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Making It Work

Managing Household Tasks

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 3, May-June 2003, p. 106

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My husband and I both work full time jobs, staggering our schedules so that one of us is always able to care for our children, ages four and one. Our children are thriving, but our "to-do" list is neglected. Our toilet has been running for weeks now, as neither of us has had time to buy the parts and fix it. The house is fairly clean, but also cluttered. My husband tries but he just doesn't multitask well, and taking care of two children is really as much as he can handle. I would like to have some more order, and for basic chores and household repairs to be done. How do other parents deal with being working parents and managing household tasks?

Response

When my oldest girls were ages one and three, both my husband and I worked outside the home. It was hard getting the everyday things done. We were both tired and wanted to spend time relaxing with our girls, not doing housework. We had to get organized before we could get anything done.

We started off by getting rid of anything that we hadn't used in six months. This meant cleaning out closets and giving away anything we had forgotten we had, such as old clothes or appliances. This freed up storage space for the things we used regularly, such as the bread machine, the food processor, and toys. Doing this meant we eliminated a lot of clutter from our immediate site. Less clutter means less to clean. Simplifying made all the difference in our stress levels. Since we had fewer possessions to clean or organize, these tasks became easier.

We also had a routine for getting chores done. I would start dinner while my husband would give baths. I would start a load of laundry while he washed the dishes. Do what works in your house.

When it comes to tasks such as fixing a running toilet, we still have to set aside one weekend a month to do those types of repairs. We make lists ahead of time to be sure we have the necessary supplies before we start a job. It is much easier to finish a task when you are prepared for it.

Finally, for some of the regular household chores, look for a teenager in your neighborhood. My oldest daughters make some extra money doing basic housework for a few of our neighbors who work full-time. As much as I wanted to save money when I was working outside the home, I also wanted to spend time with my girls, so it was worth the cost to me to have some help to free up my time.

Donna Hooyen
San Diego CA USA

Response

My children are in school and I manage a full-time daycare business in my home. My husband is a teacher, so we have little time for doing those "extra" tasks during the day.

My husband and I have found it helpful to categorize our household tasks. Rather than be overwhelmed by the "big picture," you might break down tasks into more manageable pieces. Try making a list with the categories "Do Now/Soon," "Do this Week," or "Can Wait."

The running toilet can raise your water bill, so perhaps that's a more immediate priority. If something in your house is unsafe, that should also fall under the heading of "Do Now/Soon."

If it's not of immediate concern, plan a day where one of you can commit time to it. Depending on the ages of your children, you might plan an outing where the rest of the family is away from the house while one of you works on the task.

If it's a "Can Wait" project, try not to worry about it until all the others are completed.

Consider paying for a professional to come in. Some "do-it-yourself" projects can be more costly in the long run in terms of stress, supplies, and time. Most employers understand if a parent needs to be home for a plumber to come in for an hour or two. Some families find it worthwhile to pay for a cleaning service to come in once a month to clean.

Sometimes it is helpful to lower our expectations about what our homes need. It is unrealistic to expect that home life will be the same as it was before children. Children remember a loving home and family, not how long the toilet leaked.

Cathy Coon Bitikofer
Manhattan KS USA

Response

My family has the same problem and I am a stay-at-home mother. When we were first married, we purchased an old house in need of endless repairs. I became pregnant right away. Now, it is even more difficult to make the house livable while I am caring for a 13-month-old, being seven months pregnant again and still nursing. My husband can't possibly keep up with the rest of the chores that pile up over the weekend. We were discussing our situation one day and came to the realization that if we were to manage a business the way we were managing our home, we would quickly be out of business.

At a secondhand store we found a great book called Organizing from the Inside Out. After reading the book, we realized that even though our house was clean, the clutter was killing us. We would spend every weekend clearing away the clutter that had accumulated over the week and then wouldn't have time for the major repairs and renovations we needed in order to keep our old house working.

We began by reorganizing each room so that basic clean up time for each room took just minutes per day. We organized the baby toys the same way. We put a box in the living room, which is the main area where our 13-month-old plays. When a quick clean up is needed, all her toys go into the box. About once a week, we have the fun of dumping the box onto the living room floor and reorganizing her toys into their proper places. She absolutely loves this. Once each room was in working order and we had a system, the time needed to clean the entire house went from hours to minutes and wasn't an issue anymore. So we had our weekends free.

Lastly, we found two families in our circle of friends that have the same problem and we organized "work parties" once a month with them. We agree on a weekend when everyone's available to work for a four-hour period. The family who is hosting the "party" provides lunch and snacks. The people attending bring tools and themselves. We get together in the morning at the house for a snack while we discuss the schedule for that day. The host and hostess are foremen and direct the workers. We work and chat for a few hours and then we have lunch together. We all have fun and each family enjoys seeing a major task finished so quickly. It provides instant gratification. The secret to keeping the party fun is keeping it small. If too many people get involved, feelings can get hurt if people don't show up, or someone doesn't work as hard at one house as they did at another. We found that three families is our limit. We are extremely happy with this system and we are finding that we have more time to be together and the stress of "getting stuff done" no longer interferes with our family life.

Sonya Eddy
Tucson AZ USA

Response

I do not know of any way for two parents to work full-time jobs, take care of the children and themselves, and still get everything done around the house.

For me, part of the key to having a sane life was to stop expecting to have a perfect house. The truth is one has to prioritize, even if one isn't working full-time. I do try to keep a list of things to do so that I can reassess the priorities and get things taken care of as quickly as possible.

Other things to consider are hired help-if the plumbing is acting up and it isn't serious enough for a plumber, perhaps a handyman can do it for you. If your house is cluttered, perhaps a housekeeper every couple of weeks will help.

This situation will change with time-as the children get older (and eventually they do), they can help more, or homework can be done while the kitchen is straightened up, for example. So it is not a permanent condition or situation.

Involving the children in the tasks can help as well-you can turn fixing a toilet into a lesson on how plumbing works.

The biggest change for me, however, was to simply accept that not everything would be done in what others might deem to be the ideal way, but that this was okay because the children were being taken care of well and being taught that the family is the main priority. Good luck!

Debra Rosenberg
McAllen TX USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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