Taken for Granted

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I just found your site and love it! So I thought I would ask about something I need advice on. I have 12 year old twins,  a 14 year old son, and a 16 year old daughter. My house is in a constant mess and I’m the only one who cleans at all, how would you handle this? I have laundry piled up, they act like the washer and dryer aren’t there. Nobody knows what the dishwasher is for and there’s always nasty dishes in the sink, I went on strike but all that happened were bigger piles of laundry, dirtier bathrooms, and a disgusting kitchen and then I gave in and cleaned that up. My husband works and I stay home with the kids but I want a life, too. I’m not the maid, my husband is the worst of them all and he comes from a more “traditional” family and thinks that I should be the one to do it all!

Unappreciated in Union City

Heather says:

Oh boy, situations like this are difficult because it’s actually a multi-faceted problem. It’s not just about the workload, it’s about feelings of resentment and a lack of respect, there’s frustration, and that feeling of not being appreciated. It’s not a fun place to be and in all honesty you’ve got a bit of a struggle ahead of you. You’re in charge of turning four children into responsible adults and that’s not an easy task. Heck just take a look around at what’s going on in society and there are plenty of examples where we (this is the general, America as a whole) have not done this.

The issues between you and your husband need a third party that he respects, whether that’s a counselor or perhaps a priest or a pastor, if you attend church. Your job as a parent is extra hard if he’s undermining your efforts.

I have friends who will tell stories of their mothers throwing their clothes out on the lawn after they weren’t taken care of appropriately. While I laugh at the image and I totally get the temptation, I’m not sure I have that in me and I’m not saying it’s something you should do. I’m only saying you aren’t alone in that feeling of complete frustration.

It’s time to get all of the kids in the same room at the same time with no distractions. But before you do this, be prepared. Know what you expect from each child so it can be spelled out plainly have a list something like:

  • bedrooms clean
  • dishes done
  • trash taken out
  • laundry
  • etc

Each kid has something he or she values over which you still have some control: whether it’s their cell-phone, access to the Internet, driving privileges, access to friends etc. Remind them of this. Heck, some counselors suggest writing up a contract of responsibilities and privileges.

If you click the yellow sticky note in the upper-right of Home-Ec101.com, you’ll land on a page with a printable weekly chore chart. By all means feel free to rearrange the days to fit your schedule and needs, just know that these chores, if done on a weekly / daily basis as outlined will keep your house reasonably clean.

Assign the chores to the children and give each child a thorough, hands-on demonstration of how the chore is performed so expectations are clear. Keep repeating said hands-on demonstration / chore inspection until the child -and I don’t care if they are teens, they are still children- can do the chore to meet your expectations. Yes, I know this is so much easier for me to say than for you to do. It is likely that it will take a lot of effort and close monitoring on your part until the new normal is well-established. As of right now, they know that if they stall and ignore you long enough you’ll do it for them. That part has to change and it’s going to take time.

Hang in there and seek help from a qualified professional if you aren’t making headway. Because you are right, it’s not just your job. Everyone who lives in a household should be making some contribution toward maintaining reasonable living conditions.

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.



  1. Gina N. on December 22, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    I don’t know how hard it is for her to change the wifi password in the home but she should change it to something only she knows. Let the kids know they will not get the new password until they get things done around the house that they were asked to do an to buy a pair of headphones to plug into here phone or MP3 player, and if they start to protest don’t argue but put the headphones in, smile and do a little dance & walk away it will confuse them and she gets all the power back. Keep doing it until they start helping out. Just my thoughts and keep doing what you do.

  2. Shelley on December 22, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    I have always worked at least one day a week in my career. My children were taught at a young age to help and take care of their things. We always had a family project day and each person in our family worked as a team to accomplish our goals. This was not always easy and actually took more work then to just do it myself. My husband also backed me up and I backed him up. Like Kate S said we probably have more defined roles but my husband took kids to school fixed hot dogs,washed dishes. I have helped put up dry wall, laid sod, planted trees, helped repair cars anything that needed to be done for our family.
    My children are now in grad school and get complimented all the time how they are able to see things that need to be done and do it without being asked.
    I would also say to think of what you do as a homemaker as a blessing. This may sound trite but when you do dishes be thankful that you have dishes, a sink and running water. When you change sheets be thankful you have a warm place to sleep. There are many that don’t have a home or a family to care for.
    PS. Heather I love your site.

  3. MIchele on December 22, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I have been there! As a stay at home poor mother in a town where the going wage is so low that working actually cost more than living off the child support and disability.

    In days of old, in my Oma’s and mother-in-law’s kitchen, meals were at certain times and when they were over the kitchen was closed! Not even a drink of juice…stay out of the kitchen! These days kids eat at home like they do at fast food restaurants; they wander in and out foraging and leaving their mess. I think the old time mom’s were on to something

    (to a poster above…I would’ve loved if my kids wore the same thing everyday and kept their closets clean…maybe just throw them in the tub, clothes and all, once a week…but I had two girls who changed three times a day and threw everything on the floor; once I grounded them from clothes by packing everything they owned into garbage bags and storing them, leaving only one set of school clothes and one set of church clothes. They had to keep their school clothes clean and wipe off any dirt with a wet cloth…I had one small load of laundry that week and their rooms were clean…but, it all went back to the ‘same old’ when they were off grounding)

    I am a ‘doer’, as in, I can do it better and faster than asking someone else to do it, but I realized I needed my kids to learn basic housekeeping. As grown ups my kids are always commenting on friends that are basicly inept at cooking, or shopping frugally, or keeping their apartments clean, and they are clean freaks now they have their own places.

