Husband Training, 101

Much to our husband's horror, my girlfriends talk about them behind their backs. Nothing too intimate, you understand. We try to keep personal details to a minimum (mostly :)), but we do like to whine about our DHs sometimes. We love 'em, but let's face-they ain't perfect. One friend of mine has a recurrent complaint about her husband. He doesn't help enough around the house. That's not a unusual complaint, to be sure. But one of the problems that frustrates her is that she feels that he has a lower tolerance for the amount of mess 2 kids can make, and yet refuses to help bring the chaos up to his higher standards. She feels he expects her to do all the work to meet his demands. And she blames this problem on his mother. My friend claims that her DH's mother was the kind of mother who picked up after her kids all the time, and never expected or even asked anybody to help her. Thus, she has raised a son who expects the same thing of his wife. I heard all of this before I had a child, and I vowed, in my childless mind and heart, that I would always make my kids pick up after themselves so that no future daughter in law of mine would be cursing my name that I raised a total slob. Um, yeah. My kid is a total slob. And it's probably my fault. I really don't expect him to do anything, other than occasionally make him clear his plate when we are having a sit-down family dinner, and he is tired of the adult talk and wants to play with trains. But due to DH's work schedule, we sit down as a family erratically at best, so it's not a consistent command. He loves to spray things, and I let him go wild with the Windex on the days I'm up for deep cleaning, but again, not a consistent command. He just got a new big boy bed, and has had fun making it for the last 3 days, and I thought, "Oh. I guess he's big enough to make his own bed. Who knew." DH has stories of being paid 50 cents to wash the car, 25 cents to weed the garden, etc, etc. He tells me all the time how much his father made him work as a kid, and how good it was for him. And I have say, DH is pretty good at picking up after himself (unless it's dirty socks--I swear those things have the power of procreation!). So when and how does one begin training her child for that future daughter-in-law, to be the kind of man women dream of, the kind that knows where the vacuum cleaner is, knows how to use it, and then actually demonstrates that knowledge? And then the real question:Am I too late? Is my kid already set in his slovenly ways? I'm afraid he might be. While working in the garden the other day, Jacob brought out his small camping chair, set it up on our sidewalk, put on his shades and said, "I'm done with the garden, mom. You do the rest", and he sat for a good 15 minutes, just watching me do the work. I would hope that if he said something like that to his future wife, she would throw a dirty gardening glove at his head.


Anonymous Matt Jacobsen said...

You're not too late, Heather. I don't think a parent's actions have very deterministic consequences on their children. Influence, yes, but no guarantees. My mom did pretty much what your friend is complaining about her mother-in-law, always picking up after her kids and making lunches and doing laundry even when adult children lived in the house. For some reason, this didn't teach me how a wife is supposed to behave, it taught me how an adult member of a household is supposed to behave. I am pretty picky about housework, but I have learned that it is easier to spend even 30 seconds cleaning up something that bothers me than it is to point it out to my wife. That little 30 seconds goes a long way towards avoiding stupid arguments, while at the same time magically giving my wife extra energy to work on something that is more important to her.

Anyway back to your question about teaching kids. We have our own struggles with our kids, but one thing I've noticed is to focus on any natural inclinations that your child might have. Our oldest, Anna, is great at organization and picking things up, and she does it willingly on occassion. Clara is completely lazy when it comes to the same tasks, however, she loves to wipe and clean up sticky messes (something Anna doesn't want to touch). It's a game to try to split up tasks so that every can do work that they like. Maybe focus on work that Jacob is capable of doing and that he already likes.

Another tactic is to make Jacob feel like he is helping you. There's something powerful for children about doing 'adult' work. Or maybe you could try explaining that you can play with him as soon as the dishwasher is empty and if he wants it to happen sooner, then he can help with the silverware.

Also, one thing I've tried is to not pick up toys when sweeping or vacuuming the floor or mowing the lawn. If it's left on the floor that means the child doesn't want it. Good bye. Of course, you need to give fair warning, and eventually the child will figure out that the vacuum can't suck up everything. The lawn mower is a different story. And the kids have found enough precious things in the garbage that they're starting to take me seriously.

