Consider the following example: Rachel, a mother with four children under the age of 9, is always running around trying to take care of their needs. While she is boiling a pot of noodles, she is upstairs trying to run a bath for her son. While she is trying to balance these activities, she hears yelling and screaming downstairs. Rachel is tired of the screaming and yelling and feels like she is being pulled in different directions. She is also starting to blame herself for this constant chaos that occurs in her household.
“Why can’t I handle all of this? Why do I feel like I just can never get it all together?” Rachel thinks to herself.
Managing a household can be a very difficult task. There are practical issues to consider as well, including work schedules, parents not being home together, and other outside stressors. As children get older, homework becomes more extensive, which may mean that the kitchen clean-up, lunch preparation, and laundry may not begin until much later in the evening. After a long day of work, this can be a grueling list of tasks to accomplish.
There are many times where household-related issues can cause conflict in the family. Consider the example of Mrs. Jones, who after a 10-hour work day requests that her son Benny take out the garbage and set the table for dinner. Benny refuses to do so, saying that he is always the one that has to do all of these chores. Mrs. Jones responds, “I had a really hard day at work. I was bossed around, yelled at by my colleague, and forgot to have lunch. Don’t you get it that your mother needs help?”
Granted that not all mothers may respond in this fashion, it is important to remember that Benny has no knowledge about his mother’s day, nor does he have a full understanding of his mother’s feelings (because Benny is just a kid). What kind of message is Mrs. Jones trying to get across to Benny when she speaks about her challenging day? Maybe Benny is justified in responding to his mother that he is always the one being asked to do the chores!
In my experiences both as a parent and mental health professional, I have found that there are two crucial components to household management. One is structure and organization and the other is self-awareness. Parents need to implement practical things to reduce “household battles,” especially during times of stress and uneasiness. Furthermore, parents need to develop increased self-awareness about their own feelings to the events of their day, which may include work, household issues, and other responsibilities. More increased awareness will allow for more calm and thoughtful responses to our children.
To implement structure and additional organization requires co-parenting and teamwork. Some examples may include:
(1) Dividing up the responsibilities among children by creating a chore wheel or something like that where everyone already knows ahead of time his/her particular role and job.
(2) For Friday afternoon: Print out a schedule of chores that each child must do before she/he is able to choose her/his own fun activities (yes, we do this in my house).
(3) Plan ahead for stressful events and situations, which may include packing for a Shabbos, a vacation, or balancing four events on the same day.
(4) Speak to each other about your struggles. One parent should not feel like he/she can’t discuss his/her feelings and struggles with his/her spouse. Set aside time, daily if necessary, to speak together about what is going well and what needs to be worked on. This time together can serve as a relaxing break and as a way to plan proactively as to how to deal with different issues.
In the next edition, we will begin our discussion about self-awareness and why it is crucial for parents to develop this skill.
Mark Staum, LCSW is the school therapist for the PTACH program @ MTA and maintains a local private practice in Teaneck, NJ. He specializes in working with children, adolescents and families. For questions about this article or to speak directly with Mark, please contact him at [email protected]
By Mark Staum