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Is Your Toddler a Housekeeping Nightmare?

QUESTION: Clutter seems to be a constant battle in our house. We live in a small home, which makes it worse. My wife and I have a 18-month-old son, who we both love dearly, and we have decided to have another child. I work four, 12-hour days and m wife stays home. I help out a lot around the house. When I go back to work, after the second or third day, the house starts looking really bad. Laundry is piled up, the diaper pail is full, toys and clutter everywhere. This puts me in rotten mood. This has been going on since he was born. I feel that having another child will compound the problem and surely end our marriage. Am I wrong in feeling that at the very least the clutter can be controlled?

ANSWER: Organization is one dimension of family health. Without enough of it, families suffer the consequences of a chaotic environment. It is true that a wide range of styles or methods for organization abound. However, it appears that your wife is simply withdrawing from the challenge of creating order, not arguing over different methods for achieving it. Do not accept motherhood as an excuse for chaos. Instead, invite your wife to be a team player. Ask for her help to create the organization that is an inevitable requirement of family life.

It is true that having a child requires greater organizational effort in a family. It is often the case that lowering expectations for "tidiness" is an appropriate measure to reduce stress while maintaining an overall sense of orderliness. However in your family, it appears that there is no systematized approach to organize the many tasks at hand. No wonder your wife feels overwhelmed! You are right to consider that adding another child to your family without incorporating a method for handling increased responsibilities may cause you to progress from chaos to anarchy.

It is possible that you and your wife specialize in different qualities. She may be more spontaneous, while you are more goal directed. Whatever your unique differences, it is your job as parents to come up with methods to organize your life in ways that simplify your stress rather than exacerbate it. Ask your wife to consider the possibility that order can become her friend rather than her enemy!

We often learn our organizational skills from our parents. It is possible that your wife grew up in a family that functioned poorly in terms of organization, or was rigidly structured to the point that she developed a rebellion against all organizing. Regardless, she chose you as a husband. Clearly you represent a different perspective, and one she may very much need to incorporate. Marriage is a partnership. There is always room to learn from each other.

Share your feelings with your wife. Let her know that she has many qualities you admire and that you appreciate the loving care she provides as a mother and wife. Using "I" statements, express your experience of overwhelm about the level of disarray in your family environment and the fact that you are not comfortable with adding the responsibility of another child until the two of you are able to create a shared vision for your family environment. This is not a threat, it is simply a reality of the conflict between you over organization in the family.

You are a family member and a co-leader of the family. Your distress matters. Ask your wife if she will meet you halfway in considering a change. No doubt, disorderliness also slows her down and it may make organization more difficult for your children as their lives become more complex with school activities, homework, etc. Take a long range view. Ask your wife how her family organized family responsibilities. Reflect on how your family handled organization and identify what kind of benefits a modicum of order brings each of you.

Establish a shared vision for organization in your family and keep in mind that both of you matter! You must achieve a satisfactory middle ground or you are not truly resolving the problem. Once you have agreed to a vision for achieving order, brainstorm ways and methods which will simplify. For example, put toys away at a certain time in the evening or twice daily. Or, maintain certain areas as "clean zones" and others as "toy zones". Establish follow through procedures in the family. For example, put dirty diapers in the diaper pail immediately after a diaper change. These are merely good "work habits" as many parents will attest.

All systems require organization to perform tasks and function smoothly. Running a family is no exception! From government to girls' scout groups, a order creates the space for creativity and meaningful interactions between people. Smooth functioning requires that you institute systematic methods to complete tasks in a timely manner.

Creating order will assure the space and time to relax, have fun, and generally enjoy your family relationships. Ask for your wife's help to envision and implement a balance of order in your lives that is family-friendly!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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