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Home Family Parenting Advice The Competent Parent: When The Cat’s Away

The Competent Parent: When The Cat’s Away



Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

When The Cat’s Away

Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’m at my wits’ end. I just got back from a 4-day trip (my sister was receiving a professional honor) and came home to find the house in total disarray. I don’t think I’m the only one who cares about how the house looks, and I resent their apparent belief that I’ll take care of everything.  Why can’t my husband and four perfectly capable children clean up after themselves when I’m away, or any other time, for that matter, without being told?

Ready to leave again

Dear Ready,

Sounds like the only reason anyone does chores at your house is because Mom makes them. I suggest talking with your husband first, so he will back you up when you approach the children together.  Hopefully he’ll see the important role he plays in setting a good example by pitching in more, and by not taking your housework efforts for granted. There’s a lot of truth in the saying, “Housework is something that only gets noticed when it doesn’t get done!” Have a family meeting. Express your disappointment in how the house looked when you came home, and your expectation that everyone is “perfectly capable” of being more responsible. Have them help you to list all the things each person should do for him or herself (assign an older child to write the list). This could include making one’s own bed, hanging up outerwear when coming in, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, etc.  Then list the things that need to be done for the house – and could be done by anyone – on a weekly basis.  Some, such as loading the dishwasher, may occur more than once a week. Leave space after each chore listed. Next, from youngest to oldest, the six of you take turns claiming the jobs. The recorder writes the names next to the jobs. The key is for each person to do the chores he or she enjoys the most, and everyone divvy up the rest. 

The goal of the meeting is for everyone to commit to contributing to the housework because everyone benefits from a well-kept house.  Don’t worry about total agreement on this point. As with health habits and budget limits, it is up to the parents to set and enforce the standard for the house’s well-being.  Somewhere between “lived in” and “company ready.”
Meet again after following the chore list for a week. Decide if people still want to keep the jobs they’ve had or prefer “rotating” such that one person only does a particular job for one week every six weeks. Pick a future date to assess the chore list again.  In the meantime, and especially as new skills are being learned and new habits are taking hold, you and Dad need to support the success of each child. Rather than criticizing a poorly done or neglected chore, offer your assistance to get them started. The implication is that you expect success and will guarantee it by helping. Gaining competence in chores around the house, while not glamorous, will hold them in good stead long into the future.

Please don’t leave.  Your family needs you to help them be less dependent on you!

Dr. Debbie

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis.  She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at www.drdebbiewood.com

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com” mailto:editor@chesapeakefamily.com”>editor@chesapeakefamily.com“>editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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