Magazine article Working Mother

DESPERATE (Non) HOUSEWIVES

Magazine article Working Mother

DESPERATE (Non) HOUSEWIVES

Article excerpt

She walked in the door and faced the domestic disaster every mom knows and dreads: breakfast and lunch dishes on the table; papers, toys and snacks everywhere. "I could literally feel my blood pressure rise," recalls Helen Raczkowski, a chemist from Hillsborough, NJ, whose kids are 11 and 9.

A snowstorm had closed the schools, so her husband took off work to stay home and supervise the kids. But he had become totally preoccupied with replacing the kitchen light fixture. "Which, I grant you, needed doing," Helen says. "But still, I hate coming home to all the remnants of the day, because then it becomes my project to clean up."

For Helen, as well as for desperate housewife Lynette and many of us, snowstorms and other seasonal occurrences are minor nuisances compared to the permanent disaster area known as home. Although 70 percent of moms today work, research shows that women still do two to three times more housework than men, and kids do less than 15 percent of what their mothers do. It's no wonder we feel tired out, a tad resentful and, okay, sometimes flat-out freakin' enraged.

For most moms, the family storm touches down every day-with no volunteers to offer hot coffee, much less to clear the debris.

What to do? Working Mother interviewed expert authors and our expert readers. Here are three strategies, which can be mixed and matched, to help all of us desperate (non) housewives get our families to pitch in and pick up.

THE COACH APPROACH

If you believe that you just do housework better, or feel guilty asking for help, or have a hard time giving up control, it's time to think about rallying the troops around you, say Lynn Lott and Riki Intner, family therapists and the authors of ChoresWithout Wars: Turning Housework Into Teamwork. "Start thinking of your family as a team and you as their coach," Lott says. "If you act like a coach, you not only share the burden, you also teach your kids how to be capable, responsible and cooperative people instead of prima donnas." (Remember, one day they'll go off to college and have to tend their own space.) Housework shouldn't be about gender or some notion of the perfect mom, but rather about what people do when they live in a family.

Lott and Intner advise parents to stand back and be attentive to how their family works: "Think about coaches who spend hours watching game films." If your young child thinks a clean room means toys pushed underneath a bed made with a lumpy spread, let that be a clean room-and compliment him for it, Coach. No one comes out of the womb naturally knowing how to make a bed or scrub down a bathroom. Over time you can teach these skills to everybody in the family (even those who are comforter- and cleanser-averse).

Another thought: Value differences. For example, live with your husband's dishwashing for a while, even if he leaves water splattered all over the place, and maybe he'll jump in to do the dishes more often. Then, Coach, set deadlines and hold people accountable. If a family member forgets a job, a simple question like "Hey, what happened? The garbage is overflowing in the kitchen" can often get things back on track.

Last, but not least, try to have fun. Remember how your high school coaches made skill drills into games? Turn up the music and dance while you tidy up; have the kids play beat-the-clock while they clean. Once you've established that you're the head coach as opposed to the head maid, almost any system of housework can be a good one, Lott and Intner say.

ALL TOGETHER NOW

If your husband and kids have a hard time getting started on a task or hate working alone, try a little togetherness. Have your family clean as a group in a limited but concentrated chunk of time. Kids often enjoy this, and you'll spend less time supervising because the work gets done fast. Active families who like to play games together may especially take to this method.

"You could say misery loves company, but we found working together was the real magic," says Lott, who raised four kids in a blended family. …

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