BTW, Sarah's recollection about the work that she and Nate did as children was that they could weed the garden for 50 cents, or they could do it for nothing, their choice. I'm not sure what happened if the choice was to do no work.

5/31/2005 07:17:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

It takes a little planning, but when you make dinner, for instance, find something he can do. Sometimes you have to set it up so it is perfectly ready for him to do his "job."
But little by little he is able to do things.
Kids LOVe to help. You just have to let them.
Kids LOVE to do things themselves. You just have to be willing to put up with some spilled juice.....but if someday you want them to be able to cook dinner and clean up after it you need to start on the process of teaching them how to do things at home. Waiting until age 17 is silly.

5/31/2005 07:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Susan M said...

I'm a total slob and a horrible housekeeper.

I blame my mom.

5/31/2005 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

Your little boy is a hoot. I can't imagine a small child sitting still for 15 minutes. He must have really been tired.

I, too, am incredibly lazy and it's due to my mother's side of the family, all the way back.

5/31/2005 09:38:00 PM  
Anonymous claire said...

oh, such an issue in my house. I'm the slob who was expected to do pretty much nothing other than occasionally make my room look clean growing up. I never recall anyone EVER dusting in my home growing up; when I read about it in books it seemed like a very foreign and upperclass concept. I do seem to recall also occasionally loading the dishwasher.
When my father married my stepmother when I was 14, we had weekly cleaning duties that rotated (we meaning me, my dad and my stepmother - I lived with my dad in high school) so I learned something from her.
My mother was here recently and delivered some sheets she monogrammed for me and was helping me put them on the bed. "Don't you know how to make a bed???" my mother was shocked that I didn't know that you put the top sheet on upside down so you can turn the fancy top part down. I laughed because if I don't know it's because she never taught me how!
Dh, on the other hand, grew up in a family of 8 children and really learned how to work. His childhood journals are mostly lists of the chores he accomplished that day (very interesting reading, actually, if not somewhat monotonous). He is very tidy and my slovenly habits are a source of constant concern, especially considering what a pathetic role model I am for the girls. My idea of cleaning up is to spend three days every 6 months or so doing a major reorganization project.

5/31/2005 09:59:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


I love blaming my mom for stuff. It just terrifies me what Jacob will blame me for!


I've had similar experiences with my mother, where she's shocked that I don't know something. But if she didn't teach me, how was I supposed to learn?

My mother did teach me something that continually amazes every picky housekeeper I know. Boiling hot water will take grape juice out of anything. Amazing, counterintuitive, even, but true.


I had no idea you chucked your kids' toys if they let them sit around too long. No wonder your house is always clean!

5/31/2005 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Oh, and Nate's recollection is that one time, he complained about only getting 50 cents to wash the car. His dad said, "You complain, you get nothing. You're choice."

Nate handed him the 50 cents, and said, "It's worth it to complain."

5/31/2005 11:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Sue M said...

The WIFE trains the husband. While they are in school train them up in the way they should go, and when they are employed, they shall not depart from it. When we were first married, DH was in school, and I worked full time. DH did all the housework, the laundry, the cooking, etc., because he was home much more than I was. Now I work from home part-time, and he works full time, but he still does at least 50% of the housework, including all of the laundry. I chalk it up to my own personal training program, since he was a slob when I married him.

5/31/2005 11:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Andrea Wright said...

Heather, it's not too late. It's a tricky balance. I grew up in a house where I was taught to work and now I'm a slob. I hated housework as a kid and I hate housework as an adult. I'm always trying to figure out ways to teach my kids to work without teaching them to hate it.

My oldest, also named Anna, must be in the name, loves to organize and tidy up. I actually have to get after her when we're running late to school for doing her work instead of just getting dressed and running out the door.

6/01/2005 11:30:00 AM  

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