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Organizing Life, Home and Work
By Cheryl Gochnauer 
Aug 31, 2005, 14:06

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“I’m a stay-at-home mom who feels like a full-time maid,” sighs Ann-Marie, a Massachusetts mother of 3. “It’s not that I don’t like being a homemaker; I’m so glad I’m here to make a difference in the lives of our children. But I need some help!

“I know my husband works hard all day outside the home, but I don’t think he fully realizes how hard it is to work inside the home. Sometimes I truly feel that my family thinks they live at the Holiday Inn! Is providing financially for our family enough to ask of my husband?”

If you’re experiencing a similar type of how-do-we-balance-the-housework frustration, it’s time to get back to basics with your spouse.

Tell me again why I quit my job. Was it to do your laundry?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be happy to clean your clothes, and do my best in tackling the daily household duties. But if I’m not mistaken, the primary reason I’m spending more time on the home front is to nurture our kids with the special hands-on training only a loving parent can provide.

That means my focus will be on character first, clean floors second.

The at-home parent will naturally have more opportunities to perform chores than the spouse who’s working outside the home. But that doesn’t mean that our husbands get a free ride.

Now, I’m not trying to give the guys a bad rap. I don’t think most husbands plan to be insensitive. And I definitely don’t advocate nagging or bullying them into helping out. (That will normally backfire, anyway.) As Suzie, an at-home mom from Pennsylvania, notes, “They really don't realize how much we do, till we stop doing it. My hubby got a wake up call one day when I was so sick, I couldn't move from the bed. He had to take care of everything, and when I was better (24 hours later), he said he was never so glad to be able to work outside the home!

“He finally realized how much I do, day in and day out (that wasn't even including the kids I usually baby-sit). Ever since then, he has been much more apt to help out. I also notice that when I don't acknowledge and praise (him for work done), he doesn't try as hard. When I am loving and appreciative, he does more! It’s kind of funny, actually.

“He has his slumps or lazy periods,” Suzie acknowledges. “You know what I do then? I don't worry about much, myself. I sit down with him, and be a BUM too! This isn't so easy for me; it has taken some practice. I use to be very compulsive, quite the ‘neat freak’. But when I do this and just take on a carefree attitude, then I don't get angry and resentful.”

“Housework is one area where my hubby shines,” says Chris, whose husband, Ernest, is a stay-at-home wife’s dream. “I'd like to take credit for it, but he went into our marriage with a healthy attitude about helping out around the house. It also helps that he's reinforced the idea to my kids that they should clean up their own messes as well.

“Around 4 p.m. each day is ‘clean up time’ for my kids. They fuss and moan about it, but they understand it is their duty to pick up toys and clothes that have been strewn about that day so the house looks neat and tidy by the time Dad gets home. If they don't have it cleaned up by the time he arrives, there's no TV, computer, etc., until the job is done. They also lose the reward they gain by having it clean in time.

“By the way, it did take a while for my hubby to develop realistic expectations about my level of housekeeping once I became a stay-at-home,” Chris admits. “My domestic skills were never exemplary, and I had been raised with the notion (mine, mentors', or mother's; I'm not sure) that I would work a career position and hire someone to do the mundane cleaning tasks. Not so! But my lack of cleaning skills showed more once I came home full time, and were accentuated by my husband's notion that I'd have all the time in the world once I got there.” As Chris and Ernest discussed what they expected from each other, the tension lifted and they settled into a cooperative cleaning routine that works well for them.

From her home in Belgium, Rosemarie chimes in with her appreciation of husbands like Ernest who require their children’s help with the housekeeping. “The only men that I know who are helpful with housecleaning are those who've been well trained by their mothers. So ladies, if we want our future daughters-in-law to be grateful, let's start training our boys!”

Although helping provide a clean and comfortable home is part of an at-home parent’s job description, it is by no means the defining standard. If you feel yourself morphing into, as Ann-Marie puts it, “a stereotypical shrew of a wife, yelling ‘No one around here appreciates me!’,” it’s time to call a family meeting. Ask for help. Together, re-examine expectations and redistribute the workload.

After all, you’re a stay-at-home mom, not a stay-at-home maid.

This article is excerpted from Cheryl’s latest book, “Stay-at-Home Handbook: Advice on Parenting, Finances, Career, Surviving Each Day & More” (InterVarsity Press, 2002). With Mother’s Day coming up, you might want to consider as a gift. Visit or write You can also read Cheryl’s column on the Web at

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