Should you make a spouse chore list – or a kids chore list?
After all, a recent Cambridge University study found men like sharing the housework. Yup. When guys helped with the washing, cleaning, cooking, and shopping, they apparently felt less guilty and got fewer complaints from their partners.
My husband and I don't make a list and check it twice. We simply each take primary responsibility for different chores. I specialize in kitchen and laundry tasks, and he takes on garbage and the yard. "I kind of like having it so both people are contributing, but they do things that suit them more," he says. "You really would rather be loading and unloading the dishwasher than taking out trash." Our kids more informally help out, putting away their clothes, keeping their rooms clean, and setting the table.
So should our family – and your family – create an actual jobs list? Or is it better to count on everyone to do the right thing?
Some good rules of thumb:
Recognize that lack of "chore parity" can cause strife. "It taps into questions of roles, responsibilities, fairness, communications, feeling heard, feeling appreciated (or not), valued (or not)," says Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy, co-author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? "It also brings out different styles of thinking and working on tasks, which can lead to conflict." A guy may say, "Don't you appreciate that I started the laundry?" And the wife may reply, "But you didn'tfinish anything," he says.
Encourage spouses to be proactive. Female patients often tell Hindy, "Even if my husband is willing to 'help' when I ask him, I shouldn't have to ask him….I want him to take the initiative. If he sees something that needs to be done, then he should do it, not wait to see if I ask." These women want to say to their husbands, "If you see the laundry basket at the bottom of the stairs, then carry it up, don't just step over it. If you see dishes in the sink, then wash them!"
Make a list of what everyone already does. It can help family members appreciate efforts that they took for granted or hadn't noticed, says Hindy. "Guys do a lot of things, too!"
Consider your goal. "You want to raise children who walk into the kitchen and say, 'Hey, mom, you look kind of rushed. Can I give you a hand?'" says child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, author of Raising Kids with Character. "[The goal is] to raise children who are sensitive to the needs of people they love."
Think about your parenting philosophy. "I do not believe in giving children chores," says Berger. "I think a home is a place where everyone is alert to the needs of others, and everyone pitches in without being asked." Kids' job is trying hard in school, which includes participating in public service and extracurricular learning activities, she says. "Children who are doing their very best in these areas are pretty well beat at the end of the day and need some down time to goof off."
Don't suffer in silence. "Women who feel that they are doing more than their fair share should speak up about justice in a friendly but firm way and ask their husbands to brainstorm with them a more equitable solution," says Berger. "The solution may not be that the husband does the laundry or the dishes, since many otherwise clever adult men seem completely incapable of doing these things properly no matter how studiously they are tutored, but that the husband agrees to be responsible for some type of routine household task so that a degree of fairness is achieved in the big picture."
Ask for help. It's OK for mom to say, "I'm exhausted," says Jude Bijou, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Barbara, Calif., and the daughter of well-known child psychologist Sidney Bijou.
Communicate. Try regular meetings with mom, dad, and the kids together, says Bijou. Her own family gathered this way. "We got to listen to everybody," she says. "The more you can bring everyone in, the better." Some families may want to create a concrete chore list at these meetings and let each member sign up for specific tasks, she says. The reward for a collective job well done could be a group outing.
Don't pooh-pooh the significance of household tasks. "Chores are important," says Hindy. "Let's face it, most of our lives are spent doing chores of one kind of another!"
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