    Even so, my son, who still lives at home, has trouble rinsing the dishes he eats off so the food doesn’t stick like cement by the time I do the dishes (once a day), though I have lectured him on this since he was knee high. Sometimes he surprises me by cleaning the entire kitchen, and he can do it well, he just doesn’t see it as his priority cause I never ask him, and I generally do it myself.

    Just to give you hope…my older sister was horribly messy. She would have moldy cups of coffee and plates of rotting food in her room, which was always littered like a dump. When she got her own place she did a 180 and became a total neat freak. So, if you are setting an example, or if your kids get tired of filth, things could turn out well for them after they move out…but, for your own sanity you need to establish a chore list (I did, and yes, I had to nag, which I hate doing, and they didn’t do everything, but enough to make a difference)

  4. Jill on December 22, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Anyone who does not train their children to do basic household chores is doing them a disservice. And a disservice to future roommate, spouses, etc. I am a stay-at-home mom. (Note: stay-at-home mom, not stay-at-home housekeeper, maid, etc.) My job is to raise my children into self-sufficient adults. If they leave my household without knowing how to prepare a basic meal, clean a bathroom, do laundry, maintain their own budget, etc., then I have not done my job well. I will add that 2 of my 3 children are difficult and very stubborn, and I can’t begin to tell you how much easier it would have been to not make them do chores well. Short-term easier. So funny to hear them say as teens and now young adults, “that classmate/roommate/friend doesn’t know how to do anything!”
    Take heart, U in UC. This is not solely your responsibility. It is your husband’s responsibility to set the standard and back you up. He needs to grow up.

  5. Kathy on December 22, 2014 at 8:51 am

    What a great response! I love it. If we don’t do the work to train these kids, no one will. My youngest is 11, but I have one in college and one on his on. They both have expressed much gratitude for all that training they hated receiving. 🙂

  6. AskDocG on December 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    This is exactly right! Though the work will double for this mom for the short-term (way faster to do it yourself), in a few weeks-months she will not only have less work herself, she will have more responsible, resilient kids! And people who are asked to contribute to a group feel more strongly connected to that group. Keep the faith, Unappreciated, following this plan will give you stronger kids.

  7. kartho on December 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    best. question. ever. I’m going to bookmark this post and refer back often!

  8. Kate S. on December 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Cont’d. Part 2.

    If the kids have their own bathroom(s), they should keep them basically clean. Towels get hung back in the bathroom after each use, soaps and shampoos dried and put away (unless you’re a ‘leave it in the shower’ family), any ‘products’ or appliances get put away after use and are never left on the counters (designate baskets for each child’s stuff, if you have to), no dirty laundry is left in the bathroom, it gets taken from the bathroom to the kid’s bedroom hamper after each bath/shower.

    In our house, we handwash most of our dishes and only run our dishwasher if we are exceptionally busy. I do all the cooking and I wash and air dry breakfast dishes. After dinner, my husband washes dishes and I hand-dry them and put them away (or vice versa). While we do that, my kids repack their lunches for the next school day. We use only reusable containers for school lunches, so they’re responsible for getting those washed and dried before dinnertime, so they’re not left in the sink. It’s a very companionable ritual and, in our family at least, we have a lot of fun goofing around in the kitchen after dinner.

    Trash is technically my husband’s chore, but we all help out. I bag up the kitchen trash and the recyclables. My husband cleans our cat’s litterboxes and collects trash from our bedroom, the bathrooms, and the office. My kids each collect trash from their rooms and bring it downstairs. My husband takes the trash out to the curb, while I wash out and dry the trashcans, dole out bags for the kids to put in place and replace the bag in the kitchen, bedroom, office and bathroom trashcans. It’s simple and the whole thing takes less than 15 minutes from start to finish.

    As you can see, we look at household chores as family affairs. I have never understood families who designate specific chores for specific members. I would feel terribly lazy if I went and sat in front of the television while my husband cleaned litterboxes and went room to room collecting trash from all over the house. If most of the family retired to do as we pleased while one family member was sequestered in the kitchen scrubbing dinner dishes each night, I think chores would breed resentment of others and dislike for those tasks. As I said in the first paragraph, I feel most of the household work should fall to you, as the homemaker–I do all of the cooking, floors, window washing and bathroom cleaning here–but I feel just as strongly that every family member should do his or her part to help you. The most important thing for you is that you NEED to stop letting resentment creep into your mind. Ask for help, demand it even, but don’t expect them to do it all, either.

    • HeatherSolos on December 5, 2011 at 2:24 pm

      @Kate S. Excellent response. At the absolute minimum all household members, once they reach a certain level of physical and mental capability, should not be creating more work for anyone.

