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Making It Work

Household Chores

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 15 No. 5, September-October 1998, pp. 154-56

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"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 lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

I have been back to my full-time job for about two months now. I can't keep up with all of the regular household chores (clean laundry, paying bills, etc.) unless I spend my entire weekend doing so. I would really like to keep weekends free for family time with my husband and daughter. How do other working mothers find time to maintain a household?

Response

Sunday night is our all-house clean up. We all go around and make sure everything is picked up. We handle midweek clean-ups as a team: my son gets a clean damp sponge to wipe off things while I use spray cleaner to finish up the kitchen. He gets to throw pillows on the bed while I make it . He pushes his toy lawn mower around while I push the vacuum. He uses the dust mop to "help" clean the kitchen floor. Yes, his help makes the work take twice as long. But he has fun helping and is learning that taking care of our home and our toys and clothes is everybody's job—not just Mama's.

Once my son was old enough to sit up, I started to get him involved in doing laundry. I would sit him on top of the dryer to "supervise" and eventually help me throw laundry into the washer. Now he gets to scoop in the soap and help pour the laundry softener. We take clean dry clothes into the family room and dump them on the floor—then we all three help fold them up while we watch TV or listen to music. Sometimes the whole basket of folded clothes gets dumped over, but the giggles and smiles that tell me he wants to do it again are worth it.

Pamela Edwards Eidsmoe
Bloomington IL

Response

I have a four-year-old and a six-month-old with a busy schedule at work and quite a hit of travel. This is how we tackle the weekend chores so we still have some family time. First we keep expectations realistic. Part of both days, or occasionally, all of one day is dedicated to family fun together. The rest of the time is chores. In addition. our goal for chores is to make the house basically clean, rather than spotless.

My strategy is to trick myself into getting as many chores done as possible on Thursday and Friday before the weekend. To do the big weekly trip to the grocery store, I sometimes meet my husband for lunch. Then we divide up the list and zoom through the store, swing by the house to put the perishables away, and get back to work having taken only an extra half hour at lunchtime. Or if I work through lunch I can leave a little early and get it done on the way to pick up our children. If all else fails, we all plan to go to our favorite eatery on Saturday for lunch and then all do the grocery shopping together as part of our family fun.

Once a month, I take four hours annual leave on a Friday afternoon in order to make time for extra jobs such as sorting our a closet or organizing the attic. That way, I don't get overwhelmed just trying to keep up with everyday tasks and not making any progress on bigger jobs that need to be done.

Remember not to aim too high, because there will be plenty of time in years to come to have the house looking the way you wish it would look right now.

Pamela Hornby
New Orleans LA USA

Response

I too was very concerned about keeping up with housework when I returned to my job. Over time, we arrived at a system that made sense for our family. There's lots you can do to save time and energy.

For laundry, have a basket for each member of your family. Separate each family member's clean clothes into a separate basket. This makes looking for a specific item of clothing or putting it away much easier. I'm now teaching my three-year-old daughter to be responsible for her own basket. I use shoe boxes in many of our drawers to separate clothing that does not need to be folded (underwear, undershirts, socks, or tights).

For meals, we keep a list on our refrigerator of dinners we have ingredients for. Once a week I take a look at the list and plan our dinners. I often double a recipe and freeze half for another day. Plan to make meals that take 20 minutes or less to prepare. Actual cooking time may take longer. When food shopping, buy double, or even triple of frequently used items to save you future trips to the store.

House cleaning is always a challenge, and I've lowered my standards here. Try some efficiency tricks. While my daughter bathes, I clean the bathroom. While I'm cooking something in the kitchen, I clean parts of my house in piecework. For example, I may take everything off a shelf in the refrigerator and wash it down. The next day I do another shelf or drawer. The refrigerator gets clean gradually.

I often try to wake up 15 minutes earlier than usual with the idea that this time is to be used for a specific reason. It is amazing how focused I can be and how much I can get done when I do this. We make the weekend family time and plan out days well. There are usually a few errands or laundry loads to do, but generally what housework doesn't get done in piecework during the week has to wait for another time.

The hardest part about working full-time is that I never feel as if I'm doing anything well. I feel as if it is always a game of catch up, for there is always something that should be done. Try to find some time for yourself. A working mother holds two full-time jobs, and her family needs her healthy and strong!

