Read an Excerpt
Getting Psyched Up
My father never changed a diaper in his life, but he cooked nearly every meal I ate at home. My father-in-law, on other hand, who rarely set foot in the kitchen unless a meal was already on the table, considered the laundry and vacuuming his personal province. In that generation, men helped out when and if they felt like it. It was a bonus if they did chip in and not expected if they didn’t. These days things are a little different. It’s more common than not that both parents work outside the home, and it’s a toss-up who’s home early enough to put on the dinner or first in the door to hear that a sports uniform needs to be washed for the next day’s game.
Were you a polished hitter the first time you picked up a baseball bat? Not likely. Being in charge of a home takes a little practice, too. In this chapter, we’ll get you started on thinking like a housekeeping Dad; after that, we’ll move through the tasks in your home and show you how to get maximum results from minimal effort.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Do you and your wife fight about housework—and do you do it more often now that you have kids? A national survey by the Soap and Detergent Association found that 55 percent of couples with children regularly argue about housework, whereas only one-third of childless couples said it’s a point of contention.
One of the reasons for this is that kids, especially when they’re preschool age, are exhausting, and small problems, like the dirty socks you left in the family room, can escalate to near-divorce-worthy issues when people are tired. But you can’t blame the kids for all the cleaning strife in the family. Even when it was just you and your wife, you did things that might set her off (see page 4).
Women have been in charge of running the house for so long that a lot of them are kind of set in their ways. They think a job isn’t finished if it hasn’t been done the way they would have done it.Take the kitchen, for example. My wife used to look in the door as I put away the last supper dish and say something like, “ I thought you were going to clean the kitchen.”
It took a lot of bickering before I finally realized that, in our minds, we were looking at two entirely different rooms. If I had put away the leftover food and done the dishes, as far as I was concerned, the kitchen was finished for the night. My wife’s idea of a “finished” kitchen entailed having every counter gleaming, the floor swept, any obvious spots mopped up (at least wiped with a damp paper towel), the dishtowels hung—neatly. And once that was done, she’d probably undertake some other project, like throwing away those pears I meant to toss last week and washing the fruit bowl.
But she doesn’t clean the kitchen most nights. I do. Very quickly, it became clear that we needed to talk out how things were going to be done around here.
Just like anything else in your marriage, it all comes down to communicating points of view and negotiating: If your wife doesn’t expect the scent of a freshly mopped floor when she sticks her head in the kitchen door after dinner . . . well, then she won’t be disappointed.
However, it’s not just her expectations that needed to be managed. I was one of those clueless dads who said that we weren’t going to fill our home with every battery-operated, primary-color plastic toy in existence. (So of course my living room is a wonderland of Day-Glo.) I swore that I’d have my kids put their stuff into the toy box every evening so that we could walk on carpet, not a minefield of sharp-edged plastic. Ha! Thank goodness I have tough-skinned feet. “We can’t live like this!” I would grumble, flinging stuffed animals into the basket that I put out expressly for that purpose. “What?” my wife would say innocently, looking at the storm-tossed wreckage that used to be our living room. “Oh, the toys.Well, honey, they’re just little kids.”
Maybe it helps if you have a big playroom with a door that shuts, but in the long run, that doesn’t solve the problem.Talking it out does. Discuss what’s expected of domestic partners and kids alike. Make compromises if necessary, but come to clearly stated terms about what is and what isn’t acceptable in your household, and who’s responsible for what.
It’s not as onerous as it sounds, and there are no rules except those you set for yourselves. In the end, I agreed that until our sons were a little older, they didn’t need to put away every toy every night. And we had a very simple kitchen discussion. I agreed to add counter wiping to my nightly food-stashing-and-dishwashing routine, but nothing more. I mop the kitchen floor once a week, and we both agreed that if my wife wants it mopped more often, she’ll do it herself. It can work in your house, too. If you promise to put your dirty socks, underwear, shirt, and pants in the hamper every night instead of tossing them on the chair by the door, she might agree to quit leaving her shoes all over the house. If you promise you’ll stop harping on the living-room clutter, she can agree to clean the bathroom every other week. And so on.
If you establish up front what will and won’t happen, and each of you tries your best to keep your end of the bargain, expecting no more and no less, there won’t be as much fighting. Marriage counselors call it communication, but it’s good business sense as well: If everybody knows what they’re getting, nobody is surprised or unhappy with the results.
What’s Really Important Here?
In the simplest terms, the sanity of your household is your most important consideration. Who cares if you bathroom tiles gleam or if you can eat off the floor in the kitchen if no one in your house is happy? Here’s the bare minimum that needs to be done daily by all members of your family. Start with these basics and the larger jobs will become that much easier. A hectic morning when everyone’s rushing off to school and work is no time to be washing the soaking skillet.
• Dishes need to be washed every evening., • Beds should be made every morning. (Even with a pile of dirty clothes in the middle of the room, when the bed is pulled together and the pillows smoothed, bedrooms seem somewhat clean.), • Garbage should be taken out every night., • Wet towels, washcloths, and bathmats should be hung to dry properly, not clumped in a heap on the floor, and the shower curtain pulled straight across the tub after each bath or shower.Taking these precautions helps prevent mildew and nasty bathroom stink. , • Toys, newspapers, books, CDs, and DVDs should be put away after they’re used, or at least every evening.,