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I'm Not The Maid! How Do I Get My Family To Participate?

Dear Kathy,

My name is Elizabeth. I am married and I have a 11 year old boy and 9 year old girl. I work full time and come home and feel like I'm at work all over again. My husband is very supportive and engaged but I'm still the one doing most of the organizing, planning, and worrying for the children's health, social life, school obligations, etc. And then there's the cooking and cleaning and everything else. Overall, I don’t mind it but then the children complain and I get SO angry. I considered stopping everything so they could appreciate what I do but it doesn't feel like a possibility (I have to live here too!) I lecture them constantly about being spoiled and "i'm not the maid!” I’m sounding like my mother and they don't care. My husband thinks we're spoiling them by not being stricter and punishing them when they don't do their chores. I think he might be right but every time we try to be stricter, we end up giving up after a few weeks. What is your advice?


Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you so much for writing. You are handling so much, with your full-time job and the full-time parenting/activity-organizer/health-care advocate and full-time home-making. I want to stop right there for a minute and just acknowledge how much you are trying to get done. Even with a supportive husband, you are trying to do more than a person can do. Period.

You might think I’m crazy, but I suggest you start by doing less. I want to invite you to take some time off. Not to show everybody how much you do so they appreciate it — but to make this point to yourself: you deserve the care and nurturing that you try to lavish on others. Can you take 1-2 nights a week off? Saturday afternoon? Get a massage, go to a yoga class, have tea with a friend. Doing this — acting like someone who also deserves simple pleasures — will be taking a step toward putting your whole household into more balance.

About responding to the kids when they complain: Of course you sound like your mother. Our parents’ lines are the lines we learned, the scripts that were drilled into us. For those of us who like how our parents spoke to us as children, that is a huge blessing — speaking that way will come easy. For those of us who do not like how our parents spoke to us, we have a lot of work to do. Please be gentle with yourself. Learning to speak differently is going to be something like learning a new language. It’s a huge effort.

A few words about how that new language might work, if you want to try it out: You are right that when your children complain, they are not looking at the big picture of how much you are doing for them. They are just looking at the this moment, when they are hungry and dinner isn’t done, or when their favorite shirt isn’t in their drawer. I want invite you not to make their complaint any bigger than it is; their complaints are not comments on your mothering. They are expressions, in the moment, of a challenge they are having, maybe because they, too, are tired, stressed, or hungry.

You have a chance to 1) honor their underlying feeling — “sounds like you’re really tired and want some support” and 2) to share with them your dilemma, “I’d love to be able to help you with your clothes right now, but I’m not sure how to do that and also get dinner made.” Then, 3) Invite them into collaboration: “Do you have a sense of how we could work together to get this done?”

My advice, in a nutshell: Acknowledge to yourself how much you’re doing, and give yourself some time. Come back to the kids, even when they complain, with empathy for the difficulty that they are having, a calm expression of why it’s hard for you to help right now, and an invitation into collaboration. They might not take up the invitation immediately. But you will be actively working on creating the culture you want in your house — one where people are gentle, empathic, and work together to solve problems.

Sending lots of love and best wishes!


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