Renee Coscia
White Plains NY USA

Response

I hear you! I also work full time and have a five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son. Yet I feel that things on the home front are under control—most of the time. A major factor in this is that my husband is also involved in all the day-to-day household tasks: laundry, doing dishes, or paying bills. And his attitude is not that he's 'helping" me—it's a joint responsibility. We trade off on who does what. Other couples prefer to each take responsibility for separate tasks.

Simplify and streamline tasks as much as you can. I gradually stopped buying clothes for myself that need to be ironed, and my husband sends his shirts to the cleaners. Even better, if you can get away with not doing something, then don't do it. For example, I usually plant a garden, but the summer after I had my second child I just did not have the energy.

I think the first year with each baby is the most difficult. For the first few months I was back at work, I would come home, nurse the baby and read to my toddler, and then try to make dinner. But often I would just wind up playing with the older child and feeding her cheese, bread, and fruit for dinner. My husband would then come home and cook. Now the children are old enough to help a little in the kitchen while I make dinner.

Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Often just admitting you can't do it all makes you realize you can do what needs to be done and be reasonably pleased with your life. Good luck!

Erica Appel
Bloomfield NJ USA

Response

I think the most important thing is not to get stressed out worrying about the household. I found an observation in Burton White's book, The First Three Years of Life, that helped me put the problems of keeping the household running in perspective. White wrote: "A cluttered house with a ten-month-old baby, all other things being equal, is a good sign. In fact, an immaculate house and a ten-month-old baby who is developing well are, in my opinion, usually incompatible." So go ahead and lower your standards for a while. Here are a couple of other ideas that have helped me.

Turn chores into family time. This probably depends a lot on the age and temperament of your child, but my one-year-old likes to help me empty the dishwasher and the clothes dryer. Of course, it takes longer with "help," but what doesn't?

Streamline routine chores. For instance, my husband figured out that soaking dirty dishes saves time in cleaning them. I got two laundry baskets—one white and one black—so we could sort clothes by color as we take them off. Confessions of an Organized Homemaker by Deniece Schofield, is full of ideas on making household routines efficient.

Jennifer Meyer
Dale City VA

Response

Pare down what really must be done. Once you have a baby in your household your definition of organization and cleanliness must change. For instance, evaluate what must be done versus what can wait. I no longer sort socks or fold underwear. I don't do floors more than once a month, but toilets and sinks get swabbed more often.

I have become more assertive about asking my husband to help. If I ask him to do something specific he will cheerfully take care of it. But he rarely notices on his own that the sheets need to he changed. I have to accept his way of doing things, too. If he cooks dinner and thinks that hot dogs and baked beans are gourmet fare, I just tell him how delicious it is. If I criticize, he won't be so willing to help out next time.

You can also think about automating as much as you can. Our credit union offers automatic bill-paying. All I have to do is remember to record the bills in our checkbook; I don't write checks for any of that.

More than anything, I keep in mind that I will always treasure the small moments I spend with my son but will never look back and wish I had spent more time scrubbing the sink!

Mary Long
Cranberry Township PA

Response

Stop thinking of yourself as a working mother and start thinking of yourself as a working parent. Is the distribution of chores that you have with your husband equitable? Sensible? Responsibilities change and need to be renegotiated from time to time.

Hire someone to clean your house. Once every two weeks is enough. Even once a month will help. Give up something if you must to pay for this; it's worth it. The epiphany for me was one weekend when I hired a teenager to play with my toddler while I cleaned the house. I thought, "Hey, I'm paying someone to watch the baby while clean the house. Why not pay someone to clean the house, while I watch the baby?" Or if you or your husband spend a lot of time on yardwork, look into hiring a service to do that.

Think hard about what you like and hate doing. I love to cook, so I cut back on time spent cleaning. If cooking takes too much time, look around for places to buy inexpensive cooked dinners or parts of dinner, for example, bagged salads or roasted chicken from the supermarket deli.

When you pick your baby up after work, sit down and nurse her before you go home. It will calm you both down. Try to remember that it gets easier as your children get older.

Jill Crystal
Auburn AL

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


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