenting on my preferences, it’s amazing how things ‘co-incidentally’ work out in my favour. For example, I may casually remark that I really love it when the bedroom floor is free of dirty clothes. Then later, as my husband is about to scatter his clothes where he may, he mysteriously pauses, then veers towards the laundry basket!

I know it sounds dubious but there is a complex Jungian theory for this phenomenon (called ‘synchronicity’) which makes for fascinating, though mind-boggling, study (if you like that sort of thing). However, I don’t need to understand it to use it and enjoy the benefits. Try it, it’s fun!

Offer rewards. When all else fails, get down to what everybody understands – bribery. This is a particularly effective tactic with young children, who can’t see benefits beyond their immediate needs. Sometimes you have to offer/withhold something they really want in order to get them to do something you really want. The extent to which you employ this measure is a matter for you and your conscience…

A word about Child Labour

The job of a parent involves raising children to be valuable members of society – people who can not only look after themselves, but also have an empathy for the needs of others. It is only right and fair that they learn to contribute. So banish any guilt you may have about putting them to work! (Obviously, this principle assumes responsible judgement and that you have no desire to exploit your children and give them unsuitable tasks, sending them up chimneys etc…)

This practice not only helps to alleviate some of your workload, but you are actually doing your children, and their future families, a favour. And start young! They are less likely to fight the concepts of independence and helpfulness if they become a habit from an early age.

For example, if you have a policy that your children earn their pocket money (with age-appropriate tasks) – you will instill a work ethic that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. And children love responsibility! It boosts their confidence and self-esteem, gives them a sense of achievement and pride.

Besides, what may seem like a tedious chore to you, to a child, it has a novelty factor. Children see everything as an opportunity to play. They’re not in a rush or pre-occupied, they’ve got time to find the fun. Give a child a wipe and a (non-toxic) spray bottle, point them in the direction of your grubbiest surfaces and it’s smiles all round!

Or buy younger children miniature cooking/cleaning equipment, so they can copy you as you cook or clean. Children love to mimic and it’s how they learn. (I struggle to vacuum without one of my boys following me round with a toy version.) You will be simultaneously entertaining and bonding with your offspring whilst training future assistants. This also gives them a sense of the time and effort required in taking care of a home.

Please be aware, however, that if you decide to encourage your children to help around the house, it is necessary to take the long view. You may often feel that it’d be easier to do a job yourself, and on each single occasion, it most likely would be. But if you persevere, eventually, they’ll know what to do and will be able to do it by themselves. This will reap dividends in the long-run. The help and assistance they provide in future years will make the training-period worthwhile.

NB Children, like adults, respond better to jobs which have visible or measurable results. Reward charts are also particularly effective with younger children. (It’s amazing what a child will do for a sticker!)

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As always, I’d love to hear what you think!

Danielle

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Housework Blues is available now in paperback and ebook formats. Click here for more details.



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