      Serious question: How do you feel about other aspects of home maintenance – painting, plumbing, repair, yard work? Do those fall on your shoulders as the homemaker or are they divided between you and your spouse?

      I don’t know the answer to this, I’m genuinely just curious as to how it works in your household.

      • Kate S. on December 5, 2011 at 2:59 pm

        I wish I had a great answer or some elaborate division system for those stereotypically-masculine chores, but I really don’t. I don’t think there’s a single household chore my husband can do that I can’t, so if it needs to be done and I have the time, I’ll do it.

        I once turned off the water main (thank you, internet tutorial writers: ) and took apart the pipes under my kitchen sink to remove a clog (it was disgusting–I will never do it again!). I’ve climbed a ladder to clean the gutters on our house and pruned our Maple trees to keep them from damaging our siding. I’ve mowed the grass dozens of times, even though that is probably the one household task I truly detest, because sometimes it rains all weekend when my husband is off and it has to be done.

        Likewise, my husband has helped me paint walls. He’s bathed the dogs, changed the bedsheets, and sorted laundry. He’s changed diapers (hundreds of them!) and dragged himself out of bed to calm a crying baby. He might not be able to cook us an edible meal, but he’s more than happy to pay for a pizza when I need a night off or I’m too busy with some other task.

        There’s no real, specific division anywhere. Some tasks are “mine” and some tasks are “his” but that doesn’t mean we’ll never need help or offer to do something for one another. We do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, I guess.

        • HeatherSolos on December 5, 2011 at 3:05 pm

          @Kate S. it sounds like you and your husband have a great relationship and a lot of respect for one another. That’s fantastic (Oh I know you have your ups and downs like the rest of us, it’s just nice to hear of a relationship that works)

  9. Kate S. on December 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    However antiquated this might seem, I’m of the opinion that most of the household chores are your responsibility, as a homemaker. You didn’t mention a job or work other than “staying at home,” so I assume you’re not actively contributing an income to the household. If not, I feel pretty strongly that it is YOUR JOB to keep the house in order. But don’t feel you have to do everything, especially not for your children, and don’t allow resentment against your family members to build up so much. Everyone should do their part.

    In our house, I do the bulk of the work to keep our house clean, my husband earns a substantial bulk of our income, and my kids fill in here and there by helping out. I don’t do laundry for my kids anymore and you shouldn’t either–your kids are MORE than old enough to handle their own laundry. Provide each child with a designated hamper in his/her room, label it if you have to. No laundry should ever be left piled in the bathrooms or the laundry room. Designate a specific day each week for each family member to do laundry. My kids each have a day of the week, I wash bedding (everybody’s) every Monday, and I do towels and my clothing and my husband’s on the weekends (by choice). The kids start their laundry before school by gathering it, sorting it and starting the first load (often they only have one load each, anyway). I switch the load from the washer to the dryer or hang it on the clothesline, weather permitting, for them, but I don’t fold it and I don’t put it away. That’s their responsibility when they get home from school. They can do it anytime before bed, but it HAS to be done. No laundry is allowed to be left in baskets or in the laundry room. Note: if your kids have busy schedules that change each week, change your laundry schedule each week–assigning kids to the days they have available that specific week–and post it; that way everyone know who should be doing laundry at any given time.


  10. claireboyd on December 5, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Regarding the kids laundry-I would return the dirty clothes to their rooms and post instructions on how to do laundry in the laundry room. Eventually when they don’t want to wear dirty clothes they will do the laundry. I read an article once that described a parents difficulty in getting their kids ready and out the door in the morning. The “expert” suggest that they leave on time whether the kids were in the pajamas or or not. The “expert” promised the kid would only go to school once in their pajamas and would be ready on time the next day. I’m not sure I could guarantee that my kid wouldn’t be excited about going to school in their pajamas, but the idea of the child experiencing the consequences for their behavior stuck with me. The naive side of me wonders what would happen if you sat the kids down and explained that their failure to carry some of the load makes you feel disrespected and unloved and therefore you want each of them to be responsible for 2 chores a day (or whatever fits your needs). This approach seems to model healthy emotional boundaries too.

    • SandeeHill on December 7, 2011 at 1:47 pm

      @claireboyd A word of warning: This might work for girls, or more fastidious boys, but my almost 14 year old? He could care less if he’s wearing dirty clothing…..he can have drawers full of clean clothes and still wear the same thing 4 days in a row if I let him. I tried this to get him to bring his laundry downstairs to be done…..now I just nag till he goes and gets it. 😉

  11. asyhre on December 5, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I am just getting to this stage in parenthood as my kids are 12 and younger and the 5, 7 and 12 have there set jobs. The 12 yo is in charge of doing the dishes, the 7 is in charge of the dishwasher both clean and dirty and the 5 yo is my laundry collector.

    Now growing up my parents had one of us clean the kitchen, one the livingroom and one the bathrooms. This rotated weekly and if they were not done then my dad would wake us before 6 am to get it done before school. I think my liked doing the laundry because I did not learn that till I moved out.

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